Ognisko Polskie (“The Polish Hearth”) is a unique institution in South Kensington and the UK. Founded in 1939-40 to maintain the cohesion of the free Polish Émigré community – following the Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland – it comprises a members’ club, a restaurant, and a cultural venue.
Ognisko Polskie welcomes people of Polish nationality and descent, or interested in Poland and its people. In the best British tradition, it provides its members with opportunities to spend time together in a welcoming place, to attend private dinners and activities, and to benefit from discounts on all public events.
Indeed, and contrary to most British private clubs, Ognisko Polskie organizes many events open to non-Members, including exhibitions, lectures, theatre performances, recitals, and celebrations of all significant dates in the Polish cultural calendar.
The Ognisko Polskie building is also home to a renowned restaurant and bar, entirely refurbished in 2013, and serving London’s best Polish cuisine and cocktails.
Since its inauguration by Prince George, then Duke of Kent, on 16th July 1940, Ognisko Polskie has become a centre of Polish life in the United Kingdom. It was first used as a meeting place for politicians, academics, and members of the armed forces, soon followed by numerous actors, artists, directors, technicians and writers. The Association of Polish Artists (ZASP) was thus founded in 1942, bringing theatre to Ognisko and entertaining enthusiastic audiences with numerous productions during the war.
The end of WWII brought more Poles to England, arriving from Italy, Germany and Africa, with many army theatre troupes. With Poland made inaccessible by the Cold War, Ognisko Polskie remained a centre of social and cultural life, with ZASP (now called ZASP Gniazdo Londyn) staging productions all over England.
The success of Ognisko’s theatre activities is inseparable from the commitment of prominent Polish actress Irena Delmar – who acted as chairman of ZASP Gniazdo Londyn and continues to attend many events today – and Polish playwright Marian Hemar – who used to stage highly successful productions at Ognisko Polskie.
The Polish Hearth has been furthering that theatre tradition for years, now going so far as to build a stage from scratch to hold at least one production a year!
It also wishes to continue its relationship with Poles living in the UK, as well as anyone interested in Polish culture. As such, most events are held in English rather than Polish, and open to non-Members. Its lectures series, for instance, enables everyone to discuss, and learn about, various aspects of Polish culture. Past topics include the life and work of Polish graphic designer and illustrator Andrzej Klimowski; Polish avant-garde artists Franciszka and Stefan Themerson; and the work and legacy of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, as explored by British-Polish musicologist James Savage-Hanford and a group of leading British-Polish musicians.
Similarly, the Polish Hearth has recently introduced a cinema series, Kino Club, with each screening attended by a Polish actor and director invited to discuss their films with the audience.
As literature has always been an important part of its cultural life, Ognisko Polskie is also home to a newly refurbished library housing Polish and English literary works, and launched a new book club focusing on contemporary Polish literature in translation – in association with South Kensington Books.