Saturday 2 June 2012

Vexations Unknown

A Frenchman goes inside the Reform Club in the 1850s and provides us with a great description. Clubs were unparalleled in their luxury - to have both cold and hot running water would have been very unusual in this period, I think, even in grand houses.

The Reform Club is a majestic building, practically square and reminiscent of the Farnese Palace in Rome. It is two floors high, with nine windows along the frontage and eight on the sides. A porter sits at a desk in the lobby, to answer visitors' questions and probably to see that none but members penetrate within its imposing portals. The interior hall is surrounded by colonnades supporting a large gallery. The floor is tessellated in imitation of Roman mosaic. The pillars are made of stucco of the colour of Siennese marble; the dome which lights the hall is of diapered flint glass and is supported by twenty Ionic columns; their red porphyry basements breaking the line of a stone balustrade rest on the gallery, which is reached by a broad white marble stairway. This gallery, where one can stroll as in a covered cloister, is fitted with easy chairs, mirrors, pictures and a thick carpet. It is a kind of general sitting-room from which you can observe the hall below into which visitors are ushered. A drawing-room so large that it must intended for dancing, a card-room, reading-room, and private reception-rooms open into this gallery, as do also the two important libraries; the one containing literary works, the other legal and political ones. There are two librarians on the staff of the club. On the upper floor there are a considerable number of bedrooms. London is so vast, time so precious, that large sums of money are spent on saving minutes. If a member happens to have businses appointments for the next morning, or expects to be kept late in the evning, instead of going home he brings or sends his things to the club and spends the night there. Every bedroom has a recessed fitted with a white marble basin into which through two taps hot an cold water can be poured at any time. Soaps, unguents, perfumes, essences, toilet articles; a complete array of them is to be fuond there, as well as highly trained valets always in readiness to dress or shave one. If a member merely want s to change his clothes, he can do so just as conveniently of the ground floor and thus avoid the fatigue of climbing the stairs. Even well-appointed bathrooms are to be found there. In the basement are the kitchens, planned by the famous French chef Alexis Soyer; there one can see roasting, in front of a wall of fire five feet high, enormous sections of beef, sheep cut in half and long chaplets of fowls. A double screen enables the cooks, by taking an occasional peep, to keep an eye on the roast without being themselves grilled alive. In another room fitted with a gigantic baking oven all the pastry is made. Further along are the dairy, the stillroom, the larder, where pieces of meat ready cut are placed in enormous chests on beds of ice that drain off into zinc receptacles. Fish is kept in the same way. Everything is clean, even luxurious, and the kitchen utensils are resplendent. Having been shown all these marvels by Mr. P., who was delighted at my unfeigned admiration, we went into the coffee-room, a large high room giving on to a charming garden. Twenty servants in dress clothes wait on a number of small table noiselessly and with extreme promptitude. They tread with felt soles on th ethick pile of expensive carpets; plates and dishes, instead of being piled up on top of one another, are brought and removed singly. The sound of footsteps, creaky shoes, the clatter of crockery and knives and forks are vexations unknown to the fortunate mortals who dine in clubs.
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935

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