Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dining With Gentlemen

Long before the days that "Gentlemen's Club" was a euphemism for "Strip Club," Victorian society used the term to refer to gatherings aimed towards wealthy gentlemen, where they could drink, smoke and exchange stories away from the delicate ears of their ladies.

Initially, these clubs were formed in coffee shops in the West End of London, and as popularity for them increased, some found more permanent homes in restaurants and "chophouses" throughout the city.

Most of these clubs required a membership - a rule that served two purposes, firstly; that gambling was only legal in Britain in establishments that demanded membership, and secondly; membership allowed dining clubs to fiercely protect just who was permitted to join.

Dining clubs differed from gentlemen's clubs, as they usually gathered only once or twice a week, whereas gentlemen's clubs were often less formal, and were open at all times for their exclusive clientèle.

Some famous examples of dining clubs have included The Bullingdon Club, The Raleigh Club, The Gluttons and of course, The Ravens.

The Ravens are a fictional example of such a group; meeting once a month to dine upon luxurious and exotic meats in one of the most prestigious areas of London. It is here that we are introduced to the characters of Daniel "Duffy" McDuff, Edward Pickles and Toby Baxter.

I used the Ravens to contrast the opulence of the wealthy with the desperation of the poor, but also to allow these characters to take the reader by the hand and walk them through the streets of London - it is through their eyes that we first experience the decadent, filthy joys of Whitechapel.

While these three men are each clearly rich enough to afford a higher class of prostitute from one of London's more salubrious districts, it was not uncommon for well-to-do gentlemen to favour Whitechapel's unfortunates, "dirty girls" more willing to be subjugated; an experience that was all the more naughty for its illicit class disparity.

Prostitutes knew such men as "mashers." Initially, these men sated their desire for down-on-their-luck women in the more sordid music halls of London; establishments which had a reputation for turning a blind eye to such goings on. However, by the mid 1880's, these institutions were so renowned for carnal attractions, that they had garnered the scrutiny of several "temperance committees" - organisations who regarded themselves as the arbiters in what they saw as a degradation of London's morals.

Eager to clear their reputations, and to prevent the ire of the law descending upon them, music halls drove away the prostitutes, who were forced to work instead on the streets of the most deprived areas of London.

This is how the East End found itself home to several thousand street workers and in doing so, became a destination for many of the wealthy members of London's dining clubs, and perhaps that is how a ripper came to find himself among them.

Yours truly,
Charlie Revelle-Smith.

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