The Athenaeum is a private members' club in London, founded in 1824. Our nearly 2,000 members are drawn from a wide range of professional worlds including literature and the arts, education, business, law, medicine and healthcare, public service, politics, science, architecture, engineering and technology.
Members come to exchange ideas, to read or research, to listen to talks by leading experts in their field or to meet friends or colleagues over lunch or dinner. They also come to enjoy concerts, talks, quizzes and films.
The Clubhouse is located at 107 Pall Mall, at the corner of Waterloo Place. It was designed by Club member Decimus Burton in 1830 in the Neoclassical style. A gilded statue of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, looks out from a front balcony as the Club’s tutelary spirit and guide.
When it was founded, in 1824, the Athenaeum broke the mould. The original members of this ‘new kind’ of non-partisan club, with its close connections to the learned societies, were nominated and elected because of their achievements rather than their background, family connections, professional or political affiliations.
As we approach our bicentenary in 2024, it is fitting that this distinctive characteristic prevails today.
My own involvement in the Club is just one illustration of this. A butcher’s daughter from Moss Side, I became a member in 2005 after a career in education and the civil service. I am the current Chairman of the General Committee. I am honoured to be a member of a club that reflects the vibrant intellects, diverse talents and inclusive faces of 21st century modern Britain.
For me, it is a Club that encourages debate and challenge, stimulates understanding of diverse points of view and experiences, nurtures civilised conversations and cherishes companionship.
The Club has played host to just over 20,000 members since it was founded 200 years ago. They share in having contributed significantly to society through their involvement in their chosen sphere. This gallery features some of our extraordinary current members, alongside their comments about life at the Club. Below, another gallery showcases a selection of our most celebrated members of the past.
Judge and former Supreme Court President
‘The Club is a wonderful place to meet friends for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, with good food and a relaxing atmosphere. But it is also a stimulating place, with many interesting events and activities, taking me down avenues I would not have thought of by myself.’
'If you like being surrounded by clever people who bring both joy and curiosity to every conversation, and who will surprise you with the things they’ve seen and done, this is the place for you. The Athenaeum isn’t just a beautiful, conveniently-located dining room and bar; it’s a home from home for the inquiring mind.'
Gardener, broadcaster, author
'The Athenaeum has become a valued part of my life. Its members are almost without exception bright and companionable, its talks are second to none, its library is enviable and the hospitality exceptional. It is, in short, my London haven.'
Interior and Furniture Designer
’Being a member of the Athenaeum allows me to continue to learn and debate ideas, to be able to explore the design fascination I have for the Regency world and its continued influence on contemporary art and design that still surrounds the club today.'
Dame Carol Black
Physician and Academic
'A haven of enjoyment, companionship, events, debate and, at times, inspiration. I also use it as a place to meet and interact with work colleagues, to study and somewhere I can retreat to. To add to all of this, the staff are unfailingly helpful.'
'Along with the Athenaeum’s architecture, interiors and gardens, what I most enjoy is sharing this convivial environment with members from diverse walks of life and a unique breadth of knowledge. Even a passing conversation can help spark new ideas and open up fresh insights; so for me, it’s a place of constant inspiration.'
Author, Journalist, Editor
Dickens was 26 when elected to the Club on 21 June 1838. He was one of 40 people - including Charles Darwin - who were fast-tracked to membership on the same day and were later affectionately dubbed the 'Forty Thieves'. Regarded as the greatest author of the Victorian era, Dickens created some of the world's best known fictional characters.
Naturalist, geologist, biologist
Charles Darwin was elected to the Club in 1838 – two years after his return from the HMS Beagle expedition that inspired his theory of evolution through natural selection. One of the foremost scientists of his generation, he wrote that he was "full of admiration at the Athenaeum, one meets so many people there that one likes to see".
Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Peel
Politician and Prime Minister
Robert Peel was elected at the first meeting of the Club on February 16 1824 when he was the UK’s Home Secretary. Often described as the founder of modern Conservatism, he went on to serve as Prime Minister twice. He also proposed younger brother William, a Tory politician, for membership.
Artist and painter
Artist and Royal Academy professor Joseph Turner became a Club Member in 1824. His membership (until 1851) coincided with his artistic peak, when he painted masterpieces like The Fighting Téméraire and Rain, Steam and Speed.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
A leading engineering designer of the Victorian age, Isambard Brunel followed his civil engineer father (Marc) Isambard Brunel into Club membership in 1830. Three years later he began work as chief engineer on the Great Western Railway – one of his many revolutionary engineering feats, which also included the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the world’s largest steamship.
Henry James was elected to the Club in 1882 – a year after the publication of his ‘masterpiece’ novel, Portrait of a Lady. It was one of 20 novels he wrote, many of which centred on a clash of cultures between America and Europe. His later works heralded the modern 20th century novel. He attended many Club dinners and sponsored Rudyard Kipling's membership.
Considered one of the great violinists of the 20th century, Yehudi Menuhin joined the Club in 1969. He described the Athenaeum as the setting for "productive leisure: the spaces between duties, the borderlines between people... Then, in conversation, cross-fertilisation occurs quite naturally as the blissful fulfilment of an effortless higher duty - to the future, to our fellow man, colleagues, society".
Poet, Playwright and Critic
Seamus Heaney became a Club Member in 1996 - a year after he received the Nobel prize for literature. A portrait of the Irish poet, who was a Professor at both Oxford and Harvard Universities, hangs in the Clubhouse. It was painted by fellow Member Fiona Graham-Mackay after they met at Heaney's 2012 Poetry Evening at the Athenaeum.
The New Zealand-born physicist is regarded as the father of nuclear physics. Like the Club's first Secretary Michael Faraday, he was a great experimentalist who received the Nobel Prize for chemistry for his "investigation into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of the radio-active substances".
Sir Noel Coward
Composer, Playwright, Actor
Elected to the Club in 1937, Noel Coward was already one of the country's most celebrated playwrights, having penned hit comedies like Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives. Known for his wit and flamboyant style, he also wrote around 300 songs, with Mad Dogs and Englishmen and A Room With A View among the most notable.
Eva Maria Kohner
A holocaust survivor, Eva Maria Kohner came to England in 1949 as a refugee from Soviet-run Hungary. She worked first as a nurse, qualified as a doctor and became the first female expert on diabetic retinopathy. In 2013, she wrote: "Becoming a member of the Athenaeum was a highlight in my life because it indicated to me that I had been accepted and was now fully British.”
(Louis) Fernando Henriques
One of six children, he travelled by boat with his family from Jamaica to London in 1919 in pursuit of an English education. He secured an open scholarship to study modern history at Oxford and became president of the Oxford Union. A career in British academia led to him being appointed the first black dean. He was elected to the Club in 1967.