White’s: A (very) Short History
White’s: A (very) Short History
As described by Percy Colson in his book White’s 1693-1950.
White’s began as White’s Chocolate House on the site of what was to become Boodle’s. By the Regency period it had moved several times and finally settled at the location it currently occupies on St. James’s Street and the Young Club and the Old Club had combined their membership (1781), ending the two-tiered system that had been in place for nearly forty years, during which all members elected to the Old Club had to first be members of the Young Club). The manager was Benjamin Martindale (son of John Martindale, who had been manager before him) until 1812, when he was succeeded by George Raggett (who was more of a businessman than his predecessors and immediately set about raising the cost of membership and dunning members for dues that were in arrears).
A typical night at White’s described c. 1743: “Dinner say at seven o’clock play all night, one man unable to sit in his chair at three o’clock, break up at six the next morning and the winner goes away drunk with a thousand guineas.”
The “Rules of the Old Club” as written down in 1736:
- That no one be admitted but by ballot.
- That nobody be proposed but when twelve members are present.
- That there be twelve members present when the person is balloted for, which is to be the day sevennight after he is proposed, and one black ball is an exclusion that that time.
- That any person who is balloted for before nine a clock is not duely elected.
- That every member is to pay a guinea a year towards having a good cook.
- That no person be admitted to dinner or supper but what are members of the Club.
- That every member who is in the room after ten a clock is to pay his reckn’ at supper.
- That supper is to be on table at ten a clock and the bill at twelve.
- That every member who is in the room after seven a clock and plays, is to pay half a crown.
- That no person be proposed or balloted for but during the sitting o Parliament.
1745 Bets in the Betting Book are written by the betters themselves rather than entered by an official of the Club (some wit has written in the book “About this time it is supposed the nobility of England began to learn to write.”).
1743 The Young Club is established.
1753 It was ordained that “no person be admitted into this Club [the Old] from ye 24th June until ye 3 October inclusive, but those gentlemen who are members of the other Club [the Young].”
1773 The Old Club added a rule, “that every member who ws in the billiard room at the time supper was served was liable for his share of the reckoning unless he had already supped at the Young Club.”
1781 The Old Club (120 members) and the Young Club (230 members) are combined.
1789 Ball to celebrate the recovery of George III (from his first bout of madness).
1811 The famous Bow Window is installed when the front door is moved.
1812 George Raggett becomes proprietor.
1814 (June 21) Fete given by White’s at Burlington House to the allied Sovereigns to celebrate the peace of Europe (cost, nearly 10K pounds; attended by 2400 people).
1814 (July) Banquet to the Duke of Wellington at the Club.
1819 Death of Robert Macreth (proprietor from 1755-1763 and owner until his death).
1833 Committee appointed to take over the election of members from the Club for a period of one year, due to excessive black balling on the part of the Club.
1845 Smoking room is created for cigars (up till now snuff had been the only tobacco used in the Club).
1850 The Club’s committee ruled that the Club was no longer required to “make advances of any sums of money for any game of cards or play, or to give unlimited credit for house diners accounts which has exposed him [the proprietor] to considerable pecuniary loss”. They further requested the resignation of the member whose refusal to pay his gaming losses had forced the proprietor to appeal to the committee for the rule changes in the first place.
1866 Rejection of the proposal to allow smoking in the Drawing room.
While White’s was a very exclusive Club, it was not “snobbish” in the modern sense of the word. You find a smattering of doctors and lawyers among the list of members (as well as writers and artists). The key is that all of these men were noted for some desirable trait: wit, gaiety, knowledge, skill. Army and Navy officers were also frequently found on the list. As with Almack’s, wealth alone was not a guarantee of entrée, nor was a title. And while White’s was not political at its founding, during the Regency it took a decidedly Tory bent during the Regency (though there were still plenty of Whig members).
The layout shown here is from the Survey of London. I have altered it to remove the expanded billiard room that was added in 1880 by enlarging it though the courtyard the smaller wing across from the original. I have also labeled as many rooms as possible, given the information in the description and other layouts from earlier periods (specifically the 1787 drawings by Adams that were never executed). If your book is set pre-1811 it is worth noting that the bow window did not exist and the entrance was through a door where the bow window is now shown (with the morning room being in two parts, separated by the entrance hall).