In the wake of general club mania, even representatives of the lower classes began to acquire their own clubs, and a peculiar sinister humor was present even in their names. This is how the Thieves’ Club, the Noseless Club, the North Yorkshire Rude Club, and even the Murderers’ Club, whose members became former guards and retired fist fighters, appeared. Membership in such societies was also not devoid of economic feasibility, since some of the clubs for the poor played the role of consumer cooperation.
So, in the tavern “Old Ship” the so-called Civic Club, whose members were mainly artisans, gathered. The club had a rule “one person from each profession”, and therefore among the club members there could not be two shoemakers, two cooks, and so on. Club members enjoyed discounts on each other’s goods and services.
However, they joked more and more cheerfully in clubs in which classes were not opposed to each other. So, the basis for admission to the Ugly club was the corresponding appearance and the ability to laugh at oneself. The members of the club amused themselves by making up stories about each other and spreading them around London.
For example, it was said about the founder of the club, Mr. Hatchet, that he allegedly turned over the butcher’s tray with his huge nose. However, the reality sometimes turned out to be no less exciting for the members of this club. One day, an organization called the Old Maid Committee set out to split the Ugly Club and offered to arrange a mass marriage between members of both societies. The ugly ones proudly refused.
There were other societies, membership in which was furnished with all sorts of clownish conditions. For example, members of the Visser Club were required to eat offal food at meetings, and members of the Liars’ Club were strictly forbidden from speaking a word of truth from 9 to 11 o’clock.
One way or another, such frivolous clubs gave their members the opportunity to develop stable connections that could be very useful. In addition, even a person deprived of titles, money and talents could count on the honorary position of secretary-archivist in some ridiculous club and be proud of this until the end of his days.
The best means and place for the representatives of the old landowning nobility and nouveau riche entrepreneurs to meet was the gambling table. The 18th century brought a real card boom to the United Kingdom, which greatly contributed to blurring the boundaries between the titled idlers and the business circles that were gaining power. The first real English club, which had its own building, kept a permanent cash desk and had a strict charter, was the famous Whites Club.
The history of this venerable community began as early as 1693, when an Italian immigrant, who took the name Francis White upon arrival in England, opened a candy store. The institution was famous for its comfort and good cuisine, and over time, a circle of regular customers formed at the confectionery, among which were very rich and noble persons.
After White’s death, his widow, Lisa, decided to bar all but the already established elite patrons from entering the establishment. The regulars liked the innovation, which, however, did not prevent them from adopting a completely democratic charter, according to which anyone “having money and good clothes” could theoretically be a member of the club.
Naturally, the clothes had to be good from the point of view of the Duke of Devonshire, the Earls of Chesterfield, Rockingham and Cholmondeley. There must have been really a lot of money, too, since the lords liked to play cards. In addition, the clubmen had to pay an annual contribution of one guinea “for the maintenance of a good cook”, and also chip off 12 shillings for each meal.
In addition, according to the charter of 1736, new members of the club were chosen by the clubmen themselves by voting, and one “against” vote was enough to reject the applicant’s candidacy. By erecting a formal barrier to entry into their society, the members of the Whites Club, probably unwittingly, made membership the coveted goal of any London snob with a more or less tight wallet.
Since it was not very interesting to constantly play with the same people, the club members began to actively accept new members, and the Whites Club began to grow rapidly. However, not everyone considered this club a worthy place to spend their leisure time.
Thus, in the words of Jonathan Swift, “the Earl of Oxford never passed by the Whites Club – the traditional meeting place for low cheaters and noble victims of their temptation – without bestowing a curse on this famous academy, the death of half the English aristocracy.” Nevertheless, the popularity of the club was so high that the club even temporarily split into two parts – the Old Club and the Young Club, for old-timers and new converts, respectively.