National Liberal Club
|Clubhouse occupied since||1887|
|Club established for||Liberals|
The National Liberal Club, known to its members as the NLC, is a London gentlemen's club (open to both men and 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 Whitehall Place, close to the Houses of Parliament, the Thames Embankment and Trafalgar Square.
The genesis of the club lay with Liberal party activist (and later MP) Arthur John Williams, who proposed the creation of such a club at a Special General Meeting of the short-lived Century Club on 14 May 1882, so as to provide "a home for democracy, void of the class distinction associated with the Devonshire and Reform Clubs", and the first full meeting of the new club was on 16 November 1882, at the Westminster Palace Hotel on Victoria Street. The Century Club itself then merged into the NLC at the end of the year. In its early years, the club declared its objects to be:
- 1. The provision of an inexpensive meeting place for Liberals and their friends from all over the country.
- 2. The furtherance of the Liberal cause.
- 3. The foundation of a political and historical library as a memorial to Gladstone and his work.
An initial circular for subscribers meant that by the end of 1882, 2,500 men from over 500 towns and districts had already signed up for the new club, and membership would reach 6,500 by the time the clubhouse opened.
The club's foundation stone was laid by Gladstone on 9 November 1884, 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." Funds for the clubhouse were raised by selling 40,000 shares of £5 each, in a Limited Liability Company, with the unusual stipulation that "No shareholder should have more than ten votes", so as to prevent a few wealthy men from dominating the club. However, this only raised £70,000, and so an additional £52,400 was raised for the construction of the clubhouse by the Liberal Central Association. The remaining £30,000 necessary was raised by mortgage debentures.
In the five years between the club's establishment and completion of the building in 1887, 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.
The clubhouse was still unfinished when it opened its doors in 1887, but it was opened early on June 20 to allow members to watch that year's Jubilee processions from the club terrace. (The opening was marked by an inaugural banquet for 1,900 people at the Royal Aquarium, which Punch reported saw the consumption of 200 dozen bottles of Pommery champagne.) It was when the club had only recently moved to its present address that "Bloody Sunday" ensued on its doorstep during the Trafalgar Square riot of 13 November 1887. NLC members flocked to the windows to watch George Bernard Shaw (a member of the club) address the demonstration, and later in the day, witnessed the bloodshed which ensued.
In its late-19th-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."
On the club's launch, it represented all factions of liberalism, but within four years it was rocked by the Home Rule Crisis of 1886, which saw the Liberal Unionists led by Joseph Chamberlain and the Marquess of Hartington (both of whom had been founder members of the NLC) secede from the party and eventually go into alliance with the Conservatives. Indeed, Chamberlain had been one of the NLC's most enthusiastic promoters upon its launch. At the 1884 ceremony of Gladstone's foundation-stone-laying for the club, Hartington had argued that the club would be the future home of Chamberlain's Radical Birmingham Caucus, and Chamberlain pointedly refused to contradict him. Chamberlain himself resigned in 1886, shortly after the Home Rule split, Hartington and other prominent Liberal Unionists followed early in 1887, and when 130 Unionists simultaneously seceded from the club in 1889, the Scots Observer called it "one of the most important events that has recently occurred in home politics", due to its ramifications for the Liberal Party breaking in two.
The club enjoyed a reputation for radicalism, and H.V. Emy records that Radicals secured,
- "a distinct success when the Radical wing of the National Liberal Club (NLC) captured the club's organisation in the summer of 1897 and elected a new political committee with [Henry] Labouchere as the Chairman and H.J. Reckitt as secretary. The Committee itself included Sir Robert Reid, Stanhope, Herbert Samuel, Rufus Isaacs and W.F. Thompson, the editor of Reynold's News. The Committee wrote an open letter to the constituencies, asking them for their opinions on policy, designating several areas where opinion would be welcome. By November, the replies indicated that the weight of opinion lay with the democratisation of Parliament, involving the abolition of the Lords' veto, reform of registration and electoral law, and devolution. Amongst 'other prominent reforms' were included all the major issues of the day (except nationalisation). These were then drafted into a manifesto of Radical reform which was 'greatly resented by the official organisation.' 38,000 copies were circulated, and a meeting of the General Committee of the NLF at Derby agreed to make reform a priority, a decision endorsed by Asquith a few days later."
Several discussion groups met at the club, including the Rainbow Circle in the 1890s, an influential group of Liberal, Fabian and socialist thinkers who came to be identified with the Bloomsbury Group.
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'.
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.
On 3 December 1909, Liberal Chancellor David Lloyd George used the club to make a speech fiercely denouncing the House of Lords, in what was seen as a de facto launch of the "People's Budget" general election of January 1910.
On 21 November 1911, the club was one of a number of buildings to have their windows smashed in by the suffragette Women's Social and Political Union, in protest at the Liberal government's inaction over votes for women.
During the Marconi scandal of 1912, Winston Churchill used a speech to the club to mount an impassioned defence of embattled ministers David Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, asserting that there was "no stain of any kind" upon their characters.
World War I
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. Many of these troops were offered heavily discounted temporary club membership during their stay, although it appears that some overstayed their welcome - a "farewell dinner" by the club on 19 March 1919 attempted to hint that their departure was imminently expected. At the end of the First World War, the Canadian soldiers who had stayed there presented the club with a moose head as a gift of thanks, which was hung in the billiards room for many years. After the troops left, the club was closed for a year for renovations (partly necessitated by the damage done by the troops), and did not re-open until 19 December 1920.
As H.H. Asquith was deposed as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George, he spent his last full evening as Prime Minister on 8 December 1916 reporting to a full meeting of the Liberal Party at the club. It provided an overwhelming vote of confidence in his leadership.
During the party's 1916–23 split, the Asquith wing of the party was in the ascendant in the club, while Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George (who had been a regular by the Smoking Room in previous years, often found warming his bottom by the fireplace where his portrait now hangs) was personally 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." The Lloyd George and Churchill portraits were removed in 1921 and put into the club's cellar. At the time, the Asquithians were popularly known as "Wee Frees", and historian Cameron Hazlehurst wrote that, "the civilities of social life at the National Liberal Club were increasingly reserved by 'Wee Frees' for 'Wee Frees.'" 
The reunion of the two branches of the Liberal Party in the run-up to the December 1923 general election meant that the neighbouring 1920 Club for Lloyd George supporters was disbanded, and "the portraits of Lloyd George and [fellow Lloyd George Liberal] Churchill, long consigned to the cellar, were recovered and reinstated in the places of honour in the smoking room", although Churchill's defection back to the Conservatives within less than a year meant that his portrait was just as swiftly returned to the basement, and would not re-emerge for 16 years.
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 apocryphal 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 chambers in Elm Court, Temple. The comment was a jibe at the brown tiles in some of the NLC's late-Victorian architecture.
