London Memberships And Clubs For The Curious Of Mind

We all like to belong. But when we’ve passed beyond the realms of Cubs and Brownies it isn’t necessarily a straight choice between the Rotary Club and the Garrick, laudable though these institutions might be.

London has hundreds of clubs, memberships and Friends schemes. Here are ten you might not have thought of…

London Historians

A tour of Westminster School - a recent LH event.

A tour of Westminster School – a recent LH event.

Back in 2010 London fanatic Mike Paterson pitched-in his day job to put his historical money where his mouth was. The result, London Historians, now has more than 500 members and is growing fast. A fascinating calendar of talks, socialising, visits, walks, tours — and the scariest pub quiz in town.

Cost: £39 per annum, includes:

  • Monthly email newsletter
  • Reduced entry to selected special exhibitions and events
  • Discounts to selected London institutions and walks
  • Prize competitions
  • Behind-the-scenes tours (previous visits include Wandsworth Prison, Old Bailey and Westminster School)
  • First booking options on member-events
  • Sponsored membership to your local historical society

Friends of Nunhead Cemetery

Each of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries created to deal with London’s 19th Century dead-body problem has its own unique charm. Some remain clipped and neat, others are overgrown, romantic wildernesses whose crumbling putti and ivy-strewn angels peer through dense undergrowth. The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery quietly beaver away, tending wobbling headstones, clearing the worst of the debris, recording inscriptions and generally learning more about the place.

Cost: £2 per annum, includes:

  • Quarterly newsletter
  • Meetings, tours, talks and open days
  • Volunteering opportunities

Ace Café Club

This solid, 1949 art deco bruiser of a building, on the tippy-top of the old North Circular, attracted truckers and motorcyclists of all stripes but most notoriously the ‘Ton-up’ Boys of the 1950s who somehow managed to get their bikes to go over 100mph. Closed in 1969, it was mourned throughout Bikerdom, until in 1993 a meeting intended to merely mark the Ace’s passing turned into a movement to reopen it. The grand re-launch was finally achieved in 2001 and the Ace is once more a London landmark.

Cost: One-off Joining fee of £5 then £23 per annum, includes:

  • Quarterly club newsletter
  • 10% Discount on merchandise, food and non-alcoholic drinks bought at the premises
  • Discount on entry to music nights
  • Members-only products
  • Negotiated discounts on bike and non-bike products and services

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

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The London Wetlands Centre, a ‘branch’ of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is in Barnes but could be in the depths of rural Britain. Meadows, gardens and, of course, water encourage birds, insects, animals and humans. Popular with children, photographers and celebrity twitchers.

Cost £41 per annum, includes:

  • Free, unlimited entry to UK-wide WWT properties (normal entrance to London Wetlands Centre £12.35)
  • Quarterly Magazine, Water life

Crossness Engines Trust 

A veritable cathedral to sewage, Crossness Pumping Station had been allowed to moulder to near-extinction. But Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s masterpiece had friends in low places – boiler-suited devotees happy to tunnel through goo, grit and guano to free the beautiful engines then caress them with WD40 and elbow grease to a spinning, steaming shine.

Cost £14 per annum, includes:

  • Free access to regular steaming days; arranged access at other times
  • Quarterly newsletter
  • Volunteering opportunities

Ukulele Wednesdays

The recent passion for ukuleles continues its relentless journey to hipsterdom and beyond. Ukulele Wednesdays started as a literal underground movement, meeting downstairs at the Royal George off Tottenham Court Road in 2007, and expanding to several venues. The George is still the gold-standard of free uke-jamming. It can get crowded and a bit chaotic, but it’s full of friendly people up for strumming anything from Wild Thing to Ace of Spades.

Cost: Free, includes:

  • Downloadable chord book
  • Lots of fun

Sands Cinema Club

Olivier Stockman, who runs the splendid Sands Film Studios in Rotherhithe, runs a weekly film club upstairs in the screening room. An email informs members of the flick of the week and the first 30-odd people to reply get to sit in old armchairs with a cup of tea, watch a really, really obscure movie then chat about it with Stockman.

Cost: Free, but leave a donation towards next week’s screening in the film canister outside. Includes:

  • Movie
  • Often a cup of tea; occasionally home made cake

Egypt Exploration Society

Operating out of a tiny mews round the back of Bloomsbury, this fabulously Victorian-sounding society (est. 1882) exists to explore Ancient Egypt, record results and enthuse future generations with the joy of archaeology. Whiskers and pith helmets optional.

Cost: £48 per annum, includes:

  • Biennial magazine, Egyptian Archaeology
  • Access to library
  • Discounts on events, journal subscriptions, tours, excursions and study days

South East London Folklore Society

Not so much a membership society as a monthly meet-up and talk on aspects of London folklore, hosted by Nigel of Bermondsey at The Old King’s Head, London Bridge. Events have become popular of late, so it’s worth booking in advance.

Cost: £2 per meeting. Includes:

  • A talk on something you probably won’t have heard of
  • Interesting people

Friends of Free London Open Air Season

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Why would you become a ‘friend’ of something that’s free to get in to anyway? To ensure it happens again next year, of course. The much-loved fixture at the Scoop on London’s South Bank is just about to begin its annual run of bold, bright theatre that makes you think. It’s worth supporting.

Cost: £15 per annum. Includes:

  • Reserved seating with cushion
  • Quarterly newsletter

All terms based on single, basic, adult membership.

By Sandra Lawrence. Images by M@.

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  • HHGeek

    Thoroughly recommend London Historians. The selection of tours is excellent, and the regular specialist book reviews are a bonus.

  • London Historians

    Wow. Thanks, Londonist, you’re the best!

  • ajdel

    You forgot subterranea Britanica! Although they go everywhere a lot happens in London.

  • Chris West

    I agree about London Historians, Mike Paterson is a good organiser and completely dedicated to the success of the society- the events programme is interesting and varied, and members come from a variety of disciplines (or lack of), so get togethers are fun and varied- I like it, congratulations Mike.

  • Peter Twist

    If you’re fascinated by undiscovered London, the visits and events that Mike tirelessly organises never fails to delight.

  • London Fortean Society

    Weeps

  • Salon For The City

    Weeps