Extract from Decision Former magazine, July 2005 edition
As you may but probably won’t have heard, Redbrook Place is an institution and a building based in the heart of Bloomsbury, known primarily but not exclusively as a debating society. Keen scholars will have read about its origins among the coffee houses of London in the early 18th Century, and thus shares many similarities with the origins of gentleman’s clubs such as the Athenaeum. Like many such establishments, The Redbrook (as it was then known, deriving presumably after the village in the Wye Valley famed later for its tinplate manufacturing, though the society does not encourage such speculation), applied a very strict set of rules to keep out undesirable elements and to ensure the finest standards of social etiquette were applied. Every potential member had to be proposed and seconded, and was then subjected to a fearsome vetting by the full committee, an ordeal that could go on for several hours and encompass a grilling about every aspect of the victim’s life, works and opinions.
But The Redbrook went further: it chose to differentiate itself through the very exclusive nature of its clientele and its total discretion. Not content with attracting gentlemen of a certain stature and gravitas, The Redbrook began to invite by name people deemed to be “movers and shakers” to debate the issues of the moment, and formed a secretive society open solely to invited members, their invited guests (subject to further rigorous vetting) and very particular speakers, expert in their fields but known also for their circumspection and social diplomacy. Rumour has it that vital governmental decisions were hatched in the original Redbrook premises, the precise location of which is uncertain and for some reason disputed among historians.
What is certain is that the society moved into its current premises in the early 19th Century with help from an unknown benefactor, and there it has remained ever since (the deeds are said to be held in trust, though the details have never been open for public scrutiny.) A magnificent and deceptively spacious Georgian terraced property, it goes for the most part unnoticed, being unnamed and its purpose unannounced to by-passers. Shutters are tightly closed and security is strictly applied: callers to the locked front door are required to press a bell while a closed circuit TV camera peruses their appearance. Supplies appear to be delivered to a yard at the back of the house, notable for high barbed wire fences and further cameras. Callers representing the media are not welcomed, and written communications from public sources are met with a firm but polite “no comment” from an unnamed source.
Indeed, like the Mafia, the existence of a society named Redbrook Place has never been confirmed other than through rumour or hearsay: the organisation retains an inscrutability worthy of the Freemasons. However, the editor’s research reveals that there was in the mid-90s an infiltrator did uncover something of the society’s modus operandi before being unceremoniously drummed out. The poor chap revealed, prior to his incarceration in residential care, that the unpublished membership included many figures from government and international circles, business and academic sources – in short, wherever power and influence is to be found, but not exclusively so. Some people admitted to membership appear to have puzzled this observer, being entirely unremarkable and without any great achievements to their names. The spy did also identify two other facts about this legendary society:
- That the Rules associated with that other great institution of debate, Chatham House, have been enforced meticulously by the Redbrook committee (whose membership, sadly, remains unknown.) That is to say, the rules of confidentiality are deemed paramount; comments during debates may never be attributed, though their content may be used by all present. Redbrook Place goes further, choosing never to publish the results of its deliberations at all. Strangely, though, some select comments have found their way into print and circles of power, though the source is never revealed. There is no evidence for which topics they debate, how these or selected or with what results, but rumours that the society acts as an unofficial think-tank for senior people, possibly even the Prime Minister or Royalty, have been neither confirmed nor denied.
- He also uncovered evidence of a ritual dinner held monthly in Bloomsbury, by special invitation only, after which a speaker may well entertain the diners and a debate might ensue. The food was of a superior quality, matched by fine wines and cigars, but the list of attendees are never made available, even to staff. Such was the secrecy surrounding these events that attendees have yet to be identified arriving at Redbrook Place, though on occasions certain figures have been spied leaving Bloomsbury by taxi en route towards Belgravia, Kensington and other destinations, perhaps marginally ahead of midnight, while others enjoyed chauffeured transport well into the early hours.
For all the lack of information in the public domain, one source has in recent years become readily available, surprisingly so. The society has adopted use of the Internet and has launched a website for subscribers, a fact spotted by a sharp-eyed researcher while investigating covert opinion formers and lobby groups. True, neither the name of the web site, nor its contents, reveal the name or details of the hosting organisation, but well-placed experts have confirmed that a secure site can be traced back to the society. To date, no hacker has broken into the site to explore its contents, though a wall of security worthy of the Pentagon might be a temptation enough; but then, there is no obvious reason to believe any benefit could be derived from such precipitative action, since the society is not known or believed to be involved in any nefarious activities of any description. It is, in short, merely an independent and private group of individuals whose members prefer to keep themselves to themselves. Until such time as they choose to make a public pronouncement marking the society’s cards, nobody will be any the wiser.
Even the quality press has apparently lost interest in recent years, though one dogged reporter suggests to the editors that something has been going on of late in darkest Bloomsbury. Neighbours have noted comings and goings at the tradesman’s entrance; black cars have been pulling up near the front entrance with increased frequency, curtains have been twitching and voices have been heard. A recent visit by this publication revealed only serenity. What is going on, dear reader? Your calls will be treated confidentially…