During the hung parliament of 1923–24, it was at the club that Asquith - as Leader of the reunited Liberal Party - announced on 6 December 1923 that the Liberals would support Ramsay MacDonald in forming Britain's first ever Labour government.
The club continued to be a venue for large-scale meetings of Liberals. On Armistice Day 1924, over one hundred defeated Liberal candidates met at the club to express their anger at Lloyd George's failure to use his infamous "Lloyd George fund" to help the Liberals in the disastrous general election campaign one month earlier. After the 1929 general election, the first meeting of the newly expanded Parliamentary Liberal Party was held at the club, with all MPs except one (the independently minded Rhys Hopkin Morris) re-electing Lloyd George as Liberal Party Leader.
In 1932, the club first introduced non-political membership (now called Ordinary Membership). Michael Meadowcroft explains that this was done to provide, "membership for Liberals who, by reason of their employment, such as judges, military officers or senior civil servants, were not permitted to divulge their politics", and so who had been previously debarred by the club's insistence on members signing a declaration of Liberal politics.
World War II
On 11 May 1941 the club suffered a direct hit by a Luftwaffe bomb during the Blitz, which utterly destroyed the central staircase and caused considerable damage elsewhere. The £150,000 cost of reconstructing the staircase in 1950 placed a considerable strain on the club's finances, although generous support from the War Damage Commission helped to fund the new staircase. In the nine-year interim between the bomb blast and the rebuilding of the staircase, members had to use the stairs of the club's turret tower, often taking highly circuitous routes around the vast clubhouse.
One of the items damaged in the blast was the 1915 portrait of Winston Churchill (a member of the club), by Ernest Townsend. Ironically, after 25 years of being hidden from sight, it had only just been put on display the year before. Painted in the year of the Dardanelles Campaign, Churchill was soon unavailable for unveiling the portrait as he went into exile in the trenches. After his return, his strong support for the Lloyd George coalition meant that from 1916 he proved to be persona non grata at the club, and this only increased after he left the Liberal Party in 1924. Thus from 1915 to 1940, the painting was held by the club in storage. When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, the club rushed out the painting and put it on display in the main lobby (where it still hangs today). It was bombed after one year, suffering a diagonal gash down the middle. The painting was then painstakingly restored, and Churchill re-unveiled it himself on 22 July 1943, at a ceremony also attended by his wife (a lifelong Liberal), Liberal Leader Sir Archibald Sinclair (a friend and colleague of over 30 years, then serving in Churchill's cabinet), lifelong friend Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Club Chairman Lord Meston and cartoonist David Low.
The fortunes of the NLC have mirrored those of the Liberal Party - as the Liberals declined as a national force in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, so did the NLC. However, despite the Liberals' national decline, the NLC remained a focus for debate.
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."
In addition to the Blitz bombing in 1941, the club also sustained an attack from an IRA bomb at 12 past midnight on 22 December 1973 (as part of a concerted Christmas bombing campaign) which blew open the front door and gashed the duty manager's arm, while on 10 January 1992 an IRA briefcase bomb exploded outside the club, shattering many of its windows.
During the February 1974 general election campaign, Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe was defending a wafer-thin majority of 369 votes in his Devon constituency. Instead of fighting a "typical" party leader's election campaign based in London and focusing on the London-based media, Thorpe spent almost the entire election in his constituency, keeping in contact with the national press via a live closed-circuit television link-up to daily press conferences at the National Liberal Club. Thorpe later credited this system with giving him more time to think of answers to questions, and it helped to keep the Liberal campaign both distinctive and modern. Further Liberal election campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s would retain the idea of a daily press conference at the NLC, but with live participants rather than a TV link-up to the party leader.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, all London clubs were in serious decline, and the NLC was no exception. By the 1970s the club 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 Gladstone Library (which contained the largest library of 17th- to 20th-century political material in the country, including 35,000 books and over 30,000 pamphlets) to the University of Bristol for £40,000. The pretext given was that the club could no longer afford to pay the Librarian's wages, and that it did not want to leave such valuable material unguarded. Ian Bradley described it as "a derisory sum" for the sale, particularly in light of the unique collection of accumulated candidates' manifestos from 19th-century general elections. Until its sale, it had been, as Peter Harris observed, "The most extensive of the Club libraries of London." The collection is still housed at Bristol today. However, the papers referring to the history of the club itself were returned to the NLC the 1990s, as they had not been included in the sale, and had been sent to Bristol by accident.
After the 1977 dismissal of de Chabris, a 1978 rescue package by Sir Lawrence Robson (co-founder and partner of Robson Rhodes, and husband of Liberal peer Baroness Robson) did much to stabilise the club and secure its future - to this day the club honours Sir Lawrence with a portrait in the Smoking Room, and one of its function rooms has been renamed the Lawrence Robson Room.
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 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, drinking till the dinner gong,
- Down at the old NLC."
- (1985. Words: Mark Tavener. Tune: Down at the Old Bull and Bush)
In the autumn of 1980, former Liberal Leader Jo Grimond delivered the inaugural 'Eighty Club' lecture to the Association of Liberal Lawyers at the club, drawing press attention for his scathing criticism of those Liberals who believed that their future lay in some form of social democracy, or what he termed, "a better yesterday."
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 had contained 35,000 volumes before their sale in 1977, and was standing empty by the 1980s) 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, still 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 Trafalgar, 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.
On 17 July 2002, Jeremy Paxman gave a well-publicised interview with Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy in the club's Smoking Room for an edition of Newsnight. The interview generated much controversy over Paxman's querying Kennedy's alcohol intake, including his asking, "Does it trouble you that every single politician to whom we've spoken in preparing for this interview said the same thing - 'You're interviewing Charles Kennedy, I hope he's sober'?" It was the first time a major television interview had raised the topic with the Lib Dem leader, who would resign three and half years later after admitting to suffering from alcoholism.
In the 2006 Liberal Democrats leadership election, Chris Huhne launched his leadership campaign from the main staircase of the club, while in the 2007 Liberal Democrats leadership election, frontrunner and eventual winner Nick Clegg launched his successful leadership bid from the club's David Lloyd George Room, praising "the elegance of the National Liberal Club". As party leader, Clegg has delivered further landmark addresses at the club, such as his "muscular liberalism" speech of 11 May 2011, marking one year of the Liberal Democrats in power as part of the Conservative-led coalition government.
Designed by leading Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse in a neo-Gothic style similar to his Natural History Museum, the clubhouse was constructed at a cost of some £165,950; a substantial sum in the 1880s. An earlier design by architect John Carr was rejected by members.
The NLC was described by Munsey's Magazine in 1902 as possessing, "The most imposing clubhouse in the British metropolis", and at the time of its construction, it was the largest clubhouse ever built; only the subsequent Royal Automobile Club building from 1910 was larger. The NLC's building once hosted its own branch of the Post Office, something which the Royal Automobile Club still does. Waterhouse's design blended Italianate and Gothic elements, with heavy use of Victorian tilework manufactured by Wilcock and Co. The clubhouse is built around load-bearing steelwork concealed throughout the structure, including steel columns inside the tiled pillars found throughout the club. (It was this resilient structure which enabled the building to survive a direct hit in the Blitz.) Waterhouse's work extended to designing the club's furnishings, down to the Dining Room chairs.
