The Penn Club
- Original design
- James Burton, 1805
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
The Penn Club occupies 3 terraced houses on Bedford Place – Nos 21, 22 and 23. The houses would have originally been rather grand residential homes when built. Larger than earlier Georgian houses they comprised 5 floors: basement, ground, first, second and third. When built, the basement would have contained the kitchen and scullery; the ground floor the vestibule, dining room and morning room; the first floor the drawing room and study; the second floor contained the bedrooms and the third floor housed the servants' quarters.
The first residents of No 21 were the Griffin family. The youngest daughter Jane would later marry the Arctic Explorer Captain John Franklin. As Lady Franklin she went on to be one of the most famous women in the world with her determined efforts to discover her husband's fate after his expedition team disappeared.
It is unclear when the homes were converted into a hotel but when the Club took over the lease in 1938 the premises were already being run as The Alexandra Hotel.
The Penn Club has its beginnings in the First World War. Many young Quakers wanted to contribute to the defence of the country in a way that did not compromise their anti-war stance. This led to the formation of the Friends Ambulance Unit, which worked alongside the Red Cross in providing medical aid to British and French troops.
Great bonds of friendship were formed during their intense work treating the wounded on the front lines. Once the war was over and members of the Unit returned to their homes there was a desire to keep these friendships and bonds alive. It was decided to form a club with premises in central London as a place to meet. Money left over when the Friends Ambulance Unit disbanded was the start of the fundraising for the Club. A call went out to Quakers up and down the country to help generate some further funds for the new venture.
In October 1920 The Penn Club opened its doors in Tavistock Square. The bedrooms were mainly let for residents to stay on a long-term basis with some rooms held aside for visitors to London. The Club was opened to both men and women which was unusual for a time when most Clubs were restricted to men only.
In 1938 the Club was told the lease on the buildings in Tavistock Square would not be renewed as the entire row was to be demolished to make way for the new British Medical Association Buildings. Members were determined the Club would continue so a search began for new premises. The Alexandra Hotel at 21 to 23 Bedford Place was up for rent at this time and the committee quickly decided to approach the Bedford Estate to agree a lease.
Over the years the Club has had to adapt in order to continue. The doors were opened to non-Quakers who had an affinity with the Quaker ethos. As the demand for residential accommodation decreased the Club became a place for members to stay on their visits to London. Non-members were allowed to stay as long as they understood and contributed to the peaceful atmosphere of the Club.
Throughout this time the members have been the lifeblood of the Club. The Board is formed of members who shape the direction of the Club and ensure its survival for the enjoyment of future members.
The Club is a not-for-profit organisation with surplus funds being used to maintain and improve the building and to provide better facilities for those who use the Club.
Although not a formal Quaker institution, the Club maintains close ties to the Quaker world and operates on the traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance, simplicity, honesty and fairness in all its dealings.
The Club has had many interesting members over the years. The most celebrated member was John Wyndham, whose most famous works are Day of the Triffids and The Midwitch Cuckoos. He lived at The Penn Club in Tavistock Square from 1924–38 and then at the Club's present address until his marriage in 1963 to Grace Wilson, a fellow resident whom he met at the Club. For many years they lived in adjacent rooms which was unusual as men and women normally lived on separate floors. It appears they were recognised as being as good as married.
His most celebrated books were written at the Club. Movies based on his books were released while he was living at the Club and he became quite a household name. He played an active part in the life of the Club being a member of the Club Committee and involved in organising social activities. He also acted as unofficial handyman and could be relied on to help out if there were maintenance issues.
It was quite unusual for someone to live at the Club for such a long time. Obviously there was something about communal living that suited his personality.