The British Club
….. a short history
After the end of the Second World War, there was some local confusion over the ownership of the premises, which was initially given to the YMCA. It took a number of months but eventually Brigadier Victor Jacques obtained the deeds from the bank and ownership was restored. Victor Jacques was a retired military man from the First World War who was a partner at Tilleke & Gibbins. At the start of the war in Asia, he rejoined the British Army in India and was attached to the Free Thai Movement. After the liberation of Bangkok, he became British Commander here and then rejoined Tilleke & Gibbins. Upon returning to civilian life, he called together as many past Club members as he could and set about re-establishing it. He also wrote the first post-war Constitution, served as Chairman until 1947 and set the Club on track to its first century. As part of the War reparations paid by the Siam Ministry of the Interior to the Club, the Club imported two billiards tables made by Messrs W. Jelks & Son of Holloway, London for the grand cost of £528 5s 6d, one of which is still in use today.
The history of the Club is well documented after WWII with the entire Minutes archive surviving. These minutes outline the growth of various aspirations within the Club such as the idea of building a swimming pool, of expanding membership beyond persons of Britain descent, and even the (then outrageous) idea of permitting females to hold membership. It can never be said that the old Committees ever rushed things as these ideas took twenty, thirty and forty years respectively to actually come about, forcibly contested on both sides on all issues.
The Club has always been conscious of its being part of the greater community within Bangkok thus in 1948 the British Club Bangkok was the major organiser of a Joint Charity Fair for British, US, Dutch and Scandinavian residents to raise funds for Thai causes. This event was held frequently over the next decade and became known as The Ploenchit Fair when in 1957 it moved to its second home of the British Embassy. The Ploenchit Fair continues to this day but, sadly, no longer in the Embassy Grounds, which have themselves been largely sold off.
The Post-War years saw a lot of changes in Bangkok, and within the Club. In the sixties as the Dusit Thani took to the skies as Thailand’s tallest building, the Club developed and expanded its offering with much of the Tennis Court land being turned into the present day poolside offering both adult and children’s swimming pools. The seventies saw the opening of the dining room and the kitchens, and in the early eighties, the Silom and Suriwongse Salas were opened and the clubhouse internal rooms were redesigned to give birth to the ‘Churchill Bar’ and the ‘Lord’s Dining Room’, with the ‘Wordsworth Lounge’ opening on the first floor offering somewhere quieter than the bar. A Fitness Centre opened in the 1990s.
The Club membership was also changing: the Club was refounded after the war with only “Gentlemen of British Descent” being allowed membership. In the seventies this was changed to allow four core nationalities of British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian as well as a limited number of other nationalities to be permitted to join as associate members. In addition, the eighties saw women being allowed to hold membership in their own right and children became an everyday part of the Club – the days of the British male bastion were gone, forever! Indeed as a direct consequence of the membership changes, the Club was able to reciprocate with other membership clubs throughout the world and by 2013 the reciprocation list was numbering around 252.
The major event of the nineties was the Asian financial crisis, which nearly bankrupted the Club as companies drastically reduced their expatriate staff numbers and thus membership rapidly declined. The Club, however, did not close by increasing the number of non-core nationality members allowed, so that now there are members of 45 different nationalities.
As the Millennium bug failed to bite (or is that byte?), the Club moved into a new century and began looking back at its history as it approached the year of its centenary – 23rd April 2003. Planning for the Club’s centenary started in the late nineties and the majority of the work was done in the final year. The first major task undertaken was the commissioning of a Centenary Book, which was written by local author and Club member John Hoskins, and which covered not only the 100 years of the Club’s history but also took a look at British interests in Siam since the early traders landed here in 1612. The book was honoured by congratulatory letters from H.M. King Bhumiphol of Thailand and Queen Elizabeth II of the Commonwealth Realms (including United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand). The book was launched in the summer of 2003 at Gala Party on the Club’s front lawn attended the then British Ambassador Lloyd Barnaby Smith, who presided over ‘Hundred Minutes’ of free drink … a very British way of celebrating!