Reform Club ~ Introduction
The Reform Club was founded in the ferment of ideas, ideals and political activity which in part found expression in the Great Reform Act of 1832. Having succeeded, after a great parliamentary tussle, in securing the passing of the Reform Bill, in 1832, Radicals and Whigs needed a centre for their political activities.
The Club first opened its doors to members in a house at 104 Pall Mall, on the 24th of May 1836. It quickly set about planning its own building and, after an architectural competition, selected Charles Barry to create a new clubhouse, in the style of an Italian palazzo. The work was finished in 1841 and was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of classical architecture. The clubhouse has remained largely unchanged in appearance to the present day.
The Reform Club was founded principally to serve a political goal, becoming the centre of the new, Liberal Party; but over the years the Club has evolved, and since around 1920 it has served a purely social purpose. Nevertheless, the Reform retains its traditional, progressive spirit, a fact that contributes to its enduring vitality. The Club offers a friendly welcome, irrespective of background or nationality, criteria for admission to membership being character, talent, and achievement. The current membership embraces a wide range of professions; there are academics, artists, business people, doctors, lawyers, politicians, writers and so on. J. M. Barrie, Henri Cartier Bresson, Winston Churchill, E. M. Forster, Henry James, Lord Palmerston, William Makepeace Thackeray, and H. G. Wells were all Reformers, and the Club continues to attract members of distinction.
Although founded on traditional lines as a gentlemen's club, the Reform became, in 1981, the first such club in this country to admit women on equal terms. Of the current membership of around 2700, some 500 are overseas members, and over 400 are women. Candidates are proposed by two existing members and elected by the Club’s General Committee.
The Club offers members the benefits of an extensive library, fine dining and an excellent wine cellar. There is a Billiards Room and a Card Room. Social events, such as music and theatre evenings, garden parties, a Christmas party, and discussion evenings are arranged for members and guests. A number of societies exist within the Club to pursue special interests, among them economics and current affairs, literature and history, the media, military intelligence and science and technology. Typically, distinguished speakers are invited to address these societies, with dinner served to members and their guests either before or after and either formally or informally.
Chambers are available for members who wish to stay overnight. There are reciprocal arrangements with other Clubs in cities around the world. If members wish to host a private dinner, hold a business meeting or throw a party, Club rooms may be hired for the purpose.
The Reform is a social club and a lively meeting place, yet with plenty of space for quiet reflection and reading. To maintain the convivial atmosphere, the use of mobile phones and the production of business papers are not permitted, except in privately hired rooms. The Club preserves a certain formality and has a dress code with which members and guests are expected to comply.
The Club will forever be associated with Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, as the place where the idea of this incredible journey was conceived and the famous bet made.
A recently published history, entitled Reformed Characters: the Reform Club in History and Literature, compiled and written by Russell Burlingham and Roger Billis, gives a vivid account of the Club's rich history.