National Liberal Club
The National Liberal Club, known to its members as the NLC, is a London gentlemen's club, now also open to 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. Its facilities include a dining room, a bar, function rooms, a billiards room, a smoking room and reading room, as well as an outdoor riverside terrace overlooking the London Eye. It is located at 1 Whitehall Place, close to the Houses of Parliament, the Thames Embankment, and Trafalgar Square.

History
The club's foundation stone was laid by Gladstone in 1882, 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. 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.". In the five years between the club's establishment and completion of the building, 1882-7, 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. In its late nineteenth 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. 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, are there already." 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'. 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. At the end of the First World War, the Canadian soldiers who stayed there presented the Club with a moose head as a gift of thanks. During the party's 1916-23 split, the Asquith wing of the party was in the ascendant in the club, with Lloyd George himself was shunned by many NLC members. This was a highly acrimonious time within the Liberal party, with both the Asquithian and Lloyd Georgeite factions believing themselves to be the 'true' Liberal party, and viewing the other faction as 'traitors'. Michael Bentley has written of this period that "The Lloyd George Liberal Magazine, which appeared monthly between October 1920 and December 1923, spent much space attacking the National Liberal Club for its continued Asquithian partisanship - in particular for its refusal to hang portraits of Lloyd George and Churchill and to accept nominations for membership from Coalition Liberals. The creation of a separate ' 1920 Club' was one reaction to this treatment." 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 aprocryphal 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 house in Temple. The comment was a jibe at the brown tiles in some of the NLC's late-Victorian architecture. The building once hosted its own branch of the Post Office, something which another club, the Royal Automobile Club, still does. 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." 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 33s. 5d. for the nearby Constitutional Club, 48s. for the City Carlton Club, and 77s. for the Junior Carlton Club. One possible explanation is the strength of the Temperance movement in the Liberal party at the time. 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."

The NLC in literature
The club features in several works of literature:
  • G. K. Chesterton mentions it as a setting in the short story "The Notable Conduct of Professor Chadd" in his collection The Club of Queer Trades (1905).
  • H. G. Wells, who was a member, described it in his novel The New Machiavelli (1911) thus: "It is an extraordinary big club done in a bold, wholesale, shiny, marbled style, richly furnished with numerous paintings, steel engravings, busts, and full-length statues of the late Mr. Gladstone."
  • 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."
  • It is referred to in passing in several P. G. Wodehouse stories:
  • 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".


Decline and revival
The fortunes of the NLC have mirrored those of the Liberal Party - as the Liberals declined as a national force in the 1940s and 1950s, so did the NLC. The club also suffered a direct hit by a Luftwaffe bomb during the Blitz which utterly destroyed the central staircase and caused considerable damage elsewhere, meaning the cost of reconstructing the staircase in the early 1950s placed a considerable strain on the club's finances. By the 1970s it 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 de Chabris, who, unknown to Thorpe, was a confidence trickster. De Chabris 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. One of his more controversial reforms was to sell the National Liberal Club's library and archive (which included the largest library of 17th-20th century political material in the country, including 35,000 books and over 30,000 pamphlets) to the University of Bristol for £40,000. Ian Bradley described it as "a derisory sum" for the sale, particularly in light of the unique collection of accumulated candidates' manifestos from nineteenth century general elections. The collection is still housed at Bristol today. However, the papers referring to the history of the club itself have been returned to the NLC on permanent loan since the 1990s. 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 also 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: "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, driking till the dinner gong/ Down at the old NLC." (1985. Words: Mark Tavener. Tune: Down at the Old Bull and Bush) In 1985, the club sold 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 contained 35,000 volumes) to the adjoining Royal Horseguards Hotel, which is approached from a different entrance. 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, remains one of the largest clubhouses in the world. Originally built for 6,000 members, the club still provides facilities for around 2,000. The club's calendar includes an Annual Whitebait Supper, where members depart by river from Embankment Pier, downstream to 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.

Reciprocal arrangements
The club is open to members from Mondays to Fridays, 8am-midnight. During the weekend members may use either the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall, 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 nineteenth century. There are also reciprocal arrangements with over 80 other clubs worldwide, granting members a comfortable place to stay 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.

Membership
The NLC is a private members' club, with membership needing the nomination of an existing member, and a waiting period of a month. Members are either Political Members, who sign a declaration that they are a Liberal in their politics, or Non-Political Members, who sign a declaration that they shall not use the club's facilities for 'political activities adverse to Liberalism.' In keeping with its liberal roots, it was the first gentlemen's club to allow ethnic minorities as members, as early as the 1890s. It did not admit women as full members until 1978, although this was much earlier than most major London clubs, many of which did not integrate until the 1990s or 2000s, and it offered women an 'associate membership' category from 1962 until 1978. 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 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. Members of the Old Millhillian's Club are also given access to the London facility. They are not, however, automatically members of the NLC and do not have the benefits of the reciprocal arrangements unless they join the NLC in their own right.

Film and Television appearances
The club has been used as a location in numerous films and television programmes, including:
  • Look at Life: Members Only (1965) - a two-minute sequence on the NLC as part of this short cinema featurette on London clubs.
  • Casino Royale (1967) - a short scene filmed in front of the club's main entrance on Whitehall Place, with Derek Nimmo putting Joanna Pettet into a taxi driven by Bernard Cribbins.
  • The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) - billiards room scene with Roger Moore and Thorley Walters, filmed in the basement ballroom. A later scene filmed in the same room is intercut with footage of Moore in the Reform Club, making it seem the room is part of the Reform.
  • Savage Messiah (1972) - two scenes filmed in the Gladstone Library (which doubled for the interior of Paris' Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève), in which Dorothy Tutin and Scott Antony played the writer Sophie Brzeska and the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska meeting for the first time.
  • The Professionals , episode 2.7, Not a Very Civil Civil Servant (1978) - duelling scene between Gordon Jackson and Lewis Collins, whilst Martin Shaw looks on, filmed in the basement ballroom.
  • The Elephant Man (1980) - two scenes, both with John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins. The first was filmed in an unidentified room of the NLC doubling for Gielgud's office, the second in the Gladstone Library doubling as a hospital boardroom.
  • Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981) - Episode 2 - scene filmed in the men's restroom, with Eric Porter and Edward Woodward playing Neville Chamberlain and Samuel Hoare.
  • The Missionary (1982) - scene filmed in the basement ballroom, with the room redressed with a boxing ring and climbing frames to look like a sports-themed club, with Michael Palin and Denholm Elliott.
  • House of Cards (1990) - Episode 2 - scene filmed in the Gladstone Library, with Kenny Ireland.
  • The Wings of the Dove (1997) - establishing shot of the front entrance, followed by a scene filmed in the dining room, with Linus Roache, Alison Elliott, and Elizabeth McGovern.
  • The Alan Clark Diaries (2004) - scene filmed in the dining room, with John Hurt playing Alan Clark.
  • Hustle , episode 1.2, Faking It (2004) - exterior scene of the club entrance, with Marc Warren and Robert Pugh.
  • The Constant Gardener (2005) - scenes filmed in the main entrance, smoking room and dining room, with Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy.
  • And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007) - award ceremony scene filmed in the Gladstone Library, with Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent
  • Shanghai (2010) - brief scene with John Cusack and David Morse in the smoking room.


Notable members

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings added a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com