Cambridge Companion To: The Pitt Club

The Cambridge Companion to…The Pitt Club

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Rumour envelopes The University Pitt Club like a particularly sleazy leather glove: ‘Only boys from certain schools can be members’; ‘the carpets cost twenty grand’; ‘they have an outrageous initiation ceremony which involves burning £1,000 cash in a silver goblet.’ Don’t be seduced by the soft caress of hearsay and speculation: there are at least some things that we can be sure about.

The Facts:

The University Pitt Club was founded as a gentleman’s club in 1835.

Its founders named it in honour of William Pitt the Younger, who had been a student at Pembroke.

Its premises occupy number 7A Jesus Lane (that’s upstairs from Pizza Express, and above Hidden Rooms).

The current president is the History of Art Professor David Watkin.

The Pitt remains a boys’ club, and ladies cannot join, which explains the conspicuous lack of girls’ toilets.

The famous club tipple, ‘Pitt Juice’, is actually a very girly drink, made with vodka, lemonade and cordial, and an awful lot of icecubes.

The ‘certain schools’ rule no longer stands.

There are no initiation ceremonies for new members.

The annual subscription is only £40- less than half the annual membership fee for The Cambridge Union.

Once a Pitt, always a Pitt.  Membership lasts for life.

Know Your Heritage

Past members of the Pitt include royals, the odd Duke, a few Sirs and several other prefixes denoting land ownership.  A few of The Pitt Club‘s most notable members have included: Edward VII, George V, HRH Prince Albert Victor, the Dukes of Clarence and Avondale, and Baron Bilimoria (the founder of Cobra Beer), as well as the Cambridge Spies and John Maynard Keynes (a pretty big deal in macroeconomics).

The Jesus Lane premises has been synonymous with The Pitt Club since 1863. The building was originally designed as Victorian Roman Baths, but the venture failed quickly, and the neo-classical building was ironically bought at auction by its own architect (Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt). The Pitt Club is used to sharing its 7a space:  originally, half the building was rented to the Pitt and half to Orme’s Billiards Rooms; and in 1966, The Pitt Club welcomed the newly homeless Hawks Club into their Jesus Lane residence, until differences made the co-tenancy unsustainable. Since the 1980’s The Pitt has leased the bottom floor to restaurants Xanadu and Pizza Express (since 1997).

The Pitt in 2011

Membership perks include use of the premises for private parties, watching TV in a well-furbished environment, and being able to eat the food from the Pizza Express downstairs from the comfort of a Pitt Club armchair. If you’re looking for tales of debauchery, Pitt members aren’t going to tell you: our source tells us that the best thing about Pitt Club membership is “just being able to watch TV and chill out with your mates.” All very normal and civilised.


Ladies night

If you’ve got the wrong bits below the belt, do not despair: as a lady, you may still get involved in this bastion of Cambridge society by receiving an invite to one of the Pitt’s famous parties, known as Secretary Drinks. This is more likely to happen if you are fit and popular. One former Pitt lad reminisces that ‘the parties, held throughout term, are not to be missed, given that some of most beautiful women imaginable are invited’. Note that final verb, though; there are no official figures on how many of them actually turn up.


The Tab‘s Juan Zober de Fransisco explains that time he was invited to Secretary’s Drinks at the Pitt: ‘I was happy to attend despite the publicity. With respect to the people who hate the institution, I tend to prefer finding out these sorts of things for myself and make up my own mind.’ Granted, he ‘never got round to it’, but his sentiment is nice.

Illustration by Amy Jeffs