Pall Mall takes its name from the game ‘palle-maille’, a cross between croquet and golf, that was played here in the early-17th century.
For over 150 years this dignified street has been at the heart of London’s clubland. The clubs evolved from the 17th century coffee houses as meeting places where gentlemen could find refuge from their womenfolk. However, most of the exclusive gentlemens’ clubs seen today date from the 19th century.
The club buildings represent the work of some of the most fashionable architects of the era. The colonnaded United Services Club was built by John Nash in 1827, this was the Duke of Wellington’s favourite club and now houses the Institute of Directors. Facing it, on the other side of Waterloo Place, is the Athenaeum, designed by Decimus Burton in 1830, and has long been the power house of the British establishment.
Beside it are two clubs built by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, the Travellers’ Club and the Reform Club, spawned by the 1832 Reform Act. The RAC club, founded in 1897 is the most recent, and least class-conscious, of the clubs.
The stately interiors of the gentlemens’ clubs are well-preserved but only members and their guests are admitted.