Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: The Carlton Club

Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

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'Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: The Carlton Club', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 354-359. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

In this section

The Carlton Club

Occupied until 1940 the site now occupied by 'No. 100 Pall Mall'

The defeat of the Tories at the general election of 1831 impelled them to embark upon the reorganization of their party. In that year fifteen peers and members of Parliament met at a house in Charles Street (now Charles II Street) and agreed to establish a party headquarters there. The house was to be used both as an office for press management and as a rendezvous for the party in general, and the expenses were to be met by individual subscription. Within a few months the house proved too small for these purposes, and by December the idea of founding a club was already being considered. After some preliminary meetings in Charles Street, a meeting was held on 10 March 1832 at the Thatched House Tavern in St. James's Street, at which the Marquis of Salisbury took the chair. (fn. 1) A committee consisting of prominent Tory peers and members of Parliament was appointed with instructions 'to look out for and take a House for the Club forthwith', and to draw up rules for the management of the club. At the next meeting, held a week later, a set of rules was approved and the club was designated the Carlton Club. (fn. 2) Before the end of March some five hundred persons had agreed to become members.

The Carlton differed from all previous West End clubs in that it 'was not, and was never intended to be, a mere social centre for gentlemen of the same way of thinking. Politics and political management were dominating considerations from the start; and the Carlton was designed to be a point of union and the centre of organization for the whole party. Within a few years of its foundation the club contained the substantial strength of conservatism in England.' (fn. 3)

The club was temporarily accommodated at Lord Kensington's house at No. 2 Carlton House Terrace, of which the committee took a short lease, and there it remained until the end of 1835. (fn. 4) The club's first permanent house stood on the south side of Pall Mall and the west side of Pall Mall Court, now Carlton Gardens. This building was designed by Sir Robert Smirke and erected in 1833–6. In 1846–8 the club-house was considerably enlarged on the west side, the architect being Sydney Smirke; in 1854–6 the original building was taken down and rebuilt by Sydney Smirke. This building, altered by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1923–4, was destroyed by enemy action in 1940. The club then moved to Arthur's old premises at No. 69 St. James's Street, where it still remains.

In 1829 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests issued particulars of their terms for the grant of a building lease of the site on which the Carlton's first club-house was later erected, the lessee being required to erect not more than three first-rate dwelling-houses. Between 1830 and 1833 there were abortive negotiations with Thomas Lothian of Chester Wharf, Regent's Park. In the latter year W. M. Nurse of 7 Trafalgar Place, Charing Cross, and P. G. Gunnell of Blandford Place, Pall Mall, proposed to erect sets of chambers for the use of members of West End clubs, which at that time did not provide bedrooms. Each set of chambers of the first class was to consist of a sitting-room, bedroom, servant's bedroom and lobby; there was to be no cooking on the premises except for breakfast. This proposal, which would probably have been well supported, was refused by the Commissioners. Nurse then assigned his interest in the site to Sir Alexander Cray Grant, who was acting on behalf of the Carlton Club and informed the Commissioners that he desired to erect 'a first rate Club House under the superintendence of Sir Robert Smirke'. (fn. 5) Sir Alexander Cray Grant (1782–1854) was a Tory member of Parliament who had lost his seat in 1832; from 1826 to 1832 he had been chairman of committees, and he subsequently represented Cambridge from 1841 to 1843. (fn. 6) He was a member of the first committee of the Carlton Club. (fn. 7)

Figure 60:

Carlton Club, Pall Mall, first club-house, 1833–6, ground-floor plan. Re-drawn from a plan by Sir Robert Smirke

Sir Robert Smirke obtained possession of the site in November 1833 and work began immediately. The contractors were Messrs. Bennett and Hunt of Horseferry Road. (fn. 5) The new building was opened for members' use early in 1836. (fn. 8)

This first club-house was a building of irregular outline, measuring some 90 feet east to west, and 96 feet north to south. The plan (fig. 60) was undistinguished, merely a reasonable arrangement of rooms around a central staircase. The ground floor comprised a large morning-room on the north front to Pall Mall, with the entrance hall adjoining on the west; the usual coffee-room of three compartments on the south front, with service rooms on the west; a house dining-room in the middle of the east front; and west of the staircase and linking corridor were cloak-rooms and a light area.

