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At The Reform Club

June 14, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I visited the Reform Club in Pall Mall one quiet morning recently before the members arrived to take the portraits of those who work to keep this august institution running flawlessly within its palatial clubhouse of 1841, designed by Sir Charles Barry architect of the Houses of Parliament. Perhaps most famous as the fictional rendezvous for Phileas Fogg and his friends in Around the World in Eighty Days, the Reform Club originated among Members of Parliament who pledged support for the Great Reform Act of 1832, initiating the parliamentary campaign for universal suffrage that met its resolution in the last century.

Mohammed Anzaoui, Club Steward

“I started at the Reform Club on 4th November 1991. I came as a student from Morocco via Gibraltar. I used to work in the Royal Overseas League until a friend of mine who worked here as a Chamberlain told me I would like it, so I thought I would give it it a try. I had an interview with Robin Forrest the Secretary on 2nd November 1991 and straightaway he asked me when I would like to start, so I started the next Monday. Coming to the Reform Club was a big step up. I worked as a Assistant-Chamberlain from 1991 until 1999 and then I moved to banqueting, supervising and setting up the function room for lunches and dinners.

When I first came here, I lived in the building and it was strange. I had nothing else in my life and I could not invite friends to visit because I was living in a private building. It was a lowly life. The first two years were tough but then I got used to it. After three years, I met my wife and got married and moved out to Elephant & Castle. It was a new life!

In 2008, I could have gone to work somewhere else but I really loved it in the Club. It was my home from home, and James Coldrick, the Club Steward was about to retire, so the members encouraged me to apply for the position. I asked the Secretary and he said, ‘If you like the job, you can have it any time.’ As Club Steward, I greet the members. It is a hard job, it is not just standing at the top of the stairs and smiling. You are here Monday to Friday and you have to give it 100%. You leave all your problems outside, you do not take them to work. As Club Steward, I am the face of the Club.

People come here who have been working all day and at six o’clock they want to relax and have a drink, so I make sure we are ready for them and they are looked after. Each day you stand for four hours and then you have an hour’s break and you stand for another four hours. The only other people that do this are the Royal Horseguards! I keep myself fit because as long as I am fit I will be able to do it. By November, I will complete twenty-seven years at the Reform Club.”

Sheron Easter, Subscriptions & IT

“This is my twenty-sixth year at the Reform Club. I was born in Bethnal Green but I live in Hornchurch now, although my dad – who is ninety-three – still lives there and I still go to Pelliccis now and then. After my second child, I wanted a part-time job and I saw this in the Evening Standard in July 1992 and applied because the hours suited me. There are two parts to my job, membership and subscriptions – collecting the subs and maintaining the database – and IT administration.

This is a very unusual place to work. I came here from a large firm of solicitors and it was a culture shock at first. On my first day, I put all my letters in the post box here, thinking they would get taken to the post room to be stamped or franked and delivered to the post office, but in fact I was supposed to stick stamps on them myself. People tend to stay here forever and we all feel connected to each other, so we become almost like a family. This is not a corporate organisation, it is gentlemanly and polite. The proportion of women members has risen steadily. When I joined it was about 15% but we are up to around 19% now. It is growing slowly but I think we need more.”

Nestor Castro, Barman

“I have been here for fifteen years. I was working at the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus as Waiter when a friend asked me if I would like to work at the Reform Club, so I came here and talked to the Restaurant Manager but he said they did not have any vacancy for a Waiter but they were looking for a Barman. ‘If you want the job, you can have it,’ he said. I love working here, especially as it is only Monday to Friday so I can spend weekends with my family. I started working in a hotel doing breakfasts and then in a cinema before spending fifteen years at Santori, a Japanese restaurant in St James St. I work from ten o’clock until three o’clock and then back at five o’clock until ten o’clock. I do not leave the building, I relax in the staff TV room during my break. I have been working in catering since I came to this country from the Philippines in 1986, my wife had already been here since 1975 – eleven years we were separated before we were reunited.”

Paul Austin, General Office & Events

“I just do the menial admin really, and also the box office. I graduated in 1993 from the University of Westminster and it was a recession, so I was on the dole for a bit and desperate for a job. I found an advert in the Evening Standard for a job here as a Porter. I did that for a couple of years and then this job came up in July 1995, which I was invited to apply for, and I have been in the office ever since. I have been here twenty-five years and it has always been a great place to work, they treat the staff very well which makes it a happy place to be.

When I started in the office in 1995, we did not have an email address, we were still using fax machines and I had a manual typewriter. At the end of the nineties, we got our first email address. It was reform_club@msn.com and I used to log on to msn and check it at the end of each day to see if anyone had sent us an email. That was state of the art then.

Nowadays, members do not have to wear a tie anymore – that was voted through a year ago. Also members are permitted to use their mobile phones and tablets in the club but not to make calls. They can check emails and texts, and read a book on their ipad or kindle as long as the device is silent. That is how we have evolved to reflect the modern world. Things are changing apace and sometimes the club struggles but we are getting there.

