|Reference code(s)||: GB 0074 LMA/4452|
|Held at||: London Metropolitan Archives - click here to see details of the physical location of collection|
|Full title||: ORIENTAL CLUB|
|Level of description||: Collection|
|Extent||: 9.17 linear metres|
|Name of creator(s)||: Oriental Club | members' club|
On 17 February 1824 the founding members of the Oriental Club met for the first time at the Royal Asiatic Society with the purpose of drawing up a prospectus for the creation of a club which would meet their specific needs. Their rational for doing so was recorded in the prospectus:
"The British Empire in the East is now so extensive, and the persons connected with it so numerous, that the establishment of an institution where they may meet on a footing of social intercourse seems particularly desirable".
The club was designed to attract persons who had resided or travelled in the East. Membership was initially almost exclusively reserved for servants of the East India Company, both civil and military, who, finding themselves in London after service abroad, sought the company of like minded gentlemen with whom they could share experiences of their travels.
In many respects the club was also a necessity. Many Company men found it difficult to gain membership to the numerous gentlemen's clubs in nineteenth century London. This was partly a reflection of London society's general prejudice towards returning Company men; but it was also a consequence of the fact that Company soldiers were often not eligible for membership at many of the clubs due to the fact that they were forced to relinquish their rank on returning from service in India (unlike King's officers serving abroad).
On 24 February 1824 the Oriental Club was officially formed. It was resolved to elect a committee and to offer the presidency of the club to the Duke of Wellington. Founding members included Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833 first chairman), Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768-1838), Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm (1782-1851), Major James Rivett Carnac (1785-1846), Major Robert Haldane, Sir George Staunton, Thomas Snodgrass, William Bentinck, John Elphinstone (1779-1859), Charles William Wynn, and Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood.
Legend has it that the Duke of Wellington's advice to John Malcolm on setting up the Oriental was: 'Have your own club. Own your own property'. Whether or not this is true, the founding members of the Oriental were certainly keen to find a suitable property they could buy, deciding to rent a building at 16 Lower Grosvenor Street only until a suitable property became available for purchase.
On 2 March 1826 the committee offered £14,000 to JD Alexander for the freehold to his house at 18 Hanover Square, which included the use of a stable yard held under lease to City of London. Benjamin Wyatt was appointed architect charged with turning the townhouse into a clubhouse. He opted to pull down the existing house and build another at a cost of £17,000. The purchase of the Hanover Square property was financed partly by loans raised from members on the security of any property the Oriental would eventually own, with Some 100 signatories agreeing to loan £160 each in 1825. The new clubhouse was ready in 1828 and the Oriental remained there until 30 November 1961.
By 1850s the Oriental Club was well established. In 1851 and 1854 a possible amalgamation with the new East India United Services Club was suggested but on both occasions the two clubs were unable to agree on terms. In 1854, however, it was agreed that the Alfred Club, founded in 1808 in Albemarle Street, should merge with the Oriental and thereafter the club admitted Alfred members.
The amalgamation necessitated changes in membership qualifications as it brought members to the club who had no overseas connections. This trend was extended beyond Alfred members in the 1870s. Despite this, however, the identity of the club always remained centred on the experiences of the majority of its members in the East. Membership rules were further relaxed with regard to honorary members. Non-British subjects could be granted honorary member status from 1831. Throughout the nineteenth century they included the likes of Oman Effendi (1831), The Prince of Oudh (1839), Dwarkanath Tagore and Mohun Lal (1842), HH Maharajah Duleep Singh, son of Ranjit Singh, ruler of Punjab (1854), Sir Cursetjee Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy (1860), HE Nazim Bey, Prime Minister of Turkey (1862), and Nawab Nazim of Bengal (1869).
The question of whether to admit women to the club was one repeatedly posed throughout the twentieth century. Initially women were tolerated only as guests, but the 1950s saw a change in policy. Wives and daughters of members were offered associate membership in an attempt to reverse the trend of falling subscriptions, and by 1953 some 270 had joined.
By the late 1950s the Oriental was again in financial difficulty. The club was fast outgrowing the clubhouse at Hanover Square and only very expensive building work could hope to convert it to the club's changing needs. At the same time income from subscriptions began to fall in the second half of the decade and the future of the Oriental suddenly seemed unsure.
The club was saved due to the work of Sir Arthur Bruce, chairman, and Sir Aynsley Bridgland, a property magnate. They both looked into the possibility of allowing a property developer to exploit the land at Hanover Square and came to the conclusion that the value of land in central London had risen to such an extent that the freehold to the Hanover Square site might provide the club with enough income to resurrect its finances.
It was decided that the club should not sell the freehold but rather that it should move to new premises and then develop the Hanover Square site itself. The plan required perfect co-ordination. The head lease at Hanover Square was taken on by the Legal and General Assurance Society for a building to be erected on site, and a sub-tenant was found in the Courtauld Group to occupy the building. Meanwhile an alternative clubhouse was found in the splendid Stratford House. By raising the cash to purchase the house through a fixed mortgage, the Club was then able to use the rent from the Hanover Square site both to repay the mortgage and generate a healthy excess. Thanks to this shrewd economic foresight, the club was able to guarantee its future, and by 1974, the 150th anniversary of the club, the Oriental was one of the most secure clubs in London.
Scope and content/abstract:
Records of the Oriental Club charting the development of the club from its foundation in 1824 through to the present day; most areas of the club's history are well documented.
A particularly full set of minute books are held 1824-1978 for Annual General Meetings, the meetings of Trustees, the Committee of Management, the House Committee and various sub-committees. These volumes record both the major developments in club policy as well as the more routine occurrences and issues which affected the club. Together they give a rounded picture of club life.
Membership records are held 1825-2002 as are staff records 1858-1968. Some closure periods apply to both of these series and you are advised to consult the list in full.
For a wideranging series of records outlining the many different facets of club life, the secretary's papers are useful. Although the collection does not contain a complete set of secretary's correspondence, material held includes administrative files on a wide range of issues, letters dealing with complaints, files arranging club events, notices to members and staff, letters regarding honorary membership, and portrait subscription papers
Records relating to financial matters and club property are also held. Material includes deeds, plans and photographs, as well as a number of chairman's files relating to the financial policies used to save the club in the 1950s, to the purchase of Stratford House and to the leasing of the Hanover Square site.
A number of ephemeral items are also held. These include scrapbooks recording the history of the club, photographs, historical documents and printed material. Most noteworthy are a series of nineteenth century photographs of India and Japan and an important contemporary account of the battle with the Rohillas in 1790s, complete with a coloured drawing depicting the deployment of forces on the battlefield.
Access & Use
Language/scripts of material:
System of arrangement:
The collection is arranged into the following series:
LMA/4452/01 COMMITTEES AND MEETINGS;
LMA/4452/08 EPHEMERA, PHOTOGRAPHS AND PRINTED MATERIAL.
Conditions governing access:
Records of members less than 65 years old are subject to a 100 year closure period. Records containing personal information may be subject to closure periods.
Conditions governing reproduction:
Copyright rests with the Oriental Club, London.
Please see online catalogues at: http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm
Immediate source of acquisition:
Deposited in July 2003.
Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.
Date(s) of descriptions:
June to August 2010.
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