MUCH of the history of local working men’s clubs has been lost over the years, including valuable records, minute books and framed photographs of those stalwarts who built them.
Where they have gone we may never know, but they were an important part of our social history and therefore some attempt must be made to recover them.
I am presently making some efforts to trace club history through old newspaper archives, starting this week with Hanging Heaton Working Men’s Club, on the border of Dewsbury and Batley.
The club, built in 1916, is still open and flourishing, which is good news, but I understand the old framed photographs of the founders which once adorned the walls, are no longer there.
No-one seems to know where they have gone or the beautiful photograph of the club which was taken shortly before it opened.
Members were so proud of what they had achieved, they had these framed and hung on the walls with all the names of the committee and officials inscribed beneath.
This week I am reproducing the pictures which appeared in the Reporter, and although they reproduce poorly, they are over one hundred years old and at least a record.
I hope the present committee might find some way of reproducing them in a better format, framing them and putting them back where they rightly belong.
Club life on the hillside of Hanging Heaton originated with a number of men who frequented the Hanging Heaton and Shaw Cross Co-operative Reading Rooms in the early 1900s.
They conceived the idea of forming a club and very quickly began working on a scheme to form a club which had more congenial and relaxing surroundings.
In 1907 they leased Royd House in High Street, near to where the present club is now situated, and this became the village working men’s club.
Mr James Harry Dunn was the first president, assisted by Mr Jim Foster as secretary, as well as a good number of other enthusiastic workers.
Mr James Watson was next selected to the presidential chair, followed by Mr Rufus Bailey, and Mr J.W. Bannister.
The president when the new club opened was Mr Fred Hird.
When the club was first founded in Royd House, there were only 30 members, but membership quickly trebled and soon they were thinking of bigger premises.
In 1913, the year before the outbreak of World War One, the trustees started drawing up plans for new premises to be built nearby.
The new club, built in stone, boasted several up-to-date conveniences which few other local clubs possessed, including two bathrooms in the basement for the free use of members.
This was at a time when most members were colliers living in houses without bathrooms or running hot water, and Shaw Cross Pit, where most of them worked, had not yet fitted their own pit baths.
The thoughtfulness of the trustees in providing two bathrooms, mainly for collier members, earned the unstinted gratitude of all the members, whose numbers by this time had risen to 250.
Other amenities at the club included reading and recreation rooms, a billiard room with two full-sized tables and a card-room.
The bar was centrally situated, being directly accessible from the three largest rooms, and the lavatories, by an ingenious arrangement, were separated from the main building.
It was said at the time that Hanging Heaton Working Men’s Club was one of the cosiest and most up-to-date institutions of its kind in the district.
The outbreak of war had held up its building owing to the fact that many men were now away fighting, 32 of whom were members of the club.
At the opening ceremony tribute was paid to all the local men fighting in the war, the roll call at the time being over 300 from the village of Hanging Heaton.
Over 100,000 members of working men’s clubs in Britain were at that time fighting for their country, and many more would be added to that list as the war progressed.
Times change and today Hanging Heaton Working Men’s Club is one of only a handful surviving in the district.
But these clubs are very much different from when the working men’s club movement first started, and perhaps one of the biggest changes has been the admittance of women members.
When they were first formed, they were “men only” clubs with women only being allowed to enter at weekends or on special occasions.
This changed in the 1960s with the introduction of sex discrimination laws, and working men’s clubs were reluctantly forced to allow women to become members.
In 1962, Hanging Heaton voted to allow women members, but with the following stipulation:
“Lady members shall not be entitled to attend general meetings or vote at elections and shall not be eligible to hold office or propose or second candidates for office or introduce visitors.”
As I said earlier – times change!