It was the first London building to incorporate a lift, and the first to be entirely lit throughout by electric lighting. To provide its electricity, the Whitehall Supply Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1887, being based underneath the club's raised terrace. By the time the supply opened in 1888, it had been bought by the expanding Metropolitan Electricity Supply Co. NLC members were so enamoured with the modern wonder of electric lighting that the original chandeliers featured bare light bulbs, whose distinctive hue was much prized at the time.
The club's wine cellar was converted from a trench dug in 1865, intended to be the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway, stretching from Scotland Yard to Waterloo station, which planned to carry freight that would have been powered by air pressure; digging was abandoned in 1868, and when the company wound up in 1882, the National Liberal Club adapted the tunnel to its present use.
Over the years, numerous Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs have lived at the club, including David Lloyd George in the 1890s, Cyril Smith in the 1970s and Menzies Campbell in the late 1980s.
The NLC in literature
The club has had a number of members who were notable authors, including Rupert Brooke, G.K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells and Leonard Woolf; several of whom featured the club in some of their works of literature:
- G. K. Chesterton, who was a member, mentions it as a setting in the short story "The Notable Conduct of Professor Chadd" in his collection The Club of Queer Trades (1905), with the narrator having a one-hour conversation on politics and God with a judge he meets on the club's balcony.
- H. G. Wells, who was also a member, referred to the club in one scene of his autobiographical novel Tono-Bungay (1909), in which the narrator George Ponderevo visits the club dining room with his uncle, admiring "the numerous bright-shaded tables ... the shiny ceramic columns and pilasters, [and looked] at the impressive portraits of Liberal statesmen and heroes, and all that contributes to the ensemble of that palatial spectacle."
- H.G. Wells also gave a lengthy description of the NLC in his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), discussing the narrator's experience of visiting the club during the 1906 general election:
|“||I engaged myself to speak at one or two London meetings, and lunched at the Reform, which was fairly tepid, and dined and spent one or two tumultuous evenings at the National Liberal Club, which was in active eruption. The National Liberal became feverishly congested towards midnight as the results of the counting came dropping in. A big green-baize screen had been fixed up at one end of the large smoking-room with the names of the constituencies that were voting that day, and directly the figures came to hand, up they went, amidst cheers that at last lost their energy through sheer repetition, whenever there was record of a Liberal gain. I don't remember what happened when there was a Liberal loss; I don't think that any were announced while I was there.
How packed and noisy the place was, and what a reek of tobacco and whisky fumes we made! Everybody was excited and talking, making waves of harsh confused sound that beat upon one's ears, and every now and then hoarse voices would shout for someone to speak. Our little set was much in evidence. Both the Cramptons were in, Lewis, Bunting Harblow. We gave brief addresses attuned to this excitement and the late hour, amidst much enthusiasm.
"Now we can DO things!" I said amidst a rapture of applause. Men I did not know from Adam held up glasses and nodded to me in solemn fuddled approval as I came down past them into the crowd again.
Men were betting whether the Unionists would lose more or less than two hundred seats.
"I wonder just what we shall do with it all", I heard one sceptic speculating....
- Wells later described the State Opening of the new 1906 parliament:
|“||It is one of my vivid memories from this period, the sudden outbreak of silk hats in the smoking-room of the National Liberal Club. At first I thought there must have been a funeral. Familiar faces that one had grown to know under soft felt hats, under bowlers, under liberal-minded wide brims, and above artistic ties and tweed jackets, suddenly met one, staring with the stern gaze of self-consciousness, from under silk hats of incredible glossiness. There was a disposition to wear the hat much too forward, I thought, for a good Parliamentary style.||”|
- About the club more broadly, Wells' narrator reflected:
|“||My discontents with the Liberal party and my mental exploration of the quality of party generally is curiously mixed up with certain impressions of things and people in the National Liberal Club. The National Liberal Club is Liberalism made visible in the flesh—and Doultonware. 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; and its spacious dining-rooms, its long, hazy, crowded smoking-room with innumerable little tables and groups of men in armchairs, its magazine room and library upstairs, have just that undistinguished and unconcentrated diversity which is for me the Liberal note. The pensive member sits and hears perplexing dialects and even fragments of foreign speech, and among the clustering masses of less insistent whites his roving eye catches profiles and complexions that send his mind afield to Calcutta or Rangoon or the West Indies or Sierra Leone or the Cape....
I was not infrequently that pensive member. I used to go to the Club to doubt about Liberalism. About two o'clock in the day the great smoking-room is crowded with countless little groups. They sit about small round tables, or in circles of chairs, and the haze of tobacco seems to prolong the great narrow place, with its pillars and bays, to infinity. Some of the groups are big, as many as a dozen men talk in loud tones; some are duologues, and there is always a sprinkling of lonely, dissociated men. At first one gets an impression of men going from group to group and as it were linking them, but as one watches closely one finds that these men just visit three or four groups at the outside, and know nothing of the others. One begins to perceive more and more distinctly that one is dealing with a sort of human mosaic; that each patch in that great place is of a different quality and colour from the next and never to be mixed with it. Most clubs have a common link, a lowest common denominator in the Club Bore, who spares no one, but even the National Liberal bores are specialised and sectional. As one looks round one sees here a clump of men from the North Country or the Potteries, here an island of South London politicians, here a couple of young Jews ascendant from Whitechapel, here a circle of journalists and writers, here a group of Irish politicians, here two East Indians, here a priest or so, here a clump of old-fashioned Protestants, here a little knot of eminent Rationalists indulging in a blasphemous story sotto voce. Next to them are a group of anglicised Germans and highly specialised chess-players, and then two of the oddest-looking persons—bulging with documents and intent upon extraordinary business transactions over long cigars ...
I would listen to a stormy sea of babblement, and try to extract some constructive intimations. Every now and then I got a whiff of politics. It was clear they were against the Lords—against plutocrats—against Cossington's newspapers—against the brewers.... It was tremendously clear what they were against. The trouble was to find out what on earth they were for!...
As I sat and thought, the streaked and mottled pillars and wall, the various views, aspects, and portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, the partitions of polished mahogany, the yellow-vested waiters, would dissolve and vanish, and I would have a vision of this sample of miscellaneous men of limited, diverse interests and a universal littleness of imagination enlarged, unlimited, no longer a sample but a community, spreading, stretching out to infinity—all in little groups and duologues and circles, all with their special and narrow concerns, all with their backs to most of the others.
