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National Liberal Club

National Liberal Club
The National Liberal Club, London
viewed from the Thames Embankment.
Alternative names NLC
The National Liberal
General information
Status Private members' club
Architectural style French Renaissance
Address 1 Whitehall Place, SW1A 2HE
Groundbreaking 1884
Completed 1887
Opening 1887
Design and construction
Architect Alfred Waterhouse

The National Liberal Club, known to its members as the NLC, is a London gentlemen's club (open to both men and women), which was established by William Ewart Gladstone in 1882 for the purpose of providing club facilities for Liberal Party campaigners among the newly enlarged electorate after the Third Reform Act. The club's impressive neo-Gothic building over the Embankment of the river Thames is the second-largest clubhouse ever built. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it was not completed until 1887.[1] Its facilities include a dining room, a bar, function rooms, a billiards room, a smoking room, and a library, as well as an outdoor riverside terrace overlooking the London Eye. It is located at Whitehall Place, close to the Houses of Parliament, the Thames Embankment and Trafalgar Square.


  • History 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • World War I 1.2
    • Inter-war years 1.3
    • World War II 1.4
    • Post-war era 1.5
  • Clubhouse 2
  • The NLC in literature 3
  • Membership 4
  • Film and television appearances 5
  • Notable members 6
    • Notable expulsions/resignations from the club 6.1
    • Notable rejections of applications for membership 6.2
    • Notable staff 6.3
  • Reciprocal arrangements 7
    • List of reciprocal clubs worldwide 7.1
  • Presidents of the Club 8
  • Other groups and clubs absorbed or integrated into the NLC 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Early years

The genesis of the club lay with Liberal party activist (and later MP) Arthur John Williams, who proposed the creation of such a club at a Special General Meeting of the short-lived Century Club on 14 May 1882, so as to provide "a home for democracy, void of the class distinction associated with the Devonshire and Reform Clubs", and the first full meeting of the new club was on 16 November 1882, at the Westminster Palace Hotel on Victoria Street. The Century Club itself then merged into the NLC at the end of the year.[2] In its early years, the club declared its objects to be:

1. The provision of an inexpensive meeting place for Liberals and their friends from all over the country.
2. The furtherance of the Liberal cause.
3. The foundation of a political and historical library as a memorial to Gladstone and his work.[3]

An initial circular for subscribers meant that by the end of 1882, 2,500 men from over 500 towns and districts had already signed up for the new club, and membership would reach 6,500 by the time the clubhouse opened in 1887.[4]

The club's foundation stone was laid by Gladstone on 9 November 1884, when he declared "Speaking generally, I should say there could not be a less interesting occasion than the laying of the foundation-stone of a Club in London. For, after all, what are the Clubs of London? I am afraid little else than temples of luxury and ease. This, however, is a club of a very different character", and envisioned the club as a popular institution for the mass electorate.[5] However, another of the club's founders, G.W.E. Russell, noted "We certainly never foresaw the palatial pile of terra-cotta and glazed tiles which now bears that name. Our modest object was to provide a central meeting-place for Metropolitan and provincial Liberals, where all the comforts of life should be attainable at what are called 'popular prices'", but added "at the least, we meant our Club to be a place of "ease" to the Radical toiler. But Gladstone insisted that it was to be a workshop dedicated to strenuous labour."[5] Funds for the clubhouse were raised by selling 40,000 shares of £5 each, in a Limited Liability Company, with the unusual stipulation that "No shareholder should have more than ten votes", so as to prevent a few wealthy men from dominating the club.[4] However, this only raised £70,000,[6] and so an additional £52,400 was raised for the construction of the clubhouse by the Liberal Central Association.[7] The remaining £30,000 necessary was raised by mortgage debentures.[6]

Four times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was the club's first President. A keen feller of trees in his spare time, his axe is still on display in the club Smoking Room today, along with a chest made from an oak tree cut down by Gladstone.

In the five years between the club's establishment and completion of the building in 1887, it occupied temporary premises on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Trafalgar Square. During this time, a parliamentary question was asked in the House of Commons about the White Ensign being raised on the club's flagpole as part of a prank.[8]

The clubhouse was still unfinished when it opened its doors in 1887, but it was opened early on 20 June to allow members to watch that year's Jubilee processions from the club terrace.[3] (The opening was marked by an inaugural banquet for 1,900 people at the

  • Official National Liberal Club website
  • Official NLC page on Facebook
  • National Liberal Club Pamphlets Collection University of Bristol Library Special Collections
  • Website of the Kettner's Lunch, a monthly speaker's event hosted by the club

