Everything you need to know about private members’ clubs


By David Snelling

These days, private members’ clubs are modern and looking to attract a much younger and more diverse membership. Find out more in our guide.

Private members’ clubs originated in late 17th century London as places where business could be carried out in a convivial and relaxed atmosphere. Essentially, the original ‘coffee shops’ of Elizabethan times expanded to provide more facilities and services than just coffee.

The stereotypical view of private members’ clubs is that they are populated by elderly gentlemen – and only gentlemen – snoozing in armchairs after a big lunch in the club restaurant.

Happily, the reality is far more positive than this. Whilst some still cater for the snoozing gentlemen, many others offer a more modern vibe, with a younger, more inclusive membership.

Indeed, many clubs outside central London now pride themselves on being ‘family-friendly’ – aware of the economic and social benefits of attracting a wide cross-section of members.

The benefits of a private members’ club

Most members’ clubs will have an initial joining fee, and then charge an annual subscription. For this, you’ll receive a whole series of benefits that will obviously vary from club to club.

  • A private members’ club provides you with a ‘home from home.’ It can become a base where you’ll always feel comfortable and welcome.
  • Many clubs have high-quality accommodation for overnight stays, so you don’t have to worry about getting home from London, for example, after an evening out. You can stay at your club.
  • Many have facilities to hold business meetings and lunches, so it’s a great place to work, and entertain and impress clients and work colleagues.
  • As well as bars and restaurants, clubs will often offer access to sports and leisure facilities, such as squash and tennis courts, a swimming pool, and spa. Many clubs outside London will either have their own golf course, or a link with a local golf club.
  • Private members’ clubs are exclusive. You’ll know that everyone in there will be a member and will therefore respect the aims and ethos of the club
  • In the specialist clubs, you can be confident that you’ll mix with like-minded people with similar interests, making the club an excellent place to network and make new contacts
  • The club facilities are likely to be excellent. The restaurant will be of a high quality – many private clubs are staffed with a top chef in residence.
  • Clubs in rural areas offer a quiet bolt hole away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Many clubs have reciprocal arrangements with other clubs in Hong Kong and elsewhere

One of the key benefits of club membership is that, in many instances, you won’t just be joining one club. Many clubs have reciprocal arrangements with others, meaning you’re entitled to use the facilities of clubs elsewhere.

With some of the larger, well-established clubs, this will include arrangements with clubs in many of the biggest cities in the world. This kind of arrangement can be invaluable if you’re travelling overseas for work purposes, or you split your time between countries.

Many clubs in Hong Kong, for example, provide reciprocal membership rights to clubs in London – and vice versa.

Type of private members’ clubs

To give you an idea of the range of clubs available, here are examples of seven based in London and Southern England.

1. Soho House

Located in the heart of London’s West End theatre district, Soho House is a specialist club devoted to the arts. There is now a chain of Soho House’s around the world, including Hong Kong, as well as countryside hotels.

2. Soho Farmhouse

Linked to the Soho House, this club is based in Oxfordshire. It’s very much used as a bolt hole by members at weekends as a chance to decompress from the hectic life in London.

3. RAC Club

Originally derived from the motoring club, the RAC Club still do hold several motoring related events each year along with a series of other non-motoring activities.

As well as the traditional club premises in central London, there is also a country club in Epsom, Surrey, close to the racecourse, that has a range of sports and leisure facilities for members to enjoy.

4. The Club at Mapledurham

This is an example of an increasingly common type of accessible private club outside London, looking to attract a mixed family membership.

This has a golf course and health club, together with a top-quality restaurant. It also holds a series of events in its function rooms throughout the year.

5. Arts Club

As the name suggests, this is a club devoted to science, literature, and the arts. It offers the usual London club facilities and also runs a busy calendar of artistic events – music, art events, and specialist talks.

6. St James Hotel and Club

This is a central London club featuring a luxurious five-star quality hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant and other club facilities.

As with many other clubs, it has extensive reciprocal arrangement with other clubs, both in the UK and abroad, including the Refinery Club in Hong Kong.

7. Cricketers Club

This is another specialist club, for lovers of the most English of sports. It’s relatively small compared to other London clubs, but is ideally placed within walking distance of Lord’s cricket ground in St John’s Wood.

They also have their own cricket team who play matches at some of the most picturesque grounds in the country, including in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

Choosing the right club for you

It’s worthwhile spending some time researching the various choices, so you’ll join a club that you’ll get maximum benefit from. A simple online search will tell you about clubs close to where you live and work, and all have detailed websites outlining their ethos and the facilities they offer.

Bear in mind that many of the more popular, and well-known clubs, will require existing club members to nominate and second your application. Part of your research may therefore involve tapping into your business and social contacts to see who is a member at your club of choice.

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