Last week we conducted the reader into the backslums of poverty and crime in the purlieus of fast-decaying St. Giles’s, soon we hope to start from its ruins improved in cleanliness and beauty. This number we step into St. James’s to portray the deserted shrine of avarice and ruin, which still rears its head though its guests have departed and its owner has gone to his last reckoning.
As this article is intended to include not only a description of this magnificent temple of play, but a brief memoir of the public life of its founder and proprietor, we shall waste no space in any preliminary remarks upon the war which has of late been carried on by the police and the parish of St. James’s against the various hells of the vicinity, but at once proceed to describe the origin, and trace the history of this interesting building, wherein have been enacted some of the most exciting scenes of London Life.
This mansion or pandemonium, as it has been termed, stands on the site whereon formerly stood three or four very substantial dwellings, the leases of which were purchased by the late Mr. Crockford, with a view to the erection of the present stately structure. He had been previously connected with certain parties in other establishments of play, and latterly had been associated with Josiah Taylor, Austin Aldridge, Sutton, and others, at the celebrated aristocratic club, known as Watier’s, in Piccadilly, in which place a very large sum of money was realised by the respective proprietors. The game of French Hazard was first introduced at this club, and it is related of Crockford (and we have reason to believe the truth of the report) that in his last season at Watier’s, there had been for weeks a continued and uninterrupted run of ill-fortune against the bank, so much so, that it was difficult for the proprietors (although originally considerable capitalists) to raise the funds necessary to make good the repeated losses. Lords Leveson Gower (now Earl Granville) and Foley, Messrs. Bull, Hughes, Kaithe, and others of large fortune and bold adventure, were the parties who nightly entered the field of hazardous speculation, and to whom Crockford and his party lost upwards of 40,000l, without the slightest change in the tide of fortune. Under such unlooked-for reverses, every resource had been resorted to increase the supplies, and a last effort was made to form the required bank of 5,000l, which was, however, with the utmost difficulty accomplished and put down, as may be imagined, under no very sanguine expectations.
The hour of operation arrived; Crockford was, as usual, in attendance. Play commenced as on former nights, and little adverse fortune was in the first instance apparent. More than 4.000l had actually disappeared out of the 5000l. The most fearful apprehensions were on all, but mostly so on Crockford, whose nerves were unequal to any other further contemplation of the ruin that appeared inevitable; in a state of the most hopeless despair, he hastily quitted the house, leaving the wind-up of the contest to Taylor, Aldridge and the croupiers. The freaks of fortune are strange and unaccountable. Scarcely had he left the place, brooding over the ill of poverty, which he believed from thenceforth to be his fate, than the tide of chance took a sudden and determined change; not only were the losses of the evening recovered, but there resulted to the bank, on the night’s play, an absolute gain of 20,000l. The unexpected news was not communicated to Crockford until the following morning, and it was some time before he could be brought to believe the possibility, much less the truth and reality of the event. From this night the current of fortune was with the bank, and the wind-up of the season is said to have realised to the respective partners, in cash and securities (which at that time of day were of value), the enormous gain of from 150,000l to 200,000l before the period of another London season arrived, however, Crockford, and his firm adherent Austin, determined on seceding from Watier’s. The reason assigned for this apparently impolitic withdrawal from a partnership which had been so largely productive of benefit, was that Josiah Taylor having recently purchased the lease of the club-house over the heads of his partners or associates had avariciously attempted to impose terms on his colleagues at variance with all former arrangements. These Crockford and Austin resisted, and as the former was gifted with a shrewd perception and a bold speculative mind, he knew “what’s what,” and that, saith the author of Hudibras, is
As metaphysic wit can fly.”
