CLUBLAND | Under viktorianska tiden expolderade antalet medlemmsklubbar i London. År 1900 fanns det över 250 stycken olika herr (och dam) klubbar.
En äldre, distingerad gentleman, iförd slips och kostym, som sitter djupt nersjunken i en fåtölj och läser The Times är antagligen för många sinnebilden av en engelsk klubb.
Och bilden är inte helt osann. Men det cirkulerar också många anekdoter om excentriska medlemmar som befolkat dessa klubbar genom historien.
“Indeed, one miserly 19th-century member, Charles Agar, was so reluctant to leave the Carlton Club each evening that the night porter invariably had to search the building for him”, skriver t.ex. Seth Alexander Thévoz som forskat om klubbarna under drottning Victorias tid.
Alla dessa klubbar sin egen högst personliga profil. Många var rent sociala sammanslutningar medan andra fokuserade på specifika intressen eller yrken.
Här fanns medlemsklubbar för t.ex. sport-, fiske- eller reseintresserade. Här fanns också klubbar för olika universitet, officerare eller personer som tjänstgjort i kolonierna. Och så fanns det naturligtvis politiska klubbar.
Thévoz skriver vidare i History Today:
[I]t was for their political rather than their social clout that the London clubs had the greatest impact. The 1832 Reform Act created several hundred thousand new electors, people who consciously defined themselves as middle class. Shunned by the traditional political and aristocratic citadels of Brooks’s and White’s, this group founded their own more ‘popular’ political establishments, led by the Conservative-supporting Carlton Club in 1832 and the Liberal-supporting Reform Club in 1836.
The Great Fire of 1834 destroyed the old Palace of Westminster and, although the new House of Commons chamber was completed by 1852, Parliament remained a noisy building site well into the 1860s. For the whipping and lobbying activities that are an essential part of any parliamentary democracy, MPs had nowhere to go except to their clubs. These afforded MPs cheap and convenient all-night dining in central London, in several cases with the doors timed to close an hour after Parliament ceased sitting.
While the political influence of elite clubs proved transient, they nonetheless played a critical role in the evolution of parties and politics. In the 1830s the Liberal whip Edward Ellice popularised the phrase ‘Club Government’, as the Carlton and Reform Clubs housed national offices for the Conservative and Liberal parties (complete with printing presses and facilities for franking mail), pre-dating the creation of central political organisations in the 1870s. Hansom cabs ferried MPs from Pall Mall to Parliament in an eight-minute round trip, as the clubs became a convenient place for whips to pick up scores of MPs before a vote.
Most clubs had strict caps on membership numbers, but in political clubs MPs were exempt from such limits, so could join in large enough numbers to exercise significant influence.
In its 19th century heyday the club not only stood as an innovative way of brokering social interactions, it also allowed MPs to meet the costs of sitting in Parliament without burdening the taxpayer.
Bild: Interiör från Reform Club som var en klubb för anhängare till liberalerna.