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The Caledonian Club finally banishes sexism after 119 years

EARL Haig, John Logie Baird and former Labour leader John Smith are among the members who have relaxed over port and cigars in the all-male surroundings of The Caledonian Club.

• The club in full swing. The downside of equality is that ladies' membership will now rise to 895 a year - and they may have to get their own drinks from the bar

The smoking ban put paid to the cigars and now another long-standing tradition has been swept aside in the establishment originally set up as a gentlemen's club in London for exiled Scots.

In a move that would have seen the less politically correct members of a bygone era splutter into their port glasses, the 119-year-old club has finally decided to admit full lady members.

The UK government's Equality Act, which forbids private clubs from discriminating against members on the basis of sex, and a desire to move with the times, has encouraged the club to change.

"The Caledonian Club now looks forward to welcoming ladies as full members and we believe this move will see an increase in applications for membership from both sexes," said Ranald Munro, The Caledonian Club chairman yesterday.

• A lady's view: My friends confused it with a Stringfellows

For about 20 years, the fairer sex has had access to the club as Lady Associate Members. Their membership status meant they were forbidden from going into the Bar, which has a splendid selection of malt whiskies, and the Smoking Room.

Instead, they could meet and entertain their guests in the Ladies' Drawing Room. If thirsty, a Lady Associate Member could ring a bell and order drinks from the staff - an arrangement that meant the Bar remained an all-male preserve.

Full membership means that ladies now have the run of the Bar and Smoking Room. Men will be able to go into the Ladies' Drawing Room (recently renamed the Drawing Room) without first being invited by a Lady Associate Member.

Existing Lady Associate Members will also automatically convert to being full members. And Family Associate Membership is also open to a husband or son of a lady member. Ladies will have the right to vote at the annual general meeting.

The downside of sexual equality is that their subscriptions will go up. A Lady Associate Member, living more than 50 miles outside London, paid 735 per year.

With full membership, they will now have to pay the same as men (895 per year).

When asked if there had been disapproving murmurs from traditionally minded members, club secretary Ian Campbell replied: "No, they are gentlemen in The Caledonian Club. Behaviour at The Caledonian Club is in the best traditions of gentlemen's clubs - albeit now with a small 'g'."

The Equality Act does not outlaw single-sex clubs. Therefore clubs such as Whites in London, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield, remain entitled to limit their membership to men only.However, clubs with similar constitutions to The Caledonian Club have to ensure men and women are treated equally.

The New Club in Edinburgh is understood to be going down a similar route to The Caledonian Club.

At The Caledonian Club, the most important qualification remains, it is said, having an association with Scotland.

Or, as one distinguished current member, the Earl of Elgin, put it: "Almost inevitably you'll find the person you most wanted to meet, but didn't know how on earth to get hold of, sitting next to you at breakfast."

PROUD HISTORY

Founded in 1891, The Caledonian Club owes much to the leadership of the Marquis of Tullibardine, who made it the headquarters for Scotsmen in London.

Nicknamed "The Caley", it is also light-heartedly called the Scottish Embassy and the current clubhouse is a fine mansion in Belgravia.

The list of past presidents reads like an extract from Burke's Peerage. The 8th Duke of Atholl, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, the Earl of Dundee, the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Airlie have all held high office. Other members include former Scottish Secretary Viscount Younger and the former HSBC chairman, Sir Willie Purves.

Sir Campbell Fraser, the former chairman of Dunlop International and Scottish Television,

 
 
 

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