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.
Both my Grandfather and Grandmother met whilst working at Arthur’s club ( in fact 69 St James St is given as her address on their marriage certificate ). My Grandfather was front-of-house , which as far as I can understand means a waiter he lived out. My Grandmother used to look after the cheese ( I think they classified it as a Kitchen Maid ), she lived in. From what I remember, my Granny said that before she left a new manager took over a Major or Colonel Campbell, he attempted to modernise the place ( by removing the need to wear formal dress for dinner, but there wasn’t enough money to make all the improvements so they borrowed and then when War came they had to close. My Grandfather told me that the club was non-political and to that end the urinals in the men’s toilets had either a picture of Gladstone in or a picture of Disraeli , depending on your preference. My Grandfather could remember serving Lord Nelson Grandson or Great Grandson ( he was an old man by then ). He also remembers serving Winston Churchill who drunk there in his wilderness years, ( his recollection of him was that he was a very rude , hyper entitled individual who saw normal working people as a tool for his personal use and that he drunk ludicrous amounts – a bottle of Whiskey per evening wasn’t uncommon ). My Grandmother’s recollections were more of the fun she and her fellow maids had there, particularly the staff parties, apparently the members would agree to vacant the building by Midnight (one o two nights per year ), and then the staff would hold a party all night until it was time to serve breakfast. The major marble staircase you see in the pictures was covered in carpet.
Thank you for your great post!
I have bought an old binoculars in Queensland with inscription HLWhateley Arthur’s club ! Does anybody know this person from Edwardian period please
I have purchased binoculars with the inscription HLWhateley Arthur’s Club ! Does anybody know this person from Edwardian period please
The gentleman in question is probably The Revd Henry Laurence Whateley. He married the Hon. Inna Fellowes, the daughter of Lord de Ramsey, in 1882. I believe he died in 1912.
It was common at the time to give your London address at your club if you did not have your own house in London. I’m guessing they might be opera glasses, since he seems to have given his London address, rather than that of his country vicarage.
I hope the binoculars will give you great pleasure!
I have acquired a club card from Arthur’s with the name ‘Mr Robert B W Wilson’ on it, printed and then written underneath. On the reverse, there are some doodles of black cats! Any idea of the gentleman in question?
I have been trying to find a copy of any of the members’ books of Arthur’s, but have so far been unsuccessful. Are there any dates on your card?
My Grandfather, Joseph Cook, was Chef at Arthurs during the very early 1900s. In 1910 an article was written about him in Chefs Of Today. In it he talks of his travels with Joseph Pulitzer, who was by then losing his sight and was looking for a cure for his blindness.. My Grandfather travelled through Europe with Mr Pulitzer as his personal Chef, travelling on his Yacht, also by train, and staying at his Villa in the South Of France. My Grandfather also talks about a client at Arthurs who tried to bribe my Grandfather into giving him the recipe for his ‘cabbage’.! The sum of money was quite a lot in those days. I am not sure whether he sold it!!!!
Really interesting read. I have just bought a chest/trunk from an auction site which I gather every member had at the club to store their personal items in (I presume shoes as it is quite low and on original brass castors). It has ‘Lord Waldegrave’ painted to the front. I presume it is The 10th Earl Waldegrade as he was a member of the committee. Sadly this must be the one of the few last pieces left from club.