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History of Evesham Working Mens Club

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History OF Evesham Working Mens Club 1879 - 1979

This is a brief summary of the sequence of events that is the history of the Evesham Working Men’s Club.

There is so much more that should be written, and perhaps in the future someone will write it. Until then, this will suffice to give you a small glimpse into the past.

The Evesham Working Men’s Club was established in the Old Grammar School, Merstow Green. on or about October 9th, 1879, by the Reverend F. W. Holland, the then Vicar of Evesham. There has been a Working Men’s Club section of the Farmers & Merchants Society formed in 1873, which became affiliated to the Worcestershire Union of Working Men’s Clubs & Institute, but the present site was its first permanent home.

The first few years was spent in establishing the Club as a place of social life and learning, and with its very fine library, a place where young men could attend lectures and increase their knowledge. The Club continued on through the years increasing its membership and providing all types of entertainment, sports and social occasions. Attendances were not always good, but in spite of this and the financial problems incurred by it, the Members did enjoy their Club and its many organised functions. The first annual dance took place in January, 1895, and it was continually held until 1913, revived again in 1927, but ceased altogether in 1930.

Since 1879 and up to 1920 the Club had been paying a small rent for the buildings to Mr. F. W. Holland’s estate. In 1920, the Whole Club was put up for sale and at the subsequent auction was sdld to the Evesham Labour Club for the sum of £2,650, who, up to the sale, had been renting the Drill Hall from the Evesham Working Men’s Club. The Labour Club’s first action after the auction was to give the Club notice to quit the premises and at the next A.G.M. held in The Vauxhall Assembly Room, Mr. F. Hiden regretted that they met under such painful circumstances, but since the last Meeting the Club had been sold and that they had been given notice to quit. At the moment, the Members had no roof to cover their heads and as they had just completed 47 years of existence it seemed to him to be very marble-hearted to turn them out at such short notice without giving them time to find other accommodation. The role of honour from the Great War was 22 members killed and 49 missing and this alone should have brought someone with sympathy to offer them rooms to carry on the Club. Their membership increased in the last year and their financial position was good. The Committee decided to sell items which could not be stored, other useful items having been stored in the hope of brighter days, praying that the Evesham Working Men’s Club would be re-united in the near future.

The years from 1921 to 1925 were not very happy ones. The Club continued its existence but meetings were infrequent and with no permanent home, organised social evenings were rare. Then, in 1926, the Club was offered the use of No. 4 Room in the Public Hall. It began a new lease of life, membership increased by 58 and the subscription raised to 5 thillings per year. So began a period of good social entertainment. The sports activities seemed to have been well supported even though, to rub salt into the wound, the Labour Club beat them at snooker in 1928. This happy period continued until 1931 when, much to the disappointment of its Members, the Officers and Trustees of the Club decided that owing to lack of suitable premises it was found necessary to disband the Club. It had been decided to present £20, this being the balance in hand, to the Evesham Police Boot Fund and all the snooker and billiard equipment to the Evesham Boys Club.

Self-imposed exile was not to be for very long. In 1935, the Labour Club was dissolved and the name of Evesham Working Men’s Club re-adopted. So, after only four years’ absence, the Club re-emerged. Since then there has been, in the financial sense, only good times. It would have cheered up the Mayor of Evesham, Mr. Isaac Morris, enormously if, in 1887, he could have said that, instead of declaring a fourteen shillings and seven pence deficit.
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However, it must be admitted that the Club has enjoyed tremendous success up to present time, but, like all other Clubs in the country formed 80 to 100 years ago, it nowh resembles the Club originally founded. Unfortunately, there is no-one around today suff icier old enough who could make the comparison. We would like to think that it would be a favoura one

 



 
    
 

The Club itself would not have been successful without the building that housed it and building of the original premises on the Club’s site took place within the Abbacy of Clem Lichf laId in 1 540. It is thought by many that Clement Lichfield, who was a man of great visi could see the end of Evesham Abbey long before the sad event occurred and wanted to rn sure that there was a Free and Independent School outside the Abbey precinct which Wa stand the chance of survival after the expected dissolution of the Monasteries. The pres porch minus the gable was erected in his honour in 1 546 with the words “Orate Pro Ant Clemintas Abbatis 1546”, enscribed parts of this inscription can still be seen and transla means “Pray for the Soul of Abbot Clement”.

 

In 1605 the School fell into disuse and at the request of his eldest son, Prince Henn Charter was granted by James I to provide a School to be named “Free Grammar Schoo~ Prince Henry” in Evesham in the County of Worcester, for which a Royal Grant of £10 per y was made.

