Wednesday, 29 May 2013


The Athenæum was founded in 1824 as a social club for leading artistic, literary and scientific men and for patrons of the arts and sciences. Bishops and judges were exempted from the requirement to publish some 'literary or professional work'. The first secretary was Michael Faraday and the first Chairman Sir Humphry Davy. John Wilson Croker was an influential early member.

Meetings at first took place at the home of Joseph Jekyll in New Street, Spring Gardens, but the Club moved to rented premises at 12 Waterloo Place in May 1824. On the recommendation of John Nash, it commissioned the young Decimus Burton to design a club house, originally intended for a site nearer the present Trafalgar Square. However in 1825 it acquired part of the site of Carlton House, which required some alterations to the design Burton submitted. Building commenced in 1829 and the Club house opened in May 1830. The premises were extended by the addition of a top storey in 1898, which was remodelled in 1928. Further building work took place in 1962 when the Ladies' Annexe (now the Garden Room) was constructed. The Club had rented 6 Carlton Gardens for the entertainment of lady guests between 1936 and 1961.

Over the nearly two hundred years since its foundation the Athenæum has maintained its standard of high attainment and distinction in the membership. More than fifty members have won the Nobel Prize, including at least one in each category. The magnificent premises have been carefully maintained. Some of the mahogany furniture designed for the Club by Decimus Burton and recognisable from drawings in the archive, is still in use today. The tradition of holding a conversazione for members on Monday evenings, begun in 1830, continues today in the form of Talk Dinners.

The library, the finest club library in London, is housed in the drawing room and four additional rooms. It now numbers about 60,000 volumes. There is a continuing programme of refurbishment and new books are regularly acquired. The full time staff, under the supervision of the Library Committee, comprise the Keeper or Archives Books and Collections, a Librarian and an assistant. Particular emphasis is placed on the conservation and cataloguing of the Club's archive, which is substantially intact from the foundation in 1824.

This is a small selection of the notable people who have belonged to the club:

The Earl of Aberdeen

Augustus Agar, naval hero

Matthew Arnold

H.H. Asquith

Baroness Hale of Richmond, barrister, academic, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Andrew Geddes Bain geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer

Owen Barfield (1898–1997) philosopher, poet, etymologist, and solicitor

J. M. Barrie

Louis Lucien Bonaparte, linguist

Virginia Bottomley, Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, politician and headhunter

L.J.F. Brimble, botanist and editor of Nature magazine

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce (1838–1922), jurist, historian and politician

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet

William Burges (1827–1881), architect and designer

Lord (Alec) Broers

Oscar Browning politician, historian (1837–1923)

Thomas Campbell (poet)

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (author)

Winston Churchill

John Duke Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge (1820–1894)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Joseph Conrad

Lord Curzon, MP, Viceroy of India, and British Foreign Secretary

Charles Darwin

Charles Dickens

Isaac D'Israeli

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) composer, Master of the King's Musick

T. S. Eliot poet

Michael Faraday

John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher

Sir William Galloway (1840–1927) mining engineer, Professor of Mining at University College of Wales

Victoria Glendinning

Alec Guinness

Henry Hallam historian, Commissioner of Stamps (1826)

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), novelist

Leonard Horner (1785-1864), President of the Geological Society, Warden of the University of London, Factory Inspector

Cardinal Basil Hume

Roy Jenkins Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary

Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston (1874–1938), Tutor of the Last Emperor of China

Charles Kemble

Rudyard Kipling, poet laureate

H. F. B. Lynch, traveller and businessman

Walter de la Mare (1873–1956)

Lord Robert Montagu (1825–1902)

Thomas Moore (poet)

Geographical Society.
Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792–1871), President of the Geological Society and the Royal 

George Nugent-Grenville, 2nd Baron Nugent (1789–1850)

Lord Palmerston

Harry St John Philby archaeologist and Arabist

Michael Polanyi

Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Neurologist & neuroscientist

Cecil Rhodes

Emile Victor Rieu

Sir Jimmy Savile, OBE
Procurer of Children for the Rulling Class

Sir Walter Scott, writer

Idries Shah, author on Sufism (1924–1996)

Tahir Shah, author

Richard 'Conversation' Sharp, critic, merchant and politician

Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)

Walter Starkie

James Joseph Sylvester, Mathematician

Sir Jethro Teall, geologist and petrologist

William Makepeace Thackeray author

Arnold J. Toynbee historian

Professor Rick Trainor, Principal of King's College London

Anthony Trollope, author

J.M.W. Turner, painter

Anthony Blunt
The Fifth Man

Sir Barnes Wallis, engineer (1887–1979)

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852)

W. B. Yeats poet

Eric Millar, historian of illuminated manuscripts

Alexander Burnes, explorer in the Great Game

Not since Guy Burgess – a member of the Reform – defected to the Soviet Union, have members of an august club been more embarrassed. At the Athenaeum, however, its worthies are placing the blame for the election of Sir Jimmy Savile, who now stands accused of being a serial sex offender, on the shoulders of one deceased member.

“A lot of us took the view that Savile would not be a natural habitué of a club that has counted Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Palmerston and Lord Curzon as members, but the fact is we had no choice,” one grandee of the establishment in Pall Mall informs Mandrake.

“It was Cardinal Basil Hume, at the time the Archbishop of Westminster, who put this character up for membership, and, while we did give consideration to blackballing Savile, we knew that would have had to result in something that could not be countenanced – Hume stepping down.”

Savile had to wait only two months before being admitted to the club in 1984.
“It’s a considerable thrill for someone like me to be able to rub shoulders with the fascinating people who use the Athenaeum,” the disc jockey said. “I hope to go there once a week and have lunch or dinner with the object of speaking to people like ex-prime ministers.”

The cardinal had introduced Savile to Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain in 1982. Of Savile’s election to the Athenaeum, the cardinal’s spokesman noted: “He is a great admirer of what Jimmy has done for young people – and Stoke Mandeville – and is delighted to help in this matter.”

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