Kit-Cat Club

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Sir John Vanbrugh in Godfrey Kneller's kit-cat portrait John Vanbrugh.jpg
Sir John Vanbrugh in Godfrey Kneller's kit-cat portrait

The Kit-Cat Club (sometimes Kit-Kat Club) was an early 18th-century English club in London with strong political and literary associations, [1] committed to the furtherance of Whig objectives, meeting at the Trumpet tavern in London, and at Water Oakley in the Berkshire countryside.

Water Oakley is a hamlet on the River Thames in the civil parish of Bray in the county of Berkshire, England.

Berkshire County of England

Berkshire is one of the home counties in England. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.


The first meetings were held at a tavern in Shire Lane (parallel with Bell Yard and now covered by the Royal Courts of Justice) run by an innkeeper called Christopher Catt. He gave his name to the mutton pies known as "Kit Cats" from which the name of the club is derived.

Scotch pie

A Scotch pie or mutton pie is a small, double-crust meat pie filled with minced mutton or other meat. It may also be known as a shell pie or mince pie to differentiate it from other varieties of savoury pie, such as the steak pie, steak and kidney pie, steak-and-tattie (potato) pie, and so forth. The Scotch pie is believed to originate in Scotland, but can be found in other parts of the United Kingdom, and is widely sold all over Canada. They are often sold alongside other types of hot food in football grounds, traditionally accompanied by a drink of Bovril, resulting in the occasional reference to football pies.

The club later moved to the Fountain Tavern on The Strand (now the site of Simpson's-in-the-Strand), and latterly into a room especially built for the purpose at Barn Elms, the home of the secretary Jacob Tonson. [2] In summer, the club met at the Upper Flask, Hampstead Heath.

Strand, London major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster, London, England

Strand is a major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster, Central London. It runs just over 34 mile (1,200 m) from Trafalgar Square eastwards to Temple Bar, where the road becomes Fleet Street inside the City of London, and is part of the A4, a main road running west from inner London.


Simpson's-in-the-Strand is one of London's oldest traditional English restaurants. Situated in the Strand, it is part of the Savoy Buildings, which also contain one of the world's most famous hotels, the Savoy.

Barn Elms open space in Barnes in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames

Barn Elms is an open space in Barnes in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.


The origin of the name "Kit-Cat Club" is unclear. In 1705 Thomas Hearne wrote: "The Kit Cat Club got its name from Christopher Catling. [Note, a Pudding Pye man.]." Other sources give his surname as Catt (or some variant such as Cat or Katt): John Timbs ("Club Life of London"), Ophelia Field ("The Kit-Kat Club"), John Macky ("A Journey Through England.")

Thomas Hearne (antiquarian) English antiquary and historian

Thomas Hearne or Hearn was an English diarist and prolific antiquary, particularly remembered for his published editions of many medieval English chronicles and other important historical texts.

A nickname for Christopher is "Kit." Christopher Catt was the keeper of a pie-house in Shire Lane, by Temple Bar, where the club originally met. His famous mutton pies ("Kit-Kats") were named after him, and formed a standing dish at meetings of the club; the pie is thus itself sometimes regarded (e.g., by Addison in the Spectator) as the origin of the club's name.

Temple Bar, London principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London

Temple Bar was the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London on its western side from the City of Westminster. In the middle ages, London expanded city jurisdiction beyond its walls to gates, called ‘bars’, which were erected across thoroughfares. Temple Bar is situated on the historic royal ceremonial route from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster, the two chief residences of the medieval English monarchs, and from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral. The road east of Temple Bar and within the City is Fleet Street, the road to the west, in Westminster, is The Strand. At Temple Bar the Corporation of the City of London formerly erected a barrier to regulate trade into the City. The 19th century Royal Courts of Justice are located next to it on its north side, having been moved from Westminster Hall. To its south is the Temple Church and the Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court. As the most important entrance to the City of London from Westminster, it was formerly long the custom for the monarch to halt at Temple Bar before entering the City of London, in order for the Lord Mayor to offer the Corporation's pearl-encrusted Sword of State as a token of loyalty.

Joseph Addison 17th/18th-century English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician

Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician. He was the eldest son of The Reverend Lancelot Addison. His name is usually remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend Richard Steele, with whom he founded The Spectator magazine.