 

The Corporation Minutes of 1665 record that the School premises were in great neec repair and the Corporation at once ordered an assessment to be made upon the Boroug~ order to defray the expense, and in 1707 the Council authorised the re-building of Headmaster’s House at the School. This is the part facing The Trumpet Inn forecourt and r used as the Steward’s Quarters, In 1829 the original porch was altered, the gable being rerno and replaced by a low embattlement which can be seen today. In 1873, the School again into disrepair but the Council had only £80 to spend, whilst the repairs would cost £400.

 

May, 1879, saw the Vicar of Evesham, Reverend F. W. Holland, purchase Lanesfield Ho with 11 acres of land for £5,000, which he donated for the new Grammar School. subsequently announced that he had decided upon taking possession of the Old Grami School on Merstow Green for the purposes of the Evesham Working Men’s Club. The Sc~ room will be appropriated for a reading room and will also be available for lectures entertainments. Today, this room is part of the Large Bottom Bar and can easily be identified ft the wooden beams in the ceiling. There will be a separate room for games, a lavatory an classroom for study. This room is now the Upstairs Snooker Room, the lavatory being demolis in 196.6. The upper part of the house will afford space for beds for single men, these empty at are above the Steward’s Quarters and not now in use.

 

On September 9th, 1 879, the Grammar School transferred from Merstow Green to Green and on October 11th, 1879. in the edition of The Evesham Journal, it is recorded that Working Men’s Club is now established in the Old Grammar School on Merstow Green “Mrs. Byass” has very kindly promised to present a bagatelle board and Mr. Radcliffe other friends have promised donations to the library.

The buildings were put to good use and a large variety of activities arranged by the Managen’ Committee were well supported, expansion was obviously necessary, so in 1 892, the brick wood hall at thö rear of the Club, called the Drill Hall, but known to more modern member. the Top Hall, was opened. The Hall was in great demand both by Evesham Working Mi Club Members and outside bodies. It was rented out to the Military in the 191 4-18 War, Labour Party from 1918 to 1920 and was again rented to the Military from 1940—45 for princely sum of £80 per year plus rates and insurance. After this period it continued to be t for all the main social events of the Club. Gaining entry into the Hall waS not always pleas the approach to it fr’om the Bottom Bar was an open walk and in the bad winters and wet sumn’ anyone braving the walk~could expect to get wet and wind blown before reaching its entra An added hazard for Male Members was the open Gent’s Toilet situated just outside the I It really was a case for wearing your “wellies” on your big night out. The hot summer of 1 finally put paid to the Hall when, shafts of sunlight through the glass roof set fire to the S curtains, which in turn destroyed the building. The Insurance Company paid out £7,00 compensation.

In the l9bOs the Clubroom was inadequate for the large membership and for all the si activities being arranged. It was decided to incorporate the yard at the back of the bar wherE Steward’s wife hung her washing out to dry, into the main room. This was completed in V The burnt-out shell of the Top Hall was the next project to tackle. The design was for a two-st building, skittle alley, beer store and boiler room on the Ground Floor, and concert room, lot and toilets on the First Floor—the building to be linked with the Main Bar.

 

 
   
   

   

After three years’ planning, this was finally carried out in 1966, the whole project costing £42,000, with the Club providing all but £7,000 of the finance. The Club had now exhausted all land available to them and they had also exhausted all areas within the Club which to enlarge upon, but there is a strip of land which lies between the Club and the Trumpet Inn which is owned by the Wychavon District Council, and this the Club has been trying to purchase for years. Some years ago, the Wychavon Council did agree to rent it to the Club for £20 per year and now, after numerous requests, they have agreed to sell a 1 2 ft. wide section of it to the Club. Plans have now been approved for an extension to the Main Bar commencing in January, 1980. When this is completed, the only area left for expansion will be the Concert Hall. Plans have been approved to extend this but they will not be acted upon in the immediate future.

That then is the building—a little bit of Evesham’s history but now fulfilling a more important role, growing at every stage of the Club’s development to cater for the potential the Reverend Holland envisaged 100 years ago.

