Arthur Wellesley was 5ft 8".
He was also the 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), Soldier, Statesman and one of the leading figures in 19th Century Britain. A key Commander who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and served twice as British Prime Minister.
At his request, The Athenaeum Club were asked (obliged/ordered) to place a two kerbstone block near its entrance to allow The Duke a more dignified and elegant mount and dismount from his horse when visiting the club. Almost 200 years on, the block remains, though goes unnoticed by tourists and even the clubs' members.
I have been walked here past for decades. Only by chance did I notice it when tying my boot laces. This side of Waterloo Place around the Edward VII Memorial Statue is at times cordoned off by legacy news agencies.
Broadcasting trucks and mobile power generators will be stationed here for live events when Heads of State (President Obama/Trump) make "official" visits to the Palace for Tea with Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
During the times of the regency, the aristocratic and noble classes would regularly visit Club Land along Pall Mall. The Travellers, The Reform, and The Royal Automobile. Nearby on St James's Street, the distinguished Brooks and White's Clubs are "as high-brow" as you can get with private members clubs.
In the 19th century many politicians would finish their day here, taking the short walk from Parliament, along the corridors of power (Whitehall), past Churchill War Rooms and through St James's Park.
Halfway between The Athenaeum and Buckingham Palace is Clarence House, the official residence of the current Prince of Wales Charles and his wife Camilla. You can see in the aerial map just how important it was for the influential to be in and around The Parish of St James's.
Carlton House of Pall Mall
The horse block lays on the former grounds of Carlton House, the former official London residence of the Prince of Wales before he left in 1820 to prepare for his accession to the throne as George IV.
Carlton House, is marked out clearly in a 1817 plan of Westminster – between St James's Park and Pall Mall. The Royal Park had not opened to the general public until new designs were put in place along with the demolition of Carlton House.
Its marble mantelpieces, friezes, and columns were transferred to Buckingham Palace, marked Queen's Palace. Master Architect John Nash was commissioned to create a new building on the site of the former Carlton House. Its courtyard would became home to (the now defunct) United Service Club.
The United Service Club
A certain Ian Fleming was a regular visitor during wartime of the USC while serving in the Naval Intelligence Division as Lieutenant Commander. It is said that he regularly took lunch in the dining room.
Institute of Directors
In 1978, residence was taken over by The Institute of Directors (IoD) and the USC was no more. More recently, a scene from the movie The Dark Knight and the TV drama Downton Abbey was shot in Café Duke inside the building.
Nash's apprentice, Decimus Burton, was only 24 at the time when commissioned to design the next door building which would eventually become home to The Athenaeum Club. Nash was famed for his Roman based architectural designs. Decimus Burton, in contrast, Greek. Both situated on Pall Mall, either side of Waterloo Place.
The club opened on May 23 1824 when John Wilson Croker, who had long entertained the idea of a club for artists, authors and men of letters. Elected on the basis of their achievements, rather than their background or political affiliation.
Bishops and judges were admitted. Scientist Michael Faraday was appointed Temporary Secretary. He didn't last long, being far too busy establishing the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. But he remained a member.
The first committee of the clubs founders were held in the rooms of the Royal Society, which were then at Somerset House. Today the Royal Society resides on Carlton Terrace Gardens, behind the Athenaeum's pleasure garden.
The Club was originally called The Society, a name still found on some the clubs’ plates. The committee chose the club’s first home – yards away on 12 Waterloo Place. Which is behind the red phone box in one of The Snelling family vacation photos.
The aerial view shows the red phone box bottom centre and its close proximity to its present day home across from Pall Mall.
The Athenaeum Moves to Pall Mall
In 1826 the club contemplated building on the east side of what later became Trafalgar Square, but as Carlton House was in process of demolition the site on part of its former courtyard, a corner house was offered by the Crown's Estate.
Its committee agreed to the short move across Pall Mall, opening in its present home in 1830. 80 members soon became 1,000. An entrance fee of ten guineas (£10.50) and an annual subscription of £5 was agreed. The Athenaeum Club was then chosen as its new title and the club flourished.
It was and still is one of the country’s most famous gentlemen’s clubs in the land. Past members include some of the most powerful men from the British establishment. Charles Dickens and Sir Charles Darwin were elected in by ballot in 1838.
Other members include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Winston Churchill and Cecil Rhodes – though none had kerbstones put outside for them. The above photograph taken in 1899 has a car parked hiding the Duke's horse block.
However, you're able to see The Duke's horse block by zooming into The Graphic's centenary photograph taken facing Piccadilly Circus in 1924.
The Snelling's family adventure included a walking tour across St James's, which took in visits to the clubs, Jermyn St and the Royal Park.
Their photo was taken facing Pall Mall. As you can see behind the Christmas Tree, the Clubs understated exteriors have been kept in fine condition for almost two centuries.
The Athenaeum's Regency Interior
The Club warrants a separate post by itself, but I had to add a page from the Sphere Magazine from 1945, which displays some of the interior and famous library.
Recent Athenaeum Club Members
More recent members include Sir Roger Bannister, a Neurologist, but most famous for the first athlete to break the 4 minute mile, documented in the motion picture Chariots of Fire.
Two notable current members, the legendary Sir Michael Palin from Monty Python and Professor Michael Wheeler speak briefly of the Club's history, the Chief's of MI5 & MI6 and three of the Cambridge Five Cold War spy ring. Fascinating conversation.
Wheeler's book: The Athenaeum 'More Than Just Another London Club' will be worth a read as I hunt down several members to sponsor me and then join the 16 year waiting list...
For those interested, Aspley House by Wellington Arch and Park Lane in Mayfair is the London family residence of the Duke of Wellington. The current Duke still lives here. The Belgravia Walking Tour includes tickets to the stately home, a personalised shopping and walking tour, lunch at Harry's Dolce Vita, afternoon cocktails and a 3 course fine dining experience at The Goring's Michelin-starred restaurant.
Secrets in St James's
For Beatles fans, you may want to head to nearby Mason's Yard, in St James's fine art district. This is "officially" where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono.
Those wishing to end the walking tour in style, I recommend trying James Bond's Vesper Martini at Duke's Bar, just north of St James's Palace. Duke's is the bar Ian Fleming first ordered his famous cocktail after concocting his new creation.
The Duke of Wellington's Horse Block is part of the St James's Walking Tour Experience
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