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f Lejeune, Anthony, with Malcolm Lewis, The Gentlemen's Clubs of London (Bracken Books, 1979 reprinted 1984 and 1987) chapter on National Liberal Club
  2. ^ Cornhill Magazine, Volume 88, Smith, Elder and Co. (1903) pp.314, 319, states that the Century Club merged into the NLC "more than twenty years ago."
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Peter Harris, "A Meeting Place for Liberals", Journal of Liberal History, No. 51, Summer 2006, pp.18–23
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Robert Steven, The National Liberal Club: Politics and Persons (Robert Holden, London, 1925), 91pp.
  5. ^ a b G.W.E. Russell, Fifteen Chapters of Autobiography(Thomas Nelson, London,undated), Chapter XXII
  6. ^ a b c d Michael Meadowcroft, Celebrating 130 years o high Victorian style and elegance (NLC News, No. 63, November 2012) pp.12–4
  7. ^ Roy Douglas, The History of the Liberal Party, 1895–1970 (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1971) p.17
  8. ^ "THE NATIONAL LIBERAL CLUB. (Hansard, 4 May 1883)". Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  9. ^ , 1 November 1925The Times'Portrait of George Bernard Shaw',
  10. ^ George Bernard Shaw, 'The Case for Equality: speech at a National Liberal Club debate of 1913', in ed. James Fuchs, The Socialism of Shaw (New York, 1926) p.58
  11. ^ Sir Alexander Mackintosh, Joseph Chamberlain: An Honest Biography (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1914) p.327
  12. ^ a b Hamilton Fyfe and Joseph Irving (eds.), The Annals of Our Time ...: pt. 1. 20 June 1887 – December 1890 (Macmillan, London, 1891)
  13. ^ The Scots Observer, Vol. 1 (1889) p.58
  14. ^ a b c d e H.V. Emy, Liberals Radicals and Social Politics 1892–1914 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973) p.66
  15. ^ Michael Freeden, Minutes of the Rainbow Circle 1894–1924, edited and annotated (Camden New Series/Royal Historical Society, London, 1989)
  16. ^ "Hansard". Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  17. ^ "Hansard". 11 May 1909. Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  18. ^ Peter Rowland, Lloyd George (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1975) p.223
  19. ^ Richard Toye, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (Macmillan, London, 2007) p.97 ^
  20. ^ Roy Jenkins, Asquith (Collins, London, 1964) p.461
  21. ^ Michael Bentley, The Liberal Mind 1914–29 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007) p.81
  22. ^ Richard Toye, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (Macmillan, London, 2007) p.243
  23. ^ Cameron Hazlehurst (ed.), "Introduction", The Lloyd George Liberal magazine, Volume 1, Issues 1–6 (Harvester Press, Sussex, 1973) p.xii
  24. ^ Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (Hutchinson, London, 1954) p.675
  25. ^ William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874–1932 (Michael Joseph, London, 1983) p.750
  26. ^ "Identity Cards Scheme (Hansard, 23 June 1992)". Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  27. ^ Peter Rowland, Lloyd George (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1975) p.604
  28. ^ Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (Hutchinson, London, 1954) p.684
  29. ^ J. Graham Jones, David Lloyd George and Welsh Liberalism (National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 2010) p.271
  30. ^ National Liberal Club application form, 2011
  31. ^ Short cinema documentary, Look at Life: Members Only (1965)
  32. ^ a b Seth Thévoz, 'Winston Churchill and the NLC', NLC Club News, No. 55 (November 2008) pp.8–9
  33. ^ Plaque in the NLC smoking room
  34. ^ Shirreff, David. Euromoney. London: October 1996. , Iss. 330; pg. 16,
  35. ^ , December 22, 1973, p.3Times-Union"4 Wounded in 3-Bomb Blitz on London",
  36. ^ , December 22, 1973, p.41The Montreal Gazette"Bombs Explode, Injuring Four in London",
  37. ^ , December 23, 1973, p.Star-News"Terrorist Bombs Injure Londoners",
  38. ^ "Police seek car after IRA bomb in Whitehall", The Daily Telegraph. London (UK): 11 January 1992. pg. 1
  39. ^ Jeremy Thorpe, In My Own Time: Reminiscences of a Liberal Leader (Politico's, London, 1999) p.107
  40. ^ Ivor Crewe and Anthony King, SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995) p.200
  41. ^ Lewis Chester, Magnus Linklater and David May, Jeremy Thorpe: A Secret Life (Fontana, 1979) p.190-194 for a detailed description of de Chabris' involvement in the club in the 1970s. See also The Times, Thursday, 21 October 1982; pg. 8; Issue 61368; col B
  42. ^ The Times, Wednesday, 10 November 1976; pg. 1; Issue 59857; col G; The Times, Friday, 19 November 1976; pg. 4; Issue 59865; col G
  43. ^ The Times, Thursday, 21 October 1982; pg. 8; Issue 61368; col B
  44. ^ ed. Ralph Bancroft, Liberator songbook, 2004 edition – notes for the song "Down at the old NLC"
  45. ^ Michael McManus, Jo Grimond: Towards the Sound of Gunfire (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2001) pp.347–8 The full text of Grimond's NLC speech can be found here
  46. ^ The Standard, Friday 19 April 1985, p.2
  47. ^ Greg Hurst, Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw (Politico's, London, 2006) p.179
  48. ^ "Full text of Chris Huhne's speech". The Guardian. 13 January 2006. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  49. ^ Tudor Jones, The Revival of British Liberalism, from Grimond to Clegg (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2011) p.216
  50. ^'s_speech_to_mark_the_first_anniversary_of_the_Coalition&pPK=b06a3476-8433-42d4-83f7-cbcba784f4b5
  51. ^ Conversion of £165,950 in 1884 to account for inflation calculated using on 28 December 2014, giving a purchasing power calculation of exactly £15,090,000.00, accounting for the Retail Price Index change between 1884 and 2013
  52. ^ Munsey's Magazine, Volume 26 (1902) p.653
  53. ^ "Hansard". 2 June 1911. Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  54. ^ Gavin Stamp and Colin Amery, Victorian buildings of London, 1837–1887: an illustrated guide (Architectural Press, London, 1980) p.148
  55. ^ The Revd. Peter Harris, club archivist, "The Refurbishment of the Club Rooms", NLC Club News, No. 61, November 2011, p.13
  56. ^ Clive's Underground Line Guides – History of the Bakerloo Line
  57. ^ John Grigg, The Young Lloyd George (Eyre Methuen, London, 1973) pp.127, 164, 225
  58. ^ Cyril Smith, Big Cyril: The Autobiography of Cyril Smith (W.H. Allen, London, 1977)
  59. ^ Menzies Campbell, Menzies Campbell: My Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2008) p.108
  60. ^ (1905) on Project GutenbergThe Club of Queer TradesG.K. Chesterton,
  61. ^ H.G. Wells, Tono-Bungay (London, 1909), Book 3, Chapter 2
  62. ^ H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli (1911) retrieved from
  63. ^ The Project Gutenberg EBook of Foe-Farrell, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
  64. ^ "The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse – Project Gutenberg". 1 February 2005. Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  65. ^ P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally (Herbert Jenkins, 1922)
  66. ^ (2011)The Blyth House MurderTerry Minahan,
  67. ^ Michael Meadowcroft, "Celebrating 130 Years of High Victorian Style and Elegance", NLC News, Issue 63, pp.13-4.
  68. ^ Mira Matikkala, ‘Anti-Imperialism, Englishness, andEmpire in late-Victorian Britain’ (Cambridge, PhD, 2006).
  69. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw cx cy cz da db dc dd de df dg dh di dj dk dl dm dn do dp dq dr ds dt du dv dw dx dy dz ea eb ec ed ee ef eg eh ei ej ek el em en eo ep eq er es et eu ev ew ex ey ez fa Who Was Who, 1897–present
  70. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj The National Liberal Club – List of Members October 2008 (National Liberal Club, 2008 – distributed to all members)
  71. ^ Open University biography of Ali
  72. ^ a b Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.33
  73. ^ Henry Tudor and J.M. Tudor (eds.), "The Movement and the Final Goal: Bernstein's Second Exchange With Belfort Bax", Marxism and Social Democracy: The Revisionist Debate, 1896–1898 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988)p.172
  74. ^ The National Liberal Club – List of Members October 2009 (National Liberal Club, 2009 – distributed to all members)
  75. ^ National Liberal Club: List of Members, July 1900 (National Liberal Club, London, 1900)
  76. ^ Lewis Chester, Magnus Linklater and David May, Jeremy Thorpe: A Secret Life (Fontana, 1979) p.86
  77. ^ National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1906)
  78. ^ Krass, Peter, Carnegie, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2002, page 296
  79. ^ The National Liberal Club – Club rules, standing orders, and a list of members, 1912
  80. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects, "Campbell Douglas"
  81. ^ The National Liberal Club – List of Members October 2006 (National Liberal Club, 2006 – distributed to all members)
  82. ^ a b c Elwood P. Lawrence, "Henry George's British Mission", American Quarterly (Johns Hopkins University Press, Autumn 1951) Vol. 3, No. 3, pp.240–1
  83. ^ Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi (South Asia Books, 1991) p.66
  84. ^ The National Liberal Club – List of Members October 2010 (National Liberal Club, 2010 – distributed to all members)
  85. ^ K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, A Great Liberal: Speeches and Writings of Sir P. S. Sivaswami Iyer (Allied Publishers, Calcutta, 1965), p.xxxvi.
  86. ^ C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, chronology of Ramaswami Aiyar's life (note the alternative transliteration of his surname)
  87. ^ National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1903)
  88. ^ Open University biography of Jinnah
  89. ^ D.P. Crook, Benjamin Kidd: portrait of a social Darwinist (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009) p.210 Kidd joined in 1902.
  90. ^ Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.21
  91. ^ David Marquand, Ramsay Macdonald: A Biography (Jonathan Cape, 1977)
  92. ^ a b c d National Liberal Club: List of Members, July 1910 (National Liberal Club, London, 1910)
  93. ^ Alfred F. Havighurst, Radical journalist: H. W. Massingham (1860–1924) (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1974) p.53
  94. ^ a b Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.32
  95. ^ Kate Jackson, George Newnes and the new journalism in Britain, 1880–1910: culture and profit (Ashgate, Sussex, 2001) pp.21, 102, 122
  96. ^ , April 11 1960, p.1The Evening IndependentAnthony White, "Would-Be Africa Assassin Stuns London Club Friends", The article noted that Pratt, a wealthy farmer, often stayed at the club when in London, was an active supporter of the British Liberal Party, and a bitter opponent of apartheid.
  97. ^ Open University biography of Saklatvala
  98. ^ John Sutherland, Stephen Spender: a literary life(Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005) pp.14, 43
  99. ^ a b Open University summary of the National Liberal Club
  100. ^ Jonathan Fryer, Dylan: The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas (Kyle Cathie, 1993) p.51
  101. ^ Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.18
  102. ^ Plaque inside the NLC smoking room
  103. ^ National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1912)
  104. ^ Charles Graves, "National Liberal Club", Leather Armchairs: The Chivas Regal Book of London Clubs' (Cassell, London, 1963), pp. 115-7.'
  105. ^ David Mckie, Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Scoundrel (Atlantic Books, London, 2004)
  106. ^ David McKie, "A Sincere, Thorough & Hearty Liberal", Journal of Liberal History, Issue 52, Autumn 2006
  107. ^ "ALLOCATION OF TIME. (Hansard, 10 October 1912)". Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  108. ^ Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner and John Mackinnon Robertson, Charles Bradlaugh: a record of his life and work (2 vols.) (T.F. Unwin, London, 1908) Vol. 1, p.93
  109. ^
  110. ^ Belinda Copson, ‘Awdry, Wilbert Vere (1911–1997)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2007 accessed 17 Aug 2010
  111. ^ William Digby and the Indian Question by Mira Matikkala
  112. ^ "Arthur Wollaston Hutton", Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922)
  113. ^ Obituary: Harold Pinter, by Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley, New York Times, 25 December 2008
  114. ^ NLC list of reciprocal clubs worldwide, accessed 25 August 2014
  115. ^ Plaque of NLC presidents in the front hall
  116. ^ Club, Cobden. "". The Cobden Club – Report and List of Members, 1909. Cassell and Co. Ltd, London 1909. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 


