While a lot of fuss is made today about the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ clubs, in reality there is no clear distinction.
The earliest, raucous clubs of 18th-century London met a very human need — to bring together like-minded people. Round-the-clock, boozy, high-stakes gambling by candlelight, in clubs such as White’s, Boodle’s and Brooks’s, gave these early clubs a unique image. With the 19th century, clubs became louder, and more established — and these are often the stately, temple-like buildings that we think of when clubs are mentioned.
There were grand interiors, like those of the Reform Club and the Athenaeum, and also strict codes of conduct. Clubs grew more diverse than is often realised, reflecting the wide ethnic and social mix of Victorian London, while over 50 women’s clubs and mixed-sex clubs had popped up by the 1900s.
These clubs became awe-inspiring establishments, and invaluable places for professionals to network. But they were not always associated with fun in the way the earliest clubs had been.