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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Real Diogenes Club?

The Reform Club
Reading The Life of Ezra Pound by Noel Stock last week, I was surprised by a reference to The Reform Club. It reminded of our memorable tour of that famous London institution in October.

Through the kind offices of fellow Sherlock Holmes writer Tim Symonds, the club secretary's assistant, Mr. Paul Austin, showed Ann and me through the club on the rainy afternoon of October 11.

With some pride, Mr. Austin told us that Arthur Conan Doyle had been a member. He said that some people think the Reform Club might have been the model for the Diogenes Club to which Mycroft Holmes famously belonged. While that might be a minority view, the Reform Club is located in Pall Mall and it does have a Stranger's Room! 

The club dates back to 1836. The current building, which is undergoing a major renovation, was built in 1841. It is based on a palace in Rome that is now the French embassy. One difference is that the Reform Club has a dome over the atrium.

I've been to private clubs before, but none to match the size of this one. It has marble steps outside and more marble steps, carpeted, on the inside. The marble theme is continued with columns, busts, and an inlaid marble floor with mosaics. The busts are of great reformers, including Cromwell. Large paintings are portraits of the founding members. 
We saw rooms too numerous to mention. They all have books in them -- 60,000 volumes in all, with a full-time librarian to keep track of them. Interestingly, smoking is forbidden in the Smoking Room because British law, and coffee has only recently begun to be served in the Coffee Room, which is the main dining room. The Billiard Room is not used much, but the Card Room is. The finest room of all is the library.

Women have been admitted as members since 1981, long before most other private clubs in London dropped the male-only rule. (Some are still stag.) Photos of former members, many of them famous, line the walls. One ex-member was Winston Churchill. He quit in a huff when a candidate that he proposed for membership was refused. His angry letter is now a prized club possession, stored away in a vault.

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