What but a common antagonism would ever keep these multitudes together? I understood why modern electioneering is more than half of it denunciation. Let us condemn, if possible, let us obstruct and deprive, but not let us do. There is no real appeal to the commonplace mind in "Let us do." That calls for the creative imagination, and few have been accustomed to respond to that call. The other merely needs jealousy and bate, of which there are great and easily accessible reservoirs in every human heart.
- 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."
- The club 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".
- The 1920s-set detective thriller The Blyth House Murder (2011) by Terry Minahan features the club as a setting, with Chapter 8 entitled "Murder at the National Liberal Club."
The club is open to members from Mondays to Fridays, 8:00am–11:30pm. 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 19th century. There are also reciprocal arrangements with over 130 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.
The NLC is a private members' club, with membership needing the nomination of an existing member, and a waiting period of at least one 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, with the first recorded ethnic minority member Dadabhai Naoroji being admitted in 1885, when the club was less than three years old.
It did not admit women as full members until 1976, although this did still make it the first major London club to admit women, while many other such clubs did not admit women until the 1990s or 2000s (and several of which still do not admit women today). It offered women an 'associate membership' category from 1968 until 1976.
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 (OMC) have also been allowed to use the NLC clubhouse since 1968, when their own neighbouring Whitehall Court clubhouse closed down. OMC members are not, however, full members of the NLC and unless they join the NLC in their own right they do not enjoy several of the club's benefits of membership, including overnight accommodation and access to the club's 150 reciprocal clubs worldwide.
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 as if the room is part of the Reform.
- Zeppelin (1971) - numerous scenes filmed in the Gladstone Library, River Room, Billiards Room and various other areas of the club, all doubling for World War I-era government offices. Ronald Adam plays the unnamed Prime Minister, with Michael York, Richard Hurndall and Rupert Davies as various army and navy officers.
- The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971) - "Just one more please" sketch in which William Mervyn plays a politician emerging from the club, being chased by Marty Feldman's increasingly frenzied press photographer.
- Savage Messiah (1972) - two scenes of this Ken Russell film, shot 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 in this David Lynch film, 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. There is also an establishing shot of the club's main hall.
- Brazil (1985) - Party scene in this Terry Gilliam film, set in the NLC's main staircase and basement ballroom, the latter having been heavily redressed in Gilliam's trademark style. Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Jim Broadbent, Katherine Helmond, Peter Vaughan, Jack Purvis, Kathryn Pogson and Elizabeth Spender all appear in this scene.
- House of Cards (1990) - Episode 2 - scene filmed in the Gladstone Library, with Kenny Ireland as Benjamin Landless, a thinly veiled spoof of Rupert Murdoch.
- 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.
- Spooks (2002–11) - numerous shots of the smoking room, staircase, main hall and exterior in many episodes, for instance series 05, episode 05, "The Message" (2006), in which Peter Firth and Tim McInnerny lunch at the latter's unnamed club.
- Sparkling Cyanide (2003) - scene filmed in the main staircase, doubling for a barrister's chambers.
- 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) - based on the John le Carré novel, with scenes filmed in the main entrance, smoking room and dining room, featuring 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.
- The Hour (2011) - Episode 1 - several scenes in the main hall and the smoking room.
- Dr Donald Adamson, author and historian
- John Hamilton-Gordon, 7th Earl of Aberdeen, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland 1886 & 1905–15, Governor-General of Canada 1893–98; founder member
- Lord Alderdice, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly 1998–2004
- Danny Alexander, Lib Dem MP 2005–present, Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2010–present
- William Allan, Liberal MP 1893–1903
- William Allen, Liberal MP 1892–1900, National Liberal MP 1931–35
- George, 8th Duke of Argyll, Lord Privy Seal and Liberal politician
- John Arlott, cricket commentator
- Lord Ashdown, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988–99, Liberal/Lib Dem MP 1983–2001
- H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister 1908–16, Leader of the Liberal Party 1908–26, Home Secretary 1892–95, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1905–08, Liberal MP 1886–1918 & 1920–24
- John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, Liberal MP 1870–1900; founder member
- Eric Lubbock, 4th Baron Avebury, Liberal MP 1962–70, Chief Whip of the Liberal Party 1963–70
- Desmond Banks, Baron Banks, Liberal peer; President of the Club
- Ernest Belfort Bax, socialist journalist and philosopher
- Catherine Bearder, Lib Dem MEP 2009–present
- Sir Alan Beith, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1992–2003, Liberal/Lib Dem MP 1973–present; currently President of the Club
- David Bellotti, Lib Dem MP 1990–92
- Thomas Berridge, solicitor and Liberal candidate
- Peter Bessell, Liberal MP 1964–70
- The Rt Hon Charles Booth, philanthropist and shipowner
- William Copeland Borlase, Liberal MP 1880–87; founder member
- Sharon Bowles, Lib Dem MEP 2005–present
- Charles Bradlaugh - see "Notable rejections" below.
- Lord Bradshaw, Lib Dem peer and academic
- Thomas Brassey, 1st Earl Brassey, Liberal MP 1865 & 1868–86, Governor of Victoria, Australia 1895–1900; founder member
- Jacob Bright, Liberal MP 1867–74, 1876–85 & 1885–95; founder member
- Rupert Brooke, poet
- Ernest Brown, Leader of the National Liberal party 1940–45, Liberal (later National Liberal) MP 1923–24 & 1927–45
- James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, Oxford Regius Professor of Civil Law 1870–93, President of the Board of Trade 1894–95, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1905–07, Liberal MP 1880–1907; founder member
- John Burns, Liberal MP 1892–1918, President of the Local Government Board 1905–14, President of the Board of Trade 1914
- Sir Menzies Campbell, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2006–07, Liberal/Lib Dem MP 1987–present
- Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Prime Minister 1905–08, Leader of the Liberal Party 1899–1908, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1884–85, Secretary of State for War 1886 & 1892–95, Liberal MP 1868–1908
- Rupert Carington, 4th Baron Carrington, Liberal MP 1880–85
- Mark Bonham Carter, Liberal MP 1958–59, publisher
- Violet Bonham Carter, Liberal activist and daughter of H.H. Asquith
- Richard Causton, Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1888–1910
- G.K. Chesterton, novelist, poet and playwright.
