106 Pall Mall
Club History and Building.
The original concept of The Travellers Club by Lord Castlereagh and others dates from the return of peace in Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. They envisaged a club where gentlemen who travelled abroad might meet and offer hospitality to distinguished foreign visitors.
Arrangements for the establishment of The Travellers Club were finalised at a meeting in the spring of 1819, attended by distinguished diplomats, travellers and two future Prime Ministers (the Earl of Aberdeen and Viscount Palmerston). The head of Ulysses was adopted as the Club device and the doors opened to members on 18 August 1819 at 12 Waterloo Place. The Club’s original premises soon proved unsatisfactory and in 1822 the Travellers moved to a house in Pall Mall opposite the Oxford & Cambridge Club – only to move again a decade later to the present Clubhouse.
Sir Charles Barry, who was selected as the architect, was the ideal designer for The Travellers Club. Recently returned from the Grand Tour and beyond, Barry’s travels left a clearly discernible stamp on his architectural designs. Raphael’s Palazzo Pandolfini in Florence inspired the Pall Mall elevation of the Travellers and the garden elevation owes much to Venetian influence. Barry received just under £1,500 for his work, and became a member of the Club in 1834.
Many leading statesmen have been members of the Club, including Canning, Wellington, Palmerston, Balfour and Baldwin, as well as some of the great names of exploration: Sir Francis Beaufort, Fitzroy of ‘The Beagle’, Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir William Parry and, of course, Sir Wilfred Thesiger. Ordinary members have come from a variety of professions, but with a continuing emphasis on travel, exploration and connections abroad.
The principal rooms of the Club retain many of the original fixtures, with fine examples of mahogany furniture and brass light fittings designed by Barry himself. The handrail fixed to the main staircase, for the benefit of the old and infirm Prince Talleyrand, survives as a tangible reminder of Lord Castlereagh’s original intentions. Other interesting items of furniture in the Library include a Regency metamorphic library chair and a humorous dummy book door, suitably supplied with a volume on the expense of foreign travel by that distinguished author, Bill Cumming!
Today, the Library remains the room in the Clubhouse most closely associated with travel. In character, it may be summarised as a gentleman’s library of the last century and the content may be classified as two-thirds travel. The original catalogue was prepared by Benjamin Wheatley, the distinguished bibliographer, who also worked at the Athenæum. Much admired by Lord Curzon as the perfect room for a library, it is generally regarded as one of the most charming rooms in London. The central section is particularly striking, decorated with a cast of the Bassae Frieze, which was excavated in the Peloponnesus by the architect C.R. Cockerell, founder member of the Club.
In recent years the Club has developed the Bramall Room on the lower ground floor, which provides access to Carlton Gardens where members may enjoy the pleasant surroundings in summer weather, and the Map Room adjacent where modern travel literature and a collection of maps of important journeys of exploration can be found.