Garrick Club

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The Garrick Club
Founded 1831
Home page
Address 15 Garrick Street
Clubhouse occupied since 1864
Club established for The Arts; especially theatre
Club motto All the world's a stage

The Garrick Club is a gentlemen's club in London.


The Garrick Club was founded at a meeting in the Committee Room at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Wednesday 17 August 1831. Present were James Winston (a former strolling player, manager & important theatre antiquarian), Samuel James Arnold (playwright & theatre manager), Samuel Beazley (architect & playwright), Sir Andrew Francis Barnard (officer hero of the Peninsular Wars & Waterloo), and Francis Mills (timber merchant & railway speculator). It was decided to write down a number of names in order to invite them to be original members of the Garrick Club. The avowed purpose of the Club was to "tend to the regeneration of the Drama."[1]

Logo of Garrick Club

The Club was named in honour of the eminent actor David Garrick whose acting and management at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the previous century, had by the 1830s come to represent a golden age of British drama. Less than six months later the members had been recruited and a Club House found and equipped on King Street in Covent Garden. On 1 February 1832 it was reported that the novelist and journalist Thomas Gaspey was the first member to enter at 11am, and that “Mr Beazley gave the first order, (a mutton chop) at ½ past 12.”

The list of those that took up original membership runs like a Who’s Who of the Green Room for 1832: actors such as John Braham, Charles Kemble, William Charles Macready, Charles Mathews and his son Charles James; the playwrights James Robinson Planché, Theodore Hook and Thomas Noon Talfourd; scene-painters including Clarkson Stanfield and Thomas Grieve. Even the patron, the Duke of Sussex, had an element of the theatrical about him, being a well known mesmerist. To this can be added numerous Barons, Counts, Dukes, Earls and Lords, soldiers, parliamentarians and judges.

The membership would later include the like of Charles Kean, Henry Irving, Beerbohm Tree, Arthur Sullivan, JM Barrie, AW Pinero, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. From the literary world came writers such as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, H. G. Wells, AA Milne, and Kingsley Amis. the art world has been represented by painters such as John Everett Millais, Lord Leighton and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Club’s popularity at the beginning of the 1860s created an overcrowding of its original club-house. Slum clearance being undertaken just round the corner provided the opportunity to move into a brand new purpose built home on what became known as Garrick Street. The move was completed in 1864 and the Club remains in this building today.

Today the Club has around 1,300 members who continue to be drawn from across the same varied spectrum. All new candidates must be proposed by an existing member before election in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”. At present the Club remains “gentlemen only”, although Lady guests are welcome in most parts of the Club. This exclusive nature of the club was highlighted when reporter Jeremy Paxman applied to join but was initially blackballed, though he was later admitted, an experience he shares with Sir Henry Irving who despite being the first actor to receive a knighthood had himself been blackballed in 1873.

The Club holds a remarkable collection of art works representing the history of the British theatre. There are over 1000 paintings, drawings and sculptures, a selection of theatrical memorabilia, and thousands of prints and photographs.[2]

The collection originated with the actor Charles Mathews, one of the original members of the Club who had a passion for collecting theatrical portraits; they were once displayed by him in a gallery at his home, Ivy Cottage, in Highgate, North London. Mathews managed to secure a large number of pictures from the collection of Thomas Harris, who had been manager of Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and which included paintings by the likes of Johan Zoffany, Francis Hayman and Gainsborough Dupont. He also actively commissioned artists such as Samuel De Wilde to paint all the popular stars of the stage at that time (there are 196 works by De Wilde in the collection). Mathews had hoped to sell the collection to the Club and it appears that lengthy negotiations were entered into without any result. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy stock-broker and donated to the Club, having already hung on its walls for several years.

Garrick Club Building

The collection continued to grow with many being presented by artist members, such as Clarkson Stanfield and David Roberts, who with fellow scene painter Louis Haghe painted a series of large canvasses especially for the Smoking Room at the old Clubhouse. Roberts’s Temple at Baalbec remains today one of the most important paintings by that artist. Sir John Everett Millais is represented by one of his most important portraits, that of Sir Henry Irving which he painted and presented to the Club in 1884.

The picture collection continued to expand throughout the twentieth century with artists such as Edward Seago and Feliks Topolski both represented.

When the Club was founded in 1831 Rule 1 of the Garrick Club Rules and Regulations called for the "formation of a theatrical Library, with works on costume". At a General Meeting on 15 October 1831, the barrister John Adolphus suggested that members should present their duplicate dramatic works to the Club, and that these should go some way towards forming a Library. A very valuable collection has thus come together over the years, and its special collections are particularly strong on eighteenth and nineteenth century theatre.

James Winston, the first Secretary and Librarian of the Club, was one of the principal early benefactors and his gifts included minutes from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as well as his own Theatric Tourist. These presentations formed the nucleus of a Library which now holds well over 10,000 items, including plays, manuscripts, prints (bound into numerous extra-illustrated volumes), and many photographs.[3]

In late 2010 members of the New York City Century Association – which had only begun admitting female members in 1989, and then by court order[4][5] – were embroiled in a hotly contested internal debate and "unusual vote of the entire membership" over whether it "should sever ties with a prestigious, all-male club in London, called the Garrick Club, that allows women to enter only in the company of men. ... As of March 1 [2011] the reciprocity agreement will end."[6] London's Daily Telegraph interviewed a Garrick Club member who "would not be mourning the loss of his colonial cousins — or access to their facilities. 'The Century's a crap club anyway,' he said."[7] Giving up infrequent visits to the Garrick "versus condoning the discrimination of women -- it seems like a pretty easy trade-off," a male Century member told the New York Observer."[8]

Notable deceased members[edit]

In 2011, the Garrick Club newsletter compiled a list of 100 notable deceased members, yielding:


  1. ^ Letter from James Winston dated 20 August 1831 to the actor John Pritt Harley inviting him to become an original member.
  2. ^ See
  3. ^
  4. ^ Brozan, Nadine. "Century Club Tradition Nears Its End". New York Times (November 27, 1988)
  5. ^ Lee, Felicia R. "121 Years of Men Only Ends at Club". New York Times (July 28, 1989)
  6. ^ Barbaro, Michael (February 9, 2011). "At Elite Club, Debate Over More Exclusive One". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Swaine, Jon (10 February 2011). "New York's Century Association severs ties with London's Garrick Club". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  8. ^ Freeman, Nate (March 2, 2011). "Clash of the Centurions: Gender Spat Splits a Venerable Redoubt". New York Observer. 

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