Being what was known as a “club widow” was a common situation for married women of the aristocracy in London. Men frequented their clubs more often than they did their homes. White’s, Brooks’s, and Boodle’s were the three great clubs of the era. White’s was the most exclusive of the three. It was a social club, which prided itself on remaining party politic free and was the most aristocratic of the three.
Brook’s was founded in 1778 by William Brooks, an ex-manager of Almack’s. The original members of the club numbered seven and twenty and were each young dandies of the time. Macaronis one and all, these men were known for their outrageous clothing choices and their enormous wigs. Quickly, the club earned a reputation for gambling, hard drinking, and sensational behavior. Men won and lost family fortunes at Brooks’s tables. Most of the original members were from Whig families and held liberal ideas. Soon, Brooks’s achieved another reputation, one as the ex-officio headquarters of the Whig party. Politics were the talk of each day, but Brooks also admitted artists and philanthropists and actors, etc. Garrick, Wilberforce, Reynolds, Sheridan, etc., along with the Prince of Wales called Brooks’s “home.”
Boodle’s belonged to the country squires and fox-hunters.
Boodle’s is a London gentlemen’s club, founded in 1762, at 49-51 Pall Mall, London, by Lord Shelburne the future Marquess of Landsdowne and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the club came to be known after the name of its head waiter Edward Boodle.
In 1782 Boodle’s took over the “Savoir Vivre” club house at 28 St. James’s Street, London, and has been located there ever since.
The club-house was designed by John Crunden in 1775 and the ground floor was refurbished by John Buonarotti Papworth between 1821 and 1834. Although the three clubs claimed “individuality,” they shared clientele.
All three clubs offered gambling, a great passion of the era. The clubs of St. James’s were descended from the chocolate and coffee houses of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century period. White’s was named after a popular chocolate house of the era. Lord Byron was a member of the Cocoa-Tree Club, which was originally a Tory chocolate house that held the reputation of being the headquarters of the Jacobite Party. Because the coffee and chocolate houses were public, gambling became an attraction for card sharks. Making the clubs private eliminated that temptation. Aristocrats preferred to lose their fortunes to other “gentlemen.”
The most popular games of the time were hazard and faro. Hazard was a dice game, in which the gamester threw the dice against a particular number between 5 and 9. It was a game of pure chance. Faro was a type of roulette, but it fell out of popularity because it was easy for the bank to rig the game. Card games, such as piquet or whist, knew their own heavy gamblers. Although losing one’s family fortune was never the purpose of a hand of cards, many a member of the aristocracy found himself on the steps of Howard and Gibbs, a fashionable money lender for those of the upper crust.