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


This celebrated Club was originally established as "White's Chocolate-house," in 1698, five doors from the bottom of the west side of St. James's-street, "ascending from St. James's Palace." (Hatton, 1708.) A print of the time shows a small garden attached to the house: at the tables in the house or garden, more than one highwayman took his chocolate, or threw his main, before he quietly mounted his horse, and rode down Piccadilly towards Bagshot. (Doran's Table Traits.) It was destroyed by fire, April 28, 1733, when the house was kept by Mr. Arthur, who subsequently gave his name to the Club called Arthur's, still existing a few doors above the original White's. At the fire, young Arthur's wife leaped out of a second floor window, upon a feather-bed, without much hurt. A fine collection of paintings, belonging to Sir Andrew Fountaine, valued at 3000l., was entirely destroyed. The King and the Prince of Wales were present above an hour, and encouraged the firemen and people to work at the engines; a guard being ordered from St. James's, to keep off the populace. His Majesty ordered twenty guineas to be distributed among the firemen and others that worked at the engines, and five guineas to the guard; and the Prince ordered the firemen ten guineas. "The incident of the fire," says Mr. Cunningham, "was made use of by Hogarth, in Plate VI. of the Rake's Progress, representing a room at White's. The total abstraction of the gamblers is well expressed by their utter inattention to the alarm of the fire given by watchmen, who are bursting open the doors. Plate IV. of the same pictured moral represents a group of chimney-sweepers and shoe-blacks gambling on the ground over-against White's. To indicate the Club more fully, Hogarth has inserted the name Black's."

Arthur, thus burnt out, removed to Gaunt's Coffee-house, next the St. James's Coffee-house, and which bore the name of "White's"—a myth. The Tatler, in his first Number, promises that "all accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-house." Addison, in his Prologue to Steele's Tender Husband, catches "the necessary spark" sometimes "taking snuff at White's."

The Chocolate-house, open to any one, became a private Club-house: the earliest record is a book of rules and list of members of the old Club at White's, dated October 30th, 1736. The principal members were the Duke of Devonshire; the Earls of Cholmondeley, Chesterfield, and Rockingham; Sir John Cope, Major-General Churchill, Bubb Dodington, and Colley Cibber. Walpole tells us that the celebrated Earl of Chesterfield lived at White's, gaming and pronouncing witticisms among the boys of quality; "yet he says to his son, that a member of a gaming club should be a cheat, or he will soon be a beggar," an inconsistency which reminds one of old Fuller's saw: "A father that whipt his son for swearing, and swore himself whilst he whipt him, did more harm by his example than good by his correction."

Swift, in his Essay on Modern Education, gives the Chocolate-house a sad name. "I have heard," he says, "that the late Earl of Oxford, in the time of his ministry, never passed by White's Chocolate-house (the common rendezvous of infamous sharpers and noble cullies) without bestowing a curse upon that famous Academy, as the bane of half the English nobility."

The gambling character of the Club may also be gathered from Lord Lyttelton writing to Dr. Doddridge, in 1750. "The Dryads of Hagley are at present pretty secure, but I tremble 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. It is dreadful to see, not only there, but almost in every house in town, what devastations are made by that destructive fury, the spirit of play."

Swift's character of the company is also borne out by Walpole, in a letter to Mann, December 16, 1748: "There is a man about town, Sir William Burdett, a man of very good family, but most infamous character. In short, to give you his character at once, there is a wager entered in the bet-book at White's (a MS. of which I may one day or other give you an account), that the first baronet that will be hanged is this Sir William Burdett."

Again, Glover, the poet, in his Autobiography, tells us: "Mr. Pelham (the Prime Minister) was originally an officer in the army, and a professed gamester; of a narrow mind, low parts, etc.... By long experience and attendance he became experienced as a Parliament man; and even when Minister, divided his time to the last between his office and the club of gamesters at White's." And, Pope, in the Dunciad, has:

"Or chair'd at White's, amidst the doctors sit,

Teach oaths to gamesters, and to nobles wit."

