Alliance Française de Londres down the years
Next 2 week intensive
starts 20th May
Next twice a week courses
(for 6 weeks) start 3rd & 4th June
Alliance Française de Londres
1 Dorset Square
020 7723 6439
Mon to Thur 08:45 to 20:45
Fridays 08:45 to 18:00
Saturdays 09:30 to 13:00
Private tuition booking office is open 09:30 to 17:30 each weekday.
020 7258 0851
La belle époque
The Alliance Française de Londres has been in London for 129 years (and counting)!
The Alliance Française's first English committees formed in 1884 and one of the first London meetings took place at 20 Bedford Street, WC, in February 1885, with a Monsieur Charles Cassal as chairman. The London Comité boasted in November 1885 of having signed up «quelques-unes de personnes les plus influentes de la Colonie française à Londres ».
In the next few years, a number of affiliated committees sprung up in and around London: Le Centre de Londres, le Comité du Sud de Londres, La Concorde, Paddington, Richmond, Highgate, East Dulwich, Ealing, Balham. Followed by Le Trèfle, La Gauloise, L’Amical, Les Concerts Français, Le North-Western Polytechnic, le Queen’s Road Commercial Institute, La Modern Language Association London Branch. Talks took place at the Steinway Hall and attracted large audiences.
These Alliance Française committees allied to provincial ones decided to coordinate their activities through a London bureau, which was formally created in 1908 at the Franco-British Exhibition at White City with the endorsement of the then French Ambassador Paul Cambon (himself a founder member of the Alliance Française in Paris and later signatory to the Entente Cordiale). About this event, "il ne s'agit rien de moins que de donner une sorte de prolongement culturel à la politique de l'Entente Cordiale", wrote Maurice Bruézière later. (see 1908)
The London committee of the Alliance Française coordinated tours of speakers round the British Isles, organised school exchanges and a bi-yearly visit to France , bestowed medals of achievement to pupils and teachers, oversaw a book-lending service and edited a Review. The idea was to inform audiences of what was happening in France, culturally and socially, but also "les Français apprendraient à connaître les Anglais".
The executive Secretary General was Yvonne Salmon, who had represented the Reading committee, and her deputy was Marthe Meilley, also in charge of La Concorde.
Notably the Alliance was a precursor in teaching business French: the first “cours commerciaux” were launched in London as early as 1894, and it was hoped that « cette nouvelle création ne manquera pas d’augmenter les points de contact avec le monde des affaires dans ce pays commercial par excellence » .
The London Alliance was indeed an early member of the French Chamber of Commerce in London (founded in 1883) and it expanded its activities with a programme of classes in general French in 1955, one of the very first cultural organisations to do so.
Some very influential people actively supported the London Alliance. In the 1930s, André Simon, charismatic leader of the English wine trade, at the time a shipper for Pommery champagne, and later founder and president of the Wine & Food Society, was its second President, following on Prof. Amédée Salmon. A certain Jacques Cartier, one of the brothers in the Cartier family of jewellery fame, who opened Cartier of London in 1902, was the third president of our Alliance. His successor at the helm of Cartier, Etienne Bellenger, was also a council member of the Alliance, and, during WWII, he designed insignia for the Free French and for the Alliance. So there is some sparkle in our history! There was also some literary weight to the council in the post-war years when the Nobel prize-winning poet T. S. Eliot was our President and the novelist Graham Greene joined us too.
L’armée des ombres
The London Alliance’s mission took on an added significance when it became the acting headquarters for the world network after the Alliance Française de Paris was closed down as soon as Paris was occupied in June 1940. The London Alliance, as our minutes of 13th Jan 1941 record, saw its mission as becoming "le point de ralliement de tous les Alliés" and issued aux quatre coins a news-bulletin. The Alliance was at the outset, and is today, a non-political organisation but the war made an exception of that. It was felt that certain cultural values had to be preserved and the London Alliance aligned itself straight away with Général de Gaulle and the Free French and their British Allies.
The London Alliance convened its first post-war Assemblée Générale in 1948. This was held at the House of Lords (Lord de La Warr was the Alliance president at the time). The Secretary General of the Alliance française de Paris, Marc Blancpain, in recognition of the role of London, came over to say this:
«L'Alliance n'est pas une administration, c'est une famille. Je vous apporte le salut de cette famille, non pas comme à une Alliance ordinaire, non pas non plus comme à une Alliance ancienne - vous êtes jeune encore, en tant qu'Alliance, vous avez 40 ans - mais comme à une Alliance qui fut pendant 4 ans - je le répète mais on ne le dira jamais assez - l'Alliance mère, la belle Alliance de l'espoir profond des temps misère. Je vous apporte aussi le salut des conférenciers que vous avez accueillis depuis l'hiver 1944. A peine étions-nous délivrés de l'ennemi - sauvés, sauvés comme le monde entier et grâce, d'abord, à la ténacité britannique - à peine étions-nous délivrés que ces conférenciers réapparaissaient chez vous.»
In 1987 the Alliance moved to its permanent home at 1 Dorset Square, NW1, where we have air-conditioned classrooms and a library, equipped with interactive boards.
Come and join us at Alliance Française de Londres – where the past of our historic building meets the future of state-of-the art technology and teaching methods.