How Clubs Began

by Arthur Machen


One or two shop fronts of our old Regent Street still survive amongst the ruins and the new buildings which are more depressing than any ruins. But the goodly street is ended, and it seems fitting that Mr. Jaschke, the Barber of Kings, did not long survive the destruction of his famous shop.

There was a picture in his window that was one of the features of London, like the Filter in Fleet Street and—in the same thoroughfare—the Meerschaum Pipe, with the carving of the Battle of Leipsic on the bowl, priced at one hundred guineas. Mr. Jaschke's picture represented a personage in the costume of a hundred years ago. Long, dark locks flowed luxuriant and profuse over his shoulders, and the inscription was, “The Secret of Beau Brummel.” It advertised some cunning preparation which would make baldness impossible; and it is gone, like many another London landmark. Too many, indeed, of these landmarks have departed from us, and the men who come back to us after their years of service in the Malay States and China and Persia will look round vainly, seeking for things that are to be seen no more. It was not so formerly. Twenty years ago a friend of mine who had been in China for some time came back and found London the same as ever. “Nothing has changed,” he said. “The chickens are still feeding in the window of the incubator shop at the top of Regent Street.” The chickens have long flown away.

But about Mr. Jaschke and his shop. We have all heard how King Edward pronounced him to be the perfect barber; the man who knew not only the art of beard-trimming in perfection, but also that more difficult art of hearing everything and saying nothing. Royalty was the province of Jaschke's razor and scissors; his back shop was called the House of Lords, so noble was the custom of the place. And, considering these things, the awful question has just struck me: what would have happened to me if I had strolled into Jaschke's and asked for a shave or a hair cut? This is a very deep and perplexing question, but the situation is not without precedent. Newman Noggs, it may be remembered, once escorted Miss Morleena Kenwigs to a highly genteel establishment in Soho, where they not only cut and curled ladies elegantly and children carefully, but shaved gentlemen easily. And while Morleena's pigtails were being attended to there presented himself for shaving a big, burly, good-humoured coal-heaver, with a pipe in his mouth, who, drawing his hand across his chin, requested to know when a shaver would be disengaged.

The journeyman, to whom this question was put, looked doubtfully at the young proprietor, and the young proprietor looked scornfully at the coal-heaver, observing at the same time:

“You won't get shaved here, my man.”

“Why not?” said the coal-heaver.

“We don't shave gentlemen in your line,” remarked the young proprietor.

“Why, I see you a-shaving of a baker, when I was a-looking through the winder, last week,” said the coal-heaver.

“It's necessary to draw the line somewheres, my fine fellow,” replied the principal. “We draw the line there. We can't go beyond bakers. If we was to get any lower than bakers, our customers would desert us, and we might shut up shop.” The situations seem to me fairly analogous. But what would I have said, if I had ventured into the “House of Lords” at Jaschke's, asked for a shave, and been told that Jaschke didn't shave gentlemen in my line? Should I have observed, “I see you a-shaving of a temporary major,” and would Jaschke have replied that he drew the line at temporary majors? It is a curious and a doubtful point.

And that consideration led me to another curious point, how, formerly at all events, things that were nominally public were, in fact, private. In the mythical days before the War you might find yourself in an old-fashioned country town and wander into the bar-parlour of an old-fashioned inn. There would be half a dozen comfortable-looking men, substantial farmers and tradesmen, talking together over their reasonable potations, and by the fire an inviting and an empty chair. In it you would sit down, and as you did so a round man would beg your pardon “but that's Mr. Apple's chair.” “He's sat in that chair every night for thirty years, has Mr Apple,” another round man would say to his neighbour, and there would be nothing for it but to get up as quickly as possible and leave Mr. Apple his place by the hearth. And in some such fashion, I suppose, certain of the old coffee-houses and chocolate-houses were converted from a public to a private use, sometimes by way of business, sometimes by way of pleasure.

Lloyd's was once Lloyd's Coffee House, and White's was White's Chocolate House in the year 1700, and for some time after. Indeed, as late as 1733, the proprietor, Mr. Arthur, “having had the misfortune to be burnt out of White's Chocolate House, is removed to Gaunt's Coffee House, next the St. James's Coffee House in St. James's Street, where he humbly begs they”—“all noblemen and gentlemen”—“will favour him with their company as usual.” Evidently, it was still an open house, in name at all events; and it would probably be a difficult matter to trace the successive steps by which White's became a club in the modern sense, open to its members, but strictly private as far as all others were concerned. Possibly a room was at first appropriated to the use of a few constant and privileged customers, who constituted the club and eventually took possession of all the rooms in the Chocolate House. There was, no doubt, a transitional period, as Davies, writing of Colley Cibber, remarks:

“But Colley, we are told, had the honour to be a member of the great club at White's and so, I suppose, might any man who wore good clothes and paid his money when he lost it.”

Indeed, it is certain that Colley Cibber was a member, since a book of rules and list of members dated 1736 contains his name, with those of the Duke of Devonshire, the Earls of Cholmondeley, Chesterfield and Rockingham, Sir John Cope, and Major-General Churchill. It seems likely, then, that Davies—he was the Tom Davies who kept the bookseller's shop in Russell Street, Covent Garden, where Boswell first met Johnson—was wrong in thinking that any well-dressed man who paid his gaming debts could be a member of “the great club at White's.” There might have been a public room into which the well-dressed man might stroll; but I do not think he would stay very long in the room occupied by the Duke and the Earls.

The first traces of a club subscription are to be found in the 1736 rules. It is directed that “every member is to pay one guinea a year towards having a good Cook,” and it was not till 1775 that this guinea became ten and of general application. A few years later an order was made that dinner should be served daily while Parliament was sitting, the reckoning to be twelve shillings a head: in our money, at least two guineas, and probably more. The old Chocolate House, as it existed in the days of the Tatler and Spectator had been distinguished for “gallantry and intrigue, pleasure and entertainment,” the later club had become the headquarters of high play. Walpole writes in 1750:

“They have put in the papers a good story made on White's. A man dropped down dead at the door was carried in; the club immediately made bets whether he was dead or not, and when they were going to bleed him the wagerers for his death interposed, and said it would affect the fairness of the bet.”

And so Lord Lyttleton says that he trembles to think that “the rattling of a dice-box at White's may one day or other (if my son should be a member of that noble academy) shake down all our fine oaks.”

Indeed, the rules deal more and more with the apparatus of gambling. A rule of 1736 directs that “every member who is in the room after 7 o'clock and plays is to pay Half a Crown.” Note, by the way, that the phrase “in the room” goes to confirm my conjecture that the original club occupied one room in the Chocolate House; there being other rooms open to Davies' man in good clothes, who was not a member. Then, the “Picket Cards” are to be charged to the Dinner or Supper Bill, and the Quinze players are to pay for their own cards, the Dice used at Hazard are to be paid for by Boxes, and it is ordained that each member who plays at Chess, Draughts, or Backgammon “do pay One Shilling each time of playing by daylight and half a crown Each by candlelight.” But White's, like the barber in “Nicholas Nickleby,” did draw the line somewhere. There was a Rule that “No Member of the Club shall hold a Faro Bank.”