Walking around London with no particular destination is always a treat for me. The sights, the sounds, the people. I loved days when I had no fixed plans and could wander about. It wasn’t the case on this visit. With only four days in the city, we decided to re-visit as many of our favorite places and see as many friends as we could. That left little time for meandering.
Much as I enjoy doing my own research regarding the history of London, it’s always nice to go on a guided walk with one of the many, extremely knowledgeable and entertaining London Tour Guides. I’ve been on numerous London Walks which were all very pleasant and I learned a lot when we first moved to London. London Walks cover the basic history of a particular area and it’s mainly for those just visiting. For our return visit, I felt I’d outgrown the basic walks and wanted something more in-depth. A tour the locals would prefer.
Having followed Mark Rowland’s blog for over a year, I was thrilled when I read about his walk entitled The Gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s: Victorian London’s LinkedIn. It’s offered through Footprints of London.
We linked up with Mark in Green Park at 7 pm then went on a very thorough and interesting evening walk through Mayfair. He intertwined stories of these men’s clubs and how important they were for upper class networking.
Our first stop was White’s at 37 St James’s Street (building with the bay window in the above photo)
White’s Chocolate House was opened in 1698. Anyone could frequent it so long as they could pay a small fee. But by 1736, White’s owner realized it was much more lucrative to cater exclusively to the aristocratic men. These men would meet to discuss politics, world events and, of course, gossip. White’s became a members only club with a very long waiting list.
There was an awful lot of decadence happening behind the beautiful facade. Its members have always been the power brokers of Great Britain but White’s is also legendary for being a den of gambling, gossiping and conspicuous consumption. There’s a betting book which archives bets placed between 1743 to 1878. These wagers (and we’re talking about thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands) were placed on everything ~ sometimes morbid bets such as which celebrities would die first; personal bets as to length of pregnancies; and, as Mark told us, even a bet as to which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window pane first. Obviously men with way too much time and money on their hands.The betting lead to financial ruin for many.
To this day, White’s is an extremely exclusive club ~ there are 500 members, men only and a nine-year waiting list. Queen Elizabeth II is the only woman to have visited and that was back in 1991.
There were many other clubs we went by and talked about including Almacks, Brookes, Boodles, Automobile club, etc. Mark had a lot of amusing tales as well as very interesting historic facts. Originally, when I told my 16-year-old the name of the tour, I got a raised eyebrow and a not so subtle skeptical look. About an hour into the walk, she whispered in my ear “This isn’t what I expected. It’s really interesting.”
Chatham House, London
My favorite was the very respectable Chatham House. Membership consist of people and organizations interested in international affairs. Membership includes business leaders, academics, diplomats, the media, non-governmental organizations, policy-makers and researchers. It is ranked as the 2nd top Think Tank worldwide (Brookings Institute is #1).
And I’m a big fan of the Chatham House Rule which states:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
If you’re able to partake in one of the Footprints of London walking tours, you won’t be disappointed. Click here for additional information and to pre-book your tour. There are several walks I’d love to go on and they will definitely be on the agenda next time we’re in London.
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