The Pall Mall front appears in the foreground of Thomas Shotter Boys's lithograph of c. 1842, depicting Pall Mall (Plate 55a). It was a 'Grecian' composition, three bays wide, with two lofty and well-defined storeys. Each storey of the wide middle bay contained a three-light window, that on the ground storey projecting to form a shallow bay with narrow return lights. The window above was dressed with a pseudo-portico, distyle in antis, of a fluted Corinthian order with a triangular pediment. The side bays were narrow and projected slightly, and in each the ground-storey opening (a window in the east and the doorway in the west) was flanked by paired Doric pilasters, the window above being dressed with an architrave, frieze and cornice-hood. At first-floor level was a continuous balcony with an iron railing. Each end bay was finished with a full entablature, having an anthemion frieze, whereas the cornice alone was continued across the middle bay. A plain parapet concealed the roof.

The club-house soon proved too small, and in 1842 the club unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Conservative Club's large site in St. James's Street. (fn. 9) In 1844 the club resolved to purchase the leases of the two adjoining houses on the west side, and at a general meeting held on 16 March it was decided to make extensive alterations and additions. Fourteen architects were invited to submit plans, and they were informed that the author of 'the plan which should be most approved' would receive a premium of two hundred pounds if it were not executed, and that the author of the second-best plan would receive one hundred pounds, if the first were adopted. The fifteen architects invited were Charles Barry, Philip Hardwick, C. R. Cockerell, Decimus Burton, A. W. N. Pugin, Edward Blore, Matthew Wyatt and Ambrose Poynter, all of whom declined the invitation; and Sydney Smirke, George Basevi, Messrs. Lee and Bury, William Railton, Anthony Salvin and Thomas Hopper, who accepted. (fn. 10)

The selection committee to which the plans were referred consisted of the Marquis of Salisbury, Henry Hope and Gaily Knight; (fn. 11) the latter had written several works on architecture and was a member of Parliament for most of the period from 1824 until his death in 1846. The committee reported that Salvin's plan for a house in the Elizabethan style, while of great beauty, was for various reasons inadmissible. In a ballot of the whole club Salvin's design nevertheless received the largest number of votes, with Hopper in second place. In this awkward position the two architects were informed in June 1844, 'that the club was not to be considered bound to adopt either of the successful plans, and that the drawings, etc., to which the premiums might be awarded should become unconditionally the property of the club'. (fn. 11)

The designs submitted by Anthony Salvin and Thomas Hopper in this abortive competition of 1844 have survived and are now in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The competitors were required to remodel the existing club-house and incorporate it in a larger building, extending westwards. Salvin designed an Elizabethan Renaissance country house, with a rambling plan and a highly picturesque exterior, the Pall Mall front being three storeys high. The central feature, dressed with twin two-storeyed bay windows and crowned with twin curvilinear gables, was to be flanked by four-storeyed towers crested with obelisks and scrollwork, and at each end was another gabled bay. The entrance was to be below the west tower, through a porch rich with de Vries-like details.

Hopper's plan was fairly straightforward, with a great coffee-room in the new west extension, and a morning-room extending round three sides of the central hall and grand staircase. His exterior design was virtually a reproduction, suitably enlarged, of the Whitehall Banqueting House, with Jones's rustic basement sunk in a front area, and a central portico of three bays projecting from the lower storey.

Although C. R. Cockerell declined the invitation to compete, he did in 1844 and 1845 work on designs for rebuilding the Carlton Club. (fn. 12) Apart from a magnificent proposal for a vestibule and grand staircase, his surviving drawings (Plates 112b, 113) are studies for the Pall Mall front, each and all of them far finer than Salvin's or Hopper's designs, or Sydney Smirke's finished building. The most striking of these designs is, perhaps, the one shown in a vigorous perspective sketch (Plate 112b), where the strongly striated ground-storey has a bow window at each end, and sustains a lofty Corinthian colonnade of seven bays, each containing a richly dressed tabernacle window and a small oblong light above. The columns have plain shafts, their capitals are linked by a background frieze of rich festoons, and the Baroque bracketed entablature is surmounted by an open balustrade with solid dies supporting urns and gesticulating statues. While it is probably true that this and a related design must have been derived from Sydney Smirke's and George Basevi's newly built Conservative Club, Cockerell, with his virtuosic eclecticism, has translated a platitude into splendid rhetoric.