Because I have been here so long, the members often pop into my office for a chat. This week will be a significant week because it is the first test match at Lords so a number of members will come in to discuss the cricket. People ring me up if they do not know who to ask a question of and they ask me.

When the club was created in the eighteen-thirties, it was tied up with electoral reform and had its own remit. Today it is virtually impossible to describe a member of the Reform Club, we have members from all professions. There is no political aspect and we have no longer have any Members of Parliament since the last election. The last Prime Minister that was member of the Reform Club was Lloyd George a hundred years ago.”

Hugh Wynter, Banqueting

“I came to work at the Reform Club in 1996. It was through a friend who was a member, she mentioned there were some positions going here. I had two interviews and got the job straightaway. I started in catering in 1977 and I have been in it ever since, working in hotels, banqueting places and restaurants. My last job before I came was with Freemasons and they were very difficult people to look after, they wanted everything for nothing.

Coming here was quite different. I knew it was a private members club but I had not met the members. The first lunch I had to organise was for Stella Rimington, Head of MI5, but then I began to organise lunches in the library which can seat up to one hundred and seventy comfortably, or three to four hundred at a standing reception. I have personally served Mikhail Gorbachev when he came with his wife.

I tell my staff who, what and where, so they serve the right meal to whosoever. We have a new boss and a new chairman and we did our first livery dinner recently and it went without a hitch. The staff were perfect from start to finish and I was well chuffed. I really like doing functions here and looking after the members and their guests. That is why I have been here so long. Now I am organising my own sixtieth birthday party here with here with two hundred guests, about thirty of whom are members.”

Anna Kwiatek, Facilities

“I came to London from Poland in 2002 as a student studying English, but at home I had been studying Dermatology. I first came to Reform Club in 2003, working for an agency, as a Waitress serving in the restaurant. In 2005, they asked me to join the permanent staff and I accepted, and that was my beginning in the Reform Club. I was very impressed by the place when I first came here. The work was good and the members were friendly. Since 2016, I have worked as an Administrator in Facilities & Maintenance although this does not quite describe my work – Sometimes it feels like I’ve done every job in the Club!! I do all the ordering and deal with the invoices for the Club, and manage the building works as well. My office is in the basement but I go all over the building checking the maintenance and renovations. I like working here because I love this beautiful building.”

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. June 14, 2018

    Good to get a glimpse of all the wonderful people who work so hard to keep the wheels turning. Valerie

  2. Amanda, Norfolk permalink
    June 14, 2018

    This brings back so many memories for me. My friends and I used to go to balls at the Reform Club in the early eighties. It still looks as beautiful as it did then.

    Amanda, Norfolk

  3. Paul Loften permalink
    June 14, 2018

    Quite unique . That is how I would describe this Gentle Author . An insight across the spectrum of British Society from the humblest to the grandest that open their doors and let the Author in to have a look around. Tell me , where else can we get this birds eye view.?

  4. June 14, 2018

    Thanks for this! I had the pleasure of dining in these sumptuous surrounding last year – a memorable experience! I’m sure you know that the great Alexis Soyer was chef at the Club: this biography of him is interesting – https://bit.ly/2JOch6A – and his own writings, reissued in the same imprint, are hugely entertaining.

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    June 14, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the informative piece on the Reform Club and its loyal staff. Obviously the club maintains its upscale traditions while bending a bit to modern tastes. I particularly enjoy reading about the Victorian period when these institutions flourished including White’s, Brooks, and Boodles, all more of less around St. James.

    Great pics too…

  6. Adele permalink
    June 14, 2018

    Did a double-take when I saw this GA! About ten years ago I was ‘traced’ by a branch of my family totally unknown to me. Turns out on of my long-lost cousin from the East End of London had risen in the ranks of the business world and become a ‘Sir’. On a quick trip to London he invited me and his biographer to ‘dine with him at his Club. As I walked up those stately steps I wondered what on earth a Stepney girl had in store for her. Well, all I can say is ‘what an experience’. The security was stricter than getting past a London Airport immigration officer ! I’m wondering if guests are still not allowed to give their order directly to the waiter? My host was given a little note pad where he took our orders and handed the pad to the waiter. You could count the women there on one hand, I can’t say I felt particularly comfortable in such a bastion of British snobbery, but it was quite the adventure.And now I have some pictures for my Genealogical scrapbook! Thanks GA!

  7. Anne permalink
    June 14, 2018

    Wonderful to read an account of a private members club from the point of view of the amazing people that work in it.
    Thank you GA

  8. June 16, 2018

    Such an intriguing insight into running this club. I wouldn’t have expected job vacancies to be advertised in the Evening Standard! Clearly, by the length of service, it is a great place to work. I was, however, itching to know whose portraits were hanging on the walls. I thought I recognised Canning?

    I do hope that somebody will invite me to lunch there, one day but I won’t hold my breath!

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