Almack's, the original Brookes's, on the south side of the Whig Club-house, was established in Pall Mall, on the site of the British Institution, in 1764, by twenty-seven noblemen and gentlemen, including the Duke of Roxburghe, the Duke of Portland, the Earl of Strathmore, Mr. Crewe (afterwards Lord Crewe), and Mr. C. J. Fox.
Mr. Cunningham was permitted to inspect the original Rules of the Club, which show its nature: here are a few.
"21. No gaming in the eating-room, except tossing up for reckonings, on penalty of paying the whole bill of the members present.
"22. Dinner shall be served up exactly at half-past four o'clock, and the bill shall be brought in at seven.
"26. Almack shall sell no wines in bottles that the Club approves of, out of the house.
"30. Any member of this Society that shall become a candidate for any other Club, (old White's excepted,) shall be ipso facto excluded, and his name struck out of the book.
"40. That every person playing at the new guinea table do keep fifty guineas before him.
"41. That every person playing at the twenty guinea table do not keep less than twenty guineas before him."
That the play ran high may be inferred from a note against the name of Mr. Thynne, in the Club-books: "Mr. Thynne having won only 12,000 guineas during the last two months, retired in disgust, March 21st, 1772."
Some of its members were Maccaronis, the "curled darlings" of the day: they were so called from their affectation of foreign tastes and fashions, and were celebrated for their long curls and eye-glasses. Much of the deep play was removed here. "The gaming at Almack's," writes Walpole to Mann, February 2, 1770, "which has taken the pas of White's, is worthy the decline of our empire, or commonwealth, which you please. The young men of the age lose ten, fifteen, twenty thousand pounds in an evening there. Lord Stavordale, not one-and-twenty, lost £11,000 there last Tuesday, but recovered it by one great hand at hazard. He swore a great oath, 'Now, if I had been playing deep, I might have won millions.' His cousin, Charles Fox, shines equally there, and in the House of Commons. He was twenty-one yesterday se'nnight, and is already one of our best speakers. Yesterday he was made a Lord of the Admiralty." Gibbon, the historian, was also a member, and he dates several letters from here. On June 24, 1776, he writes: "Town grows empty, and this house, where I have passed many agreeable hours, is the only place which still invites the flower of the English youth. The style of living, though somewhat expensive, is exceedingly pleasant; and, notwithstanding the rage of play, I have found more entertainment and rational society than in any other club to which I belong."
The play was certainly high—only for rouleaus of £50 each, and generally there was £10,000 in specie on the table. The gamesters began by pulling off their embroidered clothes, and put on frieze greatcoats, or turned their coats inside outwards for luck. They put on pieces of leather (such as are worn by footmen when they clean the knives) to save their laced ruffles; and to guard their eyes from the light and to prevent tumbling their hair, wore high-crowned straw hats with broad brims, and adorned with flowers and ribbons; masks to conceal their emotions when they played at quinz. Each gamester had a small neat stand by him, to hold his tea; or a wooden bowl with an edge of ormolu, to hold the rouleaus.
Almack's was subsequently Goosetree's. In the year 1780, Pitt was then an habitual frequenter, and here his personal adherents mustered strongly. The members, we are told in the Life of Wilberforce, were about twenty-five in number, and included Pratt (afterwards Lord Camden), Lords Euston, Chatham, Graham, Duncannon, Althorp, Apsley, G. Cavendish, and Lennox; Messrs. Eliot, Sir Andrew St. John, Bridgeman (afterwards Lord Bradford), Morris Robinson (afterwards Lord Rokeby), R. Smith (afterwards Lord Carrington), W. Grenville (afterwards Lord Grenville), Pepper Arden (afterwards Lord Alvanley), Mr. Edwards, Mr. Marsham, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Thomas Steele, General Smith, Mr. Windham.
In the gambling at Goosetree's, Pitt played with characteristic and intense eagerness. When Wilberforce came up to London in 1780, after his return to Parliament, his great success coloured his entry into public life, and he was at once elected a member of the leading clubs—Miles's and Evans's, Brookes's and Boodle's, White's and Goosetree's. The latter was Wilberforce's usual resort, where his friendship with Pitt, whom he had slightly known at Cambridge, greatly increased: he once lost £100 at the faro-table, and on another night kept the bank, by which he won £600; but he soon became weaned from play.
Club Life of London Vol. I