- Lord Chidgey, Lib Dem MP 1994–2005
- Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2007–present, Deputy Prime Minister 2010–present, Lib Dem MEP 1999–2004, Lib Dem MP 2005–present
- John Creasey, crime and science fiction writer
- Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland 1892–95, Leader of the House of Lords 1908–16, Colonial Secretary 1908–10, Secretary of State for India 1910–15, Secretary of State for War 1931
- Hugh Dalton, Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer 1945–47, Labour MP 1924–31 & 1935–59
- Clement Davies, Leader of the Liberal Party 1945–56, Liberal MP 1929–62; Vice-President of the Club
- Baron de Forest, Liberal MP 1911–18
- Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, Conservative MP 1848–69, Conservative Foreign Secretary 1866–68 & 1874–78, Liberal Colonial Secretary 1882–85; founder member
- Joseph Devlin, Irish Nationalist MP 1902–22 & 1929–34
- Sir Charles Dilke, President of the Local Government Board 1882–85, Liberal MP 1868–86 & 1892–1911
- Lord Ezra, Chairman of the National Coal Board 1971–81, Liberal/Lib Dem peer
- Lord Fearn, Lib Dem MP 1987–92 & 1997–2001
- Joseph Firth Bottomley Firth, barrister and Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1888–89; founder member
- Isaac Foot, Liberal MP 1922–24 & 1929–35
- Harold Frederic, American journalist and novelist
- Jonathan Fryer, writer, broadcaster and Liberal/Lib Dem politician
- Air Marshal Lord Garden, Lib Dem peer, RAF officer and academic; Vice-Chairman of the Club at the time of his death
- Baroness Garden, Lib Dem peer
- David Lloyd George, Prime Minister 1916–22, Leader of the Liberal Party 1926–31, President of the Board of Trade 1905–08, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1908–15, Minister of Munitions 1915–16, Secretary of State for War 1916, Liberal MP 1890–1945
- Henry George, politician, writer and political economist; elected as a Temporary Member of the NLC in 1888–89
- Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP 2010–present
- Henry Gladstone, 1st Baron Gladstone of Hawarden, businessman and President of the Club 1932–35
- Herbert Gladstone, Liberal MP 1880–1910, Home Secretary 1905–10, Governor-General of South Africa 1910–14; founder member
- William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister 1868–74, 1880–85, 1886 & 1892–94, Leader of the Liberal Party 1866–75 & 1880–94, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1852–55, 1859–66, 1873–74 & 1880–82, Tory (later Peelite, later Liberal) MP 1832–45, 1847–95; founder member and first President of the Club
- Gopal Krishna Gokhale, founder of the Indian Independence Movement, who invited Mahatma Gandhi to the club as a guest in 1914
- Francis Carruthers Gould, cartoonist
- Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, Leader of Liberal Party 1875–80, Foreign Secretary 1851–52, 1870–74, 1880–85; presided over the club's inaugural dinner in 1882
- Hamar Greenwood, last ever Chief Secretary for Ireland 1920–22, Liberal (later Conservative) MP 1906–22 & 1924–29
- Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Foreign Secretary 1905–16, Liberal MP 1885–1916
- Jo Grimond, Leader of the Liberal Party 1956–67 & 1976, Liberal MP 1950–83; served on the club's General Committee in the early 1950s
- Frederick Edward Guest, Chief Whip of the Coalition Liberal party 1917–21, Secretary of State for Air 1921–22, Liberal (later Conservative) MP 1910–22, 1923–29 & 1931–37
- John Gulland, Liberal Chief Whip 1915–19, Liberal MP 1906–18
- Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane, Secretary of State for War 1905–12, Lord Chancellor 1912–15 & (as Labour) 1924, Labour Leader of the House of Lords 1924, Liberal MP 1885–1911
- Lewis Harcourt, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1910–15, Liberal MP 1904–16
- Sir William Harcourt, Home Secretary 1880–85, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1886 & 1892–95, Leader of the Liberal Party 1896–98, Liberal MP 1868–1904. Just days before his death, Harcourt dined at the club and declared "This is my last public appearance", which it proved to be.
- Frederic Harrison, Radical jurist and historian
- Sir Arthur Haworth, Liberal MP 1906–12
- Jean Henderson, barrister and Liberal candidate
- Farrer Herschell, 1st Baron Herschell, Liberal MP 1874–1885, Lord Chancellor 1886 & 1892–95; founder member
- George Holyoake, secularist and pioneer of workers' co-operatives; made an Honorary Member of the club in 1893
- Mary Honeyball, Labour MEP 2000–present
- Anthony Hope, author, best known for The Prisoner of Zenda
- Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 2010–12, Lib Dem MEP 1999–2005, Lib Dem MP 2005–present
- Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP 2010–present
- Rufus Isaacs, Lord Chief Justice 1913–21, Viceroy of India 1921–25, Foreign Secretary 1931, Liberal MP 1904–13
- Henry James, 1st Baron James of Hereford, Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) MP 1869–95, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1895–1902; founder member
- Roy Jenkins, Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer 1967–70, Labour Home Secretary 1965–67 & 1974–76, founder and Leader of the Social Democratic Party
- Jerome K. Jerome, author and humourist
- Leifchild Jones, 1st Baron Rhayader, Liberal MP 1905–10, 1910–18, 1923–24 & 1929–31
- Lord Jones of Cheltenham Lib Dem MP 1992–2005
- Paul Keetch Lib Dem MP 1997–2010
- The Rt Rev Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester 1974–2001; President of the Club
- Charles Kennedy, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1999–2006, SDP/Lib Dem MP 1983–present
- William Edwardes, 4th Baron Kensington,Liberal Whip 1880–85 & 1892–95; founder member
- Benjamin Kidd, pioneering sociologist.
