Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Reform Club


This political Club was established by Liberal Members of the two Houses of Parliament, to aid the carrying of the Reform Bill, 1830-1832. It was temporarily located in Great George-street, and Gwydyr House, Whitehall, until towards the close of 1837, when designs for a new Club-house were submitted by the architects, Blore, Basevi, Cockerell, Sydney Smirke, and Barry. The design of the latter was preferred, and the site selected in Pall Mall, extending from the spot formerly occupied by the temporary National Gallery (late the residence of Sir Walter Stirling), on one side of the temporary Reform Club-house, over the vacant plot of ground on the other side. The instructions were to produce a Club-house which should surpass all others in size and magnificence; one which should combine all the attractions of other Clubs, such as baths, billiard-rooms, smoking-rooms, with the ordinary accommodations; besides the additional novelty of private chambers, or dormitories. The frontage towards Pall Mall is about 135 feet, or nearly equal to the frontage of the Athenæum (76 feet) and the Travellers' (74 feet). The style of the Reform is pure Italian, the architect having taken some points from the celebrated Farnese Palace at Rome, designed by Michael Angelo Buonarroti, in 1545, and built by Antonio Sangallo. However, the resemblance between the two edifices has been greatly over-stated, it consisting only in both of them being astylar, with columnar-decorated fenestration. The exterior is greatly admired; though it is objected, and with reason, that the windows are too small. The Club-house contains six floors and 134 apartments: the basement and mezzanine below the street pavement, and the chambers in the roof are not seen.

The points most admired are extreme simplicity and unity of design, combined with very unusual richness. The breadth of the piers between the windows contributes not a little to that repose which is so essential to simplicity, and hardly less so to stateliness. The string-courses are particularly beautiful, while the cornicione (68 feet from the pavement) gives extraordinary majesty and grandeur to the whole. The roof is covered with Italian tiles; the edifice is faced throughout with Portland stone, and is a very fine specimen of masonry. In building it a strong scaffolding was constructed, and on the top was laid a railway, upon which was worked a traversing crane, movable along the building either longitudinally or transversely; by which means the stones were raised from the ground, and placed on the wall with very little labour to the mason, who had only to adjust the bed and lay the block.[27]

In the centre of the interior is a grand hall, 56 by 50, (the entire height of the building,) resembling an Italian cortile, surrounded by colonnades, below Ionic, and above Corinthian; the latter is a picture-gallery, where, inserted in the scagliola walls, are whole-length portraits of eminent political Reformers; while the upper colonnade has rich floral mouldings, and frescoes of Music, Poetry, Painting, and sculpture, by Parris. The floor of the hall is tessellated; and the entire roof is strong diapered flint-glass, executed by Pellatt, at the cost of 600l. The staircase, like that of an Italian palace, leads to the upper gallery of the hall, opening into the principal drawing-room, which is over the coffee-room in the garden-front, both being the entire length of the building; adjoining are a library, card-room, etc., over the library and dining-rooms. Above are a billiard-room and lodging-rooms for members of the Club; there being a separate entrance to the latter by a lodge adjoining the Travellers' Club-house.

The basement comprises two-storied wine-cellars beneath the hall; besides the kitchen department, planned by Alexis Soyer, originally chef-de-cuisine of the Club: it contains novel employments of steam and gas, and mechanical applications of practical ingenuity; the inspection of which was long one of the privileged sights of London. The cuisine, under M. Soyer, enjoyed European fame. Soyer first came to England on a visit to his brother, who was then cook to the Duke of Cambridge; and at Cambridge House, Alexis cooked his first dinner in England, for the then Prince George. Soyer afterwards entered the service of various noblemen, amongst others of Lord Ailsa, Lord Panmure, etc. He then entered into the service of the Reform Club, and the breakfast given by that Club on the occasion of the Queen's Coronation obtained him high commendation. His ingenuity gave a sort of celebrity to the great political banquets given at the Reform. In his O'Connell dinner, the soufflés à la Clontarf, were considered by gastronomes to be a rich bit of satire. The banquet to Ibrahim Pacha, July 3, 1846, was another of Soyer's great successes, when Merlans à l'Égyptienne, la Crême d'Égypte and à l'Ibrahim Pacha, mingled with Le Gâteau Britannique à l'Amiral (Napier). Another famous banquet was that given to Sir C. Napier, March 3, 1854, as Commander of the Baltic Fleet; and the banquet given July 20, 1850, to Viscount Palmerston, who was a popular leader of the Reform, was, gastronomically as well as politically, a brilliant triumph. It was upon this memorable occasion that Mr. Bernal Osborne characterized the Palmerston policy in this quotation:—

"Warmed by the instincts of a knightly heart,

That roused at once if insult touched the realm,

He spurned each State-craft, each deceiving art,

And met his foes no vizor to his helm.

