Club History

The idea of forming what became The Chatham Dining Club was first discussed in 1909 by two soldiers, Rupert Ommanney and Guy Dawnay, when they were fellow students at the Army Staff College at Camberley.  The Club was subsequently established in London in May 1910 by the first Committee, with the two originators joined by Cuthbert Headlam, Neil Malcolm and EG Lister.  The aim was to continue, in a wider circle, the debating and discussion of current affairs, which had been taking place at the Staff College, and thereby gain exposure to a variety of individual and different perspectives not focussed on military matters.  The Staff College Owl in the Club’s crest reflects the origins of the Club.

The Club comprised members with a wide range of interests, including international affairs, the military, politics, religion and journalism.  The first dinner took place on 15 July 1910 at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly and there were 31 more meetings over the next four years.  The original Committee was supplemented by many notables, including John Buchan, later 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, author and Governor General of Canada 1935-1940 and Robert Brand, later 1st Baron Brand and HM Treasury’s representative to the United States 1944-46.  Club meetings were suspended during the First World War, in which 14 members of the Club, including Major Rupert Ommanney, lost their lives.

After the First World War, the focus of meetings moved to speeches rather than the formal presentation of papers, with meetings taking place under the Chatham House Rule.  This continues and allows speakers greater freedom to present their views frankly and in confidence.  The aim remains to hold up to six dinners a year, a pattern only broken during the two World Wars and the Covid-19 pandemic.  The Club originally met at the old Criterion Restaurant, followed by the Dorchester Hotel and then St. Ermin’s Hotel.

Dinners are now held at a selection of West End clubs including Brooks’s, The Caledonian, The Cavalry and Guards and The Army and Navy.  The Club membership is now just over 200, comprising a mix of generations, all of whom share an interest in current affairs.

Members interested in further reading, including a volume published in 1915 containing the papers presented to the Club between 1910 and 1914, should contact (via the Hon. Secretary) the Hon. Treasurer, who is also the custodian of the Club’s archives and who has recently completed a detailed study of the Club’s origins.

The following members have acted as Honorary Secretary: G P Dawnay, R Ommanney, C M Headlam, A F Lascelles, P K Hodgson, D Boyle, C P Dawnay, E Clive, D Oppe, R Goold-Adams, M A L Cripps, W Bell, T N Hughes-Onslow, J H Burton, A C Farquhar, K M Egleston, M L S Cripps, J G A Cripps, A F Oppe, Sir Tristram Ricketts, H U D Verney, J R Drax, L Carew, E A M Lee, J M J Balfour and the Hon R J N Cripps.