- John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, Colonial Secretary 1880–82, Secretary of State for India 1882–85, 1886 & 1892–94, Foreign Secretary 1894–95; a Vice-President of the club
- Herbert, 1st Earl Kitchener, Field Marshal and Secretary of State for War 1914-6
- Lord Kirkwood, Lib Dem MP 1983–2005
- Baroness Kramer, Lib Dem MP 2005–10
- Henry Labouchère, Radical Liberal MP 1865–66, 1867–68, 1880–1906
- Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 2nd Baronet, of Brayton, Liberal MP 1859–65, 1868–85, 1886–1900, 1903–06; founder member
- Sir John Leng, Liberal MP 1889–1906; founder member
- Robert Wynn Carrington, 1st Marquess of Lincolnshire, President of the Board of Agriculture 1905–11; Chairman of the Club 1895–1921, President of the Club 1903–28
- Gordon Lishman, Director of Age Concern 2000–09, Liberal/Lib Dem activist
- Robert Reid, 1st Earl Loreburn, Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1886–1905, Lord Chancellor 1905–12
- William John Locke, novelist and playwright
- Thomas Lough, President of the Board of Education 1905–08, Liberal MP 1892–1918
- David Low, cartoonist
- Henry Lucy, journalist, humourist, and parliamentary sketchwriter
- Ramsay MacDonald, Labour Prime Minister 1924 & 1929–35, Labour MP 1906–18, 1922–35 & 1936–37; joined when he was private secretary to Liberal MP Thomas Lough (see above)
- Lord MacLennan, Leader of the SDP 1987–88, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988, Labour (later SDP, later Lib Dem) MP 1966–2001
- Lord McNally, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords 2004–present, Minister of State for Justice 2010, Labour (later SDP) MP 1979–83
- Thomas James Macnamara, Liberal MP 1900–24
- Baroness Maddock, Lib Dem MP 1993–97, Lib Dem peer
- Paul Marshall, Financier and philanthropist
- Henry William Massingham, journalist, Editor of The Star 1890–91, Editor of The Nation 1907–23
- Charles Masterman, head of the British War Propaganda Bureau 1914–18, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1914–15, Liberal MP 1906–14 & 1923–24
- Michael Meadowcroft, Liberal MP 1983–87
- James Meston, 1st Baron Meston, civil servant and businessman; Chairman of the Club
- Arnold Morley, Postmaster General 1892–95, Liberal MP 1880–95; founder member
- John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn, historian, biographer, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1886 & 1892–95, Secretary of State for India 1905–10 & 1911, Liberal MP 1883–95 & 1896–1908
- Gilbert Murray, classicist and humanist
- T. M. Nair, Indian politician and founder of the Justice Party
- George Newnes, Liberal MP 1885–95 & 1900–10, publisher, founding Editor of The Strand Magazine
- Dadabhai Naoroji, Liberal MP 1892–95, intellectual and educator
- Cecil Norton, Liberal MP 1892–1916
- Thomas Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook, First Lord of the Admiralty 1880–85; founder member and first Chairman of the club
- Charles Wilson, 2nd Baron Nunburnholme (1875–1924), British Liberal politician
- T.P. O'Connor, Irish Nationalist MP 1880–1929 and "Father of the House"
- Thomas O'Hagan, 1st Baron O'Hagan, Lord Chancellor 1870–74 & 18802, founder member
- Lembit Öpik, Lib Dem MP 1997–2010
- William Monson, 1st Viscount Oxenbridge, Liberal Chief Whip in the House of Lords 1880–92
- David Pratt, South African farmer & socialite, who attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in 1960 over the latter's role as the founder of South African apartheid
- William Pringle, Liberal MP 1922–24
- George Haven Putnam, American author, soldier and publisher; elected a Temporary Member of the NLC in 1888–89
- Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, Diwan (Prime Minister) of Travancore, 1936-1947
- Lord Razzall, Lib Dem peer
- Walter Rea, 1st Baron Rea, Liberal MP 1906–18, 1923–24 & 1931–35
- H.J. Reckitt, Liberal MP 1893, 1895–1907
- Charles Henry Roberts, Liberal MP 1906–18 & 1922–23
- J. M. Robertson, Liberal MP 1906–18
- Thomas Atholl Robertson, fine arts printer; and Chairman of the NLC political committee
- Inga-Stina Robson, Anglo-Swedish political activist, Liberal/Lib Dem peer
- Lord Rochester, Lib Dem peer
- Thorold Rogers, economist, historian and Liberal MP 1880–86; founder member
- Henry Enfield Roscoe, chemist and Liberal MP 1885–95
- Paul Rowen, Lib Dem MP 2005–10
- Walter Runciman, 1st Baron Runciman, Liberal MP 1914–18
- G.W.E. Russell, Liberal MP 1880–85, 1892–95; founder member
- Thomas Wallace Russell, Unionist MP 1886–1910 & 1911–18
- Herbert Samuel, Home Secretary 1916 & 1931–32, High Commissioner of Palestine 1920–25, Leader of the Liberal Party 1931–35, Leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords 1944–55, Liberal MP 1902–18 & 1929–35
- C.P. Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian 1872–1929, Liberal MP 1895–1906
- Charles Scribner, American publisher; elected as a Temporary Member of the NLC in 1888–89
- Brian Sedgemore, Labour MP 1974–79 & 1983–2005, Lib Dem defector
- Nancy Seear, Baroness Seear, academic and Liberal/Lib Dem peer
- Ian Swales, Lib Dem MP 2010–present
- Ignatius O'Brien, 1st Baron Shandon, Lord Chancellor of Ireland 1913–18
- George Bernard Shaw, writer, journalist, playwright and socialist
- Lord Shipley, Lib Dem peer, Leader of Newscastle City Council 2006–10
- Sir Archibald Sinclair, Leader of the Liberal Party 1935–45, Secretary of State for Air 1940–45, Liberal MP 1922–45
- Cyril Smith, Liberal MP 1972–92
- Richard Causton, 1st Baron Southwark, Paymaster-General 1905–10, Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1888–1910; founder member
- Stephen Spender, poet and novelist
- Richard Grosvenor, 1st Baron Stalbridge, Liberal MP 1861–86, Liberal whip 1880–85; founder member
- James Stansfeld, President of the Local Government Board 1871–74 & 1886, Liberal MP 1859–95
- Philip Stanhope, 1st Baron Weardale, Liberal MP 1886–92, 1893–1900 & 1904–06
- Michael Steed, psephologist and Liberal/Lib Dem politician
- Lord Steel, Leader of the Liberal Party 1976–88, Liberal/Lib Dem MP 1965–97, Presiding Officer (Speaker) of the Scottish Parliament 1999–2003, Lib Dem peer; Vice-President of the Club
- Bram Stoker, theatre manager and author of Dracula.
- Peter Stollery, Canadian Liberal MP 1972–81, Senator 1981–2010
- Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, Liberal & Lib Dem MP 1987–2010
- William Tebb, social reformer
- Lord Teverson, Lib Dem MEP 1994-9
- Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet and writer
- Jeremy Thorpe, Leader of the Liberal Party 1967–76, Liberal MP 1959–79
- Viscount Thurso, Lib Dem MP 2001–present
- Lord Tordoff, Lib Dem peer
- Lord Tyler, Liberal/Lib Dem MP 1974 & 1992–2005
- Francis Vane, pioneer of the Boy Scout movement
- Edgar Wallace, crime writer, journalist, novelist and playwright
- Lord Wallace of Saltaire, academic and Lib Dem government whip 2010–present
- Diana Wallis Lib Dem MEP 1999–present
- Lord Watson, Lib Dem peer
- Robert Spence Watson, reformer and political activist; founder member of the club, later its Vice-President
- Henry Webb, Liberal MP 1911–18 & 1923–24
- Sidney Webb, socialist writer, economist, co-founder of the London School of Economics.
- H.G. Wells, writer, journalist, novelist, pacifist and socialist
- Harry Willcock, anti-ID card campaigner in the 1950s
- Arthur John Williams, Liberal MP 1885–95; founder member
- Thomas McKinnon Wood, Secretary for Scotland 1912–16, Liberal MP 1906–18, Chairman of London County Council 1898–99
- Leonard Woolf, author, publisher, political theorist and husband of Virginia Woolf
- Richard Younger-Ross Lib Dem MP 2001–10
Notable expulsions/resignations from the club
- Jabez Balfour, property developer and Liberal MP 1880–85 & 1889–93, convicted of property fraud involving a pyramid scheme when constructing the building next door to the club; a founder member, expelled from the club.
- Sir Edward Carson, Leader of the Irish Unionist party 1910–21, Unionist MP 1892–1921, did not resign from the club until 1887, even though he joined the Liberal Unionists almost immediately upon their split in 1886 - something about which he was periodically teased for decades afterwards by political rivals including Winston Churchill.