See also

  • The short-lived Century Club was absorbed into the NLC on its launch in November 1882.
  • The NLC regularly hosted meetings of the pro-Free Trade Cobden Club between the 1880s and 1930s resulting in the NLC and the Cobden Club sharing a very large number of memberships. The NLC absorbed most of the Cobden Club's membership after the Cobden Club's demise.[117]
  • Between 1963 and 1965, the Savage Club (named after actor and poet Richard Savage) lodged in some rooms at the NLC, and since 1990 the Savage Club has once again lodged in a ground-floor room of the club.
  • The Gladstone Club, a Liberal discussion group founded in 1973, continues to meet at the club.
  • As noted above, the Liberal Party leased the upper floors of the club as its national headquarters from 1977 to 1988.
  • Since 1977, Liberal International has had its international headquarters on the ground floor of the club.
  • The John Stuart Mill Institute is a liberal think tank founded in 1992 by several NLC members, which is based at the club and holds occasional lectures there.
  • The Liberal Democrat History Group founded in 1994 holds four meetings a year – two at the Lib Dem Spring and Autumn party conferences, and two at the NLC.
  • In 2014, the Authors' Club (which had been founded in the neighbouring Whitehall Court building in 1891, and had previously lodged in the NLC in 1966–76), returned to the club and is now housed there.

Other groups and clubs absorbed or integrated into the NLC

†=died in office

Name[116] Tenure
The Rt Hon William Ewart Gladstone MP, FRS, FSS 1882–1898
The Rt Hon Earl Carrington (later the Most Hon Marquess of Lincolnshire) KG, GCMG, DL, JP 1903–1928
The Rt Hon Earl Beauchamp KG, KCMG 1929–1932
Baron Gladstone of Hawarden 1932–1935
The Most Hon the Marquess of Crewe KG 1935–1945
The Rt Hon Viscount Samuel of Mount Carmel and Toxteth GCB, OM, GBE 1946–1963
Harold Glanville JP† 1963–1966
The Rt Hon Baron Rea of Eskdale OBE, DL, JP 1966–1981
The Rt Hon Baron Banks of Kenton CBE 1982–1993
The Rt Revd Eric Kemp, Lord Bishop of Chichester FRHistS 1994–2008
The Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith 2008–present

