army and navy
Friday, 25 May 2012

Club Class

After 175 years, the Army & Navy Club stands triumphant

On the corner of Pall Mall and St James's Square stands the Army & Navy Club. This impressive, 10-floor high building was constructed in the 1960s to replace the former club house, which was designed in the 1850s.

Founded on 28 August 1837 by Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes, the club was formed to accommodate officers who had failed to gain entry to the Senior or Junior United Services Clubs, which were heavily oversubscribed at the time. Originally intended for army members only, the Duke of Wellington, who was to become patron, insisted the club must open its doors to Royal Navy and Royal Marine members, too.

The Army & Navy found its first home at 1 King Street, in a building recently vacated by the Oxford and Cambridge Club. The joining fee was 15 guineas, with an annual subscription of five guineas. When the Club Library was set up in 1845, a strict 'no gambling, no smoking' rule was enforced, intriguingly leading to the club's famous nickname – The Rag.


Captain William Higginson 'Billy' Duff, something of a reprobate, found the club's strict rules dreary and labelled the club 'a Rag and Famish affair'. The Rag and Famish was a squalid gaming house for 'brokendown gamblers who played for coppers – the lowest and worst place of last resort' and Billy had intended the description as a gross insult. But far from taking offence, members took to the name and decided to form a 'Rag and Famish dining club' within the club. Billy was delighted and insisted he should design the special 'Rag and Famish Club' buttons, which, incidentally, are still on display today.

Between 1846 and 1847, the club bought five houses extending from St James's Square to 39 Pall Mall, to accommodate more members and staff, as it increased in popularity. A magnificent clubhouse was then built on the site, which served members until 1959, when it was demolished and replaced by the present structure, which was better suited to its purpose.

At the turn of the century, The Rag caused a sensation in society papers when it announced it was to become the first of the traditional 'gentlemen's clubs' to accept women as members. Indeed, during the First World War, The Rag also became the first club to appoint a female secretary to run it – the modern equivalent of a CEO.


Today, The Rag has 5,000 members, made up of men and women, most of whom have served in the Armed Forces. It even opens its doors to non-members – function rooms can be hired for weddings, banquets, private lunches or dinners and business meetings.

Most recently, the club has undergone a series of refurbishments: the Ribbon Bar, for example, is a new bar and brasserie with an outdoor terrace, named after the military medal ribbons displayed on the walls there. Similarly, a new business centre and cafe has opened, allowing members an opportunity to conduct business affairs comfortably in the club's discreet atmosphere.

And so, as other gentleman's clubs of today face financial difficulties from their reluctance to modernise and upgrade membership to include women, the Army & Navy is still going strong. With its restaurants, bars and 76 air-conditioned bedrooms, it remains a leading example of how a 21st-century club can stand as a modern-day 'home from home', while still paying homage to its historical past.

Army & Navy Club, 36-39 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5JN: 020-7930 9721. See for more details






The RAG is offering an introductory six months' free membership* to The Lady subscribers, with the full benefits of:

Formal and informal wining and dining, including weekends.

Newly opened Ribbon Bar & Terrace bar and brasserie (smart casual dress; families welcome).

76 air-conditioned, ensuite bedrooms (room rate includes newspaper and continental breakfast).

Reduced room rates Friday to Sunday.

Free Wi-Fi.

Secure underground garaging for over 30 cars.

Exclusive Club event programme.

Shooting, fishing, golf, and horse-racing syndicates.

Dedicated Business Centre and networking facilities.

5 minutes' walk from the West End, Theatreland and Mayfair.

Concessions at many Jermyn Street and St James's Street shops.

Reciprocal membership with 100 clubs worldwide.

In addition, if anyone on this scheme applies for permanent membership after the six-month free period, the usual joining fee will be waived; only the subscription will be due for payment.

Members may also hire any of the Club's elegant and prestigious rooms for private events, functions or weddings at special members' rates.

Applications may be made in person to the membership secretary Caroline Clarke: 020-7930 9721, or by completing the online application form:

*Temporary members will be expected to observe Club Regulations.

For events queries, please contact events manager Emily Moss: 020-7827 8023, or by completing the online enquiry form at

This offer is initially available until 31 July 2012 and the six-month membership may commence at any point within this period.

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