Crocky, therefore, was convinced that to risk the large capital he had acquired without the chance of a proportionate return of profit, was not the way to augment it; so he separated, and with his fidus Achates, Austin resolved to open a bank on his own responsibility. Acting upon this reasonable conclusion, he with peculiar promptitude purchased the lease of a large house in St. James-street, fitted it up in a style of superior accommodation, and before the rival establishment of Josiah opened for the season, the new “St. James Club” had begun operations. The situation was certainly superior to the old one of Watier’s, which stood in Bolton-street, and this advantage, together with Crockford’s improved arrangements, secured him the patronage of most of the noblemen and gentlemen who had known him at Watier’s, to the great discomfiture of his quondam partner, Josiah. Business increased, members multiplied, and the fishmonger subsequently took two adjoining houses, and shortly after a fourth mansion for the daily augmentation of “friends,” who required further elbow-room. He now resolved on the bold step of pulling down the whole premises, and erecting on their site a magnificent structure, which in beauty, capacity, and style of arrangement, should surpass everything of the kind, and be suited to the wants, wishes, convenience, and accommodation of the aristocracy and gentry of the kingdom.
During the progress of this superb building, to accelerate the completion of which, a large number of workmen were nightly as well as daily employed, St. James’s-street presented a singular spectacle.
Nearly the whole of the upper end of the street from Bennet-street to Piccadilly was in a state of excavation for the arrangement of laying down pipes, forming and perfecting drains, &c, but principally for the object of making a most capacious ice-house. Great was the alarm that such extensive underground operations would endanger the foundations of the adjoining and neighbouring houses, and this alarm, as things turned out, was not without cause; for, while the work of excavation was proceeding, the one entire side of the Guards’ Club House (situate at the northern adjoining end of Mr. Crockford’s premises) fell in with a fearful crash, leaving the complete interior of the house, with the beds and furniture of the different apartments in rather a ludicrous state of exposure, and in a most perilous position.
The nocturnal operations of the numerous workmen by torchlight gave to the scene an extraordinary appearance, causing it to resemble more the locality of a manufacturing district than the main fashionable lounge of London, and the chief thoroughfare to the palace of the sovereign. The whole affair, by the magnitude of the project, and the known and somewhat unpopular purpose for which it was intended, caused great and general excitement, and gave rise to daily moral comment and sarcastic witticism in most of the journals and periodicals of the day. The following samples, having reference to the fall of the Guards’ Club House, are accredited to the pen of the brilliant T. Moore:
“What can the workmen be about?
Do, Crockford, let the secret out
Why thus our houses fall.’
Quoth he, ‘ Since folks are out of town,
I find it better to pull down
Than have no pull at all.’”
“See, passenger, at Crockford’s high behest,
Red coats by black legs ousted from their nest;
The arts of peace o’er matching reckless war,
And gallant Rouge outdone by wily Noir.”
During the time occupied in the erection of the building, Mr. Crockford engaged a spacious house in Pall-Mall as a temporary place of business. To have let one season pass in idleness would have been to endanger the pockets of the sporting members of the Club to the disease of plethora, or to subject them to vacuity from causes non-productive of effects to himself; the entertainments of dice were therefore carried on, and with good result, at the house in Pall Mall in aid of the building fund for the rising mansion or Pandemonium (for such was the classic title already bestowed on the progressing structure) which was hereafter to astonish the world, and to stand the great privileged gaming-house of the metropolis.
The year 1827 (the period alluded to) is said to have been most successful to Crockford, and to have surpassed in gain all subsequent seasons, excepting the first two of operation in his new establishment.
On the opening of the superb mansion in 1828, the whole fashionable world, male and female, crowded with eager curiosity, under cards of admission from the great proprietor and the old and privileged members of the Club, to view it. The newspapers were lavish of praise, and elaborate in description of its splendour and magnificence, and the population of London thronged to its exterior survey under much greater excitement than was apparent on the day of opening that splendid national edifice, the Royal Exchange. Already had the most distinguished members of the aristocracy formed themselves into a committee of management; the most wealthy of the land had enrolled themselves members, and every sprig and stripling of fashion fed on the hope of sooner or later becoming one of the elect. The number of members completing the club was from 1000 to 1200, exclusive of the privilege or right of entree permitted to ambassadors and foreigners of distinction during their diplomatic sojourn or temporary visit to this country.
