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The RSA was established in an enlightenment coffeehouse in 1754 by a group of people who came together with a shared vision for a better tomorrow.

The 21st century is presenting us with challenges of increasing scale and complexity. To tackle these challenges, the RSA is creating a new space dedicated to fostering creativity and innovation - a 21st century Enlightenment coffeehouse.

A history of RSA House

The RSA was established in 1754 in an enlightenment coffeehouse called Rawthmells. The first meetings of the RSA took place in various coffeehouses around London. 

1774 - RSA House built by members Robert, William and James Adam

1922 - Freehold purchased for site and buildings for £42,000. Money raised through appeal to Fellows

1957 - Lease granted in 1957 for Nos 2 and 4 John Adam Street and 18 Adam Street

1977 - Freehold No. 2 and 4 John Adam Street and 18 Adam Street purchased under the terms of the 1957 lease for £158,000. Funds available due to the unprecedented large increase in income from the Society’s examinations and printing department

1982 - Sichel wine merchants gave up their tenancy of the vaults at -3 and the RSA took them into their ownership

1987- Succesful appeal to Fellows to raise a third of the necessary £3m to convert the vaults. Conversion was completed in 1990

1984/87- Ron Gerard FRSA (Honorary Benefactor) contributed to the restoration of the Great Room Barry Paintings

2008 - Donation from Ron Gerard FRSA to refurbish the cafe for Fellows, the Gerard Bar

2012 - Restoration of the ground floors, and Great Room of RSA House, part funded by Fellows. New technology fitted allows events in the Great Room to be broadcast all over the world, and the House becomes commercially successful through the hiring of rooms.

2018 - Redevelopment of the lower floors of RSA House to create a coffeehouse dedicated to creating a 21st century Enlightenment

The Future - The coffeehouse becomes a place where great ideas are born and disseminated around the world, creating fulfilling lives and a flourishing society

How will the RSA coffeehouse deliver a 21st century Enlightenment?

An engine room for a global community 

The project will see two floors of the House transformed into a new coffeehouse dedicated to the RSA mission. Based on the principle of an auditorium, an innovative ‘Hellerup Stair’ will connect both floors and can be used as a free to hire mini-amphitheatre by anyone with an idea worth sharing. The ability to live-stream from the Hellerup Stair will plug the coffeehouse into the RSA’s global network. As well as providing the requisite fuel necessary for a 21st century Enlightenment (excellent all day dining and superb coffee), the coffeehouse will also provide collaborative space for almost 200 people.

Our vision

Our vision is for the coffeehouse to be a place where individuals become part of a greater movement for social change. We want it to be a natural home for anyone who wants to change the world, enabling people to connect, share knowledge, collaborate, and build new communities to tackle the social challenges of our time. To make this vision a reality, we will be launching a platform to crowdsource innovative ideas from the Fellowship about how the coffeehouse can help deliver the RSA mission: 21st century Enlightenment: enriching society through ideas and action.

What were the Enlightenment coffeehouses like? 

Would you go up to a stranger in a coffee shop and ask them for the latest news? Dr Matthew Green takes us back to the 17th and 18th centuries when London's original fleet of coffeehouses were very different from the current crop of branded cafes. 


Help us innovate

We want to create a space that connects like-minded people with creative ideas to help solve the pressing social issues of our time.

Fellows have a long history of supporting the development of RSA House, and for this next chapter we will crowdsource ideas from Fellows about how the new coffeehouse can foster a 21st century Enlightenment.

Submit your idea, comment on the ideas submitted by others, and vote for the proposals which you think the RSA should take forward.

Submit / Review ideas