- Joseph Chamberlain, Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) MP 1876–1914, President of the Board of Trade 1880–85, President of the Local Government Board 1886, Colonial Secretary 1895–1903, Leader of the Liberal Unionists after the 1886 split, resigning from the NLC shortly thereafter
- Winston Churchill, Conservative Prime Minister 1940–45 and 1951–55, MP 1900–22 & 1924–64, sitting as a Liberal MP 1904–22. A banquet was held at the NLC (in what is now the Lloyd George Room) on 20 January 1905 to mark his defection to the Liberals several months earlier. He joined the club on 6 January 1906 (having been sponsored by Lloyd George and the club's then-President and Chairman Lord Carrington), and resigned from it on 26 November 1924, one month after joining the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin. He gave ten speeches at the club between 1905 and 1943, and continued to lunch there as a guest during World War II.
- Marquess of Hartington, Leader of the Liberal Party 1875–80, Secretary of State for War 1866 & 1882–85, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1871–74, Secretary of State for India 1880–82, Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) MP 1857–68 & 1869–1891; resigned from the club in 1887 over Home Rule
- Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, Liberal Prime Minister 1894–95, resigned from the club in September 1909, denouncing it as "a hotbed of socialism."
- John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon, Home Secretary 1915–16 & 1935–37, Foreign Secretary 1931–35, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1937–40, Lord Chancellor 1940–45, Liberal (later National Liberal) MP 1906–18 & 1922–40, Leader of the National Liberal Party 1931–40; forced to resign from the NLC after speaking in support of the Conservative candidate in the Croydon North by-election, 1948
Notable rejections of applications for membership
- Charles Bradlaugh, secularist and radical Liberal MP 1880–91, was invited to join the club, but then suffered the ignominity of being rejected when he submitted his application. However, he eventually joined the club in 1890. Walter Sickert's portrait of Bradlaugh now hangs in the club.
- George Awdry (1916–94), younger brother of Thomas the Tank Engine creator the Rev. W. Awdry, was the Club Librarian from the 1950s until 1977, and often assisted in writing his brother's books. An active member of the Richard III Society, for many years he ensured that they were able to hold their meetings at the club.
- William Digby, author, journalist and humanitarian was the NLC's first Club Secretary from 1882 to 1887.
- The left-wing playwright Harold Pinter worked as a waiter at the club in the 1950s, and was fired for daring to interrupt the conversation of several diners.
Presidents of the Club
|The Rt Hon William Ewart Gladstone MP, FRS, FSS†||1882–1898|
|The Rt Hon Earl Carrington (later the Most Hon Marquess of Lincolnshire) KG, GCMG, DL, JP†||1903–1928|
|The Rt Hon Earl Beauchamp KG, KCMG||1929–1932|
|Baron Gladstone of Hawarden†||1932–1935|
|The Most Hon the Marquess of Crewe KG†||1935–1945|
|The Rt Hon Viscount Samuel of Mount Carmel and Toxteth GCB, OM, GBE†||1946–1963|
|Harold Glanville JP†||1963–1966|
|The Rt Hon Baron Rea of Eskdale OBE, DL, JP†||1966–1981|
|The Rt Hon Baron Banks of Kenton CBE||1982–1993|
|The Rt Revd Eric Kemp, Lord Bishop of Chichester FRHistS||1994–2008|
|The Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP||2008–present|
†=died in office
Other groups and clubs absorbed or integrated into the NLC
- The short-lived Century Club was absorbed into the NLC on its launch in November 1882.
- The NLC regularly hosted meetings of the pro-Free Trade Cobden Club between the 1880s and 1930s, and absorbed most of its membership after the Cobden Club's demise.
- Between 1963 and 1965, the Savage Club (named after actor and poet Richard Savage) lodged in some rooms at the NLC, and since 1990 the Savage Club has once again lodged in a ground-floor room of the club.
- The Gladstone Club, a Liberal discussion group founded in 1973, continues to meet at the club.
- As noted above, the Liberal Party leased the upper floors of the club as its national headquarters from 1977 to 1988.
- Since 1977, Liberal International has had its international headquarters on the ground floor of the club.
- The John Stuart Mill Institute is a liberal think tank founded in 1992 by several NLC members, which is based at the club and holds occasional lectures there.
- The Liberal Democrat History Group founded in 1994 holds four meetings a year - two at the Lib Dem Spring and Autumn party conferences, and two at the NLC.
- Lejeune, Anthony, with Malcolm Lewis, The Gentlemen's Clubs of London (Bracken Books, 1979 reprinted 1984 and 1987) chapter on National Liberal Club
- Cornhill Magazine, Volume 88, Smith, Elder and Co. (1903) pp.314, 319, states that the Century Club merged into the NLC "more than twenty years ago."
- Peter Harris, "A Meeting Place for Liberals", Journal of Liberal History, No. 51, Summer 2006, pp.18-23
- Robert Steven, The National Liberal Club: Politics and Persons (Robert Holden, London, 1925), 91pp.
- G.W.E. Russell, Fifteen Chapters of Autobiography(Thomas Nelson, London,undated), Chapter XXII
- Michael Meadowcroft, Celebrating 130 years o high Victorian style and elegance (NLC News, No. 63, November 2012) pp.12-4
- Roy Douglas, The History of the Liberal Party, 1895–1970 (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1971) p.17
- "THE NATIONAL LIBERAL CLUB. (Hansard, 4 May 1883)". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- 'Portrait of George Bernard Shaw', The Times, 1 November 1925
- George Bernard Shaw, 'The Case for Equality: speech at a National Liberal Club debate of 1913', in ed. James Fuchs, The Socialism of Shaw (New York, 1926) p.58
- Sir Alexander Mackintosh, Joseph Chamberlain: An Honest Biography (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1914) p.327
- Hamilton Fyfe and Joseph Irving (eds.), The Annals of Our Time ...: pt. 1. June 20, 1887-December 1890 (Macmillan, London, 1891)
- The Scots Observer, Vol. 1 (1889) p.58
- H.V. Emy, Liberals Radicals and Social Politics 1892–1914 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973) p.66
- Michael Freeden, Minutes of the Rainbow Circle 1894–1924, edited and annotated (Camden New Series/Royal Historical Society, London, 1989)
- "Hansard". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- "Hansard". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. 1909-05-11. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Peter Rowland, Lloyd George (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1975) p.223
- John Grigg, Lloyd George: The People's Champion, 1902–1911 (University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1978) p.299
- Richard Toye, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (Macmillan, London, 2007) p.97
- Roy Jenkins, Asquith (Collins, London, 1964) p.461
- Michael Bentley, The Liberal Mind 1914–29 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007) p.81
- Richard Toye, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (Macmillan, London, 2007) p.243
- Cameron Hazlehurst (ed.), "Introduction", The Lloyd George Liberal magazine, Volume 1, Issues 1-6 (Harvester Press, Sussex, 1973) p.xii
- Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (Hutchinson, London, 1954) p.675
- William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874–1932 (Michael Joseph, London, 1983) p.750
- "Identity Cards Scheme (Hansard, 23 June 1992)". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Peter Rowland, Lloyd George (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1975) p.604
- Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (Hutchinson, London, 1954) p.684
- J. Graham Jones, David Lloyd George and Welsh Liberalism (National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 2010) p.271
- Short cinema documentary, Look at Life: Members Only (1965)
- Seth Thévoz, 'Winston Churchill and the NLC', NLC Club News, No. 55 (November 2008) pp.8-9
- Plaque in the NLC smoking room
- Shirreff, David. Euromoney. London: October 1996. , Iss. 330; pg. 16,
- "4 Wounded in 3-Bomb Blitz on London", Times-Union, December 22, 1973, p.3
- "Bombs Explode, Injuring Four in London", The Montreal Gazette, December 22, 1973, p.41
- "Terrorist Bombs Injure Londoners", Star-News, December 23, 1973, p.
