One of the great joys of leading guided walks, is, believe it or not, being asked really difficult and perceptive questions to which you don’t know the answer. Not only does it show people are interested and actually listening to whatever it is you are rambling on about at the time, but it also stretches your own knowledge, which is never a bad thing.
Just such a thing happened on my walk last night. Those of you who have read my blog post on the subject might recall my contention that the St James’s gentlemen’s clubs were a uniquely Victorian phenomenon, but a lovely Dutch couple on my walk last night pushed that a little further and asked whether they were also uniquely British. And the honest answer is I don’t actually know.
We debated it a little as we were walking and we reached the conclusion that they probably were. Their earliest incarnations were as playgrounds for the British aristocracy and nobility (Swift described White’s as “the bane of half the English nobility”), so we thought it likely that they were a product of a class system that seems uniquely British. The only other possibility we could identify was that France, with a similar system of aristocrats and nobles in the 18th century, might have produced a similar phenomenon had it not been for the small matter of most of the potential membership pool falling foul of madame guillotine at the time. Post-revolutionary France was hardly the most propitious environment for the establishment of exclusive gentlemen’s clubs as a preserve of the idle rich…
As fascinating a conversation as it was, we could hardly claim it as a definitive conclusion, so I thought I’d throw it out to the Blogosphere. If anyone can shed any more definitive light, would love to hear from you.