Decorated initial H

aving described in detail a wide range of evil and injustice in the first three-quarters of the novel, Reynolds turns his attention in chapter 240 to the destructive, even devastating, effects of gambling in two separate cases. Boasting that “never until now has the veil been so rudely torn aside, nor the corruptions of London been so boldly laid bare” as in his novel, he introduces us to the Paradise, a high-class, or at least expensive, bordello and gambling den where we meet Albert Egerton, “a handsome young man, who, having just come of age, and stepped into the possession of a good property, was commencing his career of waste and extravagance at the Paradise. Proud of the nauseating flattery of the three or four abandoned women who had him in tow, he was literally throwing about his money in all directions.” Sir Rupert Harborough, Bart. and Honourable Arthur Chichester, two of Reynolds’s upper-class villains, first encourage him to bet on a fixed prize fight, after which they invite the young “flat,” or victim of their scam, to accompany them to Crockford’s, which delights the young fool, who believes he's being treated as an equal by members of the aristocracy: “The word "Crockford's" perfectly electrified him. He had often passed by the great pandemonium in St. James's Street, and looked with wistful eyes at its portals — marvelling whether they would ever unfold to give admission to him; and now that there seemed a scintillation of a chance of that golden wish. . . [B]ut it appeared as if he had suddenly received a transfusion of that aristocracy in whose company he found himself.”

There follows a long scene in which poor Egerton finds himself fleeced to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, after which the narrative grinds to a halt as Reynolds inserts a history of Crockford’s Club followed by a long note quoting The Times:

Reynolds’s history of Crockford’s

William Crockford was the founder of the Club which so long bore his name, and which was only broken up a short time ago.

He began life as a fishmonger; and when he closed his shop of an evening, was accustomed to repair to some of the West End hells, where he staked the earnings of the day. Naturally of a shrewd and far-seeing disposition, he was well qualified to make those calculations which taught him the precise chances of the hazard-table; and a lucky bet upon the St. Leger suddenly helped him to a considerable sum of ready money, with which he was enabled to extend his ventures at the gaming-house.

In due time he gave up the fish-shop, and joined some hellites in partnership at the West End. Fortune continued to favour him; and he was at length in a condition to open No. 50, St. James's Street, as a Club. The moment the establishment was ready for the reception of members, announcements of the design were made in the proper quarters; and it was advertised that all persons belonging to other Clubs were eligible to have their names enrolled without ballot as members of the St. James's. The scheme succeeded beyond even the most sanguine hopes of Crockford himself; and hundreds of peers, nobles, and gentlemen, who were fond of play, but who dared not frequent the common gaming-houses, gladly became supporters and patrons of the new Club.

50 St. James's Street, Crockford's first location. A portion of the club’s façade adapted from an uncredited photograph on Wikipedia.

In the course of a short time No. 51 was added to the establishment; and No. 52 was subsequently annexed. The rules and regulations were made more stringent, because several notorious black-legs had obtained admission; but, until the very last, any member was permitted to introduce a stranger for one evening only, with the understanding that such visitor should be balloted for in due course. The entrance-fee was fixed at twenty guineas a year; and an annual payment of ten guineas was required from every member.

The three houses, thrown into one, were soon found to be too small for the accommodation of the members: they were accordingly pulled down, and the present magnificent building was erected on their site. It is impossible to say how much money was expended upon this princely structure; but we can assert upon undoubted authority that the internal decorations alone cost ninety-four thousand pounds!

The real nature of this most scandalous and abominable establishment soon transpired. Hundreds of young men, who entered upon life with fortune and every brilliant prospect to cheer them, were immolated upon the infernal altar of that aristocratic pandemonium. Many of them committed suicide:—others perpetrated forgeries, to obtain the means of endeavouring to regain what they had lost, and ended their days upon the scaffold;—and not a few became decoy-ducks and bonnets in the service of the Arch-demon himself. Even noblemen of high rank did not hesitate to fill these ignominious offices; and for every flat whom they took to the house, they received a recompense proportionate to the spoil that was obtained. To keep up appearances with their fellow members, these ruined lacqueys of the great hellite actually paid their subscriptions with the funds which he furnished them for the purpose.

So infamous became the reputation of Crockford's, that it was deemed necessary to devise means to place the establishment apparently upon the same footing with other Clubs. A committee of noblemen and gentlemen (what precious noblemen and gentlemen, good reader!) was formed to administer the affairs of the institution; but this proceeding was a mere blind. The Committee's jurisdiction extended only to the laws affecting the introduction of new members, the expulsion of unruly ones, and the choice of the wines laid in for the use of the Club. The French Hazard Bank and all matters relating to the gambling-rooms were under the sole control of Crockford, who reaped enormous advantages from that position.

Thus was it that a vulgar and illiterate man—a professed gambler—a wretch who lived upon the ruin of the inexperienced and unwary, as well as on the vices of the hoary sinner,—thus was he enabled to make noble lords and high-born gentlemen his vile tools, and thrust them forward as the ostensible managers of a damnable institution, the infamous profit of which went into his own purse!