Presidents of the Club

  • Barbados: Barbados Yacht Club, Bridgetown (1924).
  • Bolivia: Circulo del la Union, La Paz (1932).
  • Chile: Club de la Union, Santiago (1868).
  • Ecuador: Club de la Unión, Guayaquil (1869).
  • Uruguay: Club Uruguay, Montevideo (1885).
  • South and Central America:
  • Canada:
  • Alberta: Ranchmen's Club of Calgary, Calgary (1891).
  • British Columbia: Union Club of British Columbia, Victoria (1879); Vancouver Club, Vancouver (1889).
  • Manitoba: Manitoba Club, Winnipeg (1874).
  • Ontario: Rideau Club, Ottawa (1865); Windsor Club, Windsor (1903); National Club, Toronto (1874).
  • Quebec: University Club of Montreal, Montreal (1907).
  • Saskatchewan: Saskatoon Club, Saskatoon (1907).
  • United States of America:
  • Arizona: University Club of Phoenix, Phoenix (1965).
  • California: Los Angeles Athletic Club, Los Angeles (1880); Petroleum Club of Bakersfield, Bakersfield (1952); Topa Tower Club, Oxnard (2010); California Yacht Club, Marina del Ray (1922); Marina City Club, Marina del Ray (2013); Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades (1926).
  • Colorado: Denver Athletic Club, Denver (1884).
  • Georgia: Georgian Club, Atlanta (1983).
  • Illinois: Standard Club, Chicago (1869).
  • Indiana: Columbia Club, Indianapolis (1889).
  • Kentucky: Metropolitan Club, Covington (1991).
  • Maine: Cumberland Club, Portland (1877).
  • Minnesota: University Club of St. Paul, St. Paul (1912).
  • New York: Montauk Club, New York (1889); New York Athletic Club, New York (1868); Penn Club, New York (1901); Princeton Club, New York (1866).
  • North Carolina: Charlotte City Club, Charlotte (1947).
  • Ohio: Cincinnati Athletic Club, Cincinnati (1853); Toledo Club, Toledo (1889).
  • Pennsylvania: Racquet Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia (1889).
  • Texas: Fort Worth Club, Fort Worth (1885).
  • Washington D.C.: Arts Club of Washington, Washington D.C. (1916); Army and Navy Club, Washington (1891).
  • Washington: Rainier Club, Seattle (1888).
  • North America:
  • Berlin: International Club, Berlin (1994).
  • Hamburg: Business Club, Hamburg (2009).
  • Hesse: Union International Club, Frankfurt (1956).
  • North Rhine-Westphalia: Rotonda Business Club, Cologne (2010); Wirtschaftsclub Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf (2003).
  • Ireland: Royal Dublin Society, Dublin (1731); Stephen's Green Hibernian Club, Dublin (1840).
  • Luxembourg: Cercle Munster, Luxembourg (1984).
  • Malta: Marsa Sports Club, Marsa (1888); Malta Union Club, Sliema (1826).
  • Norway: Shippingklubben, Oslo (1957).
  • Portugal:
  • Lisbon Coast: Royal British Club, Lisbon (1888); Grémio Literário, Lisbon (1846); Circulo Eça de Queiroz, Lisbon (1940).
  • Costa Verde: Club Portuense, Porto (1857).
  • Spain:
  • Basque Country: Sociedad Bilbaina, Bilbao (1839).
  • Catalonia: Circulo Ecuestre, Barcelona (1856); Circulo del Liceo, Barcelona (1847).
  • Canary Islands: British Club, Las Palmas (1889); Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas (1844).
  • Madrid: Casino de Madrid, Madrid (1836).
  • Murcia: Real Casino de Murcia, Murcia (1847).
  • Switzerland: Haute Club, Zurich (2006).
  • United Kingdom:
  • England:
  • Eastern: Colchester Officers' Club, Colchester (1887); Ipswich and Suffolk Club, Ipswich (1885); Norfolk Club, Norwich (1770).
  • East Midlands: Northampton & County Club, Northampton (1873); Nottingham Club, Nottingham (1920).
  • London: City University Club, London (1895); East India Club, London (1849); Oxford and Cambridge Club, London (1821); RAF Club, London (1918).
  • North East: Durham County Club, Durham (1882); Northern Counties Club, Newcastle (1829).
  • North West: Chester City Club, Chester (1807); The Athenaeum, Liverpool (1797); St. James's Club, Manchester (1825).
  • South East: Kent and Canterbury Club, Canterbury (1873); Phyllis Court Club, Henley (1906); Hove Club, Hove (1882); Vincent's Club, Oxford (1863).
  • South West: Bath and County Club, Bath (1790); Clifton Club, Bristol (1818); New Club, Cheltenham (1874); Paignton Club, Paignton (1882).
  • West Midlands: St. Paul's Club, Birmingham (1859); Potters' Club, Stoke-on-Trent (1951).
  • Yorkshire and Humberside: Bradford Club, Bradford (1857); Harrogate Club, Harrogate (1857); Sheffield Club, Sheffield (1847).
  • Europe:
  • Australia:
  • Australian Capital Territory: University House, Canberra (1954).
  • New South Wales: Newcastle Club, Newcastle (1885); City Tattersalls Club, Sydney (1895); Tattersalls Club, Sydney (1858); Riverine Club, Wagga Wagga (1881).
  • Queensland: Brisbane Club, Brisbane (1903).
  • South Australia: Adelaide Club, Adelaide (1863).
  • Victoria: Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, Melbourne (1903).
  • Western Australia: Western Australia Club, Perth (1893).
  • New Zealand:
  • Auckland: Northern Club, Auckland (1869).
  • Canterbury: Canterbury Club, Christchurch (1872).
  • Hawke's Bay: Hawke's Bay Club, Napier (1863).
  • Invercargill: Invercargill Club, Invercargill (1879).
  • Otago: Dundedin Club, Dunedin (1858).
  • Wellington: Wellington Club, Wellington (1841).
  • Australasia:
  • Bahrain: British Club, Manama (1835).
  • Cambodia: Vault Club, Phnom Penh (2012).
  • China:
  • India:
  • Delhi National Capital Territory: Delhi Gymkhana Club, New Delhi (1913).
  • Karnataka: Bangalore Club, Bangalore (1868); Century Club, Bangalore (1917); Mangalore Club, Mangalore (1876).
  • Maharashtra: Willingdon Sports Club, Mumbai (1918); PYC Hindu Gymkhana, Pune (1999).
  • Rajasthan: Golden Days Club, Jaipur (1996); Jaisal Club, Jaipur (2000); Umed Club, Jodhpur (1922).
  • Tamil Nadu: Cosmopolitan Club, Chennai (1873); Presidency Club, Chennai (1929).
  • Telangana: Secunderabad Club, Secunderabad (1878).
  • Uttar Pradesh: Stellar Gymkhana, Greater Noida (2005); Oudh Gymkhana Club, Lucknow (1933).
  • West Bengal: Calcutta Club, Kolkata (1907); Bengal Club, Kolkata (1827); Saturday Club, Kolkata (1875).
  • Indonesia: Mercantile Athletic Club, Jakarta (1992).
  • Japan:
  • Malaysia: Royal Sungei Ujong Club, Seremban (1887).
  • Pakistan:
  • Singapore: Singapore Cricket Club, Singapore (1852).
  • Sri Lanka: Colombo Club, Colombo (1871).
  • Thailand: Bangkok Club, Bangkok (1995); British Club, Bangkok (1903); Garden City Sports Club, Bangkok (1993); Garden City Lagoon Club, Bangkok (1993).
  • United Arab Emirates:
  • Emirate of Abu Dhabi: The Club, Abu Dhabi (1962).
  • Dubai: World Trade Club, Dubai (1989).
  • Asia:
  • Egypt: Cairo Capital Club, Cairo (1997).
  • South Africa:
  • Gauteng: Wanderers Club, Johannesburg (1888).
  • KwaZulu-Natal: Durban Club, Durban (1854).
  • Western Cape: Cape Town Club, Cape Town (1858).
  • Africa:

