‘Give members a vote on lifting ban on women joining the Garrick’, campaigners say

The Garrick has allowed only male members since it was founded in 1831 (AFP via Getty Images)
The Garrick has allowed only male members since it was founded in 1831 (AFP via Getty Images)

Pressure is mounting on one of London’s oldest private members clubs to end its 191-year ban on allowing women to join.

Campaigners have long called for the Garrick’s “outrageous” male-only policy to be scrapped, but have issued a fresh plea for patrons to be allowed a vote after fellow members-only club Pratt’s overturned its 166-year ban on women.

Situated in Old Covent Garden and known for its popularity with actors, broadcasters and lawyers, the Garrick has allowed only male members since it was founded in 1831, although female guests are allowed in some areas.

Celebrities and politicians who are believed to be members — including Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, Jeremy Paxman and Michael Gove — have been sent letters calling on them to petition the Garrick to put the matter to a vote.

Written by London fashion entrepreneur Emily Bendell, the letter says: “Pratt’s changed its rules to welcome women for the first time in 166 years. Its owner, the Earl of Burlington, said ‘extending membership to women is a positive, necessary and evolving change to enhance and invigorate the club’. I believe the same would be true for the Garrick.

“I’m sure you would not be a member of a club that excluded prospective candidates on the basis of race, religion or sexuality, so we urge you to call for a vote to allow female members at the Garrick.”

Hundreds of London’s top legal professionals, including 100 KCs, have also signed a petition calling on the Garrick to revoke its gentlemen-only rule. The club is understood to have last put the issue to the vote in 2015, when a narrow 50.5 per cent majority of members voted in favour of scrapping the policy.

“The club requires a two-thirds majority before the rule can be changed, so nothing was done,” Ms Bendell said in the letter to members.

“The world has changed a lot in eight years,” she added to the Standard, citing the Me Too movement.

“It’s a very different environment. I like to think, or hope, that the majority of Garrick members would vote to include women — that they would read that petition, they would understand what’s being said by over 100 KCs, and they would do the right thing. It’s curious that the club isn’t moving to give the members that opportunity to cast a vote on this.” The Garrick has been approached for comment.