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

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The Society of Brothers Club

The Society of Brothers Club, not to be confused with the religious grouping that later became the Bruderhof Group, had a very short lifespan, lasting from 1711 until 1713. It was formed by Henry St John II in the turbulent political atmosphere leading up to the death of Queen Anne and the Hanoverian ascendency as an exclusively Tory dining club. Although it was relatively short-lived and not particularly successful, we know a lot about it because the satirist, Jonathan Swift, was a member. Indeed Swift had a major hand in compiling the rules of the Society.

They met every Thursday – there had been a forerunner of the club called the Saturday Club which, unsurprisingly, met on Saturdays – and their objective, according to Swift, was “to advance conversation and friendship, and to reward learning without interest or recommendation”. As for membership, Swift declared “we take in none but men of wit, or men of interest; and if we go on as we began, no other Club in this town will be worth talking of”. Having a relative as a member was no guarantee that you would get in. The Duke of Beaufort proposed his brother-in-law, the Earl of Danby, as a member but the proposal was successfully opposed by Swift because “Danby is not above twenty, and we will have no more boys”.

In the early days there were no more than around 20 members – Swift records “we are now, in all, nine lords and ten commoners…and we want but two to make up our number”. The Society met at the Thatched House Tavern on St James’ Street, a choice that was perhaps geographically convenient but put a strain on the Club’s coffers. The Duke of Ormond was in the chair one week and the meal, described as “four dishes and four without a dessert” cost an astonishing £20. That was without wine which was usually provided by the Society’s President.

There was soon dissension in the ranks over costs. The Treasurer, reported Swift, was in a rage over costs and soon afterwards “our Society does not meet now as usual”.  In fact, the club met once a fortnight and held a committee meeting every other week to determine upon some charitable good cause to support. Often the beneficiaries of the Society’s largesse were impoverished writers and artists. One subscription was launched for a poet who had lampooned the Duke of Marlborough, all the members donating two guineas each, other than Swift, Arbuthnot and Friend who gave just one each.

Still dissatisfied with the expense of the Thatched House the Club had a bit of an itinerant existence. Arbuthnot, as president, hosted a dinner in “Ozinda’s Coffee-house, just by St James’s. We were never merrier or better company, and did not part till after eleven”. Then fifteen members dined under a canopy at Parson’s Green leading Swift to remark, “I never saw anything so fine and romantic”. Eventually, the Club settled for the Star and Garter in Pall Mall, although costs still were complained of.

According to Swift’s Journal to Stella, meetings were convivial where there was “much drinking, little thinking” – sounds my kind of club – and often the business which they had assembled to consider was put off to a more convenient time. Members would, however, entertain each other with their latest exploits or readings of their latest masterpiece. Swift’s The Fable of Midas “passed wonderfully at our Society tonight”.

By now, though, Swift and Arbuthnot had devised Martinus Scriblerus and went off to form the Scriblerus Club and the Brothers’ star waned.

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

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The Nottinghamshire Club

Isn’t it annoying when there are two pubs on the same street bearing the same name? This was the case in 18th century London where there were two pubs called the Star and Garter on Pall Mall. It is thought that the one on the south side of the street, which also hosted the Diletanttis, was the one which the Nottinghamshire met at once a month. The club was so called because it drew its membership from gentlemen who lived or came from Nottinghamshire.

Proceedings would start on the second floor of the pub just after four o’clock in the afternoon with a jolly good dinner spiced with lively conversation. The bill and a bottle was brought in at seven to wrap up proceedings. I’m sure the gentlemen from the north Midlands had a convivial time.

On 26th January 1765 things didn’t quite go to plan. Ten members of the club sat down to dine with John Hewet in the chair and amongst the diners were to be found Lord Byron, the 5th Baron (not the poet but his great uncle) and Byron’s cousin, William Chaworth. When the proceedings were drawing to a close Hewet suggested as a topic of conversation the best way to preserve game on one’s estate. Chaworth and Byron expressed contrary views, the former recommending taking measures of the utmost severity against poachers while Byron thought that the best way to maximise game was to do nothing at all. Chaworth then claimed that he had more game on his five acres of land than Byron had on all his estate. Byron’s response was to suggest a £100 bet but the wager was not struck.

The two gentlemen descended to the first floor and asked a waiter to show them to a vacant room. After a few minutes the bell rang and the waiter returned to the room to find Chaworth with his sword in his left hand and Byron with his in his right and their unoccupied hands around each other’s neck. During the contre-temps Byron managed to wound his opponent, from which injuries Chaworth died a couple of days later.

Byron was sent to the Tower of London and appeared before the House of Lords on 16th and 17th April 1765. He was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. However, he got away with just a fine and upon his return to his gaff in Newstead Abbey he mounted his infamous sword on the wall of his bedchamber and revelled in his newly gained sobriquet, the Wicked Lord.

Whether this unsavoury event put a dampener on the proceedings of the illustrious Nottinghamshire, I know not, but the club fades out of the historical records. The Star and Garter, however, seems to have been a popular venue, Jonathan Swift persuading his club to meet there as early as 1712 and the Jockey Club meeting there in 1752. The Connoisseur noted in 1754 that “fools of quality of that day drove to the Star and Garter to regale on macaroni”. The Savoir Faire club used it as its headquarters during its brief existence and in 1774 Sir Horace Mann of Kent and the Duke of Dorset and Lord Tankerville, representing Surrey and Hampshire respectively, met there to draft the first rules of cricket including the fiendish LBW law.

The Epicure’s Almanack of 1815 claimed that the establishment was noted for the quality of its claret, although a century earlier the main complaint was the excessive costs. The Duke of Ormond was charged £21 6 shillings and eight for a meal of two courses for four without wine or dessert. Now that would have caused me to draw my sword!