We shall now proceed to a description of the house, and of the engravings with which we here illustrate it. We this week present a view of the gorgeous saloon, and our next number will contain that and two or three minor sketches taken from the gaming-tables of the metropolis.
The exterior of this celebrated mansion is extremely plain, exhibiting three compartments, the chief of which is ornamented with four Roman Corinthian pilasters, which spring from the base, sustaining a regular entablature and attic. The space between the pilasters is perforated, on the first story, with three enormous windows, lighting the state drawing room.
Your arm reader, and let us enter. A magnificent vestibule and staircase break upon the eye. To the right and left of the hall are reading rooms and dining-rooms, used chiefly in the day time. The staircase is of a sinuous form, sustained on its landing by four columns of Doric example, above which are a series of columns of the Ionic order, forming a quadrangle, with apertures to the chief apartments. Above these pillars is a coved ceiling, perforated with luminous panels of stained glass, from which springs a dome of surpassing beauty. From the dome depends a lantern, containing a magnificent chandelier.
The State Drawing Room next claims our attention. This noble apartment is decorated in a style that baffles description: it is in the most florid style of the school denominated Louis Quatorze. This room presents a series of panels, or macarons, containing subjects a la Watteau, from the pencil of Mr. Martin, a relative of the celebrated historical painter of that name. These panels are alternated with splendid mirrors. A chandelier of exquisite workmanship hangs from the centre of the ceiling. Three tables, beautifully carved and gilded, are in this apartment, covered with blue and crimson velvet. The upholstery and decorative adjuncts are imitative of the gorgeous taste of George IV.; indeed it is doubtful whether royalty itself can vie with the consummate glories of this magnificent chamber. The three windows to which we before alluded, astonish the beholder on entering the room, from their colossal dimensions. The other apartments in this costly edifice have few claims to distinguished notice. It is quite obvious that the architect. Sir Geoffrey Wyattville, determined to throw all his genius into the staircase and the room above described. That determination has been most felicitously carried out.
The lofty and capacious dining-room, supported by marble pillars, and furnished in the most substantial and aristocratic style of comfort, is equal to any arrangement of the kind in the most lordly mansions. The ascent to the upper apartments is by a magnificent staircase, and the drawing-room is allowed to be one of the most elegant and splendid apartments ia England.
The Sanctum Sanctorum, or Play Room, is comparatively small, though handsomely furnished; in the centre of which is the table on which it may be said Crockford’s fortune was manufactured, and for which he had doubtless a greater veneration than for the most costly communion table that ever graced a church. It is oval in form, covered with green cloth, and marked by yellow lines, denoting the different departments of speculation; that is to say, for betting on or against the hand of the caster, or person throwing. Around these compartments are double lines, within which also are deposited the odds, or proportion between the main called and the chance to be thrown by the caster against such main. In the centre, on each side of the table, sat a croupier, whose duty it trot to call and mark the main and chance, and to draw and pay the bets, as they lost or gained on each event. Happy are we to write these things in the past tense, for though hot and inconsiderate, may, at the gaming-table, become the prey of cold-blooded criminal avarice, gaining in its established form, and as a pursuit, is no more sporting, in any legitimate sense of the word, than highway-robbery is fox-hunting, or dee versa. Yet dirty “legs” are but too apt tp endeavour to confound a love of manly amusements and active recreations with the vilest pursuits of dirty, dishonest avarice. But to return. Little or no money appeared on the occasion of play; the sums risked being represented by counters, of different amount in value, varying from Â£1 to Â£200, and the advantage of the table against the player being about 1Â£ per cent., which, taken on the continual and continued repetition of roll through the night, must have realised an immense amount; were it otherwise, the expense of this princely mansion could never have been supported in the extravagance of its expenditure.
