Notes on Regency-Era Gentlemen’s Clubs by Marilyn Clay


Throughout my reading and re-reading of Jane Austen’s letters, I found only one notation that may, or may not, be a reference to one of the many London Gentlemen’s Clubs in existence during the Regency period. As nearly as I could determine, the sentiment was penned in August 1814 in a letter to her sister Cassandra. Wrote Jane, “Henry at White’s! Oh, what a Henry!” Following that, she says no more on the subject, nor does she enlarge upon it. But to exactly what occurrence she is referring, I haven’t a clue as she goes on to speak of other things, and never again returns to the subject of White’s. I speculated that perhaps some gentleman acquaintance of Jane’s brother Henry, who resided in London, had invited him to dine at White’s, and he had shocked his sister by accepting the invitation.

Believed to have been founded in 1698, White’s Club is perhaps the oldest gentleman’s club in London, and at the time it was called White’s Chocolate House. From the beginning, it was principally a gaming Club. The play was mostly hazard and faro; and no member was to hold a faro Bank. At the time, the game of whist was considered comparatively harmless, so was of no account. However, professional gamblers, who lived principally by dice and cards, provided they were free from any accusations of cheating, that is, sought admission to White’s in droves. Also considered a great supper-house, play was conducted both before and after supper and carried on to quite a late hour and involved excessive amounts. White’s dues were considered high, but many a gentleman raked in a fortune at the gaming tables, where stakes were even higher. Young men were known to sign markers in the hope that their wealthy fathers would soon die so they could pay up. Beau Brummell boasted that he once won £20,000 in a single night of gambling at White’s. Lord Carlisle was said to have lost £10,000 in one night, and was in debt to the house for the whole. At one point in a game, Lord Selwyn stood to win £50,000. Says Walpole: “Sir John Bland, of Kippax Park, who shot himself in 1755, gambled away his entire fortune at hazard. T’other night, [Bland] exceeded what was lost by the late Duke of Bedford, having at one period of the night, (though he later recovered the greater part of it,) lost two-and-thirty thousand pounds!”

In 1736, White’s became a private club, it’s politics being decidedly Tory. During the Regency, it was equally as famous for its Bow window, where Beau Brummell and Lord Alvanley flung insults at the fashionables who strolled by, as for its Betting Book, where the elite and bored placed bets on very nearly everything from births to deaths, marriages, horses races and politics. A stranger once passed out cold on the stoop and when he was carried into the house, wagers were taken as to whether the man was dead or alive!

In 1812, then owner John Martindale sold White’s to George Raggett who claimed to have made a fortune sweeping the carpet after the last of the gamblers staggered home. “It is my custom to sweep the carpet after the gambling is over, and I generally find on the floor a few counters, by which I have made a decent fortune.” Perhaps his boast was true as Raggett died wealthier than most of his club’s members.

Drinking and play were more universally indulged in then than at the present time, and many men recalled the multiple bottles of port that accompanied his dinner. Women amongst the upper classes in those days were most notoriously neglected; except, perhaps, by romantic foreigners, who were the heroes of many a fashionable adventure that fed the gentlemen at their clubs with salacious scandal. How could it have been otherwise with husbands generally always away from home, spending their days in the hunting-field, or occupied with politics? Dinner parties, commencing at seven or eight, frequently did not break up before one in the morning. There were then four, and even five-bottle men; and the only thing that saved them was drinking very slowly, and out of very small glasses. Lord Eldon, and his brother, Lord Stowell, used to say that they had drunk more bad port than any two men in England, consequently after a long evening begun at a fashionable dinner party hosted by the wife of one or another of London’s aristocratic gentlemen, who after escorting their wives home, reconvened at their club, and hours later, were understandably fit for nothing but bed.

