Bullingdon Club

David Cameron

The Bullingdon Club is a secret society dining club for exclusive students at Oxford University. The club has no permanent rooms and is notorious for its members’ wealth and destructive binges. Membership is by invitation only, and prohibitively expensive for most, given the need to pay for the uniform, dinners, and damages. The club was founded over 200 years ago. Originally it was a hunting and cricket club. This foundational sporting purpose is attested to in the Club’s symbol.

‘The Wisden Cricketer’ reports that the Bullingdon is ‘ostensibly one of the two original Oxford University cricket teams but it actually used cricket merely as a respectable front for the mischievous, destructive, or self-indulgent tendencies of its members.’ By the late 19th century, the present emphasis on dining within the Club began to emerge. ‘The Bullingdon Club dinners were the occasion of a great display of exuberant spirits, accompanied by a considerable consumption of the good things of life, which often made the drive back to Oxford an experience of exceptional nature.’

Today, the Bullingdon is still primarily a dining club, although a vestige of the Club’s sporting links survives in its support of an annual point to point race. The Club President, known as the General, presents the winner’s cup, and the Club members meet at the race for a champagne breakfast. The Club also meets for an annual Club dinner. Guests may be invited to either of these events. There may also be smaller dinners during the year to mark the initiation of new members. Membership elections are held twice a year, when successful new members are visited in their rooms, where the new member is expected to consume the contents of an entire tin of Colman’s powdered English Mustard, followed by the room being ‘trashed’ as a symbol of their election. The Club’s modus operandi has often been to book a private dining room under an assumed name, as most restaurateurs are wary of the Club’s reputation for causing considerable drunken damage during the course of dinner.

A number of episodes over many decades have become anecdotal evidence of the Club’s behavior. Famously, in 1894 (and again in 1927) after dinner, Bullingdon members smashed almost all the lights and windows in Peckwater Quad of Christ Church, along with the blinds and doors of the building. As a result, the Club was banned from meeting within 15 miles of Oxford. While still Prince of Wales, Edward VIII had a certain amount of difficulty in getting his parents’ permission to join the Bullingdon on account of the Club’s reputation. He eventually obtained it only on the understanding that he never join in what was then known as a ‘Bullingdon blind,’ a euphemistic phrase for an evening of drink and song. On hearing of his eventual attendance at one such evening, Queen Mary sent him a telegram requesting that he remove his name from the Club. In the last few years the Bullingdon has been mentioned in the debates of the House of Commons in order to draw attention to excessive behavior across the British class spectrum, and to embarrass those increasingly prominent MPs who are former members of the Bullingdon. These most notably include David Cameron (UK Prime Minister) and Boris Johnson (Mayor of London).

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