The Army & Navy Club was founded in 1837 as a response to the popularity of other Service clubs in the area. Originally it was to be called the Army Club but the Duke of Wellington, Commander in Chief, who became the Club’s first patron declined to have any involvement unless it was also open to officers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Upon agreeing this, the Club was established with Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes, Admiral Sir Philip Durham and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Charles Russell elected as Trustees.
A home in St James’s
The first clubhouse, a rented property, was located at No 1 King Street on the north corner of St. James’s Square.
In August 1847, a block of five houses was purchased on the present day site of the Club on Pall Mall and by 1851 an elegant building was ready for its members. Architects, Parnell & Smith, took as their model for the ground and first floors the Palazzo Cornaro in Venice, but based the upper storey on the Library of St. Mark.
Shortly after opening, the Club acquired its famous nickname, when Captain William (Billy) Higginson Duff, a colourful character with a brief and undistinguished military career was offended by the spartan nature of the fare offered to him on returning from a spree. He described the Club as a ‘Rag and Famish affair’ which was intended as a great insult, since the ‘Rag and Famish’ was a squalid gaming house ‘for broken down gamblers who played for coppers’.
The Members were amused rather than insulted by this and formed a ‘Rag and Famish’ dining club. The name was gradually adopted as the Club’s nickname, eventually being reduced to The Rag.
Left: The Clubhouse in 1851.
Re-building the Club
Throughout the years the Club went through several minor changes but by 1958 it became apparent that the Club would need to expand and that the original Clubhouse could not sustain the refurbishment.
Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Jacob was elected Chairman on June 11, 1958. He was to play the leading part for the next seven years, steering the planning and execution of the rebuilding project. Sir Ian was at pains to emphasise that in designing the new Clubhouse it was important to take into consideration the views of a large number of junior members and added that the Club must be more of a family concern. While accepting that the Club would still have to meet the wishes of older members in the traditional manner, there was a need to provide better facilities for the younger members who are the backbone of the future. The present day clubhouse opened in 1963.
The foundation stone was laid by Sir Ian Jacob on October 1, 1962 and at the 1964 AGM, after a number of tributes to Sir Ian Jacob, he responded in a typically modest way:
‘It has been a labour of love for us. I do not think that there is anybody who has had anything to do with this who has not found it an enthralling task because we could see the goal at the end.’