Mechanics, miners and working men founded institutes during the 19th Century predominantly in industrialised towns and cities.
Swindon had several working men’s clubs and institutes.
In the coal mining areas sometimes nothing existed on a green field until the coal mine opened, and then the coal owner built tied accommodation around the pit.
These pit settlements grew into villages and towns. The miners’ institute was often referred to as the Miners’ Welfare. This was because the miners and their families bonded together to fend and look after themselves, often miles from the nearest major town.
The institutes and clubs, had one aim, to have facilities that allowed for education, cultural arts, entertainment and for meetings usually along with a reading room.
They also provided a venue for club meetings, pigeons, bird keepers as well as political meetings for discussion and organising.
There was a strong charitable function underlying many of these clubs and money would be raised by many to assist their members, local community or nationally.
They are non-profit making and are run by an elected committee. There are rules for members who pay a subscription to be a member and they are enforced. Though called working men’s clubs women are allowed entry and membership.
Though the coalfields and industrial areas are passing into the mists of time working men’s clubs are still in evidence. In Swindon there are some working men’s clubs and I have enjoyed many a good game of skittles there.
Many of the clubs in the country are affiliated to the Working Men’s Clubs and Institute Union (CIU or C&IU). This body has just over 2,000 affiliated clubs and allows members to use other clubs and their facilities.
Since the late 1970s such clubs have been in decline, as clubs rely on their licensed bar to pay for the staff. Committee members cannot carry out paid functions such as steward, cleaners, janitorial, maintenance staff.
The clubs are part of our social history and historians promote their historical aspect on www.clubhistorians.co.uk Recently one sun-drenched Sunday afternoon I was out near Fairford researching an article on a WWII plane crash.
I turned down a narrow rural lane by the church and came upon Whelford Working Men’s Club, which I have to admit I was surprised to find in a quaint Gloucestershire village.
Having taken a photograph of the building I saw it was open and ventured in. Not being a local I entered hoping for some information to assist my research. The people inside gave me a warm friendly welcome it wasn’t long before I felt local.
They are a great bunch in there and we had a chat about everything from the plane crash to the use of public footpaths and rights of way.
The club welcomes visitors, and is the old school house established some 57 years ago. There is free parking and a large grassed area – it must be a great vantage point when the Fairford International Airshow is on.
If you are out in the area and want to pop in and meet a good crowd, it is open Sunday afternoons, 1pm to 6pm, and for bingo on Wednesday evenings. Also there is entertainment on the last Saturday of every month.
To find out more about this historic working men’s club club call 01285 713335.