Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Societies - The Beef-Steak Society

BEEF STEAK SOCIETY. A society of noblemen and gentlemen, twenty-four in number, who, in rooms of their own, behind the scenes at the Lyceum theatre, partake of a five o'clock dinner of beef-steaks every Saturday, from November till the end of June. They call themselves "The Steaks," abhor the notion of being thought a club, dedicate their hours to "Beef and Liberty," and enjoy a hearty English dinner with hearty English appetites. The room they dine in, a little Escurial in itself, is most appropriately fitted up - the doors, wainscotting, and roof, of good old English oak, ornamented with gridirons as thick as Henry VII.'s Chapel with the portcullis of the founder. Every thing assumes the shape or is distinguished by the representation of their favourite implement, the gridiron. The cook is seen at his office through the bars of a spacious gridiron, and the original gridiron of the society (the survivor of two terrific fires) holds a conspicuous position in the centre of the ceilng. Every member has the power of inviting a friend. The Beef-Steak Society was founded in 1735 by John Rich, the patentee of Covent-garden Theatre, and George Lambert, the scene-painter. I can find no better account of its origin that a statement by Edwards:-
"Mr. Lambert was for many years principal scene-painter to the Theatre at Covent Garden. Being a person of great respectability in character and profession, he was often visited while at work in the Theatre by persons of the first consideration, both in rank and talents. As it frequently happened that he was too much hurried to leave his engagements for his regular dinner, he contented himself with a beef-steak broiled upon the fire in the painting-room. In this hasty meal he was sometimes joined by his visitors, who were pleased to participate in the humble repast of the artist. The savour of the dish and the conviviality of the accidental meeting inspired the party with a resolution to establish a club, which was accordingly done under the title of The Beef-Steak Club; and the party assembled in the painting-room. The members were afterwards accomodated with a room in the playhouse, where the meetings were held for many years; but after the Theatre was last rebuilt the place of assembly changed to the 'Shakspeare Tavern,' where the portrait of Mr. Lambert, painted by Hudson, makes part of the decorations of the room in which the party meet." Edwards Anecdotes of Painting, p.20

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see also London at Dinner, 1858 - click here