‘The History of Working Men’s Clubs: London and Beyond’ with Ruth Cherrington

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Date(s) - 10/07/2013
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Housmans Radical Bookshop


Entry £3, redeemable against any purchase

Ruth Cherrington discusses her book which tells a history of the important role Working Men’s Clubs played in working class communities in London and beyond.

When the term ‘working men’s club’ is mentioned, many people think of smoky northern cities, men with flat caps coming out of shipyards or coal mines going to such places to drink copious amounts of beer and, perhaps, where their wives might be allowed to play bingo. Such stereotypes still persist even today.

In her book ‘Not Just Beer and Bingo! The Social History of Working Men’s Clubs’, Dr. Ruth Cherrington seeks to go beyond these, offering instead the first, comprehensive account of clubs from their mid-19th century origins to their current state of decline. In this talk, she will provide a brief introduction to her book, outlining the main historical trends across 150 years of club life. The sweep of her work goes across right across the country but there will be focus on London clubs, which played a huge part in the club movement. Many early clubs were set up in London and the Home Counties, and some of them remain open to this day- such as Walthamstow WMC (established 1860) and the Mildmay Radical which dates back to the 1880s.

She will outline the key areas of club life, which go beyond the beer and bingo of popular imagination. The early establishment of Club and Institute convalescent homes, for example, will be mentioned alongside the importance of charitable work that clubs have always been involved in. The links to the rise of the entertainment industry and the continued importance of clubs as a training ground for talent will also feature. So many of our most popular entertainers began their careers in clubs- from Dame Vera Lynn, to Tom Jones and many more contemporary performers. Women were excluded from some clubs it is true – but not from all and Ruth will outline how women found a place for pleasure within the traditional patriarchal arrangements of clubs.

This will include aspects of women as members as well as entertainers. Children and older people were also traditionally catered for and activities for them will be briefly outlined such as the Christmas parties and trips to the seaside. And what of education and politics which were central in many early clubs? Their importance will be outlined but also how these did diminish. Finally, the decline of clubs will be outlined with the main reasons for this cited along with their prospects for the future.

A central theme running through the talk will be how clubs were a key part not only of working class leisure time but also of working class communities. Yet their contributions have barely been acknowledged by those outside the club movement.

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