Regency Hot Spots: Hells for Gaming Part One

For Regency men of fashion, gambling was a premier and oft hist-ro represented gentlemen’s sport.  Although White’s soon ursurped Brook’s as a notorious spot for high play, gaming hells were where a real gambler could be found.

Throughout the 19th century, St. James was the most fashionable of gambling districts (Brooks and Crockford’s two of the more posh places) as well as a varied assortment of hells (Rendell, The Pursuit of Pleasure).  Hells were given their moniker as “place of sin and evil where men made pacts with the devil…removed from everyday life…(to) places of transgression” (Rendell, 78).  Frequenters of hells were called “greeks” (referring to paganism) if they one and “pigeons” if they lost (their need for homing back to the hells to try and recover losses) (Rendell).

Gaming rooms were kept in the deep interior of sets of rooms, in a protected part of the club to keep out the watch, the women, and the wannabes.  One can easily imagine a sense of belonging (and also a sinking into abyss of hell) through the passage to the gambling sanctum.  Without natural window light, rooms would have been perpetually cast into dark and smoky wombs, lulling the gambler into a state of disorientation with the outside world.

Rendell states that many contemporary Regency texts sought to correct an often misunderstood distinction between hells and clubs: clubs were reputable places for those of a certain social status whereas hells sole purpose was for gaming.  Subscribtion, membership and exclusivity were the domain of clubs, brash capitalism the game of the hell.  Hells were places were classes mingled (even the genders as women were sometimes permitted in the lower order hells).

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