|Affiliations||Church of England|
The Club of Nobody's Friends is a private dining club with origins in the High Church tradition of the Church of England. It is one of the oldest of the London dining clubs and frequently meets in Lambeth Palace. Its motto is Pro Ecclesia et Rege.
The club, often referred to simply as Nobody's Friends or Nobody's, was founded in honour of William Stevens and first met on 21 June 1800 at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. Its inaugural dinner consisted of thirteen men who would later form the movement known as the Hackney Phalanx. In the late 1880s Nobody’s occasionally met at the Freemasons' Tavern, which served as a meeting place for a variety of notable organisations from the eighteenth century until it was demolished to make way for the Connaught Hotel in 1909.
Stevens was a wealthy hosier who became a writer and philanthropist, leading figure in the High Church movement, and Treasurer of Queen Anne's Bounty. He wrote theological pamphlets under the nom de plume of Nobody which gave the club its curious name.
The club grew to consist of 50 members, half clergymen and half laymen, and met three times a year. Between 1800 and 1900 membership included three archbishops, forty-nine bishops, twenty Cathedral deans, many peers and baronets, and members of the House of Commons. It also included privy councillors, judges, and fellows of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries.
A Nobody's menu from 1891 shows a club dinner at the Hotel Metropole, London consisting of ten or more courses, standard at that time in formal Victorian dining. It may be assumed that presentation of the courses was in the service à la russe tradition.
It is recorded that in 1962. a former bishop of Norwich, Launcelot Fleming, left Nobody's the "worse for wear" and was later found by friends singing "I’m a space Bishop" whilst wearing a motorbike helmet he had acquired on the journey home. The story may be apocryphal, but it is said that he met his future wife among the friends who discovered him in this state.
The dinner is good and I enjoy the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury sitting beside me, but I can’t think why I joined except that Edward Carpenter and Burke Trend are both members. After dinner, we discuss the admission of women to membership and some very odd backwoodsman’s views are expressed, notably by three former headmasters – Frank Fisher, Tom Howarth and Oliver van Oss. The latter is particularly pompous, reducing the discussion to farce, an old trick that headmasters use when faced with pupils or masters demanding change. I say a few words in favour of admitting women but it is decided that there will be a postal vote and I guess the backwoodsmen will carry the day. In the obscurity of the closet, the bishops and deans will vote for the cosy status quo.
It is believed that women have since been admitted as members, but this is not known for definite.
He was a member of "Nobody's Friends"—a body which dines in Lambeth Palace, half of whom are lay people and half of whom are ecclesiastical. I will not explain why what I am about to say happens, but the group is called "Nobody's Friends" because people who are elected to it have to make a seven-minute speech to explain why they are nobody's friend. It will not surprise your Lordships' House that John Belstead did that particularly well.
In 2014, the retired bishop of Bath and Wells, Rt Revd John Bickersteth, when asked how he had become a bishop described how after being 'spotted' at Nobody's, "You used to have lunch at the Athenaeum." Though he recalled that in his case, the luncheon leading to episcopal elevation took place at The Commonwealth Club.
The current President of Nobody's is believed to be Sir Philip Mawer, former Secretary General of the Church of England's Synod and current chair of Allchurches Trust. He was President in 2015. It is not known whether he has been replaced.
In 2018 the club was subject of a question in the IICSA hearing into abuse in the Church of England. Lord Lloyd had sent a letter of influence in the Peter Ball case to Archbishop Carey prefaced with the phrase "May I presume on a brief acquaintanceship at dinners of Nobody's Friends?" When asked about the club in his evidence to the Inquiry, Lord Lloyd described Nobody's Friends as "simply a club, half consisting of the clergy, members of the clergy, and half consisting of members of the laity, which dine together probably twice a year, very often in Lambeth Palace." The IICSA counsel pointed out that the Daily Mail had once described it as "centred on a strong core of bishops, ex-Tory ministers and former military top brass, a highly secretive, all-male group representing Britain's most entrenched professions and institutions." Lord Lloyd replied, "That's a typical Daily Mail description of something they don't particularly like, but I can assure you that Nobody's Friends is a perfectly ordinary dining club..." The same article that IICSA drew upon in the hearing indicated that Prime Minister Tony Blair had been keen to join the club in 2003.
