The Eccentric Club History

First records of The Eccentric Club began with its official opening in 1781:

"Look at that eccentric wheel in that steam engine, what motion would you get out of it without that wheel's eccentricity - only rest. So in society you would get precious little driving force out of it, but for eccentricities having free and active motion. Let us encourage them, let us utilize them! (Applause)." - (Extract of the opening speech by its first president, 1781).

Run by the political and scientific luminaries of the time, the Club almost immediately gained considerable respect and support from many members of the Royalty and aristocracy. In 1799-1803, The Society of Eccentrics was the talk of the town and experienced an unprecedented growth. The industrial revolution opened wide the gates to technological advancements all over the Empire, and many members of the Club found their rightful parts to play in it. Others became prominent figures in Law, Politics, Literature and Arts.

The Club was always famous for its charitable work, too: it supported many struggling writers and artists, raised funds for the poor in London, Ireland and other parts of the Empire. Many of then famous members are now forgotten, but everyone recognises the names of R.B.Sheridan, J.Sheridan Knowles, William Lamb, Theodore Hook, Lord Brougham, Lord Denman, Lord Campbell. William M. Thackeray was another famous recruit of the Club: according to the Minutes, he joined it on the 30th of January 1846. The Club is believed to have extinguished later that year, although, in less than two decades it was to be re-born like a mythological Phoenix...

In 1858-1860 a few records refer to a new Eccentric Club, this time founded by a group of aspiring writers, artists, gentlemen of the creative persuasion and businessmen interested in the arts. Like many other clubs of the time, The Eccentric Club was busy chasing muses in every department of the Art and delivering entertaining and amusing creations. Some of its fruits were not forgotten, some have inspired the others, leaving thus a lasting mark and a visible trace of the club’s presence in British culture. By 1881, the club lost a few of its key members and the premises at which it met, the remaining members were irregularly meeting at other clubs’...

On Friday night, 21st of November 1890, Jack Harrison, a theatrical costumier and future father of popular actresses Phyllis Monkman, Dorothy Monkman and Beryl Harrison, had started an Eccentric Club of his own, strongly tying the name of the club to the theatrical stage. Club’s first President was Sir Charles Wyndham, an outstanding actor and a theatrical manager, who, according to the legend, was first to suggest ‘The Eccentric Club’ as the name. Club’s first home was at the premises of old Pelican Club in Denman Street. In a few years time the club moved to 21 Shaftesbury Avenue, right into the heart of London Theatreland.

Actors and theatrical staff needed a place to go after the performance - to unwind, to take a break, to smoke a pipe, to have a chat, a glass of wine, a laugh, a game of billiards... And the Eccentrics were waiting for them at 21 Shaftesbury Avenue.  As the Club was growing, many members were staying till late and were nicknamed by their fellows ‘the night owls’ which gave the Club its mascot and sacred symbol: at the Ryder Street premises there was an illuminated panorama of stuffed owls and a wooden owl upon the backwards going clock in the club's main bar known as The Owl's Roost. The most famous stuffed owl was, according to the legend, carried to Ryder Street from Shaftesbury Avenue - it was under the glass dome holding in its beak a watch showing the witching hour of four o'clock, or, as some had seen it, 12 and 4 o'clock - the busiest hours of the Club's nightlife.

As some members were eventually departing to perform on the great stage in the God’s Theatre of Eternity, the Club acquired its motto: “Nil Nisi Bonum” (“Nothing but good”) – a shortened version of the Latin phrase “de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est” (“Say nothing of the dead, but good”). ‘Nothing but good’ became also a core principle of the members’ conduct.

Before the First World War, before moving to the fashionable Ryder Street premises, the Club was famous for its open doors, friendly attitude towards strangers and good food - both indoors and outdoors: whilst inside it was for the members and their guests, outdoors there were always queues of the poor awaiting the distribution of free food, particularly long - before Christmas, when the Club members were giving away their famous, 'best in London', free Christmas hampers.

During the First World War, members of the Eccentric were entertaining the troops on the frontline, raised over £25,000 for limbless soldiers, regularly visited wounded soldiers in the hospitals and distributed amongst them food, tobacco, cigarettes and pipes. About the same time, numerous hospitals, hostels and orphanages were built by the Club.

Shortly after the First World War, there was a memorable performance at the White City when over a thousand of war veterans were entertained and comforted by the members of the Club. On average, since the 1920s the Club was spending over £1,000 a year on various charitable needs.

During the Second World War, a further £50,000 were raised to support the victory and many of the Club's members were fighting on the frontline, while back at home, the Club premises in Ryder Street were seriously damaged by the enemy bombs, and a large part of the Club's original archive and library burnt down...

In the 1940s-1980s, the Club continued participating in many charitable projects, raising considerable funds for the good causes: restoring ruined buildings in the post-war London, helping the National Flood Distress Fund in 1947, promoting amateur and professional sports...

In 1965 the Club donated a substantial amount to the Sail Training Association for the building of the schooner Sir Winston Churchill to participate in the Tall Ships Race. In 1970 the Club became a new home to 600 bridge players from Crockford’s gaming club which was then closed. In 1975 The Eccentric Club members, Joe Davis and Noel Miller-Cheevers, were amongst the founders of the International Snooker League. The Club’s Snooker Room, acknowledged by many as ‘the finest in London’, was later named after Joe Davis. The Eccentric Club Golfing Society was arranging competitions both in Britain and abroad. Members of the Lord’s Taverners Cricket Club had an associate membership of the Eccentric Club almost from their very formation in 1950.

For many years the Club had also housed the Headquarters of The Grand Order of Water Rats, an elite charitable institution for the show-business professionals, many of whom were members of the Eccentric Club. Members of the Lighthouse Club (organisation for civil engineering, construction and building industries) were also daily using the Eccentric Club’s quarters in Ryder Street.

But in the mid-1980s new fashionable business ideas and yuppie aspirations changed the face of London clubland forever. The Eccentric Club, with its centuries of traditions, customs and rituals, found itself old-fashioned, outdated, almost obsolete... It had to re-invent itself – change the membership profile, refurbish the premises, create a new development programme...

As a result, the Club was closed for long time for renovation, which many of its members found just too much to bear. A drop in the membership immediately hit the financial stability. A careless gamble with the property developers landed the Club in the Court and resulted in its eventual liquidation in 1985-86...

In 2007 a group of enthusiasts, members of a number of other London clubs, launched a website calling all the eccentrics, old and new, to come forward and join their efforts in bringing together and unsurfacing whatever remained left of the old club. The response was overwhelming, dozens of people contacted the Club Restoration Group within the first few weeks. The Club's name, all the good it had done to the society during its existence, were not forgotten. The Club was missed by too many, and the ideas behind it were as popular as centuries before. Re-assured by such a response and supported by many former members and their families, the Restoration Group started planning the re-launch of the Eccentric Club which happened on 29th of August 2008. The rest - is history...