Chatham House: Independent thinking on international affairs

Chatham House Background

Chatham House has been the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for over eight decades. Our mission is to be a world-leading source of independent analysis, informed debate and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and secure world for all.

Under the Directorship of Dr Robin Niblett, it carries out an extensive programme of research, convenes meetings for leading experts, policy-makers, politicians and business people from around the world, and maintains a highly regarded library and information service.


Chatham House hosts high-profile speakers from around the world as part of our programme of events, as well as organizing and participating in a number of events elsewhere in the UK and overseas. Regular events are organized specifically for individual and corporate members, in addition to our conferences, research seminars and workshops.

Full list of forthcoming events

From the outset it has attracted outstanding figures including Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Vladimir Putin, Alan Greenspan and Kofi Annan.


Research is structured around four areas:

  • Energy, Environment and Resource Governance
  • International Economics
  • International Security
  • Regional Studies and International Law

Research is conducted in a range of areas and seminars, workshops, discussion and study groups and private briefings are organized to augment and disseminate findings. Chatham House publishes books, briefing papers and reports, a magazine, The World Today, and the bi-monthly journal, International Affairs. Staff and associate fellows also comment extensively in the media and provide evidence to Parliamentary Committees.

Corporate and individual membership fees, research grants, conference income and charitable donations from a wide range of sources provide Chatham House's main income.

History of the Building

In 1719 the first Duke of Chandos bought Ormond House on St James's Square. He sold it in 1734 to Benjamin Timbrell, the master builder, who demolished it and, with the architect Henry Flitcroft, erected three houses on the site. These houses, Numbers 9, 10, and 11, facing the Square, were sold respectively to William Wollaston, Sir William Heathcote, and the Earl of Macclesfield in May 1736.

Chatham HouseNumber 10 was leased to William Pitt the Elder (later Earl of Chatham), then Secretary of State, from June 1757 to October 1761 at a time when it was common practice for ministers to conduct much of their official business from home. Here, during a period of illness, Pitt received the Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, at his bedside to discuss Hawke's naval campaign. Apparently, Newcastle, finding the bedroom to be very cold, crept into another bed in the room and held conference with Pitt.

During 1757-8, Pitt was busy planning the North American campaign; according to Lord Mahon, he invited General James Wolfe to dine with him at Number 10 the night before his embarkation for Canada in February 1759.

Lord Stanley, later 14th Earl of Derby, was Prime Minister three times and made Number 10 his London family home from 1837 to May 1854, living here during his first short-lived administration in 1852. It was here that he translated Homer's Iliad, a work so popular at the time that it ran into its 9th edition. Derby received Disraeli and others here when he was putting together his first ministry.

Gladstone lived here briefly between 1889 and 1890, moving out at the close of the parliamentary session. The Heathcote family then sold the house to the 11th Lord Kinnaird, who lived here until his death in 1923. At this point the house was offered for sale to another association which was unable to raise the funds and in fact approached the then British Institute of International Affairs with the aim of sharing the property. Colonel Reuben Wells Leonard, a Canadian businessman and philanthropist, heard about this and offered to buy the house for the Institute. At his request it was named Chatham House in honour of Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, 'to whom they, as Canadians, owed their status as British subjects'.

Number 9 St James's Square was bought by the Institute during the Second World War when pressure from Sir Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, persuaded the Portland Club to agree to the sale.

The House has given its name to the famous Chatham House Rule, first established in 1927 and revised twice since. The rule is applied at meetings at which 'participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed'.

Portraits of notable figures associated with Chatham House are displayed in its various rooms. A 'Blue Plaque' at the front entrance of the House commemorates the residency of the three Prime Ministers.

Moore Wilson Digital Agency London