- "Police seek car after IRA bomb in Whitehall", The Daily Telegraph. London (UK): January 11, 1992. pg. 1
- Jeremy Thorpe, In My Own Time: Reminiscences of a Liberal Leader (Politico's, London, 1999) p.107
- Ivor Crewe and Anthony King, SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995) p.200
- Lewis Chester, Magnus Linklater and David May, Jeremy Thorpe: A Secret Life (Fontana, 1979) p.190-194 for a detailed description of de Chabris' involvement in the club in the 1970s. See also The Times, Thursday, October 21, 1982; pg. 8; Issue 61368; col B
- The Times, Wednesday, November 10, 1976; pg. 1; Issue 59857; col G; The Times, Friday, November 19, 1976; pg. 4; Issue 59865; col G
- The Times, Thursday, October 21, 1982; pg. 8; Issue 61368; col B
- ed. Ralph Bancroft, Liberator songbook, 2004 edition - notes for the song "Down at the old NLC"
- Michael McManus, Jo Grimond: Towards the Sound of Gunfire (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2001) pp.347-8 The full text of Grimond's NLC speech can be found here
- The Standard, Friday 19 April 1985, p.2
- Greg Hurst, Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw (Politico's, London, 2006) p.179
- "Full text of Chris Huhne's speech". The Guardian. 13 January 2006. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- Tudor Jones, The Revival of British Liberalism, from Grimond to Clegg (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2011) p.216
- Munsey's Magazine, Volume 26 (1902) p.653
- "Hansard". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. 1911-06-02. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Gavin Stamp and Colin Amery, Victorian buildings of London, 1837–1887: an illustrated guide (Architectural Press, London, 1980) p.148
- The Revd. Peter Harris, club archivist, "The Refurbishment of the Club Rooms", NLC Club News, No. 61, November 2011, p.13
- Clive's Underground Line Guides - History of the Bakerloo Line
- John Grigg, The Young Lloyd George (Eyre Methuen, London, 1973) pp.127, 164, 225
- Cyril Smith, Big Cyril: The Autobiography of Cyril Smith (W.H. Allen, London, 1977)
- Menzies Campbell, Menzies Campbell: My Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2008) p.108
- G.K. Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades (1905) on Project Gutenberg
- H.G. Wells, Tono-Bungay (London, 1909), Book 3, Chapter 2
- H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli (1911) retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1047/1047-h/1047-h.htm
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Foe-Farrell, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
- "The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse - Project Gutenberg". Gutenberg.org. 2005-02-01. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally (Herbert Jenkins, 1922)
- Terry Minahan, The Blyth House Murder (2011)
- The National Liberal Club - List of Members October 2008 (National Liberal Club, 2008 - distributed to all members)
- Who Was Who, 1897-present
- Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.33
- Henry Tudor and J.M. Tudor (eds.), "The Movement and the Final Goal: Bernstein's Second Exchange With Belfort Bax", Marxism and Social Democracy: The Revisionist Debate, 1896-1898 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988)p.172
- The National Liberal Club - List of Members October 2009 (National Liberal Club, 2009 - distributed to all members)
- Lewis Chester, Magnus Linklater and David May, Jeremy Thorpe: A Secret Life (Fontana, 1979) p.86
- National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1906)
- The National Liberal Club - Club rules, standing orders, and a list of members, 1912
- The National Liberal Club - List of Members October 2006 (National Liberal Club, 2006 - distributed to all members)
- Elwood P. Lawrence, "Henry George's British Mission", American Quarterly (John Hopkins University Press, Autumn 1951) Vol. 3, No. 3, pp.240-1
- Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi (South Asia Books, 1991) p.66
- The National Liberal Club - List of Members October 2010 (National Liberal Club, 2010 - distributed to all members)
- National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1903)
- D.P. Crook, Benjamin Kidd: portrait of a social Darwinist (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009) p.210 Kidd joined in 1902.
- Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.21
- David Marquand, Ramsay Macdonald: A Biography (Jonathan Cape, 1977)
- Alfred F. Havighurst, Radical journalist: H. W. Massingham (1860–1924) (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1974) p.53
- Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.32
- Kate Jackson, George Newnes and the new journalism in Britain, 1880–1910: culture and profit (Ashgate, Sussex, 2001) pp.21, 102, 122
- Anthony White, "Would-Be Africa Assassin Stuns London Club Friends", The Evening Independent, April 11 1960, p.1 The article noted that Pratt, a wealthy farmer, often stayed at the club when in London, was an active supporter of the British Liberal Party, and a bitter opponent of apartheid.
- John Sutherland, Stephen Spender: a literary life(Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005) pp.14, 43
- Jonathan Fryer, Dylan: The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas (Kyle Cathie, 1993) p.51
- Michael Meadowcroft, A Guide to the Works of Art of the National Liberal Club, London (National Liberal Club, London, 2011) p.18
- Plaque inside the NLC smoking room
- National Liberal Club, List of Members, 1912 (NLC, London, 1912)
- David Mckie, Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Scoundrel (Atlantic Books, London, 2004)
- David McKie, "A Sincere, Thorough & Hearty Liberal", Journal of Liberal History, Issue 52, Autumn 2006
- "ALLOCATION OF TIME. (Hansard, 10 October 1912)". Hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner and John Mackinnon Robertson, Charles Bradlaugh: a record of his life and work (2 vols.) (T.F. Unwin, London, 1908) Vol. 1, p.93
- Belinda Copson, ‘Awdry, Wilbert Vere (1911–1997)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2007 accessed 17 Aug 2010
- William Digby and the Indian Question by Mira Matikkala
- Obituary: Harold Pinter, by Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley, New York Times, 25 December 2008
- Plaque of NLC Presidents in the front hall
- Official National Liberal Club website
- Official NLC page on Facebook
- National Liberal Club Pamphlets Collection University of Bristol Library Special Collections
- Website of the Kettner's Lunch, a monthly speaker's event hosted by the club