Inside Stratford House
Set back from busy Oxford Street is Stratford Place and at the very end you can find Stratford House, the beautiful building that’s now home to the Oriental Club.
The club has only been here since 1962 but the history of the building (and the club for that matter) go back a lot further.
History of Stratford House
Built by Edward Stratford in the 1770s, this whole chunk of land off Oxford Street was planned as a private residential development. Basically an 18th century gated community.
You can still see a fun reminder of this here.
Edward – later the 2nd Earl of Aldborough – took the end house for himself, building a palatial, Robert Adam-esque home. It’s the only Georgian survivor along this stretch of Oxford Street.
Stratford House remained largely the same in various private hands, used for entertaining and as a (very grand) family home. From 1819 it was occupied by Colonel Wingfield and his family. It was his decision to commission the Italian painter Biagio Rebecca whose work can still be seen, in-situ inside.
Rebecca trained in Rome and then came to London, profiting from the huge demand for Neoclassical decorative paintings.
He worked under King George IV at Carlton House (demolished 1826) and Brighton Pavilion. In 1787 he produced a beautiful proposal for the decoration of The King’s Theatre (today Her Majesty’s Theatre on Haymarket, rebuilt 1897). The painting is now in the Royal Collection.
From 1908 the owner was Lord Derby, the War Secretary 1916-18 and French Ambassador 1918-1920. He made extensive alterations, adding a third story and adding a new staircase.
His coat of arms can still be seen within the ironwork.
During the Second World War it was leased (for free) to Christie’s, the auction house who had been bombed out of their HQ in 1941 and in 1955 It was bought by Birfield Ltd who rather shockingly dug up the garden and plonked in filing cabinets and strip lighting.
Thankfully the Oriental Club have been far more sensitive owners.
History of the Oriental Club
The club, like many other examples across London, was founded on the basis of shared experience and of cultivating a community and home-from-home atmosphere.
As you’ve probably guessed by the name, it was founded by returning officers and officials who lived and worked in India and the East, at a time when Britain’s Empire was expansive.
In 1824 Major General Sir John Malcolm put together a founding committee and set down that the initial members should be “Noblemen and gentlemen associated with the administration of our Eastern empire, or who have travelled or resided in Asia, at St. Helena, in Egypt, at the Cape of Good Hope, the Mauritius, or at Constantinople.”
Malcom was Scottish, one of 17(!) children and started his career within the East India Company’s Madras Army.
He forged a lifelong friendship with the Duke of Wellington while in India and would later become the Governor of Bombay.
He also promoted diplomatic ties with Iran and even wrote a history of the country, the first of its kind in English written from Iranian sources.
Malcolm would become the first Chairman alongside The Duke of Wellington as President.
Funnily enough Wellington was the only President, today they only have the position of Chairman. Perhaps no one felt they could fill his boots.
Initially the club was based on Grosvenor Street, then moved to Hanover Square until 1961.
Today the club has a hugely diverse community of around 3,000 members (in case you were wondering women have been accepted since the early 20thC). You can find out more about membership here.
Inside the Oriental Club
I’m forever surprised by historic nooks found a stone’s throw from London’s busy streets. I had to keep reminding myself that we were only a short walk from Oxford Street.
The Oriental Club is spacious and grand but also comfortable and cosy.
Across the walls hang the expected portraits of British-born Victorian members, some others stand out. The Club accepted non-British honoury members from 1831.
This is Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, with an extraordinarily entrepreneurial story of 18th century rags to riches.
Born in 1783 near present-day Mumbai, his parents both died when he was 16. At the same age, under the care of his Uncle, he went to Calcutta and then China. This would become the first of many voyages, trading in cotton and opium.
He became a fabulously wealthy merchant but also channelled his wealth into philanthropy, financing infrastructure projects such as roads, hospitals, waterworks and museums in India.
He was knighted in 1843 and then made a Baron in 1857 by Queen Victoria, the first honours of their kind and predating the foundation of the Order of the Star of India (1861).
Another favourite was this portrait of Alice.
She was first waitress hired by the Oriental Club, starting in 1916. She worked here until aged 90, starting each morning at 5.30am. There was even documentary made about her for the BBC in 1978!
I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek at the Oriental Club. Although it’s a private club it’s previously been available to visit during Open House weekend and so fingers crossed it’ll be open this year!
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Set back from busy Oxford Street is Stratford Place and at the very end you can find Stratford House, the beautiful building that’s now home to the Oriental Club. The club has only been here since 1962 but the history of the building (and the......