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Hypocrites' Club - Muses & The Beau Monde

"Gentlemen may prance but not dance."

One of the Hypocrites' Club fancy dress parties

The Hypocrites' Club was one of the student clubs at Oxford University. 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 indeed the chosen drinks.

The Hypocrites Club was founded in 1921 by John Davies Knatchbull Lloyd, nicknamed the "Widow" since he used 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 after 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". A servant at the club would say: "They call themselves an artists’ club but all they draw is corks!".


Anecdotes on members

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.

Robert Byron with Harold Acton at Oxford around 1922

Harlod Acton

Talking about Harold Acton and the club, Emlyn Williams in his autobiography George (1961) said: "He's the Oxford aesthete, [...] he belongs to the Hypocrites' Club with Brian Howard and Robert Byron and Evelyn Waugh."

Robert Byron

Robert Byron, who was the resident entertainer singing Victorian music hall, joined because it provided him a haven for like-minded "aesthetes."

Alfred Duggan

Alfred Duggan joined the club to continue to drink after the pubs and bars had closed. He introduced Anthony Powell to the Club during Powell's first week in residence; while Powell was hardly able to finish a pint of the club's potent dark beer, Duggan drank a tankard of burgundy, his usual lunch-time tipple. Duggan was in his second year at Balliol College and was the son of an alcoholic, on the way to becoming one himself.

Alfred Duggan went on to become a historian, archaeologist and best-selling historical novelist during the 1950s.

Tom Driberg

Evelyn Waugh introduced Tom Driberg to the club. Driberg remembered "dancing with John F., while Evelyn and another rolled on a sofa with (as one of them said later) their 'tongues licking each other's tonsils'."

"Come and drink with me somewhere": photograph sent by Graham to Evelyn Waugh

Alastair Hugh Graham

Alastair Hugh Graham followed Richard Pares as Waugh's friend of heart. Waugh called him Hamish Lennox in his writings, and said that "[he] had no repugnance to the bottle and we drank deep together. At times he was as gay as any Hypocrite, but there were always hints of the spirit that in later years has made him a recluse."

Graham sent Waugh a naked photo of himself, leaning against a rock face, with arms outstretched, and with the text explaining the best way to drink wine: "You must tab a peach and peel it, and put it in a finger bowl, and pour the Burgundy over. The flavour is exquisite. With love from Alastair and his poor dead heart."

Matthew Ponsonby

Arden Hilliard

Hilliard was an undergraduate at Balliol College with Anthony Powell, Matthew Ponsonby, Peter Quennell and Pierse Synnott. He was in particular a friend of Ponsonby.

In his autobiography To Keep the Ball Rolling, Powell wrote "A vignette that remains in my mind of this early Balliol period is of being woken up one night to find Hilliard and Ponsonby standing by my bedside. Without a word, one of them held out a brimming glass of sparkling burgundy. I drained it, equally in silence."

(Maurice) Christopher Hollis by Walter Stoneman, 14 April 1948

Christopher Hollis

Christopher Hollis wrote in his memoirs, Along the Road to Frome, that "the two centres of my social life that remain most vividly in my mind are the Hypocrites' Club and Offal luncheons. The Hypocrites' Club was founded by a number of those who liked the less conventional ways, in refuge from the regular dining clubs such as the Gridiron or Vincent's, which were both too expensive and, in our opinion, too starchy. It consisted of a number of bare, uncarpeted rooms in a couple of houses beyond Christ Church and just short of Folly Bridge."

Brian Howard & Friend

Brian Howard

At Oxford, Brian Howard and his friends were known as Hearts, mostly sons of noblemen and aspiring writers. The Isis Magazine wrote "They are rather alarming. They have succeeded in picking up a whole series of intellectual catch-phrases with which they proceed to dazzle their friends and frighten their acquaintances: and they are the only people I have ever met who have reduced rudeness to a fine art." Sir John Betjeman tells the story of a Balliol aesthete called Michael Dugdale who used to walk into Brasenose College, dominated by the Hearts, with a stick and limping, in the hope that the Hearts would be too sporting to attack him.

Hugh Lygon by William Bruce Ellis Ranken

Hugh Lygon

Hugh Lygon, the third love-interest of Waugh at Oxford, was as hard-drinking and self-destructive as Waugh and Graham. Lygon moved round Oxford like a lost boy. Terence Lucy Greenidge remembered him carrying a teddy bear. Greenidge, while admiring Hugh's classical good looks, charm and elegance, said he was "rather empty."

Anthony Powell

Anthony Powell wrote: "Coming from different colleges, we used to lunch or dine several times a week at this inexpensive and ill-furnished club over a bicycle shop near Folly Bridge. The premises, reputed to be Tudor, were certainly very rickety. The membership, equally irregular, was in process of changing from shove-halfpenny playing Bohemians to fancy-dress wearing aesthetes. One of the rowdiest members was Evelyn Waugh, one of the most sophisticated Harold Acton."

Linguist A. N.Tucker standing beside Evans-Pritchard, 1930 Southern Sudan

E. E. Evans-Pritchard

E. E. Evans-Pritchard lived an aesthetic and bohemian life, a reaction to the horrors of World War I. As an undergraduate he was a member of the Hypocrites Club. There is a photograph of Evans-Pritchard at a fancy-dress party in which he is in Arab dress looking like T. E. Lawrence.

Evans-Pritchard later went on to become an anthropologist.

Evelyn Waugh

Anthony Powell's first encounter with Evelyn Waugh was a sighting of him at the Hypocrites sitting on the knee of another member, Christopher Hollis. Waugh later teased Christopher Sykes for not having had a homosexual phase. Though Waugh was friends with Terence Lucy Greenidge and Harold Acton, eccentrics and crazy, romantically he was attracted to fragile, beautiful boys like Alastair Hugh Graham and Richard Pares.

H. D. Ziman

H. D. Ziman became the Literary Editor of the Daily Telegraph and was at his fourth year when he met Anthony Powell, a freshman. It was Ziman who later put in contact Powell with American publisher Ken Giniger, who wanted to do a picturebook of Powell's book, A Dance to the Music of Time.



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 dress where members dressed as nuns and choirboys and painted their lips vermillion.

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."


Reading Recommendations and Content Considerations

Violet Powell Barbara Cooke


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