Paul Gibson’s Hull and East Yorkshire History

Working Men’s Clubs

The battle to reduce drunkenness in England and Wales in the early years of the 20th Century had a drastic effect on the number of premises that were permitted to hold an ‘on-licence’, which permitted the drinking of alcohol on the premises. During the period 1900 to 1950 a policy of fewer but better licensed houses, saw the numbers dwindle from 100,000 to 73,000. During the same period the number of registered clubs grew from almost nothing to 20,000, and the level of drunkenness fell from 60 for every 10,000 people to about 11. These numbers tell much of the growth of “the club” in England during the last century, and indeed the port of Hull.

Although the ‘Club & Institute Union’ was founded in 1862 and led initially by Lord Brougham, the early clubs were mostly aimed at the middle classes and were proud of their teetotal stance. However, clubs were soon set up for the more typical working man, where drinking was allowed, and this led to the C&IU eventually becoming the Working Men’s Club & Institute Union, which it remains to this day. The only clubs for working men prior to this had been those organised by the Friendly Societies, who invariably met in rooms within and usually above pubs (club rooms), a trend begun with the earliest meetings at the start of the 18th Century. The Friendly Societies had a strong link with temperance, however beer was generally excluded – as for many of their members it was the cheap alternative to an impure water supply. It seems the working classes still hardly dared to have clubs of their own, simply for socialising and entertainment, and the need for clubs was low anyway as the number of public houses was at an all time high.

Working Men’s Clubs in East Yorkshire were first listed in the trade directories from the early 1870s, the earliest clubs being in Bridlington and Market Weighton. The first Working Men’s Clubs in Hull appear to have been the aptly titled ‘Working Men’s Club’ in Beets Court off Blanket Row in the Old Town - listed in the directory of 1885, and another with the same title listed in Hotham Street in 1888. By 1889 the Hotham Street club was listed as the Dauntless Club, one of just two clubs listed in the Working Men’s Clubs section of the directory, the other being the ‘Newington’ at 68 Somerset Street.

An article appeared in the Hull Packet of 25th December 1863 that describes a meeting held in Hull to discuss the rise of Working Men's Clubs in Hull. The first half of this article can be read by clicking the link below, which will open a pdf file of the report. The second part can be read by clicking the second link further down the page.

Kelly’s trade directory of 1893 listed 25 clubs in Hull, of these, six were sports related (e.g. Hull Cricket Club etc) six were political, two were business related, one was the Friendly Societies Hall, and the other ten appear mostly to have been ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. One of these was the Hull Albert Club Co. Ltd on St. Andrew’s Dock, which must surely have been a Working Men’s Club, however the only club mentioned in the Working Men’s Clubs section in that directory was the Newington, in Somerset Street. By 1897 still only two Working Men’s Clubs were listed in Hull – the Newington, and the ‘Holy Trinity’ at 2 Prince Street in the Old Town.

By 1905 only the Holy Trinity Working Men’s Club, 2 Prince Street was listed in the Kelly’s directory under ‘other clubs’. In the Kelly’s directory of 1915, only ten years later, there were 15 political clubs, 12 sports clubs, 17 recreation clubs, one working girls club, 36 “other clubs” and seven clubs listed specifically as Working Men Clubs. From examination of the ‘other clubs’ at least eight can be recognised as social clubs and could be classed as Working Men’s Clubs today. This growth was in part due to the licensing issues of the day, but more specifically as a result of demand from a working class that for the first time had the choice and time to enjoy periods of leisure. Other factors in this growth would be the general increase in the population, the need to have a place away from the family, a place to meet with like-minded souls, the growth of trade unionism?, changes in the licensing laws, and possibly a response to the very private gentlemen’s clubs. 

The Working Men’s Clubs mentioned so far form the origins of most of the clubs that we see today; changing fashions may have brought differing demands upon them, but essentially they serve the same groups; the Working Men’s Clubs, albeit now very plush in some cases, still serve a predominantly working class population. The private clubs, probably now known as member’s clubs (usually golf!), still attract those with possibly elitist or certainly upwardly mobile tendencies, and the social or recreational clubs remain exactly that. The only real differences between 1915 and 2009 are as a direct result of fashion and society trends, but they all originate from the two forms of clubs.

Entertainment as a whole underwent periods of huge change during the 20th Century. music, fashion, technology and mass access to facilities saw an exponential growth never previously experienced in what has now become an industry. This change of climate, and particularly the growth of dancing, eventually gave birth to modern popular culture; the club, dancehall, ballroom, disco, cabaret etc. etc. are all directly or indirectly related to this growth and in some cases can now be seen merely as showcases for the entertainment industry itself. Many city centre venues are now most likely to be seen as part of the ‘fashion circuit’, whatever that is, although dance culture remains a dominant force. Working Men's clubs have bucked all trends and remain a constant throughout the periods of fashionable change.

To discuss the growth and development of each sector of the club society would take a life’s work. What I have attempted to do is have a light-hearted look (including a gazetteer) at Hull’s better-known clubs, dancing venues, discos etc., call them what you will. Indeed, those clubs you remember, and what you call them, is likely to be determined by your age and social status. For the average reader I would suspect that their memory will stretch back as far as the late 1950s or more likely into the 1960s (the boom in modern music and the arrival of the more liberated teenager), and I have chosen to concentrate on this period. Before moving on, these advertisements from a Hull Entertainment Guide of April 1948 (shown right) give an idea of what Hull had to offer the dancers of the 1940s.

Please see the 'discos & nightclubs' pages for the list of clubs and dance-halls.

© Paul Gibson 2009 


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