The Four Hand Club
The lure of the open road and the thrill of travelling at speed has attracted the attention of young men for many a year and at the start of the 19th century clubs sprang up to enable chaps to share their common interests with others. Two early examples of these were the Bensington Driving Club (the BDC), established in 1807, and the rival Four Horse Club, established in April 1808, by those who were unable to join the BDC because of its self-imposed cap of 25 members.
The BDC did not disband until 1854, meeting initially at the White Hart public house and then relocating to Bedfont where it became the Bedfont Driving Club and meeting at the Black Dog public house. Colloquially it became known as the Black and White Club. Its second president was one Thomas Onslow, the second earl of Onslow, who was lampooned in a number of epigrams which went along the lines of “What can Tommy Onslow do? / He can drive a coach and two / Can Tommy Onslow do no more? He can drive a coach and four”. Doesn’t say much for his other skills!
The Four Horse Club seems to have been more fun, though. Initially, under the influence of a notorious tearaway, the Earl of Barrymore – he will probably be worth a post in his own right at some time – their modus operandi was to bribe coachmen to give them the reins of their coach and drive them at break-neck speeds along the very poor roads, no doubt to the alarm of innocent bystanders. Alas, this Toad of Toad Hall style of behaviour didn’t last long and the club sobered down, establishing some very particular rules and requirements of its membership.
Their rules required members to drive a barouche, a four-wheeled, shallow carriage, which was to have silver mounted harnesses, rosettes at their head, yellow bodies, dickies and to be pulled by bay horses. Because of their use of the barouche the club was also known as the Barouche Club. However, strictures as to the colouration of the nags were not universally enforced as a couple of members, Sir Henry Peyton and a Mr Annesley, drove roan horses.
There was a strict dress code. Members were required to wear a drab coat which reached sown to their ankles and which was decorated with three tiers of pockets and large mother-of-pearl buttons. To complete their ensemble they wore a blue waistcoat with yellow stripes which were to be an inch wide, knee-length breeches complete with strings and rosettes which were made of plush and a hat which had to be at least 3.5 inches deep at the crown. They must have cut a spectacular dash.
Meeting on the first and third Thursdays of May and June they would ride in procession at noon from Cavendish Square in London to Salt Hill, a distance of 24 miles, ending up at either the Windmill or the Castle for dinner. The Club finally settled for the Windmill as their final destination when whilst dining there on a very warm evening, after the table had been cleared, the hotel replaced the warm chairs with cooler ones – this attention to detail finding particular favour with the members.
As you might expect with such a Club, there were very strict rules around the procession. Each member travelled in single file with no overtaking allowed and no one travelling at a speed above a trot. What the Earl of Barrymore would have made of that, I don’t know.
The club was disbanded in 1820, revived in 1822 but finally folded in 1824 but not before bequeathing a moderately funny bon mot. In response to the enquiry, “I hear you men have broken up”, one erstwhile member responded, “No. We’ve broken down; the FHC had not enough in hand to keep on with”. Collapse of stout parties – what wags!