London’s 200-year-old Garrick Club to finally allow women members, just not ‘any time soon’

London’s elite Garrick Club voted to allow women to join for the first time since being founded in 1831, responding to growing public pressure to end its archaic all-male set-up.

After a vote, female members approved by the Garrick’s admissions process can have a place at one of the British establishment’s top tables: it boasts King Charles as a current member and 19th century author Charles Dickens in the past.

Located in London’s West End theatreland, the private members club has been criticised this year after a leak revealed its roughly 1,300 members to be a who’s who of politicians, journalists, judges and actors.

While other male-only private clubs still exist in London, the Garrick’s high-profile membership triggered debate about elitism and exclusion of women in British society.

Critics said the club was preventing women from networking like men. One group of lawyers called on judges to quit, as membership was “incompatible” with justice and equality.

A street lamp illuminates the windows to the Garrick Club, a private member’s club in London. Photo: Reuters

Some members had resigned recently over the controversy, including Simon Case, Britain’s most senior civil servant, and Richard Moore, head of the MI6 foreign spy service, media said.

Others had pushed for women to be admitted by nominating a handful of prominent women, including classicist Mary Beard and former politician Amber Rudd, to force the vote on the issue.

Women had previously been allowed to enter the Garrick Club as guests of men but were restricted in where they could go and, according to media, had to enter via a side door.

According to media, the vote passed with nearly 60 per cent in favour. The Garrick did not immediately comment.

‘Men of refinement’

Named after an 18th century actor, the club’s palazzo-style building has a grand coffee room, dining room and library, with an art collection celebrating the history of British theatre.

The last vote on whether to accept female members was held in 2015, when it was rejected, because at the time a two-thirds majority was needed to change a club rule.

The Garrick’s old-fashioned admissions process, where an individual is proposed, seconded and then invited to dine before committee members consider their application, can take years, meaning women are unlikely to become members “any time soon”.

Britain’s King Charles is a member of London’s elite Garrick Club. Photo: AP/File

The club’s founders, under the patronage of the then king’s brother the Duke of Sussex, had originally said the club was to be a place where “actors and men of refinement and education might meet on equal terms”.

When actress Joanna Lumley was proposed as a member in 2011, some members penned expletives over her nomination and ripped it out of a book, the Guardian reported, with one writing: “Women aren’t allowed here and never will be.”

The Right To Equality group welcomed the change but said it was forced by new legal analysis of its statutes: “The decision to let women in rests on a legal technicality rather than representing a profound desire by members to associate with women.”

Not everyone agreed with the development.

“As a woman who is passionate about keeping women only spaces as just that, this seems quite frankly hypocritical and diametrically opposed to everything we’ve been arguing for,” reader Julie Rimmer-Hunter commented on the Telegraph newspaper website.

“Why can’t men have their own spaces? If it’s so important, start your own club!”



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