Horace Walpole - Wikipedia
Horace Walpole

In 1770, Walpole expressed his opinion on the matter to Lord Montagu: “There is a new Institution that begins, and if it proceeds, will make a considerable noise. It is a Club of both sexes, to be erected at Almack’s, on the model of that of the men of White’s. Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady Pembroke, Mrs. Meynell, Lady Molyneux, Miss Pelham, and Miss Lloyd, are the foundresses.” A Mrs. Boscawen tells Mrs. Delany of this Club consisting of both lords and ladies who first met at a tavern, but subsequently, to satisfy Lady Pembroke’s scruples, moved to a room at Almack’s. “The ladies nominate and choose the gentlemen and vice versâ, so that no lady can exclude a lady, or gentleman a gentleman.” Ladies Rochford, Harrington, and Holderness were black-balled, as was the Duchess of Bedford, who was subsequently admitted. Lord March and Brook Boothby, to their great astonishment, were black-balled by the ladies. Dinner was served there, and supper at eleven. Declared Mrs. Boscawen, the play will be deep and constant. Frenzy for play at this time was at its height. Said Mrs. Delaney, who was not entirely agreeable to the notion of gambling, “Some men make profit out of it, like Mr. Thynne, who has won this year so considerably that he has paid off all his debts, bought a house and furnished it, disposed of his horses, hounds, etc., and struck his name out of all expensive subscriptions. But what a horrid reflection it must be to an honest mind to build one’s fortune on the ruin of others!” This new venture of a club for both sexes was not generally accepted or long-lived.

Boodle's Club – Number One London
Interior of Boodle’s Club

Another popular gentlemen’s club of the period was Boodle’s, which was chiefly frequented by country gentlemen. “Every Sir John belongs to Boodle’s—as you may see, for, when a waiter comes into the room and says to some aged student of the Morning Herald, ‘Sir John, your servant is come,’ every head is mechanically thrown up in answer to the address.”

Watier’s Club was the great Macao gambling-house, also of a relatively short period. Mr. Thomas Raikes describes it as very genteel, adding that no one ever quarreled there. “The Club did not endure for twelve years altogether; the pace was too quick to last and it died a natural death in 1819. Among the members was Bligh, a notorious madman, of whom Mr. Raikes relates: “One evening at the Macao table, when the play was very deep, Brummell having lost a considerable stake, affected, in his farcical way, a very tragic air, and cried out, ‘Waiter, bring me a flat candlestick and a pistol.’ Upon which Bligh, who was sitting opposite to him, calmly produced two loaded pistols from his coat pocket, which he placed on the table, and said, “Mr. Brummell, if you are really desirous to put a period to your existence, I am extremely happy to offer you the means without troubling the waiter.”

The Wyndham Club, partaking of the character of Arthur’s and Boodle’s was founded by Lord Nugent, its object being, as stated in Rule 1; to secure a convenient and agreeable place of meeting for a society of gentlemen, all connected with each other by a common bond of literary or personal acquaintance.” Situated at No. 11 St. James’s square, it was named after the mansion that had been the residence of William Wyndham, that gentleman being described as a model of the true gentleman, an accomplished scholar and mathematician. Writing of a visit Wyndham paid him, Dr. Johnson, said, “Such conversation I shall not have again till I come back to the regions of literature, and there Wyndham is ‘inter stellas luna minores.’”

Says Captain Gronow, in his Anecdotes and Reminiscences, “The members of the Clubs in London were persons, almost without exception, belonging exclusively to the aristocratic world. Tradesmen, referring to bankers and merchants, had not then invaded White’s, Boodle’s, Brookes’; or Watier’s, in Bolton-street, Piccadilly; which, with the Guards, Arthur’s, and Grahams, were the only Clubs at the West End of the town. White’s was then decidedly the most difficult of entry; its list of members comprised nearly all the noble names of Great Britain.” Of London’s Gentleman’s Club, it was agreed amongst gentlemen that it was a vulgar error to regard a Club as the rich man’s public-house as it bears no analogy to a public-house: it is as much the private property of its members as any ordinary dwelling-house is the property of the man who built it.

The above reflections regarding gentlemen’s clubs was taken from a chapter in my new book titled Jane Austen’s Regency England, which interweaves passages from the letters of the famed authoress as she lived out her life alongside the momentous events that occurred during the English Regency period. From the time of her birth until her death in 1817, Jane Austen managed to studiously pen her beloved novels even as she lived through the ever-present trauma and drama of the Napoleonic wars, the grievous loss of thousands of British soldiers on land and sea, the upheaval across the pond in the colonies, the angst of an English king gone mad, and the controversy surrounding the establishment of a Regency rule in England.

Jane Austen’s Regency England by Marilyn Clay is now available in print, Ebook and audio from all major online retail booksellers. Find it in paperback or on Kindle here. 



