There are numerous exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs situated in London, clubs that have a somewhat secretive history and have included the rich and powerful amongst its members, some of whom have also been Freemasons. Presented here is a list of three clubs that still operate, and have seen many illustrious Freemasons pass through there doors….
The Athenaeum Club was another highly influential club with an equally influential membership list. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century it had many Freemasons as members, such as the Duke of Wellington, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill. It was founded in 1824 for gentlemen involved in scientific, literary and artistic pursuits and those involved in public service and, as a result, included what appeared to be the intelligentsia of the London social scene.
Other exclusive clubs began to appear in London, such as The Travellers Club which was founded in 1819 specifically for gentlemen that had travelled at least five hundred miles in a direct line from London. The current building housing The Travellers Club on Pall Mall was built in 1832 by the architect Sir Charles Barry, and was based on Raphael’s Palazzo Pandolfini in Florence, which Barry had encountered during his recent Grand Tour. The club library is extensive and decorated with a cast of the Bassae Frieze, which were originally reliefs from the Temple of Apollo discovered by architect and founder member Charles Robert Cockerell, who had assisted Freemason Robert Smirke in rebuilding the Covent Garden Theatre. Freemasons the Duke of Wellington and George Canning were both members, and the club’s membership later became linked to Foreign Office officials.
The Duke of Wellington was also a patron of the Army and Navy Club, which was originally founded as a Commissioned Officers Army Club in 1837. However, when Wellington was initially asked to be a patron he refused unless membership was also opened up to commissioned officers from the Royal Marines and Royal Navy. This was agreed to and the club duly opened in St James’ Square. A new club building was opened on Pall Mall and the corner of George Street in 1851, specially designed by C.O. Parnell and Alfred Smith and influenced by the Palazzo Corner della ca’ Grande in Venice. The foundation stone was laid on 6 May 1848 by the chairman of the committee of management Lieutenant Colonel H. Daniell, though without the lavishness and ritual of a Masonic foundation stone-laying ceremony. Wellington was President of the club from 1838-1841. Prince Adolphus, the Duke of Cambridge, was President from 1845-1850 although, unlike his six brothers, he did not become a member of the Craft.
For further information see the following books by Dr David Harrison