Watier’s Club of the Regency Era in London

Watier’s Club was a short-lived gentleman’s club that was located at 81 Piccadilly in West London and existed between 1807 and 1819. The gaming club was created one night as the Prince of Wales (the future George IV) was dining with friends who frequented the gentleman clubs of White’s and Brooks’s. When asked by the Prince about the food at their clubs, the gentleman “observed that their dinners were always the same, ‘the eternal joints, or beefsteaks, the boiled fowl with oyster sauce, and an apple tart … very monotonous fare.'”[1] The Prince immediately summoned his French cook, Jean-Baptiste Watier, and asked him to “take a house and organise a dinner Club. Watier assented, and hence the Club which bore his name.”[2] It did not take long for Watier’s cooking to “become so famous … many young men of fortune and rank enrolled themselves among its members.”[3]

Watier's Club: The Dandy Club at Watier's

The Dandy Club at Watier’s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to Lord Byron, Watier’s soon became the “Dandy Club” because of certain members, such as George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, Henry Mildmay, and William Arden the 2nd Baron Alvanley. The dandies often gave Dandy Balls, with most of the balls occurring at Burlington House, which was a private mansion also located on Piccadilly. Watier’s dandy events were also frequently attended by both the famous and the infamous. As women were not members of Watier’s, their tickets could only be obtained from a Watier’s male member, and, so, many of the women invited to these affairs were courtesans, as they were not included at the upper crust societal balls given by Britain’s high society, known as the ton.

Watier's Club: Colonades at Burlington House in Early 1800s, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Colonnades at Burlington house in early 1800s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One masquerade ball that included many courtesans was given by Watier’s in honor of the peace between Great Britain and France. The famous Regency courtesan, Harriette Wilson, whose clients included the Prince of Wales, the Lord Chancellor, and four future Prime Ministers, was invited. She and her friends departed many hours before the ball, not because of the distance they needed to travel, but because it was expected the roads would be completely blocked with coaches and carriages of attendees. Wilson wrote about the event noting:

 “The crowd was expected to be immense, and we were advised to get into our carriage at five in the afternoon, as by so doing, we should stand a chance of arriving between nine and ten o’clock.”[4]

At the affair Wilson reported:

“At last we arrived, and were received at the first entrance room by the Dukes of Devonshire and Leinster, dressed in light blue dominos. They were unmasked, this being the costume fixed on for all the members of Watier’s Club. No one else was admitted but in character. … The members were attentive to us as though they had all been valets and bred up to their situations like George Brummell, who, by the by, was the only exception. Instead of parading behind our chairs to enquire what we wanted, he sat teasing a lady with a wax mask, declaring that he would never leave her till he had seen her face.”[5]

After the wonderful affair, Wilson recounted:

“Newspapers described this most brilliant fete in glowing colours … I will therefore merely state, that it exceeded all my highest flights of imagination, even … as a child [when] I used to picture … the luxurious palaces of the fairies, described in my story-books.”[6]

A Miss Mary Berry, who knew the famous French socialite Madame Récamier and was famed for her and her sister’s salon held in Paris and London, mentioned the Watier’s event. Her view was slightly different. She wrote in her journal:

“In the evening I went to a masked ball given by the Watier Club at Burlington House. I returned home very well pleased with my evening. The garden, which had been converted into a room was very pretty, but the ball-room was already dirty, and the fête had not the éclat of White’s ball.”[7]

Miss Mary Barry. Author’s collection.

There were other balls given at Watier’s but one of the balls brought an end to Brummell’s relationship with the Prince of Wales. The two men had been on the outs, and it came to a head after the Prince slighted Brummell at an event given by Watier’s dandies in the Hanover Square Room. The Prince was one of the guests and when he arrived, those hosting the party went in a body to receive him. Among them was Alvanley and Brummel. According to one source:

“The Prince …  as was expected spoke civilly and with recognition to Pierrepoint, and then turned and spoke a few words to Mildmay, advancing, he addressed several sentences to Lord Alvanley, and then turning towards Brummell, looked at him, but as if he did not know who he was or why he was there, and without bestowing on him the slightest symptom of recognition. It was then, at the very instant he passed on, that Brummell, seizing with infinite fun and readiness the notion that they were unknown to each other, said aloud, for the purpose of being heard, ‘Alvanely, who’s your fat friend?” Those who were in front saw the Prince’s face, say that he was cut to the quick by the aptness of the satire.[8]

George IV, Author's Collection

George IV. Author’s collection.

Gambling was one regular sport conducted at Waiter’s and the most popular games played there consisted of two trick-taking card games, whist and Laternloo (also called Loo), as well as a version of Crazy Eights called macao, which is also spelled macau. One writer noted that in days past when gaming was in fashion “at Watier’s club both princes and nobles lost or gained fortunes … [and that Watier’s] was the great Macao gambling-house of a very short period.”[9] Gamblers pinpointed most of their losses to the game macao. Apparently, it was deemed to be a “far more effective instrument in the losing of fortunes [than in the gaining of them].”[10] Macao was also the game that, similar to so many gentlemen of the Regency period, “first led the ‘Beau’ into [financial] difficulties.”[11]

Although many gamblers may have suffered losses at Watier’s, gambling was not enough to keep the doors of Watier’s open. Similar to many other gambling houses it succumbed to fate and closed its doors in 1819. According to one source, a man named Taylor and William Crockford (the son of a fish monger) opened a new Waiter’s two or three years later. It didn’t last long and it too was unsuccessful even though Crockford relied on “the notion of the magnificent pandemonium, which he subsequently established in St. James’s Street [when he opened his new club called Crockford’s].”[12] In addition, Crockford’s new gentleman’s club never had the good reputation afforded Watier’s because it maintained a somewhat raffish and raucous reputation.

Watier's Club: Crockford's About 1840, Public Domain

Crockford’s about 1840. Public domain.

References:

  • [1] Notes and Queries, 1903, p. 417.
  • [2] Hogg, James, etal., London Society, Vol. 11, 1867, 469.
  • [3] Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, Vol. 55, 1891, p. 98.
  • [4] Wilson, Harriette, Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, 1825, p. 278.
  • [5] Adburgham, Alison, Silver Fork Society, 1840, p. 2.
  • [6] Wilson, Harriette, p. 278.
  • [7] Adburgham, Alison, p. 3.
  • [8] Thornbury, George Walter, Old and New London, Vol. 3, 1891, p. 318.
  • [9] Ibid, p. 284.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, p. 99.

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