The Dandies of White’s in the Regency Era

Dandies of White's: Exquisite Dandies, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Exquisite Dandies, Courtesy of Library of Congress

Thomas Carlyle wrote a dandy was little more than “a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes.” Physical appearance was extremely important to a dandy, who despite being born into a middle-class family, attempted to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle with his fine clothing, refined language, and leisurely pursuits. Dandies emerged after the Macaroni reached his pinnacle of popularity in 1775.

Dandies first appeared in the 1790s, and although they may have been little more than clothes-wearing men, by the Regency period many earned at spot at a special table inside an exclusive London gentleman’s club on St. James Street, known as White’s. This special table was located directly in front of a large bow window and became known as a “seat of privilege.” Among the dandies that occupied the “seat of privilege” were men such as William Arden, Joshua Allen, Thomas Raikes, Ball Hughes, and, of course, the most well-known of them all, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell.

William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, Public Domain
William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, Public Domain

William Arden, better known as the 2nd Baron Alvanley, was a Captain in the oldest regiment in the British Army, the Coldstream Guards, and he served with distinction at Copenhagen and in the Peninsular War. Lord Alvanley’s father, the famous lawyer Richard Pepper Arden, had been known for his “irascible manner, but Lord Alvanley inherited none of his [father’s] ill temper.” However, he had stinging wit, but “unlike Brummell’s, was invariably disarmed by the geniality with which it was expressed … aided by a slight lisp.”

Alvanley was one the most popular dandies of the Prince Regent’s circle. He was also never known to pay cash, always read in bed, and never blew out his candle. Instead he would put it out by flinging it about the room, putting it under his bolster, or throwing a pillow at it, which resulted in servants keeping watch outside his bedchambers in case of fire.

He once fought a duel with Morgan O’Connell, a soldier and politician, who was the son of  the Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell, known as The Liberator. Alvanley sent a challenge to the elder O’Connell, but the elder man declined having made a vow not to duel after shooting another man. Instead, Morgan O’Connell met Alvanley on the field, the two exchanged a shot, and both men walked away.

Alvanley died in 1849. However, before his death, his extravagance lifestyle caught up with him. It resulted in the loss of many of possessions, including Underbank Hall, most of the Breadbury estates, and the Arden Hall Mansion.

Viscount Allen, Author's Collection
Viscount Allen, Author’s Collection

Joshua Allen, 5th Viscount Allen, was another constant bow window occupant. The effeminate Viscount Allen, or “King” Allen as he was called, was greatly liked by his friends but also sharp-tongued, which resulted in numerous enemies. He gained the rank of Captain in 1758 and fought in the Seven Years’ War at the Battle of Minden under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Similar to Lord Alvanley, Allen served during the Peninsular War in Spain, and it was there he distinguished himself at the Battle of Talavera having “fought like a young lion.”

After his return to London, Allen frequently struggled to make ends meet, but he loved London with all its accompany noises. In fact, he could not sleep without the noise. Once when visiting in the countryside, Alvanley hired a hackney to drive continually past Allen’s window and had someone call out the time and the weather as the London watchmen did, so the “King” could sleep.

Allen spent much of his time lounging in front White’s bow window until he died at Merrion-square in 1816. One person wrote:

“[He] grew fat, lost his all, and withdrew to Dublin, where, in Merrion-square, he slept behind a large brass plate with ‘Viscount Allen’ upon it, which … brought endless invitations from people eager to feed a viscount at any hour of the day or night.”

Thomas Raikes Based on Caricature by Richard Dighton, Public Domain
Thomas Raikes Based on Caricature by Richard Dighton, Public Domain

Another dandy was Thomas Raikes, nicknamed “the City dandy, ‘Apollo’ Raikes.” Raikes was the son of a merchant banker and went to school at Eton with Brummell. Most of Raikes’s free time was spent at fashionable clubs in the West End where he was a member of the Carlton Club, the dandy club Watier’s, and, of course, White’s. Raikes acquired the ‘Apollo’ nickname because it was said “he rose in the east and set in the west,” which was a reference to the east being the commercial part of London and the west being the social scene.

At White’s, his name frequently appeared in the betting books. He also became famous as “One of the Rake’s of London” after the satirical artist Richard Dighton drew a caricature of him. Moreover, one gentleman’s magazine of the 1800s described Raikes in the following manner:

“[He had] little inclination for mercantile affairs, and a marked preference for social and literary pursuits … In other words, he preferred play to work; thought the shady side of Pall Mall a pleasanter place than the Exchange, a box at the opera more agreeable than a stool in the counting-house; and considered that spending money was a more charming occupation than earning it. In short, Mr. Raikes became a ‘man about town,’ and few men were better known [for it].”

In his later years, well after his dandy years had passed, Raikes kept a journal. He died in July of 1848 at the ripe old age of seventy, having “passed away … subsequent to the date when sobriety came into fashion.” 