The Bugle Horn – A Pub Above

There’s nothing more quintessentially British than an historic pub. Pubs, or public houses, were far more than simply places to have a drink. They were the hub of a town or village, a place where residents gathered in order to share local and national news, to discuss issues particular to their community or where they could simply have a good chin wag or gossip. In his 17th-century diary, Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England.”

By the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had brought with it larger, purpose built towns and increased demand for beer, gin and public houses. Newly built pubs drew decor inspiration from the increasingly popular gin houses and palaces, installing ornate mirrors, etched glass, polished brass fittings and lavish gilt ornamentation.

Examples of these ornate pubs can still be found throughout Britain, with several still serving in London. The Coal Hole, in the Strand and hard by the Savoy Hotel, is one such pub.

The Golden Lion in King Street could be the Coal Hole’s twin, in miniature.

‘Bells and whistles’ pubs have their place, certainly, but they aren’t what either Pepys or myself picture when we think quintessential British pub. The Bugle Horn, nestled along the Oxford Road in a quiet hamlet in the Vale of Aylesbury, is exactly that. It couldn’t be more perfect.

A few months ago, Victoria Hinshaw and I were staying nearby when we chanced upon the Bugle Horn. After our initial visit, we became regulars.

The interior of the Bugle Horn is a contemporary take on the buildings’ history,  successfully blending old and new elements in an inviting space that welcomes diners as soon as they walk through the door.

Historic surroundings, friendly staff, craft beers, a comprehensive wine list and open fires certainly make for winning ambiance, but let’s be honest – a pub’s success ultimately rests upon the quality of its food. At the top of the Bugle Horn’s menu are seasonal cocktails, but menu items are seasonal, as well. Fresh ingredients, vegan options, imaginative starters and favourites such as fish and chips, pies and Sunday roasts are all on offer and all delicious. And let’s not forget the puddings . . . . .

On our last day in the area, Victoria and I decided to have one last lunch at the Bugle Horn. We arrived slightly earlier than the noon opening time and so we relaxed at a table on the front terrace while we waited, taking in the surroundings and the sunshine. As we waited, a man in kitchen whites came around the corner and up to our table. He told us that his name was JJ, that he was the chef and that he’d seen us in the restaurant several times that week. He wanted to come outside and personally thank us for our patronage. One more aspect of the Bugle Horn to love.

In fact, I enjoyed the Bugle Horn so much, that it will be the setting for our Farewell Dinner during Number One London’s Town & Country House tour, May 2024. We hope you’ll consider joining us on what promises to be a one-of-a-kind experience. You can find our complete itinerary and further details here.



Hay-on-Wye in Wales has been called “the used bookshop capital of Wales” or “the town of books,” but whatever you choose to call it, Hay is definitely a book lovers heaven. Hay has been a settlement since 1135, but it became a mecca for used books in 1961 when bibliophile Richard Booth opened his shop in The Old Fire Station. Hay now has over 20 bookshops and has become the world’s largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre.

Some of the bookshops specialise whilst others carry general stock. The shelves in some shops are neat as a pin, others are arranged in higgedly-piggedly fashion and require a root through the stock in order to find treasure. As I did decades ago when I almost literally fell upon a random stack of Annual Registers on some neglected shelves in an annex at the back of a shop. Every bibliophiles heart will beat a tad quicker when presented with the possibility of finding such gems.

Because so many of our guests on Number One London tours are book lovers and/or authors, we’ve added a full day of book browsing in Hay-on-Wye to the itinerary of our Welsh Castles Tour in June 2025. An entire day of foraging in the stacks for hidden book treasure – bliss! You’ll find the complete tour itinerary and further details here. And you can view a list of Hay’s bookshops HERE. Most of the shops are open 363 days a year.

You’ll be able to get a taste of what its like to visit Hay by watching the video below. Update to the video – Hay Castle opened its doors to the public in May 2022, for the first time in its 900-year history, following a major 10-year restoration project.

Osterley Park, An Adam Jewel

by Victoria Hinshaw
Osterley Park was once a rural retreat but today it is in Greater London, reachable by  the tube (look for the Osterley stop on the Piccadilly line).  The original Tudor mansion was built in 1575 by Sir Thomas Gresham, banker and founder of the Royal Exchange.  The old house was built of red brick around a square courtyard.  After considerable alterations in the 17th century, it was acquired by Francis Child, the immensely wealthy London banker, in 1713. His grandson Francis hired Robert Adam to transform the house in 1761 but he died before the house was finished, leaving the house to his brother Robert Child.


