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17-03-2015, 10:37


See The Oxford and Cambridge Club 71-77 Pall Mall SWl

Middle class intellectuals and literary

Men were not much esteemed in fashionable clubs at the turn of the century, but their time was coming. Queen Victoria’s long reign, and the solid comfortable club life which was so important a part of the London scene throughout it, belonged peculiarly to them.

Among the first of the big middle-class clubs was the United University, founded in 1822 for graduates of - or, to be more precise, for those who had matriculated at Oxford or Cambridge. Palmerston, that great progenitor of clubs, sat on the original committee. A suitable edifice was

1  In March 1972 the members of the United University moved permanently into the Oxford and Cambridge Club, The building was polished up to receive them.

2  Could it be of the United University that Michael Fnnes, himself an Oxford don, ms thinking when he described a London club in one of his novels? "The corhmittee was rather fond of notices. Some members said that the club was plastered with them in a thoroughly irritating way. They were couched in various grammatical forms, with perhaps a preponderant inclination towards passive or impersonal instructions. It is earnestly desired by the committee. . . was a favourite opening. The only tabu seemed to be on positive commands and injunctions, Herxee the simple statement: Silence is observed.'

3  A marble copy by Rossi of a statue of Psyche; a challenge for any sculptor since she was so beautiful that she provoked the envy of Venus and the love of Cupid.

A Club for the Unclubbable

"Mycroft lodges in Pall Mall, and he walks round ihe corner into Whitehall every morning and back every evening. From yearns end to year*s end he takes no other exercise, and is seen nowhere else, except only in the Diogenes Club, which is Just opposite his rooms.

'7cannot recall the name. ”

*‘Very likely not. There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Strangers' Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, permitted, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and! have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere. *

We had reached Pali Mall as we talked, and were walking down it from the St James's end, Sherlock Holmes stopped at a door some little distance from the Carlton, and, cautioning me not to speak, he led the way into the hall. Through the glass panelling I caught a glimpse of a large and luxurious room in which a considerable number of men were sitting about and reading papers, each in his own little nook. Holmes showed me into a small chamber which looked out on to Pall Mall, and then, leaving me for a minute, he came back with a companion who I knew could only be his brother.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Creek Interpreter

4  fn some clubs (here have been complaints that members helped themselves unfairly to the puddings and pies: but in the United University it vas greed for intellectual sustenance which had to be restrained.

5  The library corridor, with Oxford prims on the wall,

6  Oxford and Cambridge men are accustomed to living on a staircase: but few college staircases have bronze statues (in this case a reproduction of Donatello's David; lurking beneath them.

7  * When A utumn *s leaves denude the grove f seek my Lecture where it lurks

'Mid the unpublished portion of My works. ’

The United University had a collection, said to be the most complete anywhere, of Oxford A Imanacks; more than 150 of them, dating back to / 752.

Constructed in Suffolk Street, combining the Doric and Ionic styles to produce what has been described as ‘a grave and venerable air like a Doctor of Divinity'.

It was one of Gladstone's favourite clubs.

With his lifelong attachment to the university and to university manners, he would go there for a chop, cheese and beer.

Thackeray presented the club with the proofs of Esmond. The library contained a number of quite valuable books, and the walls were adorned with very agreeable prints of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. A set of dessert plates, half of them light blue, the others dark blue, were given by a member. Captain A. P. L. Baxter: and it was the duty of the dining-room staff to make sure that dark-blue plates were used for Oxonian members and light-blue ones for the Cantabs. (Sadly this good custom died in the Second World War. Modern club servants are apt to be too transient or too uninterested. They do not know the members as their predecessors did.)

In 1906 there was some talk that the club might move to St James's Square, but nothing came of it. The United University remained in Suffolk Street. A whole new wing was added in 1936, mainly to accommodate ladies. This proved too ambitious, however, and part of the new building was let as offices.

Wives and daughters were allowed to become associate members, howevei, with their own drawing room and mixed dining room. So were graduates of the women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, but not a great many were ever attracted; women, on the whole, are not clubbable, and the University Women's Club drained off some of the few who were.

The members of the United University tended to be, as they always had been, respectably middle class and professional - lawyers, civil servants, clergymen, academics. About half joined as soon as they came down from the university.

The post-war change in the type of undergraduate was inevitably reflected in the membership of a university club, but not proportionately, since the more bizarre modern undergraduates are unlikely to be attracted by London club life.

Rationally, the United University and the Oxford and Cambridge should have merged long ago. They exchanged with each other at holiday times, and the Oxford and Cambridge's spacious house could obviously accommodate both clubs without much difficulty. The two sets of members were virtually indistinguishable, but neither was prepared to relinquish its own premises. A new difference was created when the Oxford and Cambridge Club, needing more income, decided to accept candidates from universities other than Oxford and Cambridge. A similar suggestion was put to the members of the United University but rejected with proper scorn.

Eventually, economic reason - backed by stern necessity - prevailed. In December 1971 both clubs finally voted for the merger. The members of the Oxford and Cambridge moved into the United University while renovations were begun, and improvements made, to the building in Pall Mall. In March 1972 both lots of members transferred permanently to the Oxford and Cambridge. The Suffolk Street premises were taken over by Coutts Bank. Mammon now reigns in what was once a Grove of Academe.