Such was the St. James’s Club, or great gaming-house of the metropolis, which in classical allusion has been likened to Pandemonium. It is a lamentable truth, and pregnant with most serious and melancholy feeling and reflection, that, within the narrow limit of the Sanctum, or playroom, described, the ruin has been wholly or partially effected, and the doom sealed, of many noble, high-minded, and opulent men, once proud in position of rank, station, and circumstance, and happy in all the social blessings and relations of life. Many such, fallen from their elevated and envied estate, by the direful infatuation of, and indulgence in play, unable to bear up against the ruin that has overtaken them, have died by their own hands. To such distressing cause, and the fatal influence of the hazard-table, may be ascribed the lamentable suicidal acts of the late highly respected nobleman, Lord R…, and the no less esteemed gentleman, the late Henry B…. Others of like grade and character have, owing to the same afflicting cause, become beggars in means, and outcasts alike from society and their country. To what other cause is to be attributed the impaired patrimony of the present Lord F…, who (worthy son of a scrupulously honourable sire) has nobly sacrificed a portion of his inheritance to redeem the late lord’s extensive gaming liabilities and engagements. What can account for the reduced fortunes and incumbered estates of Lords Teynham, C, , h, , L, , A, , S, , Sir V. C, , and that untitled nobleman and worthy specimen of an English gentleman, George P…, but their unfortunate and devoted passion for play? What effected the ruin and expatriation of Ball Hughes, B, , L, , and some scores of others, whose names have been carefully hidden from public sympathy and whom fortune and commercial wealth and credit seemed at one time to have placed beyond the reach of reverse? What but the fascinations of the gaming table, a cause to which may be ascribed the constrained and pauper condition of half the fashionables and scions of nobility about town? When, on the other hand, is to be discovered that wonder of a man, who by indulgence in play has benefited his estate, increased his means, or added one jot to his reputation, or to the peace and happiness of those connected with him! Echo answers, “Where?” One of the most steady, temperate, and prudent speculators of Crockford’s was the late Lord S, ; but with all his calm and imperturbable disposition and bold enterprise, the game conquered him, and he could no more control or defeat the certain pull or percentage against him than he could have accelerated or retarded the earth’s revolutionary motion, he was passionately fond of French hazard; but he had the imprudence, and with it, the resolution, to confine his risk within legitimate bounds, and yet he contributed annually to increase the mound of Crockford’s profits. The late Marquis of Hertford, who was deeply and practically skilled in the speculative science of play, and who had little love of any game that afforded no advantage to those best acquainted with its principles, was once or twice induced to try his hand at
French hazard, but very soon discovered that the only certainty it embraced was loss of the player, and profit to the banker. He himself was a loser on the occasion alluded to, an event so unusual in his lordship’s practice, that it gave rise to the following couplet:,
“Say, holy prophet, who can hope to win,
Where men like Hertford can be taken in?”
The establishment in St. James’s-street being complete in its erection was opened for the season 1828, in a style of great and costly splendour in its arrangements. Its general direction was under the control of Mr. Crockford, influenced, however, to a certain degree, and in particular respects, by the noblemen and gentlemen forming his committee, some of whom were confidently spoken of as possessing an interest in one depart ment of the club, beyond their position as committee-men,, in plain terms, at having a partnership in the bank. The annnal subscription was twenty-five pounds for each member, which gave to the subscribers every kind of first-rate and luxurious accommodation and attendance. Amongst other advantages, it secured the convenience and option of dining, at a low price, from the bill of fare of the unrivalled artist, Ude, whose chemical and culinary services were rated at no less a sum than twelve hundred pounds per annum! Crockford’s experience and judgement told him that, to keep his patrons and friends in happy mood, their appetites must be consulted, their palates tickled:
“He therefore turned his conjuring book
For a spell to raise a cook;
Thrice invoked, an artist came,
Not unworthy of the name.”
(To be concluded in our next.)
From: The Sportsman’s Magazine, No. 6, April 26 1845