The Evening Standard reports London’s Travellers Club has recently experienced agitation from a portion of its membership demanding that the Club should “join the 21st Century” by opening its membership to women.
Club Chairman Anthony Layden responded with an admirably thorough report, which placed the controversy in fine perspective, quoting extensively the arguments and remarks of members on both sides, and which then delivered judgement.
When I became Chairman in 2010 I observed at that yearâ€™s AGM that the Travellers seemed to be doing pretty well, and said I intended to keep it on its existing course rather than seeking any radical changes. I believe â€œSteady as she goesâ€ is still the right course in the interests of our Club and all its members. I have been surprised to learn, in the course of the discussions of the last few months, how diverse are the ways in which different members use and enjoy the Club. (A fellow member of the General Committee, who has often contributed wisely to our discussions, said at our last meeting that he himself did not come to the Club to talk to other members; he had never sat at the membersâ€™ table.)
I believe that continuing to create an atmosphere in which members can use the Club in different ways, an atmosphere of tolerance, mutual respect and ready conviviality, is the key to our continued success. It may be that those who value the Club as a place for all-male conversation, and those for whom this is not important, will never fully understand each otherâ€™s points of view, let alone come to see things the same way. We all hold different views for a myriad of reasons; conversations at the Club would be pretty dull if we did not!
I hope this report may help to make each sideâ€™s views a little clearer to the other. And as I said at the beginning of this report, I hope and urge that those who would personally favour change will hold back from pressing for it for the time being. It does not seem to me that it would accord with our traditions for them to seek to impose change on fellow-members whose enjoyment of the Club this would impair.
Hat tip to Rafal Heydel-Mankoo.
Despite the Club’s present enthusiasm for “all-male conversation,” the Travellers Club is, in fact, the model for Conan Doyle’s Diogenes Club featured in the Sherlock Holmes stories.
“There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere.”
â€”- The Greek Interpreter
Charles Graves, Leather Armchairs: A Guide to the Great Clubs of London, 1963, reports:
“The chief tradition of the Travellers’ is that members do not speak to one another. …
The Travellers’ maintains its non-speaking reputation even at luncheon or dinner when members come in with books, newspapers, or magazines in their hands, practically daring anyone to talk to them. Neither talk nor guests, by the way, are tolerated in the library which has a large number of early travel books, diplomats’ memoirs and books in French. There is occasionally some furtive conversation in the (mezzanine) bar, but most members only learn to know each other either on Sundays or in August when they are allowed to use the Garrick. For there, anyone who comes to the luncheon table with a book or newspaper has it firmly removed frok him under the instructions of the secretary by the redoubtable Barker, with the words, ‘Excuse me, sir; it isn’t dome at the Garrick.'”