Adam’s work was completed in 1780. The center of the west section of the building was removed by Adam and replaced with a giant white Ionic portico.




The elegant portico opens up the courtyard.


Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey


The 5th Earl of Jersey (1773-1859) became the owner of Osterley Park by way of his marriage to Robert Child’s granddaughter, Sarah Sophia Fane, the Lady Jersey who was a patroness of Almack’s. The story of the young heiress is well known, the second elopement of a Child female.

Robert Child’s daughter (Sarah Anne Child) had eloped with John Fane, later 10th Earl of Westmorland, in 1782. Robert Child (1739-82), proud of being a prince of the merchant class and not an aristocrat, did not want his property and fortune to go to the Westmorland family. He wrote a will which left his money and property to the second child of his daughter. Sarah Sophia Fane inherited everything at age eight. In 1804, she married George Villiers, who changed his name (a necessity under Child’s will) to Child-Villiers and in time became the 5th Earl of Jersey. He was the son of that Countess of Jersey who was a mistress of the Prince Regent.

The Osterley house was rarely used by the Jerseys, who had a country estate, Middleton, in Oxfordshire in addition to a large townhouse in Berkeley Square. For decades Osterley was maintained but empty of life. The Jerseys entertained there only occassionally. Eventually it was let to Sarah’s cousin, Grace Caroline, dowager Duchess of Cleveland, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Westmorland. When she died, the 7th Earl of Jersey and his wife Margaret (1849-1945) lived and entertained there. The Lesson of the Master, a novella by Henry James, is set at Osterley.


In 1885, the famous library was sold for thirteen thousand pounds. After the 7th earl died in 1915, the tenancy of the house foundered again. For many years, it was rarely used until the 9th Earl opened it to the public on weekends. He gave it to the National Trust in 1949 and considerable restoration has taken place. It was recently used for some scenes in the film Gulliver’s Travels and has been in numerous other movies and television productions.

The rooms are arranged in a horseshoe, with the entrance hall at the top. After walking through the exterior portico, one crosses the courtyard and enters the magnificent hall, designed by Adam in 1767. The color scheme is neutral, greys and whites with stucco panels of ancient military scenes on the walls. The floor has a black pattern on white marble, a reflection of the plasterwork ceiling design.

The Breakfast Room at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The harpsichord was made for Sarah Anne Child in 1781 by Jacob Kirckman and his nephew Abraham. The lyre-back chairs are attributed to John Linnell.

The Breakfast Room has a lovely view of the park and was used as a sitting room, graced by Adam’s arched pier glasses. This room was redone in the 19th century, but the colors and some furniture is to Adam’s design. The drawing for this design is in Sir John Soane’s museum, London, as are many Adam designs. It is dated 24 April 1777. The room also contains a harpsichord of 1781, made by Jacob Kirckman and his nephew Abraham, who were well known for their instruments. It belonged to Sarah Sophia’s mother, the countess of Westmorland. After her death in 1793, her husband asked to have it sent to him as a memento of his wife; it was returned to Osterley in 1805.

The Tapestry Room was designed to hold a set of magnificent Gobelins tapestries designed by Francois Boucher depicting the Loves of the Gods. Several Adam rooms for other clients were decorated similarly, with the tapestries ordered from the Gobelins factory in Paris, which was run in the 1770’s by a Scot. The sofa and eight matching armchairs were specially created and upholstered to match the tapestries.

The magnificent ceiling is another Adam masterpiece. The central medallion shows Minerva accepting the dedication of a child. The four smaller medallions show female representations of the liberal arts. As was the usual practice, these paintings were done on paper, affixed to canvas backing and placed in stucco frames after the ceiling was painted.

Kristine, admiring and photographing the Osterley Park ceilings.


A self portrait by Angelica Kauffman. She did many paintings for Adam, often in her well-known allegorical style. In an era when most of the artists were men, Kauffman (1741-1807) excelled at portraiture and even huge historical and allegorical paintings. Born in Switzerland, she found great success in England. In 1781, she married her colleague Antonio Zucchi (1726-95) and the couple went to live in Rome. Adam had met Zucchi in Rome and persuaded him to come to England in 1766. Zucchi also executed many paintings for Adam rooms, often in ceiling medallions or above doors and fireplaces.


