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Reform Club

The Reform Club
The Reform Club, London
viewed from Pall Mall, adjacent to the Travellers Club.
General information
Architectural style Italian Renaissance
Address 104 Pall Mall, SW1Y 5EW
Groundbreaking 1837
Completed 1841
Landlord Crown Estate Commissioners
Design and construction
Architect Sir Charles Barry
Civil engineer Thomas Grissell & Morton Peto
Main contractor Grissell & Peto

The Reform Club is a private members club on the south side of Pall Mall in central London. As with all such clubs it originally comprised an all-male membership, but was first among changing its rules to include the admission of women in 1981.

The Reform (as it is known in common parlance) enjoys extensive reciprocity with similar clubs around the world, and attracts significant numbers of foreign members, including diplomats.


  • History 1
    • 19th Century 1.1
    • 20th Century 1.2
  • Literary associations 2
  • Appearances in popular culture and literature 3
  • Notable members 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


19th Century

The club was founded in 1836 by Edward Ellice, MP for Coventry and Whig Whip, whose riches came from the Hudson's Bay Company but whose zeal was chiefly devoted to securing the passage of the Reform Act 1832. This new club, for members of both Houses of Parliament, was intended to be a forum for the radical ideas which the First Reform Bill represented: a bastion of liberal and progressive thought that became closely associated with the Liberal Party, who largely succeeded the Whigs in the second half of the 19th century.

Brooks's Club, the headquarters of the old Whig aristocracy, was neither able nor prepared to open its doors to a flood of new men, so preliminary meetings were held at Ellice's house to plan a much larger club, which would promote 'the social intercourse of the reformers of the United Kingdom'. In the 19th century, any Liberal Member of Parliament or Peer crossing the floor, to join or work with another party, was expected to resign as a member.

The Reform Club's building was designed by renowned architect Sir Charles Barry[1] and contracted to builders Grissell & Peto. Construction began in 1837 and was finished in 1841. This new club was built on palatial lines, the design being based on the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and its Saloon in particular is regarded as the finest of all London's clubs. The Reform was among the first senior London clubs to provide bedrooms (known as chambers), and its library contains over 75,000 books, mostly of a political, historical and biographical nature; customarily, members donate a copy of any book they write to the club's library, ever increasing its stock.

Until the decline of the Liberal Party in the early 20th century, it was de rigueur for Liberal MPs and Peers to be members of the Reform Club, being regarded as an unofficial party headquarters. However, in 1882, the National Liberal Club was established under William Ewart Gladstone's chairmanship, designed to be more "inclusive" towards Liberal grandees and activists throughout the UK.

20th Century

This 1840s drawing depicts the Gallery above the club's Saloon at first floor level.
The Reform Club's italianate Saloon (stairs leading to the Gallery)

After World War II and with the old Liberal Party's further decline, the club increasingly drew its membership from civil servants[2] not least those from the Treasury, as well as Foreign Office officials, who also frequent the neighbouring Travellers Club.

The club maintains a comprehensive list of guest speakers and musical ensembles throughout the year — for example, Government Ministers Nick Clegg and Theresa May (2011), Archbishop John Sentamu (2012), and Ambassadors Liu Xiaoming (2013), as well as Dr Alexander Yakovenko and Sylvie Bermann (2014).

Today the Reform Club (of which Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are honorary members), no longer represents any particular political viewpoint, being an impartial and purely social venue.

Literary associations

Besides having had many notable members from the literary world, including Thackeray and Arnold Bennett, the Reform played a role in some significant events, such as the feud between Oscar Wilde's friend and literary executor Robbie Ross and Wilde's ex-lover Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1913, after discovering that Lord Alfred had taken lodgings in the same house as himself with a view to stealing his papers, Ross sought refuge at the club, from where he wrote to Edmund Gosse, saying that he felt obliged to return to his rooms "with firearms".[3] Ross had been elected a member in 1899, and it was also at the club that he had entertained Wilde's son Cyril to lunch, only a few years before the latter was killed by enemy fire during the First World War.

Harold Owen, the brother of Wilfred Owen, called on Siegfried Sassoon at the Reform after Wilfred's death,[4] and Sassoon himself wrote a poem entitled "Lines Written at the Reform Club", which was printed for members at Christmas 1920.[5] Wilfred Owen, though not himself a member, lunched at the club several times in the company of Sassoon and Sir Roderick Meiklejohn.

Appearances in popular culture and literature

The Reform Club appears in Anthony Trollope's novel Phineas Finn (1867). This eponymous main character becomes a member of the club and there acquaints Liberal members of the House of Commons, who arrange to get him elected to an Irish parliamentary borough. The book is one of the political novels in the Palliser series, and the political events it describes are a fictionalized account of the build-up to the Second Reform Act (passed in 1867) which effectively extended the franchise to the working classes.

The club also appears in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days; the protagonist, Phileas Fogg, is a member of the Reform Club who sets out to circumnavigate the world on a bet from his fellow members, beginning and ending at the club.

Michael Palin, following his fictional predecessor, also began and ended his televised journey around the world in 80 days at the Reform Club. The Reform Club, like other senior London clubs, stipulates a dress code requiring gentlemen to wear a jacket and tie; Palin preferred to remain casually dressed and, not having prepared himself properly, he was not permitted to enter the building to complete his journey as had been his intention, so his trip ended on the steps outside.

Victorian publisher Norman Warne is depicted visiting the Reform Club in the 2006 film Miss Potter.

The club has been used as a location in a number of films, including the fencing scene in the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day., "The Quiller Memorandum" (1966), "The Man Who Haunted Himself" (1970), Lindsay Anderson's "O Lucky Man!" (1973), "The Avengers" (1998), "Nicholas Nickleby" (2003), "Quantum of Solace" (2008) and "Sherlock Holmes" (2009).

The Reform Club was used as a meeting place for MI operatives in Part 3, Chapter 1, p. 83ff of Graham Greene's spy novel "The Human Factor" (1978, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-41491-0) and for a scene with Hugh Bonneville in the 2014 film Paddington.

Notable members

See also


  1. ^ "Pall Mall; Clubland Old and New London: Volume 4 (pp. 140-164)". 2003-06-22. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Walker, Tim (18 October 2011). "Polly Toynbee's man makes a meal of his expenses". Telegraph. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Maureen Borland, Wilde's Devoted Friend: a Life of Robert Ross (1990), p201
  4. ^ Christian Major, "Sassoon's London: the Reform Club", Siegfried's Journal, no 12 (July 2007), pp 5-13
  5. ^ Russell Burlingham & Roger Billis, Reformed Characters: The Reform Club in History and Literature (2005), p34

Further reading

  • Lejeune, Anthony, with Malcolm Lewis, The Gentlemen's Clubs of London, Bracken Books, London, 1979 (reprinted 1984 and 1987), ISBN 0-946495-14-9
  • Burlingham, Russell & Billis, Roger (eds), Reformed Characters. The Reform Club in History and Literature. An Anthology with Commentary (London, 2005)
  • Woodbridge, George, The Reform Club 1836–1978. A History from the Club's Records (London, 1978)

External links

  • Reform Club website
  • Survey of London's entry on the Club
  • "The Reform Club: Architecture and the Birth of Popular Government", lecture by Peter Marsh and Paul Vonberg at Gresham College, 25 September 2007 (available for MP3 and MP4 download)
  • Reform Club library pamphlets
  • Mary Evans Picture Library - The Club's collection of caricatures
  • CBC.CA Paul Kennedy's audio tour of the Club, broadcast in February 2011

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