The prestigious address of 116 Piccadilly has seen its fair share of inhabitants over the years. Back in 1850, it started life as Hope House, the elegant private abode of MP Henry Hope. The mansion was said to have attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who noted its extravagant interiors.
This is not to suggest, however, that Mr Hope was an ostentatious character. In fact, he was renowned for his astuteness and committed patronage of the arts. His prize collection of Old Masters, which he would occasionally put on display to the public, made Hope House the home of one of Europe’s finest private art collections.
The same rational attributes cannot be assigned, however, to Henry Hope’s son-in-law, the roguish Henry Pelham-Clinton, the 6th Duke of Newcastle. When the Duke wed Hope’s only daughter, Henrietta, his spiralling gambling debts (around £230,000 – an eye-watering £143 million today) were settled and he acquired an impressive property portfolio to boot. When he died aged just 45, Henrietta sold Hope House to the fashionable Junior Athenaeum Club.
Gentlemen’s clubs were all the rage in the Victorian era, and the Junior Athenaeum surged in popularity as it entertained the great and good of London society. Among the MPs and Lords that passed through its doors, the club was particularly favoured by gentlemen connected with literature, science and art.
The word ‘Athenaeum’ loosely translates as ‘library’ and is derived from the Greek name Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The noble name stayed at 116 Piccadilly in the 1930s as the club disbanded and the building was transformed into a luxurious Art Deco apartment block.
Four decades later, the Athenaeum and its neighbouring Victorian townhouses were snapped up by British entertainment group The Rank Organisation. The company renovated the apartments into an iconic hotel to accommodate its movie stars whenever they were filming at London’s famous Pinewood and Ealing Studios.
As a five-star hotel, The Athenaeum has long been associated with the rich and famous. Charismatic executive manager Sally Bulloch heralded the hotel’s Hollywood golden age in the 1970s, where her natural charm and perennial presence at the hotel bar made her a hit with guests. She was said to have enjoyed a glass of champagne (or two) with Elizabeth Taylor – among countless others – and once (gently) admonished Russell Crowe for leaving his room untidy. Boy band Take That announced their split from the penthouse of The Athenaeum, and legendary film director Steven Spielberg even installed an editing suite in one of the hotel’s residences when working on E.T., Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Today, stars, world leaders and the well known continue to use The Athenaeum as their discreet home-from-home.
The Athenaeum has been family-run since the 1990s and could not be more committed to its famous five-star service. An independent spirit remains at the heart of the hotel, where it continues to welcome everyone as VIPs and to make their stay individual.