In 2014, I was awarded a PhD jointly supervised by Warwick University and the History of Parliament Trust, on "The Political Impact of London Clubs, 1832-1868", which focussed on politics in the private members' clubs of St. James’s between the first two Reform Acts; and the abiding legacy of such clubs on modern British political culture. A revised version of the research was published by I.B. Tauris in 2018, as "Club Government: How the Early Victorian World was Ruled from London Clubs". The database I compiled for this research can be found here.
My work in this area is not limited to the gentlemen's clubs of St. James's and Pall Mall, but also has an eye to the growth of increasingly politicised working men’s clubs, the spread of women’s clubs and mixed-sex clubs, and the global spread of clubs by European empires and their colonial and post-colonial legacy. London clubs as a major form of social engagement were a Victorian obsession, and some work has been done in recent years on their vast social impact. My work aims to stress their central role in the world of politics, so as to better explain the emergence of a distinctively British “clubbable” political culture.
Key questions I have sought to address to address include:
- Precisely what was the role of so-called “club government”? In an age when party alliances were very weak, just how strong were the alliances forged in and around clubs? Was there any noticeable link between how MPs voted, and their club memberships?
- What was the role of clubs in centrally managing political parties?
- To what degree did clubs intervene in national elections in the constituencies? How common was such intervention?
- How politicised were the “non-political” clubs?
- How accurate were the popular portrayals of clubs in this period?
As with so much of my other work, the underlying question is "Where does power lie?"