Friday, February 1, 2013

Where the Boys Are: Still Betting at White's

My dears, please forgive the recycling of an older post. It received a great number of hits, so I thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing it again. As some of you know, my father passed away last Sunday, and my heart is heavy. I hope to have more energy for blogging next week. Appreciate the kind thoughts! Regina

The nineteenth century saw the rising popularity of gentlemen’s clubs in London. There were clubs for military men, a club for men of Scottish descent, a club for men who had travelled outside England by at least 500 miles. But one of the most famous was the club for the fashionable: White’s.

White’s started out as a chocolate house, a place where one went to drink hot chocolate and chat with one’s equals (not too different from coffee houses today). In the late 1700s, the establishment took up rooms on St. James’s and limited membership to a certain number of male subscribers (300 at the beginning of the nineteenth century; 500 by 1814).

As a young man, you could only hope to breath the rarified air of White’s. You were allowed to visit as a guest of another member, say an older brother or father. To become a member, you needed a current member or two to vouch for you. All current members voted on whether to accept you, dropping a small white ball into a box to indicate favor and a small black ball to indicate disfavor. A single black ball was enough to bar you entrance to that hallowed hall. (Anyone heard of being "blackballed"?)

But if you were so lucky as to be invited to join, you had to pay a yearly subscription (11 guineas in 1814) and agree to abide by a set of rules. Once inside those doors, you might play cards to all hours, eat a good supper at precisely 10 each night, and read the Times in peace. But one of the most entertaining things about White’s was its infamous betting book.

Any member could bet any other member anything, at any time. The bet was recorded in the book for all members to ogle and gossip about, and the loser had better pay promptly or risk the wrath of his fellow members (including being removed from membership). Bets ranged all over the place, but generally covered events taking place (or not), people getting married or having children (or not), and, early in the century, the movements and defeat of Napoleon.

Some bets were easily identified, even in the shorthand used in the book: “Mr. G. Talbot bets Mr. Blackford five guineas that Mr. Walsh is transported.” Apparently Mr. Walsh was vindicated, for Mr. Talbot paid his wager.

Others were far more secretive. “Mr. B. Craven bets Lord Forbes 100 gs to 5 that an event between them understood takes place before another which was named. March 11, 1821.” So what event was that important to them both? Hm.

But this one caught my attention: “Mr. Bouverie bets Ld. Yarmouth a hundred to fifty that H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence has not a legitimate child within 2 years of this day (November 18, 1817).”

Mr. Bouverie must have won, as the Duke of Clarence, who became William IV, had no legitimate children, opening the way for Victoria to become Queen after him. I would be willing to bet that Marissa knew that.

1 comment:

sweet historical author, Donna Hatch said...

Thanks for reposting this, Regina because I missed this the first time around. Fun to see some of the actual bets placed in the betting books.