London Unveiled

great places to visit off the beaten path.

Royal Geographical Society ~ not just for members


RGS plaque

Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society is dedicated to the development and promotion of geographical knowledge, together with its application to the challenges facing society and the environment.  While most people are aware that the RGS is a members institution, non-members can visit exhibitions in the Pavilion and enter the Foyle Reading Room.  A visit to the RGS is often a rewarding experience as the Pavilion exhibition space is a great way to enjoy either historical exhibits from the RGS archives or to see the latest work of the RGS and its members.

RGS people in london

History:  Like many learned societies at the time of enlightenment, it started as a dining club in London, where select members held informal dinner debates on current scientific issues and ideas.  Under the patronage of King William IV, it later became known as The Royal Geographical Society and was granted its Royal Charter under Queen Victoria in 1859.  In 1912 the Society purchased, and in 1913 Society moved to, its current location, Lowther Lodge.  The Society’s purpose remains the same today as when it was first founded, namely the ‘advancement of geographical science’.  RGS still continues to publish, support field research and expeditions, and offer lectures and conferences.  The history of the Society was closely allied for many of its earlier years with ‘colonial’ exploration in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the polar regions, and central Asia especially.  It enshrines such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary.

RGS pavilion room

The Society also devoted much attention to education and was responsible for both the incorporation of the study of geography in schools at the turn of the 20th century and for the first university positions in the discipline.  With 15,000 members, the Society is the largest and most active of the scholarly geographical societies. It continues to advance geography through supporting geographical research, education and outdoor learning, public engagement and policy.

RGS Pavilion bldg

Public Space:  The Pavilion is a dedicated exhibition space, opened in 2004 at the Society on Exhibition Road. It was part of a development project entitled Unlocking the Archives during which the Society’s building was extended and resources opened up to the public.  For a list of current and upcoming exhibitions click here.  The recently closed exhibition by photographer Richard Slater, entitled “People In London” was excellent.  The photos in this article are from that exhibition.  Foyle Reading Room is also open to the public.  Students gain access to the materials at no cost.  Non-students may still have access to the materials for £10 per day.  In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful free online archives and photography available through the RGS images website.  If, like me, you can never get enough of images from exploration such as Shakleton’s trip to Antartcica, then this is the place for you.

The Foyle Reading Room

Visiting:  The Pavilion is open the public from 10am-5pm Mon-Fri.  Admission is free.  The Foyle Reading Room has extended Monday hours is an evening lecture is occurring.

RGS Exhibit

Optional:  For those interested in membership and all the various benefits associated with it, I recommend talking with reception when visiting.  Annual membership costs £127 and can provide trememdous value if you take advantage of all the events throughout the year.

Located at:  1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR  (enter from Exhibition Road)

Closest tube:  South Kensington

4 comments on “Royal Geographical Society ~ not just for members

  1. Bespoke Traveler
    November 23, 2014

    Has the RGS always been open to taking on anyone as a member who is able to pay the dues or was it at one time limited to only those invited by the monarch?

      November 24, 2014

      I don’t know for certain. I assume like most clubs for many years you needed a referral or a qualification. Now most London clubs and societies need paying members more than exclusivity. Ian.

  2. Elizabeth Krall
    November 24, 2014

    Thanks for the tip about the images website!

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2014 by in Artistic Venues, Family Activities, Free Activities, Kensington & Chelsea and tagged , , .

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