Open House Festival

National Liberal Club


Alfred Waterhouse, 1886

Whitehall Place, SW1A 2HE

An impressive Victorian neo-Classical building overlooking the Embankment of the river Thames. It is the second-largest clubhouse ever built, the first London building to incorporate a lift and to be entirely lit by electric lighting.

Getting there




Charing Cross, Waterloo





The club's impressive neo-Gothic building over the Embankment of the river Thames is the second-largest clubhouse ever built. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it was not completed until 1887. Its facilities include a dining room, a bar, function rooms, a billiards room, a smoking room, and a library, as well as an outdoor riverside terrace overlooking the London Eye.

Founded in 1882 by William Ewart Gladstone, the National Liberal Club exists to provide the very best club facilities for relaxing and entertaining in the heart of London, for members whose interests vary from liberal politics to the liberal arts.

The club remains completely independent of any party, but as the name implies, continues to be closely identified with the Liberal tradition, and Liberals worldwide. The NLC's liberal heritage meant that it was conceived as a club that should be able to outshine any of the more established aristocratic clubs of London; but for membership to remain much more accessible than other clubs. It was one of London's first major gentlemen's clubs to admit women as full members; and from its launch in the 1880s it was unusual in embracing a diverse range of members of many different ethnic, social and religious backgrounds.

Overlooking the Thames, with "the most splendid terrace in London", the club is within easy reach of Whitehall, the West End, the City and Theatreland and is also conveniently situated for underground and mainline stations which are close by. Members also enjoy access to an extensive worldwide network of over 150 hand-picked reciprocal clubs in over 30 different countries.

Over the years, members have included H.H Asquith, Charles Bradlaugh, Rupert Brooke, G.K. Chesterton, Winston Churchill, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Henry George, Anthony Hope, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, David Lloyd George, Ramsay Macdonald, Dadabhai Naoroji, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, Dylan Thomas, H.G. Wells and Leonard Woolf.


Designed by leading Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse in a neo-Gothic style similar to his Natural History Museum, the clubhouse was constructed at a cost of some £165,950; a substantial sum in 1884, worth a little over £15 billion in 2014. An earlier design by architect John Carr was rejected by members. The NLC was described by Munsey's Magazine in 1902 as possessing, "The most imposing clubhouse in the British metropolis", and at the time of its construction, it was the largest clubhouse ever built; only the subsequent Royal Automobile Club building from 1910 was larger.

The NLC's building once hosted its own branch of the Post Office, something which the Royal Automobile Club still does. Waterhouse's design blended French, Gothic and Italianate elements, with heavy use of Victorian Leeds Burmantofts Pottery tilework manufactured by Wilcox and Co. The clubhouse is built around load-bearing steelwork concealed throughout the structure, including steel columns inside the tiled pillars found throughout the club. (It was this resilient structure which enabled the building to survive a direct hit in the Blitz.) Waterhouse's work extended to designing the club's furnishings, down to the Dining Room chairs.

It was the first London building to incorporate a lift, and the first to be entirely lit throughout by electric lighting. To provide its electricity, the Whitehall Supply Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1887, being based underneath the club's raised terrace. By the time the supply opened in 1888, it had been bought by the expanding Metropolitan Electricity Supply Co. NLC members were so enamoured with the modern wonder of electric lighting that the original chandeliers featured bare light bulbs, whose distinctive hue was much prized at the time.

The club's wine cellar was converted from a trench dug in 1865, intended to be the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway, stretching from Scotland Yard to Waterloo station, which planned to carry freight that would have been powered by air pressure; digging was abandoned in 1868, and when the company wound up in 1882, the National Liberal Club adapted the tunnel to its present use.


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