Beefsteak Club

Beefsteak Club

Beefsteak Club is the name, nickname and historically common misnomer applied by sources to several 18th and 19th century clubs that celebrated the beefsteak as a symbol of patriotic and often Whig concepts of liberty and prosperity.


The first known beefsteak club (The "Beef-Stake Club", "Beef-Steak Clubb" or "Honourable Beef-Steak Club") seems to have been that founded either shortly before 1705 or in 1709 in London. Richard Estcourt, actor, was steward and its most popular member. William Chetwood in "A General History of the Stage" is the much quoted source that the "chief Wits and great men of the nation" were members of this club. Famously it is also the first beefsteak club known to have used a gridiron as its badge.

There was also a “Rump-Steak Club” (also called “The Patriots Club”) of London which was in existence in 1733-34 and were "eager in opposition to Sir Robert Walpole". [Timbs, 1872]

More famous, however, was "The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks" which was established in 1735 by John Rich at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, of which he was then manager. One version of its origin has it that Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough supping one night with Rich in his private room, was so delighted with the steak the latter grilled him that he suggested a repetition of the meal the next week. From this started the Club, the members of which delighted to call themselves "The Steaks." The early core of the society was made up of actors, artists, men of wit and song, among them William Hogarth, David Garrick, John Rich, John Wilkes, John Philip Kemble. Arnold (1871) and Timbs (1872) both state that the Samuel Johnson who joined the SSBS in 1780 was the famous Dr Johnson. [A professional historian stated in 2008 (personal correspondence) stated the contrary opinion] The society soon became much celebrated and these men of the arts were joined by noblemen, royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: In 1785, the Prince of Wales joined, and later his brothers the dukes of Clarence and Sussex became members. Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, Premier Duke and Earl Marshal of England joined in 1779. They met at Covent Garden until the fire of 1808, when the club moved first to the Bedford Coffee House, and thence the following year to the Old Lyceum Theatre. On the burning of the Lyceum in 1830, "The Steaks" met again in the Bedford Coffee House until 1838, when the Theatre reopened, and a large room there was allotted the club. These meetings were held till the club ceased to exist in 1867. Sir Henry Irving revived the traditions of the society on an informal basis during his ownership of the New Lyceum until his death. It has since re-formed and meets in the Boisdale club and restaurant in Pimlico and, annually, at White's Club.

Thomas Sheridan founded a Beefsteak Club in Dublin at the Theatre Royal in 1749, and of this Peg Woffington was president.

The “Liberty Beef Steak Club” sought to show solidarity with the radical John Wilkes MP and met at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street, London for an unknown duration after Wilkes’ return exile in France in 1768.

The Beefsteak Club that currently meets in Irving Street, London was founded in 1876, in rooms above the Folly Theatre, King William IV Street. It became an essential after theatre club for the bohemian theatre set, such as John Lawrence Toole, John Hare, W. H. Kendal, F. C. Burnand, Henry Labouchère, W. S. Gilbert and two hundred of their peers. [Elliot, p. 109] It soon moved to Green Street. [Stedman, p. 138] That club occasionally performed amateur plays for their own amusement and to raise funds for charities. In 1878, they performed "The Forty Thieves" written by Robert Reece, Gilbert, Burnand, and Henry J. Byron. [Hollingshead, John. "Good Old Gaiety: An Historiette & Remembrance", pp. 39–41 (1903) London:Gaity Theatre Co]

Many beefsteak clubs of the 18th and 19th centuries centuries have used the traditional grilling gridiron as their symbol and some are even named after it. The Gridiron Club of Oxford, England was founded in 1884, and the Gridiron Club of Washington D.C. was founded the year after. These two clubs still exist.

John Timbs writes of a "Beef-Steak Club" which met at the Bell Tavern, Church row, Houndsditch and was instituted by "Mr Beard, Mr Dunstall, Mr Woodward, Stoppalear, Bencroft, Gifford etc". [Timbs (1872) gives no date for this club but cites "Memoirs of Charles Lee Lewis", vol ii. p. 196 as his source.]

Copies of a German-made mug dated (according to Heritage Auctions Texas Dec 14, 2005 and Oct 2 2008) to 1915 gives testament to an apparently American club known as the "Ned Harringdon Popularity Beefsteak Club". The mug celebrates "Our Commodore Hon. Alfred E. Smith" whom Heritage Auctions of Texas (Dec 14 2005) states was a Democratic politician - thus the inscription may impute a late Whigish character to that club.

Timbs, also states that "The Club in Ivy-Lane, of which Dr Johnson was a member, was originally a Beef-Steak Club".



* Allen, Robert J., "The Clubs of Augustan London" 1933 Harvard, pp. 137-145
* Arnold, Walter, "Life and Death of the Sublime Society of Steaks" (1871)
* Chetwood, William, "A General History of the Stage", Dublin 1749, p. 143
* Obituary, "Lord Michael Pratt", September 21, 2007 "The Daily Telegraph"
* Elliot, William Gerald. [,M1 "Amateur Clubs and Actors"] (1898) London: E. Arnold
* New York Times, "Thirty Years of Gridiron Club Dinners", October 24 1915
* Rogers, Ben, "Beef and Liberty, Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation", p. 137
* Timbs, John, "Clubs and Club Life in London", London 1872, p. 136

Further reading

* Timbs, J., "Clubs and Club Life in London" (1873)
* Arnold, Walter, "Life and Death of the Sublime Society of Steaks" (1871)
* Shelley, Henry C., "Inns and Taverns of Old London" (1909)
* Horne, Colin J. “Notes on Steele and the Beef-Steak Club”, The Review of English Studies, Vol. 21, No. 83 (Jul., 1945), pp. 239-244
* Town, Mr. "The Connoisseur". By Mr. Town, Critic and Censor-General (London, 1761), i, p. 153 and/or Issue 29, 6 June 1754
* Pick, John, "Irving’s Audience", Annual Lecture of the The Irving Society

External links

* [ History of the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks]

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