The Club

Any club has three principal ingredients: its members, its staff, and its building. We very much hope you'll enjoy meeting our friendly members and our wonderful staff; the open-mindedness of the club is legendary, whether as one of the only Victorian London clubs to admit members of all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds from the very first day of its launch; as the first "gentlemen's club" to admit women as full members on an equal footing; or (most recently) as the first (and so far, the only) club to recognise all couples - whether married or unmarried, and regardless of sexual orientation - in its membership concessions.

Our building is a particularly unique asset. When the club was launched in 1882, it took up temporary accommodation on Trafalgar Square while it launched a design competition. The winner was noted Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse - best known for London's Natural History Museum and Manchester's Town Hall - who created a masterpiece of design, blending old and new. The challenges for Waterhouse were considerable: the club occupies an oddly-shaped plot of land, an asymmetrical triangle. Waterhouse used a wide range of innovative geometrical patterns across the rooms, all revolving around an oval staircase, to conceal just how unusual the club's shape is.

Waterhouse embraced cutting-edge modern technology in the new clubhouse. Earlier clubhouses had trialled the introduction of gaslight, telegraph wires, and freshly-printed newspapers dispatched from all parts of the country by steam train. The National Liberal Club contained London's first ever lift, and was London's first building to be fitted with electrical lighting throughout.

Waterhouse's building combines Italianate and French Classical Revival elements, along with all the usual amenities of a traditional London club house, but with strong British regional and provincial influences in many of the design elements. Waterhouse didn't just design the building: many of the fixtures and fittings, right down to the fireplaces and the dining room chairs, were all original Waterhouse creations designed specifically for the club.

The club's founders declared that it should be "a home for democracy, void of the class distinction associated with the Devonshire and Reform Clubs" which then dominated Liberal clubs, and it was built on a massively ambitious scale: at the time of its launch, it was the largest London clubhouse ever built. As a relatively 'late' London club, it consequently represents the 'high noon' of Victorian design at its most elaborate.

The club's design flaunted the provincial identity of its founder members, with distinctive Doultonware pottery throughout, particularly in the conspicuous brown tiles found around the club, which give it a uniquely homely, warm feel - particularly late in the evening, by the light of the open fires found across the building. The tiles have, however, occasionally left the club open to ridicule. In the 1910s, the Conservative politician F.E. Smith took to regularly availing himself of the club lavatories on his walk from his Temple chambers to the House of Commons, and when asked by a porter "Excuse me sir, are you a member of this club?", he replied, "Good God, you mean it's a club as well?"