Readers of Regency romances will swiftly acknowledge the frequency with which these historical novels have scenes set in gaming clubs or gaming hells. The aristocracy, gentry, and common workers alike enjoyed gambling and did it with some frequency during the period. It has been hypothesized by Author Pitt in his master’s thesis on gambling during the Regency period, that gambling, and wagers in particular, were a means of fighting boredom. So there is little wonder that both gambling clubs and gambling hells were frequented often by people of all walks of life in Regency London.
Gaming clubs were establishments frequented by the aristocracy, exclusive and with strict guidelines for behavior. The most exclusive of the time were The Cocoa Tree, White’s, Brook’s, and Almack’s. They were located in St. James and were considered the poshest of the gaming establishments. These were called “golden hells”and catered to the upper crust. These were in direct contrast to the gaming hells or “copper hells” patronized by the lower classes. The “golden hells” were just as apt to use gambling and outrageous wagers. The wagers were entered into a “betting book” so the participants didn’t forget the terms and amounts wagered. One remarkable wager found on the books states, “April 2nd, 1809. Mr Howard bets Mr. Osbon Ten guineas that Lord Folkestone does not marry Miss Taylor before this day twelve month."
Gaming hells were for the lower, less genteel clientele. Their likes frequented clubs in a rougher part of London, which admitted people of all walks and stations of life, and both genders in some cases. Ladies were not allowed in the gambling establishments of the wealthy, as they were considered gentlemen’s clubs and off limits to ladies.
The types of games played were split down class lines as well. The aristocratic clubs played card games that required some skill to win, such as Whist (the forerunner of Bridge), piquet, Vignt-et-Un (which we know as 21), and Faro. Gaming in the “copper hells” relied mostly on games of chance, such as Hazard, a dice game that was an early form of Craps which required no skill and lots of luck.
Next month I will follow this post on gambling in general with a specific look at one of the more notorious gambling houses of the later Regency period: Crockford’s.
Gaston, Diane. “Gambling in Regency England.” Harlequin EverAfter, Feb. 14, 2011.
Pitt, Arthur. “A Study of Gamblers and Gaming Culture in London, c. 1780-1844: emerging
strategic reasoning in a culture of conspicuous consumption.” M.A. Thesis, August 2012.
Rees, Luke. “Gambling in London’s Most Ruinous Gentlemen’s Clubs.” London’s Historians’
Blog, June 5, 2014.
Regency Reader. “Regency Hot Spots: Hells for Gaming Part One.” September 17, 2009.