The Hypocrites' Club was one of the student clubs at Oxford University in England. Its motto in Greek, from an Olympian Ode by Pindar, was Water is best. This led to the members being called Hypocrites, due to the fact that beer, wine and spirits were the chosen drinks.
The Hypocrites Club was founded in 1921 by John Davies Knatchbull Lloyd, nicknamed the "Widow" after the shaving lotion "The Widow Lloyd's Euxesis". Wanting to avoid dining in hall, Lloyd and his friends got together to raise the money necessary to rent two large rooms and a kitchen over a bicycle shop, formerly a medieval house, at 31 St Aldate's (other source said 34 or 131). The rooms were reached through a narrow staircase. They also paid for the part-time services of a cook and a servant-cum-barman. After Evelyn Waugh was introduced to the club by Terence Lucy Greenidge, many of his contemporary fellow students followed soon and the club started to change. From a place to discuss philosophy it became a place to drink and party. As Waugh remembered later it was a "process of invasion and occupation by a group of wanton Etonians who brought it to speedy dissolution". Waugh's excess drinking life habit started with the club, "It was at the university that I took to drink, discovering in a crude way the contrasting pleasures of intoxication and discrimination. On the two, for many years, I preferred the former." A servant at the club would say: "They call themselves an artists’ club but all they draw is corks!"
Many who joined the club were previously students at Harrow School. John Betjeman recalled that "whenever the police raided the Hypocrites' Club or the Coconut Club, the '43 or the Blue Lantern there would always be Harrovians there."
Some of the members of the club, like Brian Howard were gay, but most were not. But in any case there was a notice on the wall saying "Gentlemen may prance but not dance." At the time undergraduate students were forbidden to drink in pubs and homosexuality was illegal, therefore clubs like the Hypocrites' were places to do both in a safe environment. Waugh would remember that the club became "notorious not only for drunkenness but for flamboyance of dress and manner which was in some cases patently homosexual". The "gay set" of the Hypocrites' Club listed Arden Hilliard, Hugh Lygon, Harold Acton, Mark Ogilvie-Grant, John "The Widow" Lloyd, Robert Byron, and Gavin Henderson.
A contemporary club at Oxford was the Railway Club, founded by John Sutro and dominated by Harold Acton; members included: Henry Yorke; Roy Harrod; Henry Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath; David Plunket Greene; Edward Henry Charles James Fox-Strangways, 7th Earl of Ilchester; Brian Howard; Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse; Hugh Lygon; Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne; Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross; Mark Ogilvie-Grant; John Drury-Lowe; Evelyn Waugh. The members of the Railway Club dined in black-tie aboard of the Penzance-Aberdeen express between Oxford and Leicester.
The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama was directed by Terence Lucy Greenidge, and written by Evelyn Waugh in September 1924. The cast members were: the same Evelyn Waugh, Arden Hilliard, Elsa Lanchester, John Greenidge (Terence's brother), Alec Waugh, John Sutro, the same Terence Greenidge, Septimus Nixon (real name Guy Hemingway), Derek Erskine, Michael Murgatroyd (real name William Lygon, 8th Earl Beauchamp), Archibald Gordon and Sibbald Malcolm. The absurd plot was about the Pope (Guy Hemingway) trying to convert England to Catholicism using Sligger (the Dean of Balliol, Evelyn Waugh). Greenidge, his brother John, Waugh and Sutro put 5 pounds (£287 in 2019 sterlings) each and bought a camera. Filming mostly took place in Arthur Waugh's garden at Hampstead with few other locations in London and Oxford. Most of the actors came from the Hypocrites' Club, other than Waugh's brother, Alec, and Elsa Lanchester, not yet a professional actress and managing a night club in Charlotte Street, London. Her pay was a £4 dinner. The Scarlet Woman is Evelyn Waugh's only movie and was never shown in public; it had private screenings in London and Oxford. Christopher Sykes says it "became a legend rather than an experience" for most of Waugh's friends. Father C. C. Martindale of Campion Hall, a Catholic house in the University of Oxford, saw it and "laughed till his tears flowed".
The club's mischief began to be noticed by the Oxford authorities when William Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow, gave a supper party on the roof of a church. In March 1924, Robert Byron and Harold Acton were forbidden by the university authorities to enact an 1840 Exhibition event. The Victorian fancy dress party was hosted at the club as a protest. The club was finally closed down in May 1925 by the dean of Balliol College, Oxford, "Sligger" Urquhart after a party where members dressed as nuns and choirboys and painted their lips vermillion. It's interesting to notice that another source states that Robert Byron and The Widow Lloyd gave a Victorian party where men dressed in feminine apparel and Arden Hilliard masqueraded as a nun. That night Hilliard went through the gate of Balliol in his nun costume. Hilliard was promptly dismissed by Balliol. Waugh's revenge for the closure of the Club was to enter Balliol late at night and shout in the quad, "The Dean of Balliol sleeps with men!". Balliol College and the Hypocrites' Club were the epicentres of what James Lees-Milne called "that scintillating generation... a mixture of the socially sophisticated and the enviably gifted... notably Twentyish and also alarming." The premises of the club were then rented by former member David Plunket Greene, attending Oxford with his brother Richard Plunket Greene. Robert Byron's biographer James Knox described them as a "wildly irresponsible pair who had never experienced any form of parental control." Just before Alastair Hugh Graham left England to become an honorary attaché in Athens in 1927, revisited the club location with Waugh, but Waugh "hated 31 St. Aldate's for its discomfort and its associations". Later however, in his autobiography, Waugh would write that the club had been the "source of friendships still warm today." The Hypocrites Club's premises are now social housing.
In 1936, Major Guy Richard Charles Wyndham (1896 - 19 May 1948), who wrote the autobiographical novel The Gentle Savage under the name of Richard Wyndham, issued invitations to a "remarkable" dinner that reads: "To Welcome Home Aginejok. Richard Wyndham invites you to a Dinka Dinner to be held in the Bahr-el-Ghazal Room, Savoy Hotel, at 8.0 p.m. on September 2nd. It is hoped that after-dinner speakers will stand on one leg." Aginejok was the native name for the friendly district commissioner who had been his host in the Sudan. Among the invited guests many were former Hypocrites or friends of them. They were: Tom Driberg, Montague Shearman, Hon. David Tennant, R. J. Brock, Arden Hilliard, E. A. Boyce, St John Hutchinson, K.C., Ralph Keene, Peter Quennell, John Heygate, Sacheverell Sitwell, Curtis Moffat, Freddy Mayor, Desmond Flower, 10th Viscount Ashbrook, Hon. Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross, Major W. R. Barker, Capt. J. S. Poole, Capt. F. O. Cave, and A. J. A. Symons. The dinner was so remarkable that is remembered in at least two memoirs: Tom Driberg: his life and indiscretions and A. J. A. Symons: His Life and Speculations.
The members of the club became the main inspiration of Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited.
Alastair Hugh Graham;
David Plunket Greene;
E. E. Evans-Pritchard;
Evelyn Waugh, was the secretary of the club;
Gavin Henderson, 2nd Baron Faringdon;
H. D. Ziman.
John "The Widow" Lloyd
Terence Lucy Greenidge;
William Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow;
William Lygon, 8th Earl Beauchamp was the president of the club
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE