How does the architecture of the reform club suit its purpose?

In the UK as well as in the rest of Europe, the turn of the 19th century brought in a wave of changes whether they be technological, political or, consequently, social.

Calling the beginning of a technological revolution, during September of 1825, the world’s first steam locomotive passenger service began. It ran in the North East between the towns of Darlington and Stockton. This event marked the beginning of the ‘Railway Age’ leading to a faster and more economical means of transport and communication, consequently facilitating the popularization of the Grand Tour for architects of the 19th century.

From a political point of view in the UK, in January of 1820, George III passed and was succeeded by George IV who had already served as prince regent since his father had been declared insane. This new king led an unpopular, extravagant lifestyle and a scandalous private life. However, he was very passionate about the arts and his residences specifically Brighton Pavilion and Carlton House with which he set new standards of architectural taste.

In June 1830, George IV passed and was succeeded by his brother William IV whose reign was marked by the ‘Reform Crisis’, a political squabble over reform of representation in the parliament, counting matters such as the expansion of the franchise and the reshaping of electoral boundaries.

During October of 1831, riots broke out over the parliamentary Reform Bill. The Whig Party introduced said bill, which was short after rejected by the House of Lords. Violent riots exploded in Derby, Bristol, Nottingham and several smaller towns; significant symbolical buildings such as the Council House of Bristol and Nottingham Castle were attacked.

As a consequence, on the 4th of June 1832, the third version of the Reform Bill was finally accredited by the House of Lords and William IV.

The accumulation of these events combined with the ideas of the Enlightenment lead to the founding of new ideas which were reflected in the country’s architecture.

Renaissance architecture, which inspired the style of the Reform Club, is the reflection of  the ‘rebirth’ of Classical culture, which in the 15th century initiated in Florence and replaced the medieval Gothic style spreading throughout Europe. The round arch and column, the dome and the tunnel vault were part of the ancient roman specificities that were used again. The order became, once again, the basic design element.

Whilst liberal ideas, ideals and political activities were growing in the UK, The Reform Club was founded after the Great Reform Act of 1832. The Whigs and Radicals, after having successfully passed the Reform Bill (1832) needed a ‘hub’, a headquarter, to convene and take part in their political activities.

At 104 Pall Mall, the Reform club is located at an angle next to the Travellers club which was designed by the same architect. The site for these two buildings and the Athenaeum Club next to them used to house Carlton House which was designed for the Prince Regent to live in, in 1828. After the demolition of this house, the three clubs listed above were constructed and the gardens were renovated.

An architectural competition was launched to create a new building for the Reform Club to be set at in 1837. Charles Barry was chosen to design the new headquarters for the club after having designed the building hosting the Traveller’s Club (106 Pall Mall) which he was part of. Architecturally similar to an Italian Palazzo, the building was completed in 1841 and was immediately recognised as a neo-classical masterpiece.

The budget allocated to the designing and construction of this building has been an overly discussed matter. In 1840, the cost of the house was estimated at £45 000 at least. Eight months later, it was said the budget would not exceed £80 000. Over a year after the construction of the building, the total costs were estimated to land around £82,000. Indeed, the final budget for the Reform club consequently exceeded its original estimates. This very large increase may be allocated to the detailing and quality of the work put into the elaborate fittings and decorations.

It should be mentioned that Sir Charles Barry’s claim for professional fees were of £78,650 which seemed just, compared to the value of the property in 1843 which was of £93,568, however, the architect merely received less than 5% of his claim.

Sir Charles Barry, member of the Traveler’s Club was part of a new generation of architects. There was quite suddenly a change in the social and intellectual status of the designers: it was not conceivable for someone of title, someone who was part of high society to have their building be designed by a simple carpenter anymore, they had to hire a properly educated architect.

The idea of the Grand Tour had helped create this new generation of architects. As they traveled through Europe to see the classical Greek or Roman architecture, they developed their sketching and designing skills as well as broadening their knowledge on the subject.

Sir Charles Barry himself completed his Grand Tour in 1819 , he traveled through Paris, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt to finally return to Italy. He was particularly stunned by the Parthenon in Athens which to him was “the finest model of grandeur, beauty and symmetry” (Barry and Adkins 1986). The soon-to-be architect kept a diary of his sketches, thoughts and impressions of this voyage which are itemized in the “Personal and historical extracts from the travel diaries (1817-1820) of Sir Charles Barry” by Barry, C. and Adkins, K.

With the Reform Club, Sir Charles Barry had just completed his third ‘High Renaissance’ building, which would from then on be considered his masterpiece in that style.

The committee had given him a more substantial budget and a much larger site to comply with their brief for this clubhouse which demanded ‘that the structure should surpass all others in size and magnificence’ and ‘should combine the various attractions of other institutions of the class’ (Marcus Whiffen, 3 Nov. 1950).

He was able to create an architype for the great political clubhouse, often rivaled but never matched.


Reform Club, Pall Mall

North elevation, executed design, published 1840. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

In Sir Charles Barry’s competition plans, which are quite similar to the ones of the Traveler’s Club, the building is organized around an open courtyard which is surrounded by wide corridors at the east, south and west and a large entrance hall at the north side, where the main entrance on Pall Mall is. The west side of the building is divided into two compartments, and the south into three, whilst you will find less important rooms next to the staircase on the east side. A similar arrangement will be found on the first floor.

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Ground-floor plan, executed design, published 1840. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Longitudinal section looking south, executed design, published 1840. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

In the final design , the courtyard became a double height atrium topped by a glass roof made to adapt to London weather and to diffuse and refract the light in every direction.  The upper gallery is supported by an Ionic colonnade from which rises a corresponding range of Corinthian columns. From one gallery to the other, a stunning tunnel-vault covers the staircase, in Italian style, which rises out of the middle bay of the eastern colonnade.


Reform Club, Pall Mall

Saloon, first-floor gallery, looking south-east, in 1841. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 19

The original large entrance hall was finally turned into a small vestibule, with a porter’s lobby and a waiting room at each side, and a few steps leading to the north colonnade of the atrium.

South of the covered courtyard, facing the garden at the back, is the Coffee Room (name of origin for the restaurant) divided in three compartments. On the first floor, right above is the drawing room of the same shape and size. At the west, is the morning room with the recess at its south end. Right above, is the library, of the same shape and size. Facing north, on the ground floor, a private dining room is placed east of the vestibule. On the floor above, the private drawing room, committee room and reading room can be found. The latter contiguous to the library. At the east, with the main staircase are a card room, cloak rooms and lavatories, all lit from the area contiguous to the Travelers’ Club.

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Library. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Coffee-room. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Morning-room. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)


Reform Club, Pall Mall

Saloon looking south. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960

In addition to being the architect of the Reform Club, Sir Charles Barry was responsible for the designing of most of the details of the interior design of the clubhouse. However, he worked in partnership with several artists from which he commissioned details for the interior of the clubhouse. In autumn 1840, John Henning submitted the design for the Panathenaic bas-reliefs over the bookcases for the library (now the smoking room) and Barry provided designs for candelabras, chandeliers, clocks, gas fittings and grates.

The commissioning of the china plates that were to be hung at the grates in the drawing room caused some disputes between the committee and the architect, Sir Charles Barry. In November Messrs, Garrett and Copeland’s designs for these were approved by the committee without consulting the architect; they were to contain representations of the Houses of parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey surrounding the initials R.C. and the royal motto, or views of Dublin and Edinburgh. At the next committee meeting, Barry tenaciously contested these designs “I cannot refrain from deprecating such a choice, the offspring of a low Dutch taste, wholly at variance with the style of the new building.”(Sir Charles Barry, 1840) which showed the dedication of the architect even to the slightest details.

Some of the other artists and contractors who participated in the making of the new club house are: Taprell Holland and son for the furniture in the coffee room, Apsley Pellatt for the skylight over the atrium, Messrs Rutledge and Keene for the roof tiles, Messrs Wyatt for scagliola work and, Henry Pether and Alfred Singer of Vauxhall who, from designs based on the ornamentations on Etruscan vases by Barry, created the mosaic pavement in the atrium. For the planning of the kitchens, the architect was assisted by Alexis Soyer, the Reform Club’s chef from 1837 to 1850.

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Kitchen in 1841. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

Although the interior of the palazzo had been given subsequent attention to detailing for its copious decorations, the exterior of it was designed to appear more austere.

The Reform Club’s north, south and west facades are composed of two lofty stories, and an attic which slightly elevates the façade. A beautiful cornicione separates it from the somewhat sloped roof. All three of these are of smooth faced ashlar, faced with Portland stone.

Each storey is constrained by chamfered quoins, delineated by a pedestal course, and completed with an abridged entablature.

Reform Club, Pall Mall, 1838–41: view from north-west

(Sir) Charles Barry, architect. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

The north and south facades have nine evenly spaced windows for the attic and the first floor and eight windows from the ground floor, separated in half by the doorway. The west front has eight windows for each storey, four similar ones in the middle and a pair split on either side.

All ground floor windows are consistently furnished, each with a cornice hood, plain narrow jambs and a molded and eared architrave. The doorcase, otherwise quite similar to the windows’ furnishing present long panels carved with husk ornaments. Carved with formalized oak leaves, a pulvino frieze is present above the head of the architrave. The door, with two leaves, six panels, is positioned below an oblong fanlight, in a heavily ornamented frame. The key-fretted frieze, on the ground storey entablature, is broken by the consoles supporting the open balustrade balconies.

Ionic tabernacle frames dress the first floor windows with pedimented entablatures (triangular on the north front, segmental on the south), diagonally voluted capitals and fluted three quarter columns.

The pair of windows at each side of the west elevation have triangular pediments whereas the middle ones are segmental.

The stringcourse distinguishing the first storey from the attic includes a narrow frieze and a simply molded cornice.

Finally, the gentle slope of the roof helps adumbrate the gutter and tall chimneys.

Reform Club, Pall Mall

Details of exterior, executed design, published 1840. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960)

“The suggestion that Barry based his design for the exterior on that of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, by Sangallo and Michelangelo, was made by his son and biographer, Alfred Barry, but comparison of the two buildings will soon show that the resemblance is superficial. The design of the Reform elevations evolves quite naturally from that of the Travellers’ Club.” (« Https://Www.British-History.Ac.Uk » 2019)

 Front Elevation, Palazzo Farnese

(BONAPARTE and Latium 2019)

Front Elevation, Palazzo Strozzi

(« Palazzo Strozzi | Florence Museum Guide » 2019)

The Travellers Club, Front Elevation

(« The Travellers Club/Architecture » 2019)

After having taken a look at the elevations of the Palazzo Farnese (1517, Rome) and the Palazzo Strozzi (Florence, 1489), we may notice that they both feature elevations with rows of equally spaced framed windows on three storeys. The ground floor’s window frames are less decorated than the ones of the first and second floors. Sir Charles Barry applied this to the elevations of the Travellers Club as well as the ones of the Reform Club.

The Travellers Club’s front elevation differentiates itself from the elevations of the Palazzo Farnese of Rome and the Palazzo Strozzi of Florence as well as the Reform Club’s as its front door is placed at the east of the ground floor’s row of windows instead of being placed at the middle of the facade.

The rectangular windows of the first and second floors of the Palazzo Farnese have either rounded or pointed pediments. Moreover, the Pall Mall elevation of the Traveler’s Club shows only windows with pointed pediments. As for the Reform Club, the windows on the north front have triangular pediments whilst the ones of the south elevation have segmental pediments. The windows of the west elevation have triangular and segmental pediments.

The Travellers club, the Palazzo Farnese and the Reform Club are framed by quoins. All four buildings’ elevations are crowned with frieze bands and projecting cornices.

All four palazzi are arranged around courtyards. However, the courtyards of the Traveler’s and Reform clubs are much smaller and serve a different purpose as they are not accessible to visitors and have for sole purpose to bring air and light into the inner rooms. The Reform Club’s courtyard hence becoming more of an atrium than a courtyard.


In conclusion, after having understood the historical and architectural context and the true purpose of the Reform Club, it seems inevitable that a cultured man with such experience as Sir Charles Barry would be chosen to undertake the task and that he would design the clubhouse in the way he did. Indeed, by designing a palazzo with such subtle grace on the facades and such rich ornamentations on the inside, by paying such attention to detailing, he was able to create an architype for the great political clubhouse, which was often rivaled but never matched.

Bibliography & Sources:

 « BBC – History : British History Timeline ». 2019. Co.Uk.

Barry, Charles, and Kathleen Adkins. 1986. Personal And Historical Extracts From The Travel Diaries (1817-1820) Of Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860). [Milford]: [Benacre, Milford, Godalming, Surrey].

BONAPARTE, Visites, and Visites Latium. 2019. « Inventer Rome – Visiter Le Palais Farnèse ». Com.

« Encyclopedia Britannica ». 2019. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Fazio, Michael, Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse. 2013. A World History Of Architecture. 3rd ed. London: Liz Faber.

« Firenze, I Palazzi Del Rinascimento ». 2019. It.

« Https://Www.British-History.Ac.Uk ». 2019. British History Online.

« Palazzo Strozzi | Florence Museum Guide ». 2019. Florence.

« Pall Mall, South Side, Existing Buildings: The Reform Club | British History Online ». 2019. British-History.Ac.Uk.

« Reform Club Virtual Tour By Spherical Images ». 2019. Com.

Reform Club building committee minutes, 23 Jan., 10 April, 1 May 1839; 15 June 1840

Summerson, John Newenham. 2011. The Classical Language Of Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Marcus Whiffen, ‘The Reform Club’, in Country Life, 3 Nov. 1950, pp. 1498–9.

Universalis‎, Encyclopædia. 2019. « BARRY Sir CHARLES ». Encyclopædia Universalis.

Watkin, David. 1979. English Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Watkin, David. 2015. A History Of Western Architecture. 6th ed. London: Laurence King Publishing., Bob. 2019. « Reform Club ». Reformclub.Com.

Barry, C., Leeds, W. H., Hewitt and Le Keux, J. Studies and examples of the modern school of English architecture. London: John Weale, 1839.

Barry, C. and Adkins, K. Personal and historical extracts from the travel diaries (1817-1820) of Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860). Milford, 1986.

Port, M. H. Barry, Sir Charles (1795–1860), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004

« Pall Mall, South Side, Existing Buildings: The Reform Club, » in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1960), 408-415