As of 2015, the NLC's reciprocal clubs around the world are as follows:[115]

List of reciprocal clubs worldwide

The club is open to members from Mondays to Fridays, 8:00am–11:30pm. During the weekend members may use either the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall, the RAF Club on Piccadilly, or the East India Club in St. James's Square. The club's link with the latter relates to the East India incorporating the now-defunct Devonshire Club, which was another Liberal-affiliated club of the 19th century. There are also reciprocal arrangements with over 150 other clubs worldwide, granting members a comfortable place to stay and to entertain when abroad. The club does not affiliate with the NULC (National Union of Liberal Clubs), which represents the interests of Liberal Working Men's Clubs in the country nationwide.

Reciprocal arrangements

  • George Awdry (1916–94), younger brother of Thomas the Tank Engine creator the Rev. W. Awdry, was the Club Librarian from the 1950s until 1977, and often assisted in writing his brother's books. An active member of the Richard III Society, for many years he ensured that they were able to hold their meetings at the club.[110][111]
  • William Digby, author, journalist and humanitarian was the NLC's first Club Secretary from 1882 to 1887.[112]
  • Arthur Wollaston Hutton, writer and theologian, was Club Librarian from 1889–1899.[113]
  • The left-wing playwright Harold Pinter worked as a waiter at the club in the 1950s, and was fired for daring to interrupt the conversation of several diners, disagreeing with what he thought to be a particularly ignorant conversation.[114]

Notable staff

  • Charles Bradlaugh, secularist and radical Liberal MP 1880–91, was invited to join the club at its launch in 1882 (along with all other Liberal MPs), but then suffered the ignominity of being rejected when he submitted his application. However, he eventually joined the club in 1890.[109] Walter Sickert's portrait of Bradlaugh now hangs in the club.

Notable rejections of applications for membership

  • Jabez Balfour, property developer and Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1889–93, convicted of property fraud involving a pyramid scheme when constructing the building next door to the club; a founder member, expelled from the club.[4][106][107]
  • Sir Edward Carson, Leader of the Irish Unionist party 1910–21, Unionist MP 1892–1921, did not resign from the club until 1887, even though he joined the Liberal Unionists almost immediately upon their split in 1886 – something about which he was periodically teased for decades afterwards by political rivals including Winston Churchill.[108]
  • Joseph Chamberlain, Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) MP 1876–1914, President of the Board of Trade 1880–85, President of the Local Government Board 1886, Colonial Secretary 1895–1903, Leader of the Liberal Unionists after the 1886 split, resigning from the NLC shortly thereafter[70]
  • Lord Carrington), and resigned from it on 26 November 1924, one month after joining the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin. He gave ten speeches at the club between 1905 and 1943, and continued to lunch there as a guest during World War II.[33]
  • Marquess of Hartington, Leader of the Liberal Party 1875–80, Secretary of State for War 1866 & 1882–85, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1871–74, Secretary of State for India 1880–82, Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) MP 1857–68 & 1869–1891; resigned from the club in 1887 over Home Rule[12]
  • Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, Liberal Prime Minister 1894–95, resigned from the club in September 1909, denouncing it as "a hotbed of socialism."[1]
  • John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon, Home Secretary 1915–16 & 1935–37, Foreign Secretary 1931–35, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1937–40, Lord Chancellor 1940–45, Liberal (later National Liberal) MP 1906–18 & 1922–40, Leader of the National Liberal Party 1931–40; forced to resign from the NLC after speaking in support of the Conservative candidate in the Croydon North by-election, 1948[95]
The young Winston Churchill was a member of the club for over 18 years.

Notable expulsions/resignations from the club

Besides the members, famous guests who have signed the Visitors' Book over the years have included Tony Benn, Mahatma Gandhi, Field Marshal Montgomery, and Harold Wilson.[105]

Over the years the NLC has contained a large number of notable members. In addition to many politicians (including seven Prime Ministers - five Liberals from Gladstone to Lloyd George, one Labour [Ramsay Macdonald] and one Conservative [Winston Churchill]), its membership has also contained a sizeable literary element, with writers including Bram Stoker, Edgar Wallace, H.G. Wells and Leonard Woolf.

Notable members

The club has been used as a location in numerous films and television programmes, including:

Over the years, the club has often been used as a film and television location.

Film and television appearances

In return for a collective subscription, members of the Old Millhillian's Club (OMC) have also been allowed to use the NLC clubhouse since 1968, when their own neighbouring Whitehall Court clubhouse closed down.

It is one of the few London clubs to contain another club within — since 1990, the NLC has also been home to the Savage Club, which lodges in some rooms on the ground floor.

A stringent dress code is still strictly enforced: male members must wear a jacket and tie at all times, with female members maintaining a similar level of formality, and items such as jeans and trainers banned. Formal military wear and religious wear are acceptable alternatives. A single exception to the dress code is on hot summer days, when members are permitted to remove their jackets on the club's terrace, but not within the club itself.

It did not admit women as full members until 1976, although this did still make it the first major London club to admit women, while many other such clubs did not admit women until the 1990s or 2000s (and several still do not). It offered women an 'associate membership' category from 1968 until 1976.