The Spectator (1711) daily publication in England in the 18th /19th-century

The Spectator was a daily publication founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in England, lasting from 1711 to 1712. Each "paper", or "number", was approximately 2,500 words long, and the original run consisted of 555 numbers, beginning on 1 March 1711. These were collected into seven volumes. The paper was revived without the involvement of Steele in 1714, appearing thrice weekly for six months, and these papers when collected formed the eighth volume. Eustace Budgell, a cousin of Addison's, and the poet John Hughes also contributed to the publication.

It is possible that the club began at the end of the 17th century as the so-called "Order of the Toast". Indeed, a famous characteristic of the Kit-Kat was its toasting-glasses, used for drinking the healths of the reigning beauties of the day, on which were engraved verses in their praise. If so, one can place the date before 1699, when Elkanah Settle wrote a poem "To the most renowned the President and the rest of the Knights of the most Noble Order of the Toast." It was this very habit of "toasting" that led Dr. Arbuthnot to produce the following epigram, which hints at yet another possible origin of the Club's name: [3]

Elkanah Settle was an English poet and playwright.

Epigram brief poem

An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Greek: ἐπίγραμμα epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on, to inscribe", and the literary device has been employed for over two millennia.

Whence deathless Kit-Kat took his name
Few critics can unriddle
Some say from pastrycook it came
And some from Cat and Fiddle.
From no trim beaus its name it boasts
Grey statesmen or green wits
But from the pell-mell pack of toasts
Of old Cats and young Kits. [3]

Possible earlier objectives

John Vanbrugh's modern biographer Kerry Downes suggests that the club's origins go back to before the Glorious Revolution of 1688; and that its political importance for the promotion of Whig objectives was greater before it became known. Those objectives were a strong Parliament, a limited monarchy, resistance to France, and the Protestant succession to the throne. Downes cites John Oldmixon, who knew many of those involved, and who wrote in 1735 of how some club members "before the Revolution [of 1688] met frequently in the Evening at a Tavern, near Temple Bar, to unbend themselves after Business, and have a little free and cheerful Conversation in those dangerous Times". Horace Walpole, son of Kit-Cat Robert Walpole, refers to the respectable middle-aged 18th century Kit-Cat club as "generally mentioned as a set of wits, in reality the patriots that saved Britain".

Prominent members

Amongst the club's membership were writers such as William Congreve, John Locke, Sir John Vanbrugh, and Joseph Addison, and politicians including Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Burlington, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, The Earl of Stanhope, Viscount Cobham, Abraham Stanyan and Sir Robert Walpole.

Other notables included Garth, Charles Dartiquenave, Count Saint Germain, Steele, and the Dukes of Grafton, Devonshire, Kingston, Richmond, Manchester, Dorset, and Lords Sunderland and Wharton. Of some notoriety were Lord Mohun and the Earl of Berkeley. The artist Sir  Godfrey Kneller was also a member, his 48 portraits in a standard "kit-cat" format of 36 by 28 inches, painted over more than twenty years, form the most complete known members list of the club. Many of these portraits currently hang in galleries created in a partnership between the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.


The toasts of the Kit-Kat Club were famous at the time, and were drunk to the honour of a reigning beauty, or lady to whom the Club wished to do particular honour. We know by name some of those who were toasted: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; Lady Godolphin, Lady Sunderland, Lady Bridgewater, and Lady Monthermer, all daughters of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, except Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who was the daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 5th Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull and only 7 years old when toasted; [4] the Duchess of Bolton, the Duchess of Beaufort, the Duchess of St. Albans; Anne Long, a daughter of Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet and friend of Jonathan Swift; Catherine Barton, Newton's niece and Charles Montagu's mistress; Mrs. Brudenell and Lady Wharton, Lady Carlisle and Mrs. Kirk and Mademoiselle Spanheim, among them. Those toasted had their names engraved on a glass goblet. [4]

References and sources

  1. Timbs, John (1872), "The Kit-Kat Club", Clubs and club life in London, London: John Camden Hotten, pp. 47–53
  2. Greater London. A Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places. Volume 2 – Edward Walford ISBN   0-543-96787-5
  3. 1 2 The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Containing Additional Letters &c. (1727), p. 386. Revised, Edinburgh: Walter Scott (1814)
  4. 1 2 Bradley, Rose (1912). The English Housewife in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries. London: E. Arnold. p. 205.

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