This proved his worth, hereafter be our boast—

Who hated Britons, hated him the most."

Lord Palmerston was too true an Englishman to be insensible to "the pleasures of the table," as attested by the hospitalities of Cambridge House, during his administration. One of his Lordship's political opponents, writing in 1836, says: "Lord Palmerston is redeemed from the last extremity of political degradation by his cook." A distinguished member of the diplomatic body was once overheard remarking to an Austrian nobleman, upon the Minister's shortcomings in some respects, adding, "mais on dîne fort bien chez lui."

It is always interesting to read a foreigner's opinion of English society. The following observations, by the Viscountess de Malleville, appeared originally in the Courrier de l'Europe, and preceded an account of the Reform. Commencing with Clubs, the writer remarks:

"It cannot be denied that these assemblages, wealthy and widely extended in their ramifications, selfish in principle, but perfectly adapted to the habits of the nation, offer valuable advantages to those who have the good fortune to be enrolled in them.... The social state and manners of the country gave the first idea of them. The spirit of association which is so inherent in the British character, did the rest. It is only within the precincts of these splendid edifices, where all the requirements of opulent life, all the comforts and luxuries of princely habitations are combined, that we can adequately appreciate the advantages and the complicated results produced by such a system of association. For an annual subscription, comparatively of small amount, every member of a Club is admitted into a circle, which is enlivened and renewed from time to time by the accession of strangers of distinction. A well-selected and extensive library, newspapers and pamphlets from all parts of the world, assist him to pass the hours of leisure and digestion. According as his tastes incline, a man may amuse himself in the saloons devoted to play, to reading, or to conversation. In a word, the happy man, who only goes to get his dinner, may drink the best wines out of the finest cut-glass, and may eat the daintiest and best-cooked viands off the most costly plate, at such moderate prices as no Parisian restaurateur could afford. The advantages of a Club do not end here: it becomes for each of its members a second domestic hearth, where the cares of business and household annoyances cannot assail him. As a retreat especially sacred against the visitations of idle acquaintances and tiresome creditors—a sanctuary in which each member feels himself in the society of those who act and sympathize with him—the Club will ever remain a resort, tranquil, elegant, and exclusive; interdicted to the humble and to the insignificant."

The writer then proceeds to illustrate the sumptuous character of our new Club-houses by reference to the Reform. "Unlike in most English buildings, the staircase is wide and commodious, and calls to mind that of the Louvre. The quadrangular apartment which terminates it, is surrounded by spacious galleries; the rich mosaic pavement, in which the brilliancy of the colour is only surpassed by the variety of the design—the cut-glass ceiling, supported by four rows of marble pillars—all these things call to remembrance the most magnificent apartments of Versailles in the days of the great king and his splendours. This is the vestibule, which is the grand feature of the mansion." The kitchen is then described—"spacious as a ball-room, kept in the finest order, and white as a young bride. All-powerful steam, the noise of which salutes your ear as you enter, here performs a variety of offices: it diffuses a uniform heat to large rows of dishes, warms the metal plates upon which are disposed the dishes that have been called for, and that are in waiting to be sent above: it turns the spits, draws the water, carries up the coal, and moves the plate like an intelligent and indefatigable servant. Stay awhile before this octagonal apparatus, which occupies the centre of the place. Around you the water boils and the stew-pans bubble, and a little further on is a moveable furnace, before which pieces of meat are converted into savoury rôtis; here are sauces and gravies, stews, broths, soups, etc. In the distance are Dutch ovens, marble mortars, lighted stoves, iced plates of metal for fish; and various compartments for vegetables, fruits, roots, and spices. After this inadequate, though prodigious nomenclature, the reader may perhaps picture to himself a state of general confusion, a disordered assemblage, resembling that of a heap of oyster-shells. If so, he is mistaken; for, in fact, you see very little, or scarcely anything of all the objects above described. The order of their arrangement is so perfect, their distribution as a whole, and in their relative bearings to one another, all are so intelligently considered, that you require the aid of a guide to direct you in exploring them, and a good deal of time to classify in your mind all your discoveries.

"Let all strangers who come to London for business, or pleasure, or curiosity, or for whatever cause, not fail to visit the Reform Club. In an age of utilitarianism, and of the search for the comfortable, like ours, there is more to be learned here than in the ruins of the Coliseum, of the Parthenon, or of Memphis."

[27] Civil Engineer and Architects' Journal, 1841.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866