In keeping with its liberal roots, it was one of the first gentlemen's club to allow ethnic minorities as members (although a handful of other clubs did so as well, including the East India Club whose members included Sir Jamsetjee Jejebhoy). The first recorded ethnic minority member of the NLC, Dadabhai Naoroji was admitted in 1885, when the club was less than three years old, and spurred on by Club Secretary William Digby, by the late 1880s, the club had a large overseas membership, particularly concentrated in India and among Indian nationals resident in London.[69]

The NLC is a private members' club, with membership needing the nomination of an existing member, and a waiting period of at least one month. Members are either Political Members, who sign a declaration that they are a Liberal in their politics, or Ordinary (i.e. non-political) Members, who sign a declaration that they shall not use the club's facilities or their membership for 'political activities adverse to Liberalism.' Ordinary Membership was first introduced in 1932, to allow Liberals to join when they had been barred up until that point, as several occupations such as judges, army officers and senior civil servants specifically forbade political declarations.[68]

Long-standing Liberal and Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith has been the club's President since 2008.


  • The 1920s-set detective thriller The Blyth House Murder (2011) by Terry Minahan features the club as a setting, with Chapter 8 entitled "Murder at the National Liberal Club."[67]
  • In a Mulliner tale in the short story collection Young Men in Spats (1936), Mr. Mulliner describes a state of complete pandemonium as being "more like that of Guest Night at the National Liberal Club than anything he had ever encountered."
  • In the short story collection Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (1940), Bingo Little makes an ill-considered bet on a horse after a perceived omen: "On the eve of the race he had a nightmare in which he saw his Uncle Wilberforce dancing the rumba in the nude on the steps of the National Liberal Club and, like a silly ass, accepted this as a bit of stable information."
  • In the novel The Adventures of Sally (1922), it is said that an uncle of Lancelot "Ginger" Kemp is "a worthy man, highly respected in the National Liberal Club".[65][66]
  • Foe-Farrell (1918) by Arthur Quiller-Couch features a scene in which the intoxicated title character is apprehended after a night of drunken excess, and pleads that he is a member of the NLC. The narrator tells him "the National Liberal Club carries its own recommendation. What's more, it's going to be the saving of us...They'll admit you,and that's where you'll sleep to-night. The night porter will hunt out a pair of pyjamas and escort you up the lift. Oh, he's used to it. He gets politicians from Bradford and such places dropping in at all hours. Don't try the marble staircase—it's winding and slippery at the edge."[64]
  • The club is referred to in passing in several P. G. Wodehouse stories:
About the club more broadly, Wells' narrator reflected:
Wells later described the State Opening of the new 1906 parliament:
NLC member H.G. Wells painted a vivid, detailed portrait of the club at the time of the Liberal landslide of 1906.
  • G. K. Chesterton, who was a member, mentions it as a setting in the short story "The Notable Conduct of Professor Chadd" in his collection The Club of Queer Trades (1905), with the narrator having a one-hour conversation on politics and God with a judge he meets on the club's balcony.[61]
  • [62]
  • H.G. Wells also gave a lengthy description of the NLC in his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), discussing the narrator's experience of visiting the club during the 1906 general election:

Additionally, the Authors' Club, founded in 1891 in neighbouring Whitehall Court, lodged with the National Liberal Club between 1966 and 1976, and has done so again since 2014.

The club has had a number of members who were notable authors, including Bram Stoker, Dylan Thomas, H.G. Wells and Leonard Woolf; several of whom featured the club in some of their works of literature.

The NLC in literature

[60] in the late 1980s.Menzies Campbell and [59] in the 1970sCyril Smith [58] Over the years, numerous Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs have lived at the club, including

The club's wine cellar was converted from a trench dug in 1865, intended to be the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway, stretching from Scotland Yard to Waterloo station, which planned to carry freight that would have been powered by air pressure; digging was abandoned in 1868, and when the company wound up in 1882, the National Liberal Club adapted the tunnel to its present use.[57]

It was the first London building to incorporate a lift, and the first to be entirely lit throughout by electric lighting. To provide its electricity, the Whitehall Supply Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1887, being based underneath the club's raised terrace. By the time the supply opened in 1888, it had been bought by the expanding Metropolitan Electricity Supply Co.[55] NLC members were so enamoured with the modern wonder of electric lighting that the original chandeliers featured bare light bulbs, whose distinctive hue was much prized at the time.[56]

The NLC was described by Munsey's Magazine in 1902 as possessing, "The most imposing clubhouse in the British metropolis",[53] and at the time of its construction, it was the largest clubhouse ever built; only the subsequent Royal Automobile Club building from 1910 was larger. The NLC's building once hosted its own branch of the Post Office,[54] something which the Royal Automobile Club still does. Waterhouse's design blended French, Gothic and Italianate elements, with heavy use of Victorian Leeds Burmantofts Pottery tilework manufactured by Wilcox and Co.[3] The clubhouse is built around load-bearing steelwork concealed throughout the structure, including steel columns inside the tiled pillars found throughout the club.[3] (It was this resilient structure which enabled the building to survive a direct hit in the Blitz.) Waterhouse's work extended to designing the club's furnishings, down to the Dining Room chairs.[3]

Designed by leading Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse in a neo-Gothic style similar to his Natural History Museum, the clubhouse was constructed at a cost of some £165,950; a substantial sum in 1884, worth a little over £15 billion in 2014.[3] An earlier design by architect John Carr was rejected by members.[3][52]

Noted British architect Alfred Waterhouse designed the building


In the [50] As party leader, Clegg has delivered further landmark addresses at the club, such as his "muscular liberalism" speech of 11 May 2011, marking one year of the Liberal Democrats in power as part of the Conservative-led coalition government.[51]

On 17 July 2002, Jeremy Paxman gave a well-publicised interview with Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy in the club's Smoking Room for an edition of Newsnight. The interview generated much controversy over Paxman's querying Kennedy's alcohol intake, including his asking, "Does it trouble you that every single politician to whom we've spoken in preparing for this interview said the same thing – 'You're interviewing Charles Kennedy, I hope he's sober'?" It was the first time a major television interview had raised the topic with the Lib Dem leader, who would resign three and half years later after admitting to suffering from alcoholism.[48]

The club's calendar includes an Annual Whitebait Supper, where members depart by river from Embankment Pier, downstream to The Trafalgar, the Greenwich tavern which Gladstone used to take his cabinet ministers to by boat; as well as the Political and Economic Circle, which was founded by Gladstone in the 1890s.

