Hundreds sign up against gentlemen-only London club

A 2020 photo shows the exterior of the private members' Garrick Club, founded in 1831. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - More than 300 senior lawyers, including Cherie Blair, whose husband Tony was British prime minister, have signed a petition urging one of London's oldest gentlemen's clubs to start admitting women.

The Garrick Club, founded in 1831 for actors and "men of refinement and education", is one of the last such clubs not to allow women in, except as guests of men.

Several previous votes by members proposing a change to the men-only policy have failed after not reaching a two-thirds majority.

Former members include Charles Dickens, while Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch and senior minister Michael Gove are reportedly among around 1,300 current members, along with a large number of lawyers and judges.

Signatories of the petition include some 300 male and female senior lawyers, who argue the gender bias means women miss out on networking opportunities.

The club is a "forum where senior members of the legal profession socialise and network with each other," the petition says, depriving women of "professionally advantageous invisible connections".

The Garrick offers members overnight accommodation, a restaurant, bars and a library.

Women are under-represented in senior legal roles in England and Wales, making up just over a third (38 per cent) of barristers in 2020, according the Bar Standards Board.

Cherie Blair signed the petition, telling how in 1976 as a trainee lawyer she was left standing outside while her future husband Tony was allowed in for dinner.

"It's outrageous that so little progress has been made since then," she wrote.

The petition - set up by entrepreneur, Emily Bendell, who heads the Bluebella lingerie company - urges members to call a fresh vote on the issue and back women's entry.

She told AFP last year as she launched her campaign: "It'd be one thing if it was just a tiny club... but this is a institution in the middle of London, with our politicians, with our judges, as members, people at the top of their profession."

The most recent members' vote on the issue in 2015, failed to change the status quo.

According to right-wing magazine The Spectator "the (male) bastion serves its purpose. Men need safe spaces too."

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