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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The characteristic English club (sometimes called a gentlemen's club to distinguish it from a *working men's club), which developed in its present form in the 18C. Male London society had previously met in the more informal *coffee houses. The new clubs differed in being open only to members, whereas a payment of a penny or twopence gained access to a coffee house. The transition was gradual and the oldest surviving London club, *White's, developed from one to the other.

The leading entrepreneur of 18C club life was William Almack (d. 1781). In 1762 he opened Almack's club at 50 Pall Mall, where he provided his members with dinner, newspapers and opportunities to gamble; his manager there was Edward Boodle. Two years later he began a club next door, at no. 49, for 27 young aristocrats calling themselves the Macaronis; this one was managed by William Brooks. Each manager soon took his own members elsewhere, to form the independent *Boodle's and *Brooks's. But Almack was meanwhile busy with the even more successful Assembly Rooms which he opened in 1765 in King Street. Known simply as Almack's, these rooms were the site of fashionable balls and gatherings until the mid-19C.

If the 18C clubs were unashamedly for aristocrats interested in drinking and gambling, those founded in the 19C tended to have a membership sharing more serious interests: science, medicine and literature at the *Athenaeum, politics at the *Reform and the *Carlton, drama and the arts at the *Garrick, travel at the *Travellers. They all occupy magnificent buildings, where members can read, write, play cards, drink and talk, have lunch or dinner and entertain friends. They remain for the most part resolutely masculine, opening certain rooms to women as guests but not allowing them membership. The Reform has been the honourable exception, with female members since 1981.

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