In the summer of 1845 another ballot was held, 'each member being at liberty to place in the balloting-box the name of the architect he would prefer'. Hopper received 57 votes, Salvin 89, Barry 210 (fn. 13) and Messrs. Sydney Smirke and George Basevi 220. (fn. 11) The latter owed their success to the fact that they had recently completed the Conservative Club's house in St. James's Street. There was, however, 'a strong party in the club opposed to building', and they succeeded in postponing the project for another year. (fn. 14) In October 1845 Basevi was killed in a fall from the tower of Ely Cathedral. (fn. 15)

In 1846 the committee decided to retain Sydney Smirke alone (fn. 16) and in July the Commissioners of Woods and Forests approved his designs for a building with a uniform elevation for the whole of the club's Pall Mall frontage (Plate 114). Only the western portion was to be erected immediately, but the completion of the whole (which would involve the demolition of Sir Robert Smirke's building) was to be undertaken within five years. (fn. 17) Sydney Smirke's general design was adopted from Sansovino's Libreria di San Marco in Venice. Contractors' tenders were obtained in September 1846, that of Mr. Grissell for £19,000 for the new western wing only, being accepted. (fn. 16) Frederick Sang was employed to decorate the coffee-room. Work was completed in February 1848. (fn. 18)

The club's building policy thus far had received considerable criticism, much of it well justified. The Builder accused the club of incompetence in its handling of the competition in 1844 and 1845 (fn. 11) and a correspondent of the same periodical deplored the use of Caen stone in the façade and foretold with remarkable accuracy that in the course of twenty years it would 'be swept by the hand of time with the besom of destruction'. (fn. 19) There appears also to have been much ill-feeling amongst the members of the club; the building committee was said to have been secretive in its proceedings, to have ignored members' wishes, and to have been dominated by 'Mr. Hope's Monomania for a Magnificent center Hall and Staircase'. (fn. 20)

The cost of the new west wing exceeded expectations and in 1849 the club obtained the Commissioners' consent to postpone the date for the completion of the façade until midsummer 1856. (fn. 17) Tenders for the rebuilding of the eastern portion of the club-house were obtained in November 1853, that of Mr. Kelk for £32,993 being accepted. During the rebuilding the club occupied Buckingham House, which adjoined the western wing. (fn. 21) In the spring of 1854 a number of members objected to the completion of the building in accordance with Smirke's original design, which provided for the principal entrance to be in the centre of the Pall Mall front. At a general meeting held in April it was resolved by a small majority that the entrance should be shifted to the western extremity of the building, which would involve the destruction of the coffee-room erected in 1846–8. This decision was subsequently pronounced by counsel to have been illegal, and at another general meeting, held on 1 June 1854, it was resolved that the original plans should be adhered to. (fn. 22) Work was not finally completed until May 1856; the carving was done by John Thomas. (fn. 23)

As early as 1864 the Caen stone used in the façade had begun to crumble (fn. 24) and by 1896 £7000 had been spent on repairs to the exterior. (fn. 25) In 1923–4 the whole façade was renewed to the designs of Sir Reginald Blomfield (Plate 115); Trollope and Colls Ltd., were the contractors. (fn. 26) On 14 October 1940 the building received a direct hit from a high-explosive bomb; the club removed to the premises formerly occupied by Arthur's at No. 69 St. James's Street, where it still remains. (fn. 27)

Architectural description

The rebuilding of the club-house in two sections in 1846–8 and 1854–6 must have influenced the layout adopted by Sydney Smirke (fig. 61). The doorway, central in the Pall Mall front, opened to a small entrance hall containing a stairway, rising to the ground-floor level, into the large vestibule, square in plan with each side divided by piers into three bays. The middle bay on the west side opened to the central compartment of the three comprising the coffee-room, which filled the site from north to south.

Figure 61:

Carlton Club, Pall Mall, second club-house, 1846–56, ground-floor plan. Re-drawn from The Builder, 1855

On the east side of the hall, the middle bay opened to the morning-room, an oblong apartment with a small north-west extension. The main staircase projected into the hall and rose through the middle bay of the south side of the hall, with the south-facing writing-room on its east side, and a small waiters' room on the west. The ceiling of the hall was pierced with a large octagonal well, opening to the top-lit upper storey, an arrangement already used with great success in the Conservative Club by the same architect. This upper storey of the hall gave direct access to the east and south libraries (above the morning-room and writing-room), the card-room (over the entrance hall), and the house dining-room and billiard-room (above the north and south compartments of the coffee-room).