In 1985, the club undertook a two-year negotiation to sell off its second-floor and basement function rooms, and the 140 bedrooms from the third floor to the eighth floor (including two vast ballrooms and the Gladstone Library, which had contained 35,000 volumes before their sale in 1977, and was standing empty by the 1980s) to the adjoining Royal Horseguards Hotel, which is approached from a different entrance, and which has operated as a hotel since 1971. This was not without some dissent among the membership, but the sale ensured that the club's financial future was secure, and the remaining part of the club still operating, mainly on the ground and first floors of the vast building, still remains one of the largest clubhouses in the world.[47] Originally built for 6,000 members, the club still provides facilities for around 2,000.

In the autumn of 1980, former Liberal Leader Jo Grimond delivered the inaugural 'Eighty Club' lecture to the Association of Liberal Lawyers at the club, drawing press attention for his scathing criticism of those Liberals who believed that their future lay in some form of social democracy, or what he termed, "a better yesterday."[46]

"Come, come, roll up your trouser leg
Down at the old NLC.
Come, come, stuff your coat on the peg,
Down at the old NLC.
There to get your apron on:
Learn the secret organ song;
Bend your thumb when you shake hands.
Come, come, drinking till the dinner gong,
Down at the old NLC."
(1985. Words: Mark Tavener. Tune: Down at the Old Bull and Bush)[45]

As the Liberal Party's lease on its headquarters expired in 1977, the party organisation moved to the upper floors of the NLC, the negotiations being arranged by "de Chabris". The Liberals occupied a suite of rooms on the second floor, and a series of offices converted from bedrooms on the upper floors. The party continued to operate from the NLC until 1988, when it merged with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democrats, and moved to occupy the SDP's old headquarters in Cowley Street. During this time, party workers were known to avail themselves of the club downstairs, and the NLC bar became known as the "Liberal Party's 'local'" and a Liberal Party song "Down at the Old NLC" was written in response to this:

After the 1977 dismissal of de Chabris, a 1978 rescue package by Sir Lawrence Robson (a former Liberal Party President and parliamentary candidate, co-founder and partner of Robson Rhodes, and husband of Liberal peer Baroness Robson) did much to stabilise the club and secure its future – to this day the club honours Sir Lawrence with a portrait in the Smoking Room, and one of its function rooms has been renamed the Lawrence Robson Room.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, all London clubs were in serious decline,[1] and the NLC was no exception. By the 1970s the club was in a serious state of disrepair, its membership dwindling, and its finances losing almost a thousand pounds a week. In 1976 Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe handed over the club to Canadian businessman George Marks, styling himself confidence trickster. "De Chabris" claimed to be a multi-millionaire willing to funnel money into the club (although both his wealth and his willingness to finance the club turned out to be untrue), and he spent nine months running the club, relaxing membership rules and bringing in more income, but also moving his family in rent-free, running several fraudulent businesses from its premises, paying for a sports car and his children's private school fees from the club's accounts, and he eventually left in a hurry owing the club £60,000, even emptying out the cash till of the day's takings as he went. He eventually agreed to pay back half of that sum in instalments. In his time at the club he also sold it a painting for £10,000, when it was valued at less than £1,000.[42] One of his more controversial reforms was to sell the National Liberal Club's Gladstone Library (which contained the largest library of 17th- to 20th-century political material in the country, including 35,000 books and over 30,000 pamphlets) to the University of Bristol for £40,000. The pretext given was that the club could no longer afford to pay the Librarian's wages, and that it did not want to leave such valuable material unguarded.[43] Ian Bradley described it as "a derisory sum" for the sale, particularly in light of the unique collection of accumulated candidates' manifestos from 19th-century general elections.[44] Until its sale, it had been, as Peter Harris observed, "The most extensive of the Club libraries of London."[3] The collection is still housed at Bristol today. However, the papers referring to the history of the club itself were returned to the NLC the 1990s, as they had not been included in the sale, and had been sent to Bristol by accident.

During the February 1974 general election campaign, Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe was defending a wafer-thin majority of 369 votes in his Devon constituency. Instead of fighting a "typical" party leader's election campaign based in London and focusing on the London-based media, Thorpe spent almost the entire election in his constituency, keeping in contact with the national press via a live closed-circuit television link-up to daily press conferences at the National Liberal Club. Thorpe later credited this system with giving him more time to think of answers to questions, and it helped to keep the Liberal campaign both distinctive and modern.[40] Further Liberal election campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s would retain the idea of a daily press conference at the NLC, but with live participants rather than a TV link-up to the party leader.[41]

In addition to the Blitz bombing in 1941, the club also sustained an attack from an IRA bomb at 12 past midnight on 22 December 1973 (as part of a concerted Christmas bombing campaign) which blew open the front door and gashed the duty manager's arm,[36][37][38] while on 10 January 1992 an IRA briefcase bomb exploded outside the club, shattering many of its windows.[39]

It was at a debate at the club in 1971 that Yale professor James Tobin first publicly voiced his proposal for a Tobin tax on financial transactions.[35]

In the early 1950s, it was a centre of anti-ID card sentiment, and Harry Willcock, a member who successfully campaigned for the abolition of ID cards, tore his up in front of the club as a publicity stunt in 1951. He also died in the club during a debate held there on 12 December 1952, with his last word being "Freedom."[34]

The fortunes of the NLC have mirrored those of the Liberal Party – as the Liberals declined as a national force in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, so did the NLC. However, despite the Liberals' national decline, the NLC remained a focus for debate.

Post-war era

One of the items damaged in the blast was the 1915 portrait of his wife (a lifelong Liberal), Liberal Leader Sir Archibald Sinclair (a friend and colleague of over 30 years, then serving in Churchill's cabinet), lifelong friend Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Club chairman Lord Meston and cartoonist David Low.[33]

On 11 May 1941 the club suffered a direct hit by a Luftwaffe bomb during the Blitz, which utterly destroyed the central staircase and caused considerable damage elsewhere. The £150,000 cost of reconstructing the staircase in 1950 placed a considerable strain on the club's finances, although generous support from the War Damage Commission helped to fund the new staircase.[32] In the nine-year interim between the bomb blast and the rebuilding of the staircase, members had to use the stairs of the club's turret tower, often taking highly circuitous routes around the vast clubhouse.

