In the days of old the landed gentry inherited money and as such did not need to work. Their money went on elegant houses, horses for hunting or racing as well as gaming, fine wines and beautiful possessions. They had no need to worry about business or the future; consequently the English public school system (which begins at prep school, from the age of eight) was expected not so much to educate, as to teach leadership, self-reliance and above all strength of character.

These days, however, most public schools are becoming more progressive and realise that cold showers and soggy cabbage are no substitute for academic excellence and a sound training in technology. Whilst Harrow and Winchester attract some of the best families in the land, Eton is still the top British public school favoured by those of noble birth and with strong future ambitions for their children.

Established in 1440 by Henry VI this was the school chosen by the Royal Family to complete Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s education. In spite of its quaint, seemingly outdated, and often peculiar traditions (such as dressing pupils in Victorian long-tailed morning coats) old Etonians hold a great deal of sway in the corridors of power.

Past pupils include nineteen prime ministers alone. At one time an exclusively male domain (except for Matron), Eton now accepts female pupils as do other major public schools.

In spite of a good classical education, many English gentleman are still resistant to too much culture. As traditional patrons of the arts, the upper classes are expected to show a keen interest in culture but the plain truth is, because they have grown up with valuable books, priceless antiques and old masters all around, most tend to take it very much for granted, unlike the middle classes, who are the champions of the theatre, opera and ballet.

With a few notable exceptions (such as when an aristocrat breaks into the literary world or becomes a self-appointed curator of the nation’s heritage), the English gentleman has a far deeper preoccupation with the countryside and country sports, so most reading matter (after a cursory glance through the births and deaths column in The Times) will relate to the pursuit of prey, land husbandry or the various society pages.

Apart from bucolic pleasures and a modest show of interest in the arts, the English gentleman may also follow cricket, rugby football, rowing (while at university), polo, croquet and on winter evenings, billiards, bridge and backgammon.

Although he is rarely an epicurean, food and wine are nevertheless also high on the gentleman’s list of priorities, but he will seldom eat in a restaurant, except on matters of business, preferring the comfort of his own home or a friend’s dinner table. Here he can indulge his love of good plain English food (much of it shot or reared on great estates around the land, including his own) and drink the legacy of many a fine wine cellar, without the ‘messed about food’  often encountered in fashionable eating places.

There are a few establishments, however, where, at reasonable expense, he can satisfy his appetite for the ambrosia of his youth. In London these would include for example Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, The Savoy and Rules (the oldest restaurant in London), and, of course, his club.

The gentleman’s club is traditionally his inviolable refuge from reality – and his spouse. As he is protected by the best hall porters in the world, a prying wife has no means of knowing whether her husband is asleep under a copy of The Times or lying out dead drunk in the morning room after a surfeit of lunchtime claret.

A gentleman’s choice of club is often simply a matter of following in his father’s or grandfather’s footsteps. He finds it a convenient place to freshen up, take lunch, have parcels sent and generally avoid responsibility. Most London clubs, until recently, had changed little with the passing years, mainly because the members simply wouldn’t let them!

The old-fashioned atmosphere of these bastions of the upper classes was heavy with conservatism and solemn privacy. There was no lively inane chatter and rarely business discussion of any kind. It simply wouldn’t be allowed.

The majority of gentlemen still go to their club to avoid meeting people – not least other members. The more old fashioned club servants still uphold the old traditions with great pride, talking in whispers or low voices and ensuring that their members are nourished with plenty of ‘nursery food’ dishes such as: brown Windsor soup, rice pudding and Welsh rarebit.

To attempt to join an exclusive club, as a suspected parvenu, is a precarious undertaking. It may involve bribing a sound, but impecunious, member to do some serious lobbying. However, there is still the infamous ‘blackballing’ to endure. This old custom allows each member of the election committee to be armed with one black and one white ball. Thus if many of the committee drop a black ball into the ballot box, the candidate is automatically rejected. The purpose of this prehistoric form of ‘cold shouldering’ is to protect the existing members from someone they consider offensive.

Some of the more male orientated clubs are now allowing women guests into their hallowed halls but without any real degree of welcome. Whilst wives and girlfriends may be invited to dine in specific remote rooms, they are barely tolerated by the staff and their own premises for freshening up are generally speaking basic; some clubs providing only over-large, badly decorated rooms in the basement; with cracked mirrors and just a discarded peeling leather couch to sit on.

Although in these modern times, where perceptions are shifting daily and the British upper classes will mix freely with just about anyone, the older members of the aristocracy formed lasting friendships mainly with people of their own ilk. Many of these were forged back in their schooldays or are the direct result of early parental influence – when Nanny took them to the ‘right sort’ of children’s parties.

Avoiding the masses, true aristocrats prefer to socialise mainly at country weekend house parties, elite race meetings, charity functions, polo, society weddings, dinner parties and in muddy, windswept fields, following their chosen sport. They nearly always marry their own kind and although they may have the odd egalitarian fling whilst young, living in a squat in North London, they eventually return to the fold and settle down to pick up the reins of responsibility and produce an heir for the estate.

The newborn, sometimes referred to as ‘the sprog’ will in due course also take up his rightful place in society, though perhaps with less assurance than his forefathers. Uneasily aware of an altering world, he will resist changes like a terminal illness and view his dwindling influence with growing alarm for, with each new generation, the future becomes less and less certain.