The Club removed, in 1755, to the east side of St. James's-street, No. 38. The house had had previously a noble and stately tenant; for here resided the Countess of Northumberland, widow of Algernon, tenth Earl of Northumberland, who died 1688. "My friend Lady Suffolk, her niece by marriage," writes Walpole, "has talked to me of her having, on that alliance, visited her. She then lived in the house now White's, at the upper end of St. James's-street, and was the last who kept up the ceremonious state of the old peerage. When she went out to visit, a footman, bareheaded, walked on each side of her coach, and a second coach with her women attended her. I think, too, that Lady Suffolk told me that her granddaughter-in-law, the Duchess of Somerset, never sat down before her without leave to do so. I suppose the old Duke Charles [the proud Duke] had imbibed a good quantity of his stately pride in such a school." (Letter to the Bishop of Dromore, September 18, 1792.) This high-minded dame had published a "Volume of Prayers."

Among the Rules of the Club, every member was to pay one guinea a year towards having a good cook; the names of all candidates were to be deposited with Mr. Arthur or Bob [Mackreth]. In balloting, every member was to put in his ball, and such person or persons who refuse to comply with it, shall pay the supper reckoning of that night; and, in 1769, it was agreed that 'every member of this Club who is in the Billiard-Room at the time the Supper is declared upon table, shall pay his reckoning if he does not sup at the Young Club.'

Of Colley Cibber's membership we find this odd account in Davies's Life of Garrick:—"Colley, we told, had the honour to be a member of the great Club at White's; and so I suppose might any other man who wore good clothes and paid his money when he lost it. But on what terms did Cibber live with this society? Why, he feasted most sumptuously, as I have heard his friend Victor say, with an air of triumphant exultation, with Mr. Arthur and his wife, and gave a trifle for his dinner. After he had dined, when the Club-room door was opened, and the Laureate was introduced, he was saluted with loud and joyous acclamation of 'O King Coll! Come in, King Coll!' and 'Welcome, welcome, King Colley!' And this kind of gratulation, Mr. Victor thought, was very gracious and very honourable."

In the Rules quoted by Mr. Cunningham, from the Club-books, we find that in 1780, a dinner was ready every day during the sitting of Parliament, at a reckoning of 12s. per head; in 1797, at 10s. 6d. per head, malt liquors, biscuits, oranges, apples, and olives included; hot suppers provided at 8s. per head; and cold meat, oysters, etc., at 4s., malt liquor only included. And, "that Every 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."

White's was from the beginning principally a gaming Club. The play was mostly at hazard and faro; no member was to hold a faro Bank. Whist was comparatively harmless. Professional gamblers, who lived by dice and cards, provided they were free from the imputation of cheating, procured admission to White's. It was a great supper-house, and there was play before and after supper, carried on to a late hour and heavy amounts. Lord Carlisle lost 10,000l. in one night, and was in debt to the house for the whole. He tells Selwyn of a set, in which at one point of the game, stood to win 50,000l. Sir John Bland, of Kippax Park, who shot himself in 1755, as we learn from Walpole, flirted away his whole fortune at hazard. "He t'other night exceeded what was lost by the late Duke of Bedford, having at one period of the night, (though he recovered the greater part of it,) lost two-and-thirty thousand pounds."

Lord Mountford came to a tragic end through his gambling. He had lost money; feared to be reduced to distress; asked for a Government appointment, and determined to throw the die of life or death, on the answer he received from Court. The answer was unfavourable. He consulted several persons, indirectly at first, afterwards pretty directly—on the easiest mode of finishing life; invited a dinner-party for the day after; supped at White's, and played at whist till one o'clock of the New Year's morning. Lord Robert Bertie drank to him "a happy new year;" he clapped his hand strangely to his eyes. In the morning, he sent for a lawyer and three witnesses, executed his will; made them read it twice over, paragraph by paragraph; asked the lawyer if that will would stand good though a man were to shoot himself. Being assured it would, he said, "Pray stay, while I step into the next room,"—went into the next room, and shot himself.

