Architect: Decimus Burton, 1828-30
Gentleman’s club, for those with artistic and literary inclinations, constructed at a time of high optimism following the defeat of Napoleonic France.
There’s an exuberance about the Athenaeum, evident in the gilded statue of Athena, the Wedgwood-like reproduction of the Parthenon frieze and the projecting balcony along three sides of the first floor. Greek Revival architecture was usually sober and monumental, but here a young Decimus Burton, 24 when commissioned, produced a strikingly festive interpretation. Burton's father James was a successful property developer who provided much of the finance, and commercial nous, to complete John Nash's scheme for a residential enclave in Regent’s Park, together with the new thoroughfares of Regent Street and Waterloo Place on which the club stands. Perhaps it is not surprising that Decimus (James' tenth child) would find opportunity to design several buildings in Nash’s London; more so that he generally succeeded so well.
It is easily assumed that the Athenaeum’s classical references were intended to highlight the supposed erudition of the club’s members, but they also reflect the optimism and confidence prevalent in Regency London. Pall Mall was now gas-lit, and Nash’s new roads had made it possible to travel more quickly through the city. The Parthenon frieze was in part celebrated for its lively representation of mobility, and the balcony enabled members to enjoy the passing scene. Horse mounting blocks for their use still stand in front of the building.
Note: the attic storey is a later addition.
Best time to visit: only open to members and their guests.
Address: 107 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5ER.