Reynolds’s note

So far back as 1824, The Times newspaper thus directed attention to the atrocious nature of Crockford's Club:—

"'Fishmongers' Hall,' or the Crock-odile Mart for gudgeons, flat-fish, and pigeons (which additional title that 'Hell' has acquired from the nature of its 'dealings') has recently closed for the season. The opening and closing of this wholesale place of plunder and robbery, are events which have assumed a degree of importance, not on account of the two or three unprincipled knaves to whom it belongs, and who are collecting by it vast fortunes incalculably fast, but for the rank, character, and fortunes of the many who are weak enough to be inveigled and fleeced there. The profits for the last season, over and above expenses, which cannot be less than £100 a day, are stated to be full £150,000. It is wholly impossible, however, to come at the exact sum, unless we could get a peep at the Black Ledger of accounts of each day's gain at this Pandemonium, which, though, of course omits to name of whom, as that might prove awkward, if at any time the book fell into other hands. A few statements from the sufferers themselves would be worth a thousand speculative opinions on the subject, however they might be near the fact, and they would be rendering themselves, and others, a vital benefit were they to make them. Yet some idea can be formed of what has been sacked, by the simple fact that one thousand pounds was given at the close of the season to be divided among the waiters alone, besides the Guy Fawkes of the place, a head servant, having half that sum presented to him last January for a New Year's gift. A visitor informed me, that one night there was such immense play, he was convinced a million of money was, to use a tradesman's phrase, turned on that occasion. This sum, thrown over six hours' play of sixty events per hour, 360 events for the night, will give an average stake of £2777 odd to each event. This will not appear very large when it is considered that £10,000 or more were occasionally down upon single events, belonging to many persons of great fortunes.

"Allowing only one such stake to fall upon the points of the game in favour of the bank per hour, full £16,662. were thus sacrificed; half of which, at least, was hard cash from the pockets of the players, exclusively of what they lost besides.

"Now that there is a little cessation to the satanic work, the frequenters to this den of robbers would do well to make a few common reflections;—that it is their money alone which pays the rent and superb embellishments of the house—the good feeding and the fashionable clothing in which are disguised the knaves about it—the refreshments and wine with which they are regaled, and which are served with no sparing hand, in order to bewilder the senses to prevent from being seen what may be going forward, but which will not be at their service, they may rest well assured, longer than they have money to be plucked of; and above all, it is for the most part their money, of which are composed the enormous fortunes the two or three keepers have amassed, and which will increase them prodigiously while they are still blind enough to go. To endeavour to gain back any part of the lost money, fortunes will be further wasted in the futile attempt, as the same nefarious and diabolical practices by which the first sums were raised, are still pursued to multiply them. One of these 'Hellites' commenced his career by pandering to the fatal and uncontrollable appetites for gambling of far humbler game than he is now hunting down, whose losses and ruin have enabled him to bedeck this place with every intoxicating fascination and incitement, and to throw out a bait of a large sum of money, well hooked, to catch the largest fortunes, which are as sure to be netted as the smaller ones were. Sum up the amount of your losses, my lords and gentlemen, when, if you are still sceptical, you must be convinced of these things. Those noblemen and gentlemen, just springing into life and large property, should be ever watchful of themselves, as there are two or three persons of some rank, who themselves have been ruined by similar means, and now condescend to become 'Procurers' to this foul establishment, kept by a 'ci-devant' fishmonger's man, and who are rewarded for their services in the ratio of the losses sustained by the victims whom they allure to it.

"They wish to give the place the character of a subscription club, pretending that none are admitted but those whose names are first submitted for approval to a committee, and then are balloted for. All this is false. In the first place, the members of different clubs at once are considered 'eligible;' and in the next, all persons are readily admitted who are 'well' introduced, have money to lose, and whose forbearance under losses can be safely relied upon. Let the visitors pay a subscription—let them call themselves a club, or whatever they choose—still the house having a bank put down from day to day by the same persons to be played against, and which has points of the games in its favour, is nothing but a common gaming-house, and indictable as such by the statutes; and in the eye of the law, the visitors are 'rogues and vagabonds.' Were it otherwise—why don't the members of this club! be seen at the large plate-glass windows of the bow front, as well as at the windows of reputable club-houses? No one is ever there but the creatures of the 'hell,' dressed out and bedizened with gold ornaments (most probably formerly belonging to unhappy and ruined players), to show off at them, and who look like so many jackdaws in borrowed plumes; the players, ashamed of being seen by the passers by, sneak in and out like cats who have burnt their tails. Some of the members of the different clubs will soon begin to display the real character of this infernal place—those who will ultimately be found to forsake their respectable club-houses, and merge into impoverished and undone frequenters to this 'hell.'" [chapter 241]

An observation

Like Charles Dickens in Little Dorritt, which attacked debtor's prisons after their closure, Reynolds here makes a scathing attack on the club after it closed. Did he wait until then to avoid being sued for libel?

Related material


Reynolds, George W. M. The Mysteries of London. vol 2. Project Gutenberg EBook #51294. Produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. Web. 27 September 2016.

Last modified 27 September 2016