Walpole writes to Mann: "John Damier and his two brothers have contracted a debt, one can scarcely expect to be believed out of England,—of 70,000l.... The young men of this age seem to make a law among themselves for declaring their fathers superannuated at fifty, and thus dispose of their estates as if already their own." "Can you believe that Lord Foley's two sons have borrowed money so extravagantly, that the interest they have contracted to pay, amounts to 18,000l. a year."

Fox's love of play was frightful: his best friends are said to have been half-ruined in annuities, given by them as securities for him to the Jews. Five hundred thousand a year of such annuities, of Fox and his Society, were advertised to be sold, at one time: Walpole wondered what Fox would do when he had sold the estates of all his friends. Here are some instances of his desperate play. Walpole further notes that in the debate on the Thirty-nine Articles, February 6, 1772, Fox did not shine, "nor could it be wondered at. He had sat up playing at hazard at Almack's, from Tuesday evening the 4th, till five in the afternoon of Wednesday, 5th. An hour before he had recovered 12,000l. that he had lost, and by dinner, which was at five o'clock, he had ended losing 11,000l. On the Thursday, he spoke in the above debate; went to dinner at past eleven at night; from thence to White's, where he drank till seven the next morning; thence to Almack's, where he won 6,000l.; and between three and four in the afternoon he set out for Newmarket. His brother Stephen lost 11,000l. two nights after, and Charles 10,000l. more on the 13th; so that, in three nights, the two brothers, the eldest not twenty-five, lost 32,000l."

Walpole and a party of friends, (Dick Edgecumbe, George Selwyn, and Williams,) in 1756, composed a piece of heraldic satire—a coat-of-arms for the two gaming-clubs at White's,—which was "actually engraving from a very pretty painting of Edgecumbe, whom Mr. Chute, as Strawberry King at arms," appointed their chief herald-painter. The blazon is vert (for a card-table); three parolis proper on a chevron sable (for a hazard-table); two rouleaux in saltire between two dice proper, on a canton sable; a white ball (for election) argent. The supporters are an old and young knave of clubs; the crest, an arm out of an earl's coronet shaking a dice-box; and the motto, "Cogit amor nummi." Round the arms is a claret-bottle ticket by way of order. The painting above mentioned by Walpole of "the Old and Young Club at Arthur's" was bought at the sale of Strawberry Hill by Arthur's Club-house for twenty-two shillings.

At White's, the least difference of opinion invariably ended in a bet, and a book for entering the particulars of all bets was always laid upon the table; one of these, with entries of a date as early as 1744, Mr. Cunningham tells us, had been preserved. A book for entering bets is still laid on the table.

In these betting books are to be found bets on births, deaths, and marriages; the length of a life, or the duration of a ministry; a placeman's prospect of a coronet; on the shock of an earthquake; or the last scandal at Ranelagh, or Madame Cornelys's. A man dropped down at the door of White's; he was carried into the house. Was he dead or not? The odds were immediately given and taken for and against. It was proposed to bleed him. Those who had taken the odds the man was dead, protested that the use of a lancet would affect the fairness of the bet.

Walpole gives some of these narratives as good stories "made on White's." A parson coming into the Club on the morning of the earthquake of 1750, and hearing bets laid whether the shock was caused by an earthquake or the blowing-up of powder-mills, went away in horror, protesting they were such an impious set, that he believed if the last trump were to sound, they would bet "puppet-show against Judgment." Gilly Williams writes to Selwyn, 1764, "Lord Digby is very soon to be married to Miss Fielding." Thousands might have been won in this house (White's), on his Lordship not knowing that such a being existed.

Mr. Cunningham tells us that "the marriage of a young lady of rank would occasion a bet of a hundred guineas, that she would give birth to a live child before the Countess of ——, who had been married three or even more months before her. Heavy bets were pending, that Arthur, who was then a widower, would be married before a member of the Club of about the same age, and also a widower; and that Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, would outlive the old Duchess of Cleveland."

"One of the youth at White's," writes Walpole to Mann, July 10, 1744, "has committed a murder, and intends to repeat it. He betted £1500 that a man could live twelve hours under water; hired a desperate fellow, sunk him in a ship, by way of experiment, and both ship and man have not appeared since. Another man and ship are to be tried for their lives, instead of Mr. Blake, the assassin."

