windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

I Don’t Want To Belong To Any Club That Will Accept People Like Me As A Member – Part Thirty Nine

The Garrick Club

There was a time, perhaps those conditions still pertain, when the acting profession was not seen to be a respectable one. The Garrick Club – it still exists with some 1,300 members and a seven-year waiting list – was formed on 17th August 1831 with the avowed intent of regenerating the theatre and enhancing the status of actors by providing them with a place where they could hob-nob with men of refinement on an equal footing. The five founding fathers met in the Committee Room of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and decided to draw up a list of names to invite to become the initial members of the club to be named in honour of the famous Georgian thespian, David Garrick.

The Club found some premises on King Street in Covent Garden and it opened its doors on 1st February 1832. The first member to pass through the portals was the novelist and journalist, Thomas Gaspey, at 11 o’clock sharp and ninety minutes later a Mr Beazley ordered the first bit of tucker, a mutton-chop. The initial membership consisted of many of luminaries of the London stage together with a smattering of men of literature and artists. In accordance with its original aim the membership also included its fair share of the aristocracy and judiciary.

Success, however, can be just as much a problem as failure and by the 1860s the size of the membership had rather outgrown the modest club premises. Covent Garden at that time wasn’t the spruce and trendy area that it is today and was surrounded by some of the worst slums to be found in London. The decision to clear some of the worst slums gave the Club the break it was looking for and it secured some now vacant land around the corner from the original clubhouse upon which it built much larger premises. These are on what is now known as Garrick Street and were opened to the membership in 1864. They still serve as the club’s headquarters today.

The popularity of the club meant that the Committee had to keep a careful eye on numbers. Any potential applicant had to be proposed by an existing member and then his candidature was voted upon in a secret ballot. This gave the members the opportunity to blackball a candidate, the Committee remarking at the time that they instituted this process that “it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”. Whether they succeeded in their aim is a matter of conjecture. The famous actor, Henry Irving, though, fell foul of the dread black ball, although, interestingly, one of his quotes appears as a banner on the Club’s website. The club is still men only but it can only be a question of time before this changes.

For those who visit the club, the undoubted highlight is its phenomenal collection of theatrical memorabilia. The Garrick has over 1,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures as well as a library containing over 10,000 books, manuscripts and ephemera, fulfilling one of the Club’s original aims of “the formation of a theatrical library, with works on costume“. If you find a bore, take refuge in the library is my advice.

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