On 30th October 1918, the first Lord Cowdray made a gift to provide a permanent building to house the Royal Air Force Club; and by the middle of 1919 the buildings, which make up the present Club, were acquired. The Piccadilly frontage was originally the Ladies’ Lyceum Club and was built in the 1800s, whilst the rear half, facing Old Park Lane, was stables. Between 1919 and 1921 extensive reconstruction took place, largely financed by Lord Cowdray.
The Founding of the Royal Air Force Club
The Club was formally founded in 1918 at 13 Bruton St as the Royal Flying Corps Club. On 17th December 1921, the Royal Flying Corps Club premises in Bruton Street, London W1, were formally closed. Existing members were invited to make use of the Stratford Club in Stratford Place, in conjunction with the bedrooms (but not the public rooms) of the new RAF Club.
On 2nd January 1922, the Club was fully opened to members although it was not officially opened by HRH The Duke of York until 24th February 1922. On 12th March 1922, the Club was visited by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. This association with the Royal Family continues to this day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being the Club's Patron.
The Post War Years
The Club operated very successfully during the 1920s and 1930s with about 2,000 members and a membership subscription of three guineas. With the outbreak of the Second World War, membership rose to approximately 4,000; a figure it maintained until the late 1950s. However, by 1960 Membership had fallen to 3,000 - and with that came financial problems. A working party of serving RAF Officers was established and they devised a plan which substantially increased Club Membership during the 1960s.
The 1980s & ‘90s
After many previously unsuccessful attempts, the Club finally managed to acquire the Freehold of 128 Piccadilly and 6 Old Park Lane in 1985. Improvements included the conversion of the basement area into the Running Horse Tavern, named after the public house that stood on the site in the 18th century and in 1990 a 13-bedroom extension was officially opened by the then Vice-Patron, Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges. A five-year refurbishment programme was established in 1991 in which the original 83 bedrooms were refurbished, together with the Ballroom and Cowdray Room.
Development and refurbishment has continued at the Club on an ongoing basis, with a rolling programme of improvements, including bedroom enhancements, implemented for the benefit of all members. In recent years the Running Horse, Churchill Bar, Dining Room, Cowdray Lounge and Ballroom have seen further refurbishments.
On October 17th 2018, the Club's Patron, Her Majesty The Queen toured and formally opened the new centenary extension comprising of the Marshall of Cambridge Business Suite and Fitness Centre along with seventeen modern new bedrooms. Following the tour, The Queen unveiled a new stained-glass window in the Club, designed to commemorate women in the Royal Air Force over its 100 years.
Finally, The Queen moved into the newly renamed Sovereigns’ Room and unveiled a portrait depicting Her Majesty earlier this year, painted by Benjamin Sullivan and commissioned to celebrate 100 years of the RAF Club. The Queen has been Patron of the Club since 1952 and last visited in 2012.