Walpole found at White's, a very remarkable entry in their very—very remarkable wager-book, which is still preserved. "Lord Mountford bets Sir John Bland twenty guineas that Nash outlives Cibber." "How odd," says Walpole, "that these two old creatures, selected for their antiquities, should live to see both their wagerers put an end to their own lives! Cibber is within a few days of eighty-four, still hearty, and clear, and well. I told him I was glad to see him look so well. 'Faith,' said he, 'it is very well that I look at all.'" Lord Mountford would have been the winner: Cibber died in 1757; Nash in 1761.

Here is a nice piece of Selwyn's ready wit. He and Charles Townshend had a kind of wit combat together. Selwyn, it is said, prevailed; and Charles Townshend took the wit home in his carriage, and dropped him at White's. "Remember," said Selwyn, as they parted, "this is the first set-down you have given me to-day."

"St. Leger," says Walpole, "was at the head of these luxurious heroes—he is the hero of all fashion. I never saw more dashing vivacity and absurdity with some flashes of parts. He had a cause the other day for ducking a sharper, and was going to swear; the judge said to him, 'I see, Sir, you are very ready to take an oath.' 'Yes, my Lord,' replied St. Leger, 'my father was a judge,'" St. Leger was a lively club member. "Rigby," writes the Duke of Bedford, July 2, 1751, "the town is grown extremely thin within this week, though White's continues numerous enough, with young people only, for Mr. St. Leger's vivacity, and the idea the old ones have of it, prevent the great chairs at the Old Club from being filled with their proper drowsy proprietors."

In Hogarth's gambling scene at White's, we see the highwayman, with the pistols peeping out of his pocket, waiting by the fireside till the heaviest winner takes his departure, in order to "recoup" himself of his losings. And in the Beaux' Stratagem, Aimwell asks of Gibbet, "Ha'n't I seen your face at White's?"—"Ay, and at Will's too," is the highwayman's answer.

M'Clean, the fashionable highwayman, had a lodging in St. James's-street, over-against White's; and he was as well known about St. James's as any gentleman who lived in that quarter, and who, perhaps, went upon the road too. When M'Clean was taken, in 1750, Walpole tells us that Lord Mountford, at the head of half White's, went the first day; his aunt was crying over him; as soon as they were withdrawn, she said to him, knowing they were of White's, "My dear, what did the Lords say to you? Have you ever been concerned with any of them? Was it not admirable? What a favourable idea people must have of White's!—and what if White's should not deserve a much better?"

A waitership at a club sometimes led to fortune. Thomas Rumbold, originally a waiter at White's, got an appointment in India, and suddenly rose to be Sir Thomas, and Governor of Madras. On his return, with immense wealth, a bill of pains and penalties was brought into the House by Dundas, with the view of stripping Sir Robert of his ill-gotten gains. This bill was briskly pushed through the earlier stages; suddenly the proceedings were arrested by adjournment, and the measure fell to the ground. The rumour of the day attributed Rumbold's escape to the corrupt assistance of Rigby; who, in 1782, found himself, by Lord North's retirement, deprived of his place in the Pay Office, and called upon to refund a large amount of public moneys unaccounted for. In this strait, Rigby was believed to have had recourse to Rumbold. Their acquaintance had commenced in earlier days, when Rigby was one of the boldest "punters" at White's, and Rumbold bowed to him for half-crowns. Rumbold is said to have given Rigby a large sum of money, on condition of the former being released from the impending pains and penalties. The truth of this report has been vehemently denied; but the circumstances are suspicious. The bill was dropped: Dundas, its introducer, was Rigby's intimate associate. Rigby's nephew and heir soon after married Rumbold's daughter. Sir Thomas himself had married a daughter of Dr. Law, Bishop of Carlisle. The worthy Bishop stood godfather to one of Rumbold's children; the other godfather was the Nabob of Arcot, and the child was christened "Mahomet." So, at least, Walpole informs Mann.[10]

Rigby was a man of pleasure at White's. Wilkes, in the North Briton, describes Rigby as "an excellent bon-vivant, amiable and engaging; having all the gibes and gambols, and flashes of merriment, which set the table in a roar." In a letter to Selwyn, Rigby writes: "I am just got home from a cock-match, where I have won forty pounds in ready money; and not having dined, am waiting till I hear the rattle of the coaches from the House of Commons, in order to dine at White's.... The next morning I heard there had been extreme deep play, and that Harry Furnese went drunk from White's at six o'clock, and with the ever memorable sum of 1000 guineas. He won the chief part of Doneraile and Bob Bertie."

