The Clubs of S. James’s Street

Exclusivity, Domesticity and Secrecy

Abstract: This paper explores the notion of gendered space through varying configurations of public and private with specific reference to a number of clubs in early nineteenth century London’s St. James’s. The male-only venue of the club is considered to represent public masculinity through two forms of male control over space; first, patriarchal mechanisms which exclude women and second, fraternal mechanisms which exclude certain men. The paper outlines how the male club also operated as a private space within the public realm, both as a space of intimacy and domesticity rivalling the familial home, and as a site of private property and exclusivity. The male clubs of St. James’s, specifically the four at the top of St. James’s Street; Boodle’s, Brooks’s, Crockford’s and White’s, were frequented by men of the same class who used their control of space to assert social and political allegiances and rivalries between men.

The exclusivity of the first floor gambling room, a place of secrecy and privacy, is contrasted with the ground floor bow window, a site of public display and exclusivity. Male leisure pastimes, such as drinking, sporting, gambling, are explored as social and spatial practices which, by establishing shared codes of consumption, display and exchange, represent public masculinities.

The paper was published as ‘The Clubs of St. James’s Street: Exclusivity, Domesticity and Secrecy’, Journal of Architecture, (Summer, 1999).

Images: Pierce Egan, Life in London (1820-1), The Guildhall Library.
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