The most valuable asset of any Club is its Members, and in the early years they were just as enthusiastic in all they did as present-day Members. The one privilege they did not have was affiliation to the Club and Institute Union, which was founded on June 14th, 1862, by the Reverend Henry Solly, who resigned his pulpit at the English Presbyterian Chapel. Lancaster, to become its first Full-time Secretary at a salary of £200 a year. He, along with a large section of the Nobility and Clergy at that time, recognised the need for Working Men’s Clubs tobe established. In the first Manifesto Solly drew up to explain the aims of the Union, it is amusing to see how wrong some of his original aims have proved to be in the course of history. He was a keen supporter of the Temperance Movement and thus wrote “This Union is formed for the purpose of helping Working Men to establish Clubs and Institutes where they can meet for conversation, business and mental improvement, with the means of recreation and refreshment, free from intoxicating drinks”. Temperance bias withstanding. Solly gathered support for the C.l.U. from an impressive list of persons: Lord Broughan, the Lord Chancellor, had consented to be President and, in addition, there were 33 Vice-Presidents, including five Peers, four Members of the House of Commons, the Deans of Carlisle, Chichester and Ely, eight other Clergymen and the Recorders of London, Birmingham and Oxford. Solly even asked Gladstone to become a Vice-President and would probably have succeeded had not Gladstone so many other interests. The great Liberal Statesman replied “I am sorry but you know when a pint pot is full all that you pour in, only runs over”, but he did donate £10 to the Union Funds. Solly also charmed £10 from Joseph Chamberlain, three £100 donations from the Duke of Bedford and the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, gave two separate donations of 20 guineaS, so much did Solly convince those he met of the virtues of his cause that when the Postmaster General, Henry Fawcett, introduced Solly to his wife, he said: “This is Henry Solly, my dear, who believes that heaven consists of Working Men’s Clubs”. It is not known whether the Reverend Holland shared this view but the great deal of interest being shown all over the country by the Clergy in me late 1860s must have impressed him enough to form the Evesham Working Men’s Club in 1873, and it may not have been a co-incidence that the Reverend Solly visited Evesham in April of that year to read the first Working Men’s Magazine to its Members.

Exact records as to how many Members there were in the early days of the Club are not available, but at the A.G.M. held in November, 1880, 60 members attended. By 1882 the figure had increased to 80, and in 1885 140 Members were present. Members came from the market gardens and building sites, tradesmen, shopkeepers, local dignitaries (in 1900 the Mayor, Town Clerk, Borough Treasurer and 14 Members of the Corporation were Honourable Members) and the occasional patronage from Members of Parliament.
Ladies were not excluded from joining and appear to have fully participated in the organisation of picnics and other outings.

The membership figures continued to fluctuate, sometimes as low as 40 and then increasing again to 160. This pattern continued right through the 1 88Os into the 1 900s. Within this period, say from 1912, the emphasis on learning diminished and the Club emerged more as a Social Club. The type of Member changed too. Admittedly, Mrs. E. C. Rudge and Lieutenant Commander Eyres Monsell, M.P., were Vice-Presidents, but the Clergy were no longer involved. Whether intoxicating drinks had been introduced is not known. There is no reference to it in any written records but it is hard to believe that so much enjoyment could have been gained from the numerous dinners, social evenings and dances arranged, without the benefit of it.

When the Club re-emerged in 1 935, it already had a captive membership of approximately 200 from the now defunct Labour Club. The interest generated by the change of name back to the Evesham Working Men’s Club revived old interests and the membership began to grow.

 
   
   
 
   
 

In the 1940s and ‘6Os, it hovered around 400—500 mark, reaching its peak in 1966 with 1,100 recorded Members.

Up to present time, membership—Ladies and Gents—has hardened tO approximately 900.

The Club and the Institute Union which Henry Solly founded has now grown beyond even his wildest dreams. There are now almost 4,000 Clubs affiliated to it, representing something like 4 million Members. The Club joined in 1921 and with the use of the Pass Card, renewable every year, and an Associate Card, Members can, and do, visit other Clubs around the country, joining with them in social and sporting occasions. It is a great fraternity, bringing to mind the words which used to be emblazened on the old Club Bar before alterations took place in 1962, “Fellowship is Life, indeed it is”.

The various sports and entertainments enjoyed by Members from 1879 onwards was in keeping with what was popular at the time. Hence in the 1 880s bagatelle was the favourite indoor game. Matches were arranged with other Clubs, notably Pershore W.M.C. and BengeWOrth W.M.C., and between various house teams, the Under-20s v. Over-20s, Single Men v. Married Men and Market Gardeners v. Non-Market Gardeners. Picnics were very popular, with over 300 attending one held in 1881. The introduction of indoor games as we know them today was gradual. Darts in 1891, billiards in 1893, quoits in 1898 and an air-gun team competing in the League in 1904. Despite all these attractions, there was a dance almost every week. Admission charges varying between three halfpence and one shilling, with Mr. F. Alcock’s Band in attendance. The Members’ stamina was not in doubt either, if they could dance from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

After the turn of the century, darts and billiards were the most popular games, but whist came a close second. In 1919, 97 tables were used at a whist drive held in the Drill Hall. It was the same in the 1940s—’50s, with angling gaining support. Today, snooker, quoitS, skittles, dominoes and Ladies’ darts are the most popular indoor games, and angling and football the outdoor. As for entertainments, bingo is the most popular and has been since the middle-’505. It is now played four times each week.

There is dancing, quiz games and, as in 1881, free and easy’s. We have not been able to emulate the Members in 1883 who formed a Drum and Fife Band, which was still in being in 1898. What changes will occur in the next 100 years. With more leisure time available and Members demanding better facilities, it is doubtful whether the Club. on its present site, can provide them, but whatever happens, we are sure that there will always be an Evesham Working Men’s Club.

 
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