The Club has had freaks of epicurism. In 1751, seven young men of fashion, headed by St. Leger, gave a dinner at White's: one dish was a tart of choice cherries from a hot-house; only one glass was tasted out of each bottle of champagne. "The bill of fare is got into print," writes Walpole, to Mann; "and with good people has produced the apprehension of another earthquake."

From Mackreth the property passed in 1784, to John Martindale, and in 1812, to Mr. Raggett, the father of the present proprietor. The original form of the house was designed by James Wyatt. From time to time, White's underwent various alterations and additions. In the autumn of 1850, certain improvements being thought necessary, it came to be considered that the front was of too plain a character, when contrasted with the many elegant buildings which had risen up around it. Mr. Lockyer was consulted by Mr. Raggett as to the possibility of improving the façade; and under his direction, four bas-reliefs, representing the four seasons, which occupy the place of four sashes, were designed by Mr. George Scharf, jun. The interior was redecorated by Mr. Morant. The Club, which is at this time limited to 500 members, was formerly composed of the high Tory party, but though Conservative principles may probably prevail, it has now ceased to be a political club, and may rather be termed "Aristocratic." Several of the present members have belonged to the Club upwards of half a century, and the ancestors of most of the noblemen and men of fashion of the present day who belong to the club were formerly members of it.

The Club has given magnificent entertainments in our time. On June 20, 1814, they gave a ball at Burlington House to the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, and the allied sovereigns then in England; the cost was 9849l. 2s. 6d. Three weeks after this, the Club gave to the Duke of Wellington a dinner, which cost 2480l. 10s. 9d.

[10] National Review, No. 8.

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


The following humorous Address was supposed to have been written by Colonel Lyttelton, brother to Sir George Lyttelton, in 1752, on His Majesty's return from Hanover, when numberless Addresses were presented. White's was then a Chocolate-house, near St. James's Palace, and was the famous gaming-house, where most of the nobility had meetings and a Society:—

"The Gamesters' Address to the King.

"Most Righteous Sovereign,

"May it please your Majesty, we, the Lords, Knights, etc., of the Society of White's, beg leave to throw ourselves at your Majesty's feet (our honours and consciences lying under the table, and our fortunes being ever at stake), and congratulate your Majesty's happy return to these kingdoms which assemble us together, to the great advantage of some, the ruin of others, and the unspeakable satisfaction of all, both us, our wives, and children. We beg leave to acknowledge your Majesty's great goodness and lenity, in allowing us to break those laws, which we ourselves have made, and you have sanctified and confirmed: while your Majesty alone religiously observes and regards them. And we beg leave to assure your Majesty of our most unfeigned loyalty and attachment to your sacred person; and that next to the Kings of Diamonds, Clubs, Spades, and Hearts, we love, honour, and adore you."

To which His Majesty was pleased to return this most gracious answer:—

"My Lords and Gentlemen,

"I return you my thanks for your loyal address; but while I have such rivals in your affection, as you tell me of, I can neither think it worth preserving or regarding. I look upon you yourselves as a pack of cards, and shall deal with you accordingly."—Cole's MSS. vol. xxxi. p. 171,—in the British Museum.

In Richardsoniana we read: "Very often the taste of running perpetually after diversions is not a mark of any pleasure taken in them, but of none taken in ourselves. This sallying abroad is only from uneasiness at home, which is in every one's self. Like a gentleman who overlooking them at White's at piquet, till three or four in the morning: on a dispute they referred to him; when he protested he knew nothing of the game; 'Zounds,' say they, 'and sit here till this time?'—'Gentlemen, I'm married!'—'Oh! Sir, we beg pardon.'"

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