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A peek inside the secret world of private members’ clubs

Art & Culture Art & Culture Expand Your Mind House News Wild Card 02/02/2022

The idea of a club – a sense of community filled with friendly, familiar faces where you feel at home – was part of the inspiration behind The Other House. Here, we take a look into the origins of private members’ clubs, and how they evolved from exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the 1600s to the modern community hubs of today.

As a resident of The Other House, you’re automatically a member of our club for as long as you stay. While we welcome everyone, our members-only areas are inspired by the private members’ clubs of old, which were hidden behind doors only a select few could enter. Join us as we delve deeper into their clandestine world to discover the where, how and why behind private members’ clubs.

Back in the day

The earliest members’ clubs opened in London in the 1600s. Back then, they were exclusive drinking dens for upper class gentlemen – think cigar smoke and swirling whisky glasses in dimly-lit corners of the capital.

Founded in 1693 in Mayfair, White’s was London’s first gentlemen’s club, which originated as a cafe, originally serving Italian hot chocolate (how clubs have changed). In the aftermath of the 1688 Glorious Revolution – which granted Parliament more power – White’s morphed into a gambling house and became a popular club with Conservative politicians. These days, its members are a closely guarded secret with Prince William and Prince Charles among its roster.

White’s’ closest rival, Brooks’s, launched in 1764 after the founders were famously refused membership at White’s; the Marquess of Lansdowne opened the club Boodle’s around the same time. Both are still on St James’s Street, which by the 1800s was dubbed ‘clubland’ as it was the epicentre of London’s private members’ club scene.

The re-evolution of members’ clubs

By the 1860s, The National Society for Women’s Suffrage had formed, giving women a voice and a vote. Move over, White’s! Women began to establish their own members’ clubs; the University Women’s Club, which dates back to 1886, is the oldest still surviving women’s members’ club. Members have included Britain’s first female mayor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, crime writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers and the women’s rights advocate Hazel Hunkins Hallinan.

General manager Alex Maitland says, “Traditionally, members’ clubs were the sole province of men… The University Women’s Club changed all that when a trailblazing group of university-educated women decided to found their own club for women. The idea was to create a ‘safe place’ for university women to meet without their husbands or male chaperones.”

Private clubs were popularised across the British Empire in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as in cities on the east coast of the United States.

Today, the Association of London Clubs represents 55 members’ clubs in London. A handful of London’s oldest clubs continue to only accept members of a single sex – the former Prime Minister David Cameron left White’s after it refused to permit women, while The AllBright club in Mayfair was established on International Women’s Day in 2018 just for women. But many clubs have now evolved to offer an array of events, restaurants and bedrooms for all genders.

The next generation

Like the clubs of the past, some of today’s establishments are associated with a particular industry or interest. The Groucho Club in Soho attracts arty, media types, while Arboretum in Charing Cross has a plant theme – imagine plant-covered ceilings and shelves draped in foliage. The Curtain in Shoreditch meanwhile has garnered a reputation for live music, counting Mary J Blige among its performers.

Others, such as the eponymous Soho House, attract a varied, creative crowd thanks to cinemas, rooftop pools, co-working spaces and spas.

Since Albert’s relocated to Chelsea, there are only a few clubs in our area, such as the bohemian Chelsea Arts Club and the family-friendly Maggie & Rose, which comes with a playroom and offers cooking lessons.

Your home in southwest London

Launching in spring 2022, The Other House will be designed with a nod to the exclusive members’ clubs of the past yet with a foot firmly in the future. Step inside and join us as we celebrate great British design and craftsmanship – bold, stylish decor sets the scene for great conversation, exotic cocktails or comfy seats to lounge in.

It’s all about creating a sense of home. In our CEO Naomi Heaton’s words, “We are a meeting place, chill-out space, a hotel and a second home. Our guests could be here on business, for leisure, to study or just dropping by for a drink.”

Londoners are invited to join as members, and guests while they are in residence in one of our Club Flats, be it for months or just overnight, have exclusive use of The Club. Our address becomes theirs and our club becomes their home. Residents and members can mingle in The Keeping Room or Hogsmire bars, have a movie night in The Den, work out in our state-of-the-art gym or relax in our wellbeing retreat The Other Space.

Inclusive rather than exclusive, The Other House is disrupting the concept of a traditional members’ club – it’s about being welcoming and affordable. It’s a friendly face at the end of the day, ready with your favourite drink. We also have a library, meeting rooms and dining rooms, The Other Kitchen, a street-side cafe, and the sophisticated Owl and Monkey bar available to everyone.

Ultimately, The Other House is a Residents’ Club where you can feel completely at home whether you’re a gentleman or not.


All images C. Edmund Sumner.