The façade of the Pitt Club
|Motto||Benigno numine - 'By the favour of the heavens' (Horace)|
|Headquarters||7a Jesus Lane|
|Remarks||Grade II listed building|
The University Pitt Club, popularly referred to as the Pitt Club, the UPC, or merely as Club, is a private members' club of the University of Cambridge, with a previously male-only membership but now open to both men and women.
The Pitt Club was founded in Michaelmas term 1835 and named in honour of William Pitt the Younger, who had been a student at Pembroke College, Cambridge. It was originally intended as a political club, 'to do honour to the name and memory of Mr William Pitt, to uphold in general the political principles for which he stood, and in particular to assist the local party organizations of the town of Cambridge to return worthy, that is to say, Tory, representatives to Parliament and to the Borough Council'. From the start, however, there was a social element as the Club's political events were combined with 'the pleasures of social intercourse at dinner, when party fervour among friends, dining in party uniform, might be warmed towards a political incandescence by the speeches to successive toasts'.
Over the course of the Pitt Club's first few decades, the political element diminished whilst the social element increased. By '1868, at the latest, the Pitt Club [had] ceased from all political activity and . . . elected members to its social advantages without any regards whatever to considerations of political party'. Though the Club's raison d'être changed in its early years, it 'was from the first, and has always remained, an undergraduate organization'.
The Pitt Club has been in almost continuous operation since its founding. During the First World War, however, the Club's existence became increasingly tenuous as more Cambridge men joined the forces. It temporarily closed in October 1917 but reopened in early 1919. By 1920, the Club had 'become nearly normal again, "the only real trouble", according to the Minutes, "being the horrible scarcity of whisky'".
The premises were commandeered during the Second World War and made available to the public. One observer, A. S. F. Gow, remarked at the time that the Pitt Club's 'eponymous hero looks down from the pediment, with a nose visibly tiptilted in disgust, upon an enormous notice displaying the legend "British Restaurant"'. As for the members, they were forced to seek alternative accommodation and eventually settled for temporary rooms above the post office in Trinity Street, which they called the Interim Club.
On 7 November 2017, a referendum to elect women into the club passed.
The Club was a peripatetic organisation during its first few years, meeting variously in the rooms of members and in other venues. In 1841, it acquired rooms over the shop of Mr Richard Hutt, bookseller, at 29 Trinity Street, which it occupied until 1843. From 1843 until 1866, the Pitt Club's rooms were located over the furniture shop of a Mr Metcalfe at 74 Bridge Street, on the corner of All Saints' Passage.
Since 1866, the Club's premises have been at 7a Jesus Lane. The building was originally designed in 1863 as Victorian Roman Baths by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt. The baths were an extremely short-lived venture, opening in late February 1863 and closing by December of that year. After the closure, a liquidation sale ensued, and the building was auctioned off in 1865, being bought by its own architect, Wyatt, for £2,700. He rented out half of the building to the Pitt Club, and the other half to Orme's Billiards Rooms.
In 1907, the Club bought the entire building. Following a fire in the same year, the interior of the Club was extensively renovated. There were further renovations in 1925, and the dining room was paneled in 1927.
The large plaque of Pitt's head that adorns the pediment over the entrance to the Club was presented in February 1933 by General Sir Neill Malcolm. It had formerly been on a wall at Bowling-Green House in Putney, Pitt's place of death, which was pulled down in 1932.
For most of the century after its purchase of 7a Jesus Lane, the Club occupied the whole of the prominent neo-classical building. The clubhouse was designated a Grade II listed building in 1950. As the Club went through mounting financial difficulties in the 1990s, it sold a 25-year leasehold on the ground floor of its building to the Pizza Express chain in October 1997, although the ground floor had been in use as a restaurant (once known as Xanadu), since at least 1985. The Club now occupies the first floor of the building.
The most recent president of the club was the renowned History of Art Professor David Watkin.
Notable members and former members of the club include Edward VII, George V, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, Charles, Prince of Wales, Olympic gold-medalist David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter (earlier called Lord Burghley; on whom the character Lord Lindsay in Chariots of Fire is based), Olympic track and field champion Harold Abrahams, the economist John Maynard Keynes, Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, journalist David Frost, and actors John Cleese and Eddie Redmayne.