Is ‘club-land’ dead? Far from it. At the end of April, Amelia Gentleman’s Guardian article on London’s Garrick Club revealed an ongoing battle of the sexes to open the city's few still all-male gentlemen’s clubs to women. The Garrick is one them.
The Victorian caricaturist Henry Maximillan Beerbohm’s illustrations of “Club Types” (1892) reveal the variety of clubs and members in London’s club-land. If you’re interested, as I am, in the social networks of the past it’s pretty vital to get to grips with the phenomenon of ‘the club’.
The Albemarle was the oldest, established by the artist Henry Holiday among others. Holiday’s Reminiscences (a popular title!) of My Life like Sayce’s chronicle the fabric of social life among artistic, literary and political circles. Despite nay-sayers who were sure that only “shocking things” would result from men and women sharing club premises and membership, the Albemarle opened in 1874.** Fittingly, Beerbohm’s illustration of an Albemarle “type” is a spare line drawing of a female figure in skirt and puffed-sleeve jacket carrying a parasol.
Amongst the Albemarle’s membership in the 1890s were the writer and aesthete Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance Lloyd Wilde, a feminist and champion of rational dress. The club house at 13 Albemarle Street was the place where the Marquess of Queensbury left his infamous note for Wilde in early 1895.
A handy list of the Albemarle Club’s membership in the 1930s includes a few archaeologists: Winifred Lamb and George and Agnes Horsfield. George Horsfield’s opinion of London club-types was not high, but he felt that the Albemarle at least offered he and Agnes a place to stay in London while they had no house in town. Perusing the list of 1930s Albemarle members reveals a number of married couples. One such couple was celebrated anthropologist and Golden Bough author James George Frazer and his wife, Lilly, also an author (notably, of a sort of abridged Golden Bough for young people, and an early history of dancing).
The Sesame Club was one street west of the Albemarle on Dover Street - dubbed “the centre of feminine Club-land”. Established in 1895, the Sesame was known for its lectures, attracting members particularly interested in education. It was the classicist Jane Harrison’s London base.
Lists of members, programmes of events, rules and regulations and descriptions of facilities take you to the door of the club but not far beyond. For the 21st century researcher like me club life as it relates to the archaeologists I investigate is shrouded in tantalising mystery. Club names most frequently appear in addresses or signatures on letters; these remaining traces merely serve to whet the appetite. Further revelations await as my research continues.
Correspondence published in the first biography of Harrison (written by her student Jessie Crum Stewart), gives us a peek into ‘mixed’ club life. This glimpse comes, intriguingly, in the form of a mock scene set in one such “modern advanced club”. Sprinkled amongst the “divans, draperies, cigarettes and ashtrays” the club’s members include “New Women” and “decayed, docile husbands”.
The scene was the work of classicist Arthur Woollgar Verrall (both he and his wife Margaret Merrifield Verrall were lecturers at Cambridge). Despite his reference to decayed husbands Verrall’s caricature points to the 'mixed' club as a space where men and women could meet on relatively equal terms. In fact, the Albemarle Club’s rules dictated that its governing committee had to be made up of male and female members in equal measure. So the ‘mixed’ club is definitely something to celebrate, especially when equality between the sexes is still a issue of relevance today.
Albemarle Club. 1932. Rules and Regulations and List of Members of the Albemarle Club. London.
Ackerman, R. 2004. Frazer, Lilly, Lady Frazer [née Elisabeth Johanna de Boys Adelsdorfer] (1854/5-1941). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Crawford, E. The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1868-1928. London: Routledge.
Doughan, D. and Gordon, P. 2006. Women, Clubs and Associations in Britain. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Holiday, H. 1914. Reminiscences of My Life. London: William Heinemann.
Lowe, N. 2005. The Problematic Verrall: The Skeptic at Law. In C. Stray (Ed.) The Owl of Minerva: The Cambridge Praelections of 1906. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society Supplementary Volume 28: 142-160.
Moyle, F. 2011. Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. London: John Murray.
Sayce, A. H. 1923. Reminiscences. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd.
Stewart, J. 1959. Jane Ellen Harrison: A Portrait from Letters. London: The Merlin Press.
*A number of other London clubs open to men and women can be found in Crawford’s book.
**It is perhaps unsurprising that Holiday was a vigorous supporter of women’s suffrage. Holiday also had a strong interest in archaeology; he was a member of the Hellenic Society and claimed in his memoir to have introduced a young Hilda Urlin, whom he had used as a model for the face of the serving girl in his 1888 painting Aspasia on the Pynx, to Flinders Petrie. The Slade School trained artist Jessie Mothersole, who worked as a copyist on site at Saqqara in 1903, was a long-standing pupil of Holiday’s.