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Commonwealth hospitality in London

The reception of the Royal Empire Society headquarters on Northumberland Avenue

The reception of the Royal Empire Society headquarters on Northumberland Avenue, London, including the Empire Clock, 1936
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In the post-war period, hospitality to those from other Commonwealth countries within Britain was a key concern. Hospitality to others reflected the country’s commitment to the Commonwealth idea, and individuals’ commitments to ideas of multiracialism and world citizenship. Inhospitality to immigrants from Commonwealth countries (through discrimination in the housing market, and racism on the streets for example) undermined ideas of a friendly Commonwealth. We can use the Royal Commonwealth Society, and its programme of events and activities to explore the idea of Commonwealth hospitality.

A learned society with educational functions and social club, the Society began life as the Royal Colonial Institute in 1868, became the Royal Empire Society in 1928 and did not become the Royal Commonwealth Society until 1958. The RCS building was designed by the imperial architect Herbert Baker, and opened in 1936. In addition to rooms named after different imperial territories, the building was decorated with busts of colonial figures, and an ‘imperial ecology’ of panelling from all over the empire. In the 1930s, the Society saw itself as ‘the Empire Centre, where... the overseas visitor will receive his welcome, the imperially minded gregarian will enjoy in good fellowship the varied contacts that make for empire unity’ (Salmon, 1936, p601).

The Australia Room at the Royal Commonwealth Society

The Australia Room at the Royal Commonwealth Society, pictured in 1959
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In addition to a formal lecture programme, the RCS organised and hosted receptions, dances, seminars and conferences; it also acted as a meeting place for hundreds of members, both resident in Britain and elsewhere. It provided rooms for members to stay in whilst in London, sitting rooms, restaurants and bars. Thus the RCS was a space for people to meet, network, relax and gather news of other places.

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Please address enquiries about RCS holdings to:

RCS Curator
Cambridge University Library
West Road


Please note that we are unable to provide valuations.  We recommend you contact a specialist antiquarian bookseller or auction house.