Whitefriars Club Archive
Towards the end of 1867, a dozen or so journalists who had been meeting regularly at Spiers and Pond’s Ludgate Hill Station restaurant, decided that they were in essence, an exclusive dining club. The realisation brought with it a desire to form a Club, where food, drink and conversation could be enjoyed in privacy. This led to the inaugural dinner being held at Radley’s Hotel in New Bridge Street, on 21st February 1868.
The name of the Club comes from the ancient ecclesiastical precinct of the Whitefriars, contained within an area bounded by Fleet Street, New Bridge Street, and the Temple and, on the southern side, the Thames. It was once occupied by the Carmelite monks. This soon led to the members calling each other ‘Friar’, which is still today the correct manner of address.
Towards the end of 1871 the Club moved its regular meetings to the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street and, in 1873, elected Crawford Wilson, as its first president. He was ousted after six years due to a revolt against his autocratic style of management, but not before the members passed a unanimous resolution that in the history of the Club, Crawford should be acknowledged as the founder.
There also began to emerge at this time a flavour of ritual, formal toasts in honour of literature, of art and of music, of science and all invoking the prosperity of the Club from which has evolved the club toast, which is still proposed at every dinner by the ‘Prior of the Day’.
Over the years, this nomadic Club has had many ‘homes’, including: Anderton’s Hotel, The Cock Tavern, the Savile Club, the Arts Club, the Athenaeum, and the Royal Overseas League. During the period just before the Second World War, both lunches and dinners were being held in the famous ‘dictionary garret’ of Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square. In 1968, the Club celebrated, at the Waldorf Hotel, its centenary where precisely one hundred members and guests sat down to dine. Speakers at the centenary dinner included Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Sir Arthur Bryant.
Club members went on ‘pilgrimages’ to historic centres, and visits to country houses and river trips and an annual ’Glee’ event, where members provided their own entertainment, and these are documented in the archive.
Some of the well-known figures who were early members of the club include, Tom Hood, son of the famous caricaturist and versifier and W. B. Tegetmeier (1816 – 1912). Tegetmeier was known for being an expert on pigeons and poultry, he corresponded with Charles Darwin on evolution, and as a respected researcher on bees, discovered why their cells were hexagonal in shape. On the publication of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, the author Thomas Hardy was entertained as a guest and stayed on to become a member, so did Sir Henry Morton Stanley after addressing the Club on his African journeys. Mark Twain was an honorary Friar for more than twenty-five years; and when Lady Randolph Churchill was the chief guest at the 1901 Ladies banquet, the young Winston Churchill a new member was invited to take the chair.
Guest Speakers at the Club’s dinners have been varied and over the years have included William Butler Yeats, H.Rider Haggard, Walter Crane, Bram Stoker, Sir Oliver Lodge, Frederick Macmillan, Professor Flinders Petrie, Lady Nancy Astor, The Hon. Mrs Justice Butler Sloss, Sir David Frost, the actor Sir Donald Sinden and Sir Peter Scott and Lord Shackleton whose fathers both spoke at Club dinners in 1910
The Whitefriars Club has evolved from a group of journalists, to include authors, lawyers, politicians, and publishers, as well as people in the theatre, films, and the armed services. The first female member was Mary Baum who became a ‘Friar’ in February 1997 and in 2004 became the first female Chairman.
Source of information Whitefriars Club website
The Whitefriars Club proceedings are extremely private, throughout the latter half of its existence the Club has observed the custom that speeches, and the discussions that follow, shall not be reported (Chatham House rule applies). However, in 2017 the Club Committee agreed that all pre-1975 papers could be accessed by researchers, although the Club’s permission to publish any previously unpublished material would be required. No permission is required to publish extracts from the Whitefriars’ Chronicles, The Whitefriars Journal, and booklets published for various ‘pilgrimages’, subject to due acknowledgement. Access to any closed material requires the permission of the Club.
The archive contains Club publications including Whitefriars Journal, (1900-1923); The Whitefriars’ Chronicles; The Whitefriar newsletter, (2004-2019); scrapbooks; photographs; minute books; financial papers and account books; records of membership and events; member and visitor signature books and records of speeches.