In the State Bedchamber stands a huge bed, made to the Adam’s design in 1776. The drawing is also in the Soane museum. Not only did Adam design the bed, he designed the hangings and embroidered silk counterpane and the interior of the dome. Included in the design are many allegorical symbols, including marigolds, the emblem of Child’s Bank. In this room is another of the exquisite ceilings by Kauffman.

The Etruscan Room Dressing Room shows Adam utilizing ancient designs discovered in Italy. At that time, the term Etruscan referred to the types of designs found on Greek vases. Horace Walpole in 1778 said the room was “painted all over like Wedgwood’s ware, with black and yellow small grotesques.” The furniture is attributed to Chippendale.
The Childs had spent a great deal of time developing the gardens and the park with lakes, wildernesses and open space.  Fortunately, these  also survive and have been restored. Under the supervision of the National Trust, the park is open to the public and is well used by hikers, strollers, bicyclists and bird watchers.
A visit to Osterley Park is on the itinerary of Number One London’s Town & Country House tour in May, 2024.  Complete itinerary and full details can be found here.

London: Where Everything Old is Sometimes New Again

London never fails to surprise me, no matter how many times I’ve visited. I always see something new. Like these folks, out for a leisurely ride. In busy Buckingham Palace Road. And, if I’m really lucky, I get to see things that are old with new eyes.

I usually stay in club rooms in Whitehall when I’m in Town. However, that area became ground zero when we were there last and Queen Elizabeth passed away. Victoria Hinshaw and I found our street barricaded at both ends, nearby old Scotland Yard was turned into a staging area for police horses and vehicles and vehicle traffic was banned in all surrounding roads. This time, we’d be in London during the run-up to the Coronation, which would also be centered around Whitehall and Westminster. I didn’t want a repeat disruption, and so I booked us into rooms at the Oriental Club, a reciprocal club off Oxford Street.

The Duke of Wellington was the Club’s first and only president – it was thereafter presided over by committee. The Oriental Club was new to me, as was the Spread Eagle pub, just over Oxford Street from us.

The Spread Eagle may be small, but the welcome was warm and the food top shelf. And it was at the Spread Eagle that I met up with my cousin, Arlene, who flew into Town after attending the Bruce Springsteen concert in Barcelona. It was her very first time in London. Whenever first timers ask me what they should see in London, I suggest that they take the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour, on which you can see all the major landmarks of London. Next day, I followed my own advice and Arlene and I set off down Regent Street in order to catch the Bus, stopping to admire the Coronation decorations along the way.

I hadn’t been on the tour bus in years and I have to admit, it was a lot of fun to sit back and take in the sights like a tourist. Below, media stands were going up ahead of the Coronation broadcasts.

My, that building looks awfully familiar . . . . .

White’s Club was all decked out for the Coronation. Having done a full circuit on the tour bus, we left at this point and went in search of oysters, which we were both hankering after. We just missed lunch service at Wilton’s, so we carried on to 45 Jermyn Street.

Afterwards, I took Arlene around the corner to Fortnum & Mason, a must see for everyone on their first visit to London. The candy section alone is worth the trip.

After browsing the candy and tea departments, we headed downstairs to the food court and wine store. We spent some time browsing the goods and Arlene did enjoy Fortnum’s, but what she was longing to see was Harrod’s, so off we went in a cab to the iconic landmark. Anyone who has been to Harrod’s has probably gotten lost at least once whilst inside. To avoid this, and to save us from wandering the floors aimlessly for hours, I suggested that we start in ladies clothing (1st floor).

And then I made the mistake of suggesting that we stop at the MAC counter on the way out, as I needed a lipstick. And then I also bought a mascara. And then the MAC lady gave me a sample of the Serumizer, to which I’m now addicted.

By this time, several hours had passed since we’d eaten the oysters, so Arlene and I strolled by a few more landmarks before meeting up with Vicky at Smith & Wollensky, just off the Strand, for dinner.

Yes, we went to an American steakhouse while in London. Andrea Stein and I had stumbled upon the place during a previous visit and we’d had a truly wonderful lunch there. This time, I had the cheeseburger and it was delicious.

And then there was the chocolate cake we split for dessert. But the sweetest treat was being able to see London as a tourist again. To have no agenda to follow, no meetings to take and no commitments. And, for a time, everything old was new again.