Edward Hughes Ball, Author's Collection
Edward Hughes Ball Hughes, Author’s Collection

Another notable dandy at White’s was Edward Hughes Ball Hughes. He was described as “an amiable, good-natured … and popular [fellow].” He was known for his “well-built, dark, chocolate-coloured coach, with … four white horses, and two neat grooms in brown liveries.” He was also known for his “beautiful dress,” which almost exclusively consisted of black and white and for introducing “the large, black-fronted cravats.”

Hughes possessed a great fortune — 40,000 pounds a year — given to him by his Uncle, Admiral Hughes. Hughes gambled away his money almost as quickly as he received it and was one night found with a fellow gambler “asleep on the floor, after passing an entire night playing battledore and shuttlecock for high stakes.” Hughes, also known as the “Golden Ball” was extremely good-looking but extremely unlucky in love, having been “reject[ed] by three ladies in succession.” He finally married a 16-year-old Spanish ballerina in 1823, and, the marriage was so unexpected, the audience was awaiting her appearance on stage when he whisked her away. They marriage did not last and he divorced in 1839.

For all his money, Hughes “greatly injured his immense fortune by play,” and his finances remained in chaos for some time with solicitors handling his finances. Had he not been lucky in purchasing some valuable property, he may have ultimately gone the way of “King” Allen, sitting on a bench begging for dinners. Instead, he died living in comfort in France in 1867 after his horse fell on him.

Very Sincerely Yours, George Brummell as an Old Man, Author's Collection
Very Sincerely Yours, George Brummell as an Old Man, Author’s Collection

Of all the Dandies at White’s “Beau” Brummell was the best known. One reason was his friendship with the Prince of Wales, whom he met in 1795 when he was among the escorts sent to meet Caroline of Brunswick so that the Prince could conclude his ill-fated marriage to her. Brummell was 16 years old at the time. Although the Prince noticed him, it was some time later that Brummell’s reputation “for good sayings” encouraged the Prince to invite him to a private dinner. “The cleverness and self-possession of the youth pleased the Prince,” and soon after Brummell became a favorite.

Three years later, bored with his uniform and “dirty battle” Brummell resigned and was elected a member at White’s. It was also around this time Brummell decided to become fashionable and became the unequivocal “arbiter of men’s fashions” with his dark tailored pantaloons, perfectly pressed white-linen shirts, and intricately knotted cravats, along with his natural hair worn in style known as “à la Brutus.” Brummell also honed his razor-sharp wit and began to freely exercise it until he created a rift with the Prince that never healed.

"Beau" Brummel from a Miniature by John Cooke, Public Domain
“Beau” Brummel from a Miniature by John Cooke, Public Domain

The nail in the coffin between Brummell and Prince occurred at a masquerade ball in 1813 when the Prince greeted Lord Alvanley but snubbed Brummell. Brummell then sarcastically asked, “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?” After that Brummell was completely out of favor with the Prince and developed a reputation for “unfeeling rudeness.” Brummel had also been living on the largess of friends, which began to dry up in part because of his excessive lifestyle and rudeness. One May evening, in 1816, Brummell appeared at the opera as usual but afterwards “travelled … post haste to Dover and … landed at Calais the next morning before he was missed by his creditors.” He continued make a “ludicrous imitation of his past habits” by living off the charity of friends, Lord Alvanley being one. However, eventually, he became paralyzed and died of insanity.

The demise of the dandies brought varying descriptions. Harriet Raikes, the daughter of Thomas Raikes, wrote a forward to Raikes’ journals and correspondence and described the dandies thusly:

“The manners of the Dandies were in themselves a charm, retained by some through infirmity and age. Their speech pleasant, their language thorough-bred, their raillery conciliating, their satire — what they intended it to be; many among them highly gifted … a school of gentlemen, liberal and open-handed; … yet marked by this endearing quality, that they remained (with few exceptions) true and loyal friends.”

Critics thought otherwise. One critic described their demise as nothing to be regretted and noted:

“The dandies, as a class, were neither amiable nor beloved. Members of White’s … declare that the tyranny of the dandies to those outside their circle is hardly conceivable by the present generation, and the general effect of their reign was to make the club insufferably dull to the great majority.”

Rees Howell Gronow, who was a Captain in the Welsh Grenadier Guards’ officer and considered a dandy himself, was no supporter of them either. He made it blatantly clear in 1860 when he wrote:

“How insufferably odious … with a few brilliant exceptions were the dandies of forty years ago. They were generally middle-aged … [They] had large appetites, gambled freely and had no luck, and why they arrogated to themselves the right of setting up their fancied superiority on a self-raised pedestal, and despising their betters, Heaven only knows. They hated everybody and abused everybody, and would sit together in White’s bow window.”

References:

  • Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White’s, Vol. 1, 1892
  • Gronow, Rees Howell, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, 1862
  • Raikes, Harriet, ed., Private Correspondence of Thomas Raikes, 1861
  • The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. 29, 1837
  • Thomson, A.T., etal., The Wits and Beaux of Society, 1890
  • Timbs, John, Club Life of London with Anecdotes of the Clubs, Coffee-Houses and Taverns of the Metropolis, Vol. 1, 1866
  • Urban, Sylvanus, The Gentlman’s Magazine, Vol. 45, 1856

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