Gentleman's club shakes and stirs up membership as women allowed to join

Pratt's Gentleman's Club - Khaled Kassem
Pratt's Gentleman's Club - Khaled Kassem

A gentleman's club which inspired James Bond is allowing women to join for the first time in 166 years.

Pratt's, a private members' club near to the Ritz in St James's, central London, has changed its rules "with immediate effect" following a meeting of William Cavendish, the Earl of Burlington, and committee members.

The Earl, whose family have owned the club since 1937, explained in a letter to members that "extending membership to women is a positive, necessary and evolving change to enhance and invigorate the club".

But the move has not gone unchallenged, with some members understood to have made angry objections.

The club, established in 1857, partly inspired the fictional “Blades” – 007's club in Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

Its chairman, Lord Soames, the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and a former minister in Sir John Major's government, told The Telegraph: "The proprietor and the committee of the club have decided unanimously at a committee last week to admit women as guests, which they are partially now anyway, and as full-time members in their own right.

"One person has been in touch with me [to oppose the decision], there's bound to be. This [admitting of women members] is going to happen, it's not very unusual and they are going to do so and that's the end of it."

Allowing women is 'a disgrace'

But others are far less pleased, with one member calling the admittance of women in the evening, as well as the existing allowance at lunchtime, "a disgrace".

The member told the Daily Mail: “This email arrived overnight – there has been no consultation with the membership and no ballot.”

He added: "In a world where there are few small pleasures, the rules governing membership at Pratt's was one. It will be the end of Pratt's as we know it.

"Lots of people will resign or simply stop coming in, which amounts to the same thing. And I happen to know that women have not been pressing for it."

Another member told the newspaper that the Earl of Burlington, 53, who is the only son and heir of the Duke of Devonshire and has just moved into the family estate in Chatsworth, Derbyshire, "has never got Pratt's".

Among the quirky traditions of the club are that stewards were always known as George, regardless of their baptismal name, until the first female steward arrived,  Margaret Ouroux, who was called "Georgina".

Sean Connery as James Bond - Bob Penn/Sygma
Sean Connery as James Bond - Bob Penn/Sygma

Lord Soames dismissed a reported rumour from a disgruntled member that the Earl wished to make Pratt's like 5 Hertford Street, Robin Birley's Mayfair establishment that has a nightclub, as "barking mad".

The club is based in a multi-storey town house and takes its name from William Nathaniel Pratt, who lived there from 1841 and was a steward to the Duke of Beaufort, who frequently visited the house for dinner parties with his friends.

It has around 600 members, but only 14 can reportedly dine at one time at the single table in the basement dining room, and it also has a smoking room, a billiard room and a steward's quarters.