23 June 2015

Savile Club Mayfair and the British-American connection

Each gentleman's club, at least in London, wanted to appeal to a particular population. The Carlton Club, for example, had a strong interest in Tory politics while the Garrick Club loved the theatre.

The Savile Club was a gentlemen's club founded in London in 1868 by a group of distinguished writers and artists. So famous were they that Garrett Anderson* wrote in the club’s history: The Savile has provided a welcome haven for some of Britain's leading poets; Hardy, Bridges, Newbolt, Kipling and Yeats were but the forerunners of a disting­uish­ed line which continues to the present day. Christopher Isherwood, John Betjeman, Cecil Day-Lewis, Stephen Spender, W.H Auden and their colleagues came later. Mayfair may not have been the main centre of London's gentlemen's clubs, but the literary set loved it.

At first called the New Club, the space overlooking Trafal­gar Square became too small. So the premises were moved to 12 Savile Row in 1871 and the organisation started to call itself the Savile Club. Later still, in 1882, they moved to 107 Piccadilly. The gentleman enjoyed the views over Green Park, whiskey in hand.

The final move came in 1927 when the club settled into its present home at 69 Brook St, part of the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair. The Duke of Westminster had granted leases to build in Brook St Mayfair way back in the 1720s but now I want to focus on three important families who were connected to the house from the 1880s on:

1] The house had been beautifully renovated and decorated in the 1850s. Nonetheless when American banker Walter Hayes Burns acquired the Brook St house in 1884, he redesigned it to his own taste. The old Mayfair home became a modern Edwardian town house, a combination of Nos 69 and 71 Brook St. Burns had wanted to rebuild in red brick but the Duke thought this might make the adjoining houses look bad, and it was therefore agreed that the front should not be red. Painted cement was adopted instead, as was the same rather ordinary classical style. The only feature of marked individuality is the rectangular first-floor bay window projecting on brackets and the window ironwork.

2] Walter Burns married Mary Lyman Morgan, the daughter of the ext­remely wealthy American banker, Junius Spencer Morgan. She was also the sister of John Pierpont Morgan, the staggeringly wealthy Amer­ic­an financier, banker and art collector. Walter Burns later became a par­tner in his father in law’s bank and his representative in Britain.

3] After Walter Burns died in 1897, his daughter Mary married 1st Viscount Harcourt and made the Brook St house their marital home. A Liberal cabinet minister under H H Asquith and a trustee for the British Museum, Wallace Collection, London Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, Lord Harcourt suicided in the house in 1922. He was trying to avert a scandal soon after his secret life as a rampant paedophile and sex offender had been publicised.

Savile Club bar

Savile Club dining room

Savile Club's grand staircase

The Brook St house as enjoyed by Americans Walter & Mary Burns

Burns used the Dutch-French architect William Bouwens van de Boijen of Paris, a man who specialised in Classical styles. I am assuming that as Paris was the centre of the civilised world, Burns wanted his London home to be very civilised. The flashy C18th-type interior warmed Burns' heart; he had adapted it for his wife so that she could entertain in the manner befitting her station in life. It thus included an elegant hall, a grand staircase and a lavish ball­room. I have no doubt that the presence of twenty comfortable bedrooms influenced the committee's decision to adopt 69 Brook Street as The Club's new home in 1927.

The Club’s motto of Sodalitas Convivium suggests sociable comp­an­ion­ship. The advantages of Savile membership included special food and drink, good conversation, bridge, poker and snooker. The dining room included two long club tables, derived from the Club’s original layout. Perhaps the men of the 1920s liked to reminisce about their days back at Oxford and Cambridge, before the nightmare of WW1.

Garrett Anderson* wrote Hang Your Halo in the Hall: History of the Savile Club in December, 1993. Anderson’s writing must have been made more difficult because of a fire in the 1970s that destroyed many of the club's records. Clive Aslet discussed the phenomenon of the rich American couple, travelling for long periods between the cultural highpoints of Europe. Perhaps Edith Wharton had Walter Hayes Burns and Mary Morgan Burns in mind when she was writing her novels.

Left: Walter Hayes Burns
by Hubert von Herkomer
140 x 109 cm, 1895
Collection: National Trust

Right: Mary Morgan, Mrs Walter Hayes Burns
by James Sant, 
200 x 126 cm, date? 
Collection: National Trust


D D E said...

Last night there was yet another expose on tv about the brutal J Savile. Do club members want to change the club's name? How do they feel about Viscount Harcourt's sad demise in their building?

Joe said...

The Burns had a lot of money but even so!!!!! Imagine taking a huge Mayfair house, totally renovating it and using it as their European base. Presumably they also had a substantial New York home.

Hels said...


I know the exact tv programme you mean :( Apart from having the same name, there was no connection between the brutal Jimmy Savile and the Savile Club in Mayfair. Thankfully.

Viscount Harcourt, on the other hand, really did marry Walter Hayes Burns' only daughter and really did live in the Brook St house. As far as I know, the members _never_ discuss the Viscount's sexual crimes or look for the bedroom in which he suicided.

Hels said...


the Burns must have had a great deal of money! Harvard said he married in London then returned to New York, and he retired for a while from business. Then he went with his family to live in Paris, where he directed the U.S. Mortgage Company. Later he moved back to England which remained his main home, and was an active member of clubs of New York, Paris and London. From this I assume he had substantial homes in the three countries he lived in.

Boucheron Paris said that daughter Mary Ethel Burns' collection was one of the most spectacular ever created. For her engagement, Walter Hayes Burns accompanied the future Lady Harcourt to the Maison’s boutique. He wanted his adored daughter to have the most beautiful trousseau ever seen and instructed her to choose and order all of the jewels she dreamed of. Mary spent several days in the boutique.

Money was not a problem.