Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Crockford's Club


This noted gaming Club-house, No. 50, on the west side of St. James's-street, over against White's, was built for Mr. Crockford, in 1827; B. and P. Wyatt, architects.

Crockford started in life as a fishmonger, at the old bulk-shop next-door to Temple Bar Without, which he quitted for play in St. James's. "For several years deep play went on at all the Clubs—fluctuating both as to locality and amount—till by degrees it began to flag. It was at a low ebb when Mr. Crockford laid the foundation of the most colossal fortune that was ever made by play. He began by taking Watier's old Club-house, in partnership with a man named Taylor. They set up a hazard-bank, and won a great deal of money, but quarrelled and separated at the end of the first year. Taylor continued where he was, had a bad year, and failed. Crockford removed to St. James's-street, had a good year, and immediately set about building the magnificent Club-house which bears his name. It rose like a creation of Aladdin's lamp; and the genii themselves could hardly have surpassed the beauty of the internal decorations, or furnished a more accomplished maître d'hôtel than Ude. To make the company as select as possible, the establishment was regularly organized as a Club, and the election of members vested in a committee. 'Crockford's' became the rage, and the votaries of fashion, whether they liked play or not, hastened to enrol themselves. The Duke of Wellington was an original member, though (unlike Blücher, who repeatedly lost everything he had at play) the great Captain was never known to play deep at any game but war or politics. Card-tables were regularly placed, and whist was played occasionally; but the aim, end, and final cause of the whole was the hazard-bank, at which the proprietor took his nightly stand, prepared for all comers. Le Wellington des Joueurs lost 23,000l. at a sitting, beginning at twelve at night, and ending at seven the following evening. He and three other noblemen could not have lost less, sooner or later, than 100,000l. apiece. Others lost in proportion (or out of proportion) to their means; but we leave it to less occupied moralists, and better calculators, to say how many ruined families went to make Mr. Crockford a millionnaire—for a millionnaire he was in the English sense of the term, after making the largest possible allowance for bad debts. A vast sum, perhaps half a million, was sometimes due to him; but as he won, all his debtors were able to raise, and easy credit was the most fatal of his lures. He retired in 1840, much as an Indian chief retires from a hunting country when there is not game enough left for his tribe, and the Club is now tottering to its fall."[29]

The Club-house consists of two wings and a centre, with four Corinthian pilasters, and entablature, and a balustrade throughout; the ground-floor has Venetian windows, and the upper story, large French windows. The entrance-hall had a screen of Roman-Ionic scagliola columns with gilt capitals, and a cupola of gilding and stained glass. The library has Sienna columns and antæ of the Ionic order, from the Temple of Minerva Polias; the staircase is panelled with scagliola, and enriched with Corinthian columns. The grand drawing-room is in the style of Louis Quatorze: azure ground, with elaborate cove; ceiling enrichments bronze gilt; door-way paintings à la Watteau; and panelling, masks, terminals, heavily gilt. Upon the opening of the Club-house, it was described in the exaggerated style, as "the New Pandemonium"; the drawing-rooms, or real Hell, consisting of four chambers; the first an ante-room, opening to a saloon embellished to a degree which baffles description; thence to a small, curiously-formed cabinet, or boudoir, which opens to the supper room. All these rooms are panelled in the most gorgeous manner, spaces being left to be filled up with mirrors, silk or gold enrichments; the ceilings being as superb as the walls. A billiard-room on the upper floor completes the number of apartments professedly dedicated to the use of the members. Whenever any secret manœuvre is to be carried on, there are smaller and more retired places, both under this roof and the next, whose walls will tell no tales.

The cuisine at Crockford's was of the highest class, and the members were occasionally very exigeant, and trying to the patience of M. Ude. At one period of his presidency, a ground of complaint, formally addressed to the Committee, was that there was an admixture of onion in the soubise. Colonel Damer, happening to enter Crockford's one evening to dine early, found Ude walking up and down in a towering passion, and naturally inquired what was the matter. "No matter, Monsieur le Colonel! Did you see that man who has just gone out? Well, he ordered a red mullet for his dinner. I made him a delicious little sauce with my own hands. The price of the mullet marked on the carte was 2s.; I asked 6d. for the sauce. He refuses to pay the 6d. That imbécille apparently believes that the red mullets come out of the sea with my sauce in their pockets!" The imbécille might have retorted that they do come out of the sea with their appropriate sauce in their pockets; but this forms no excuse for damaging the consummate genius of a Ude.

The appetites of some Club members appear to entitle them to be called gourmands rather than gourmets. Of such a member of Crockford's the following traits are related in the Quarterly Review, No. 110:—"The Lord-lieutenant of one of the western counties eats a covey of partridges for breakfast every day during the season; and there is a popular M.P. at present [1836] about town who would eat a covey of partridges, as the Scotchman ate a dozen of becaficos, for a whet, and feel himself astonished if his appetite was not accelerated by the circumstance. Most people must have seen or heard of a caricature representing a gentleman at dinner upon a round of beef, with the landlord looking on. 'Capital beef, landlord!' says the gentleman; 'a man may cut and come again here.' 'You may cut, Sir,' responds Boniface; 'but I'm blow'd if you shall come again.' The person represented is the M.P. in question; and the sketch is founded upon fact. He had occasion to stay late in the City, and walked into the celebrated Old Bailey beef-shop on his return, where, according to the landlord's computation, he demolished about seven pounds and a half of solid meat, with a proportionate allowance of greens. His exploits at Crockford's have been such, that the founder of that singular institution has more than once had serious thoughts of giving him a guinea to sup elsewhere; and has only been prevented by the fear of meeting with a rebuff similar to that mentioned in Roderick Random as received by the master of an ordinary, who, on proposing to buy off an ugly customer, was informed by him that he had already been bought off by all the other ordinaries in town, and was consequently under the absolute necessity of continuing to patronize the establishment."

Theodore Hook was a frequent visitor at Crockford's, where play did not begin till late. Mr. Barham describes him, after going the round of the Clubs, proposing, with some gay companion, to finish with half an hour at Crockford's: "The half-hour is quadrupled, and the excitement of the preceding evening was nothing to that which now ensued." He had a receipt of his own to prevent being exposed to the night air. "I was very ill," he once said, "some months ago, and my doctor gave me particular orders not to expose myself to it; so I come up [from Fulham] every day to Crockford's, or some other place to dinner, and I make it a rule on no account to go home again till about four or five o'clock in the morning."

After Crockford's death, the Club-house was sold by his executors for 2,900l.; held on lease, of which thirty-two years were unexpired, subject to a yearly rent of 1,400l. It is said that the decorations alone cost 94,000l. The interior was re-decorated in 1849, and opened for the Military, Naval, and County Service Club, but was closed again in 1851. It has been, for several years, a dining-house—"the Wellington."

Crockford's old bulk-shop, west of Temple-bar, was taken down in 1846. It is engraved in Archer's Vestiges of London, part i. A view in 1795, in the Crowle Pennant, presents one tall gable to the street; but the pitch of the roof had been diminished by adding two imperfect side gables. The heavy pents originally traversed over each of the three courses of windows; it was a mere timber frame filled up with lath and plaster, the beams being of deal with short oak joints: it presented a capital example of the old London bulk-shop (sixteenth century), with a heavy canopy projecting over the pathway, and turned up at the rim to carry off the rain endwise. This shop had long been held by a succession of fishmongers; and Crockford would not permit the house-front to be altered in his lifetime. He was known in gaming circles by the sobriquet of "the Fishmonger."

[29] Edinburgh Review.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866