In its days Arthur’s ranked among the top clubs in London, alongside Brooks’s and White’s. Today Arthur’s is mostly known for having built what is today the clubhouse of The Carlton Club.
- Full name: Arthur’s Club
- Last location: 69 St James’s Street, London SW1
- Type: Social. Once ranked as one of the top London clubs
- Formed: 1811, but of much older origin.
Arthur’s first appeared in the mid-18th century and is named after Mr John Arthur, who at one time was the proprietor of White’s Chocolate House, which had moved to St James’s from Curzon Street. White’s, of course, would go on to become the best known of all the London Gentlemen clubs. The connection between White’s and Arthur’s is said to be that the old White’s Chocolate House stood on the site that later became Arthur’s Club. The building burned to the ground in 1733. Arthur’s daughter, who had taken over the establishment together with her husband, apparently had to jump out of the 2nd floor window, into a bed that had hastily been carried into the street.
After the fire White’s the club established a life of its own, eventually moving into 37-38 St James’s Street. John Arthur was not forgotten, though, and a separate club bearing his name continued at the now rebuilt premises of the old White’s Chocolate House, mostly drawing on members from the so-called “Young Club” at the old White’s. For a brief time the club was known as Miles Club.
The club was reconstituted as a members’ club on 8th of May 1811, wholly owned by the members, and operated entirely for the members. At the time, the club rules stated that there at no time could be more than 300 members, though this was later expanded. They moved into a custom-built clubhouse designed by Thomas Hopper at 69 St James’s Street in 1827. The building is today the home of the Carlton Club, after their (much larger) clubhouse was damaged beyond repair by German bombers in 1940.
At this time Arthur’s ranked among the crème de la crème of clubs – its name usually being ranked among White’s and Brooks. Yet Arthur’s represented a change of tone in clubland. At the time, most clubs were still heavily influenced by their rather disreputable coffee house origins. Heavy gambling was the norm, the most famous bet being Lord Alvanley’s famous £3000 bet on two raindrops running down the bow window of White’s.
Arthur was a much more civilized place – a home away from home for proper gentlemen who tended to live within their, often substantial, means. In contrast, it has been said about White’s that members felt equally at home at the Palace and in debtor’s prison. There were still gambling, but on a much more modest level. Originally this gave Arthur’s gentlemen a reputation as bores. But as the gaieties of the late 18th and early 19th century gave way to a much stricter Victorian age, other clubs followed suit (though some clubs, like Buck’s, remain known for the members’ charmingly childish attitude to life).
While Brooks’s and White’s lives on as the most attractive traditional gentlemen clubs in the world, Arthur’s was sadly lost to history. Not much is known about the end of Arthur’s, so it is difficult to say why it met its death in the 1940s – years before the 60s which was the real crisis years of clubland. In the 1850s the club was certainly doing fine, Catherine Grace Frances Gore in her book “Greville” writes “his lordship proposed to take him to London and put his name up at Brooks’s and Arthur’s, much in the tone that he would have promised Lady Cobham’s little boy to take him to the Zoological Gardens”. But in 1932 the end was clearly neigh, when the club’s fine collection of wine was put up for sale at Christie, Manson & Woods.
Most likely the end came as a consequence of the member type. While White’s were preferred by the top city gentlemen, Arthur’s were the preferred choice for the sort of country gentlemen that was rapidly disappearing towards the end of the 19th century.
Arthur’s is not forgotten, though. As the first member owned club, it acted as a model for many of the clubs still in existence in London. It is also remembered as the last club that required members to dress for dinner (id est black tie). And its old clubhouse lives on as the clubhouse of the Carlton Club, with many of its old members having joined Carlton in 1940.