Stephen Parsons commented in an influential blog, following the IICSA hearing, that the forum Nobody’s Friends provided for influence in the Peter Ball case suggested a “toxic masculinity” in the Church of England. He went on to say:
A men-only dining club that meets regularly at Lambeth Palace, known as Nobody’s Friends, appears to be a gathering for socially very well-connected Anglicans. Although originally high church in its origins, the club provides an opportunity for a privileged church group to network and sometimes lobby those in authority in the Church …… The Nobody’s Friends dining group has been described as ‘private’ rather than a secret group, but it still represents an exclusive world of male privilege within the heart of the Anglican establishment. When Bishop John Bickersteth once revealed that his appointment to Bath and Wells followed his being ‘spotted’ at a Nobody’s dinner, we began to get the feeling that the values of our church may incline towards corporate and institutional interests rather than a personal morality based on the Sermon on the Mount.
- Peter Clarke; Tony Claydon (2011). Saints and Sanctity (Studies in Church History). Ecclesiastical History Society. p. 316. ISBN 978-0954680985. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Strong, Rowan, ed. (2017). The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume III: Partisan Anglicanism and its Global Expansion 1829-c. 1914. Oxford University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0199699704. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Park, Sir James Allan (1814). Memoirs of William Stevens, Esq. Treasurer of Queen Anne's Bounty. Philanthropic Society. p. 115. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- Podmore, Colin (2005). Aspects of Anglican Identity. Church House Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 978-0715140741. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "Domatic Chapter, No. 177" (PDF). The Freemasons Chronicle (518): 375. 13 December 1884. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
- Winn, Christopher (2008). I Never Knew That About the English. Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0091926731. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Andrews, Robert (2015). Lay Activism and the High Church Movement of the Late Eighteenth Century, The Life and Thought of William Stevens, 1732–1807. Brill, Boston/Leiden. ISBN 9789004293793. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Varley, E.A. (1992). The Last of the Prince Bishops: William Van Mildert and the High Church Movement of the Early Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780521892315. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- Lubenow, William (2010). Liberal Intellectuals and Public Culture in Modern Britain, 1815-1914. The Boydell Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-84383559-2. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Cokayne, George. The Club of Nobody's Friends. Nobody's Friends - Printed for Private Circulation. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- "DINNER [held by] NOBODY'S FRIENDS [at] "WHITEHALL ROOMS, THE HOTEL METROPOLE, LONDON, [ENGLAND]" (FOREIGN HOTEL) - PICRYL". 1 January 1891.
- Butler-Gallie, The Revd Fergus (2018). A Field Guide to the English Clergy: A Compendium of Diverse Eccentrics, Pirates, Prelates and Adventurers; All Anglican, Some Even Practising. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1786074416. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- Rae, John (April 2011). The Old Boys' Network: A Headmaster's Diaries 1970-1986. Short Books. ISBN 978-1-906021-63-4. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "House of Lords. Tributes to the late Lord Belstead". Lords Hansard. 5 December 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
- "Guns, gays and the Queen - a former bishop reminisces". The Spectator. 3 May 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Robert. M., Andrews (2015). Lay Activism and the High Church Movement of the Late Eighteenth Century: The Life and Thought of William Stevens, 1732-1807. Brill. p. 263. ISBN 9789004293793. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
- "IICSA Peter Ball investigation 23-27 July 2018". Child Abuse Law. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
- "IICSA Inquiry Anglican Church Investigation Hearing Day 5" (PDF). IICSA. p. 13. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- "Religious power and privilege failed the victims in the Peter Ball affair". National Secular Society. 11 August 2018. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
- Parsons, Stephen. "Toxic Masculinity -A problem for the Church?". Surviving Church. Retrieved 18 January 2019.