World War II

In 1932, the club first introduced non-political membership (now called Ordinary Membership). Michael Meadowcroft explains that this was done to provide, "membership for Liberals who, by reason of their employment, such as judges, military officers or senior civil servants, were not permitted to divulge their politics", and so who had been previously debarred by the club's insistence on all members signing a declaration of Liberal politics.[6] This continues to this day, with Ordinary Members signing a pledge that they will "not use the club or...membership thereof for political activities adverse to Liberalism", and not having full voting rights at Annual General Meetings, but otherwise enjoying the full benefits of club membership.[31]

[30] The club continued to be a venue for large-scale meetings of Liberals. On

During the hung parliament of 1923–24, it was at the club that Asquith – as Leader of the reunited Liberal Party – announced on 6 December 1923 that the Liberals would support Ramsay MacDonald in forming Britain's first ever Labour government.[28]

There is a well-known story told of the NLC, that the Conservative politician F.E. Smith would stop off there every day on his way to Parliament, to use the club's lavatories. One day the hall porter apprehended Smith and asked him if he was actually a member of the club, to which Smith replied "Good god! You mean it's a club as well?" This story, and apocryphal variations thereof (usually substituting Smith with Churchill), are told of many different clubs. The original related to the NLC, at the half-way point between Parliament and Smith's chambers in Elm Court, Temple. The comment was a jibe at the brown tiles in some of the NLC's late-Victorian architecture.[27]

A copy of this print of F.E. Smith is on display in the same club facilities used by Smith, along with a caption recounting the well-known anecdote (see right).

The reunion of the two branches of the Liberal Party in the run-up to the Churchill, long consigned to the cellar, were recovered and reinstated in the places of honour in the smoking room",[25] although Churchill's defection back to the Conservatives within less than a year meant that his portrait was just as swiftly returned to the basement, and would not re-emerge for 16 years.[26]

[24] At the time, the Asquithians were popularly known as "Wee Frees", and historian Cameron Hazlehurst wrote that, "the civilities of social life at the National Liberal Club were increasingly reserved by 'Wee Frees' for 'Wee Frees.'" [23] During the party's 1916–23 split, the Asquith wing of the party was in the ascendant in the club, while Liberal Prime Minister

Inter-war years

[21] As

From late 1916 to December 1919, the clubhouse was requisitioned by the British government for use as a billet for Canadian troops, the club relocating to nearby Northumberland Avenue in the meantime. Many of these troops were offered heavily discounted temporary club membership during their stay, although it appears that some overstayed their welcome – a "farewell dinner" by the club on 19 March 1919 attempted to hint that their departure was imminently expected. At the end of the First World War, the Canadian soldiers who had stayed there presented the club with a moose head as a gift of thanks, which was hung in the billiards room for many years. After the troops finally left in December 1919, the club was closed for a year for renovations (partly necessitated by the damage done by the troops), and did not re-open until 19 December 1920.[4]

This Trafalgar Square building temporarily housed the NLC twice; once in 1882–87, whilst the club's own premises were being built; and again 1916–19 when the club building was requisitioned for war work.

World War I

During the Rufus Isaacs, asserting that there was "no stain of any kind" upon their characters.[20]

On 21 November 1911, the club was one of a number of buildings to have their windows smashed in by the suffragette Women's Social and Political Union, in protest at the Liberal government's inaction over votes for women.[19]

On 3 December 1909, Liberal Chancellor House of Lords, in what was seen as a de facto launch of the "People's Budget" general election of January 1910.[18]

On 22 March 1893, during the Second Reading of the Clubs Registration Bill, the Conservative MP (and later Liberal defector) Thomas Gibson Bowles told the House of Commons "I am informed there is an establishment not far from the House frequented by Radical millionaires and released prisoners, the National Liberal Club, where an enormous quantity of whisky is consumed."[16] Despite this remark, it seems that the club accounted for relatively little alcohol consumption by the standards of the day – Herbert Samuel commented in 1909 that the average annual consumption of alcoholic liquor per NLC member was 31s. 4d. per annum, which compared very favourably with equivalent Conservative clubs, including 33s. 5d. for the nearby Constitutional Club, 48s. for the City Carlton Club, and 77s. for the Junior Carlton Club.[17] One possible explanation is the strength of the Temperance movement in the Liberal party at the time.

It was also the site of much intrigue in the Liberal Party over the years, rivalling the Reform Club as a social centre for Liberals by the advent of World War I, although its membership was largely based on Liberal activists in the country at large; it was built on such a large scale to provide London club facilities for Liberal activists from around the country, justifying its use of the description 'national'.

Several discussion groups met at the club, including the Rainbow Circle in the 1890s, an influential group of Liberal, Fabian and socialist thinkers who came to be identified with the Bloomsbury Group.[15]

This reputation for radicalism was underlined when former Liberal Prime Minister Lord Rosebery resigned from the club in September 1909, denouncing it as "a hotbed of socialism."[1]

"a distinct success when the Radical wing of the National Liberal Club (NLC) captured the club's organisation in the summer of 1897 and elected a new political committee with NLF at Derby agreed to make reform a priority, a decision endorsed by [H.H.] Asquith a few days later."[14]

The club enjoyed a reputation for radicalism, and H.V. Emy records that Radicals secured,

On the club's launch, it represented all factions of liberalism, but within four years it was rocked by the Home Rule Crisis of 1886, which saw the Liberal Unionists led by Joseph Chamberlain and the Marquess of Hartington (both of whom had been founder members of the NLC) secede from the party and eventually go into alliance with the Conservatives. Indeed, Chamberlain had been one of the NLC's most enthusiastic promoters upon its launch. At the 1884 ceremony of Gladstone's foundation-stone-laying for the club, Hartington had argued that the club would be the future home of Chamberlain's Radical Birmingham Caucus, and Chamberlain pointedly refused to contradict him.[11] Chamberlain himself resigned in 1886, shortly after the Home Rule split, Hartington and other prominent Liberal Unionists followed early in 1887,[12] and when a further 130 Unionists simultaneously seceded from the club in 1889, the Scots Observer called it "one of the most important events that has recently occurred in home politics", due to its ramifications for the Liberal Party breaking in two.[13]

In its late-19th-century heyday, its membership was primarily political, but had a strong journalistic and even bohemian character. Members were known to finish an evening's dining by diving into the Thames.[4] Of the club's political character, George Bernard Shaw remarked at a debate in the club, "I have never yet met a member of the National Liberal Club who did not intend to get into Parliament at some time, except those who, like our chairman Lord Carrington, are there already."[10]


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