The exterior design (Plate 114) was a coarsened adaptation of the Libreria di San Marco, Smirke taking the repeated motif of Sansovino's extremely long building—superimposed arcades fronted with engaged colonnades, Doric below Ionic—and applying it to a building nine bays wide, east to west, and seven bays deep. The ground storey, an open loggia in the original, was filled with a rusticated arcade, the arches framing the windows and doorway. Smirke also departed from his model (not in his original design reproduced on Plate 114b, but in the execution) by using coupled columns to form a central feature of three bays, with a projecting porch of one bay. Minor differences in detail were the omission of carved metopes from the Doric entablature, the use of vase-shaped balusters in the first-floor window balconies, the reduction in depth of the first-floor window embrasures, and the substitution of a straight skyline for Sansovino's profusion of statues and obelisks. Caen stone, which proved a most unhappy choice, was generally used for the exterior, with polished shafts of red Peterhead granite for the two colonnades, engaged columns on the north and east elevations, and pilasters on the south, where the central feature was surmounted by a Corinthian attic storey of three arcaded bays, flanked by scrolled consoles and crowned with vases.

A source of constant trouble to the building committee, and a notable example of unpleasing decay, Smirke's exterior survived until 1923–4, when it was entirely recased with Portland stone to the designs of Sir Reginald Blomfield, who replaced Smirke-Sansovino with his own curious interpretation of Sanmichele's architecture (Plate 115). The basic lines of Smirke's composition were necessarily retained, but the ground storey was given a face of plain masonry in which the arch voussoirs and horizontal joints were chamfered, the round-headed windows having splayed concave reveals and disproportionately large keystones. The upper storey was dressed with a Doric order of three-quarter columns between the arcaded bays, and heavy rustic piers at the angles and breaks in the fronts, which were finished with a balustrade broken by a curiously shaped tablet in the centre of the Pall Mall elevation.

There is little to be written about the interior, which had undergone several changes by the time the building was destroyed. The vestibule, or central hall, was probably the most elaborately decorated feature, for the employment there of Frederick Sang suggests that it had much in common with the parallel feature in the Conservative Club, which Sang had already provided with Raphaelesque decorations. The coffee-room, said to have been Sydney Smirke's finest interior, was divided into compartments by screens of widely spaced Corinthian columns in pairs with pilasterresponds against the walls, all having green-marbled scagliola shafts. The middle compartment was originally lit through a domed skylight, but by 1914 this appears to have been replaced by a flat ceiling above a deep cove, and the room had been decorated with ornamental motifs derived from Jones's great rooms at Wilton. (fn. 28)

The ruins of the club-house were demolished and the present building (not yet named but now known as 'No. 100 Pall Mall') was erected in 1958–9. The exterior was designed by Donald H. McMorran, and the architect for the building as a whole was Armstrong Smith. (fn. 29)


  • 1. Norman Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel, 1953, pp. 395–7; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press, c. 1780–1850, 1949, pp. 336–7.
  • 2. Sir Charles Petrie, The Carlton Club, 1955, p. 39.
  • 3. Gash, op. cit., pp. 397–8.
  • 4. Petrie, op. cit., p. 41.
  • 5. C.E.O., file 12204.
  • 6. D.N.B.
  • 7. Petrie, op. cit., p. 215.
  • 8. Ibid., p. 42.
  • 9. Conservative Club minutes (now in possession of the Bath Club), 14, 21 April 1842.
  • 10. The Builder, 4 May 1844, p. 233; 11 May 1844, p. 245; 31 May 1845, p. 269.
  • 11. Ibid., 31 May 1845, p. 269.
  • 12. Some of his designs are in the R.I.B.A. Library, and others in the London Museum.
  • 13. The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, vol. viii, 1845, p. 279.
  • 14. The Builder, 26 July 1845, p. 359.
  • 15. Colvin.
  • 16. The Builder, 8 May 1847, pp. 218–19.
  • 17. C.E.O., file 12205.
  • 18. The Builder, 12 Feb. 1848, p. 73.
  • 19. Ibid., 23 Oct. 1847, p. 502.
  • 20. L.C.C.R.O., Stowe MSS., box 5.
  • 21. The Builder, 5 Nov. 1853, pp. 684–5.
  • 22. Ibid., 22 April 1854, p. 209; 27 May 1854, p. 278; 10 June 1854, p. 311.
  • 23. Ibid., 16 June 1855, pp. 282–3; 14 July 1855, pp. 330–1; C.E.O., file 12205.
  • 24. The Builder, 12 Nov. 1864, p. 823.
  • 25. The Times, 2 March 1896.
  • 26. The Builder, 18 April 1924, p. 628.
  • 27. Petrie, op. cit., pp. 195, 200.
  • 28. The Architectural Review, July-Dec. 1914, pp. 15–17.
  • 29. The Times, 2 May 1958.