pubs Somerset

At the social, the Legion, the club

The Miners and Mechanics Institute, St Agnes, Cornwall.
The Miners and Mechanics Institute, St Agnes, Cornwall.

By Bailey

When people talk about the importance of the pub in working class culture, they’re right, of course, but there are reminders of an alternative drinking culture right under our noses: half-blown illuminated signs advertising brands of beer from thirty years ago; signs behind frosted glass saying, slightly needily, ‘Non-members always welcome!!!’.

They’re usually in Portakabins, or on the upper floors of post-war buildings, hidden up side-streets or on industrial estates. Occasionally, they occupy rather grand but decaying buildings, as in the picture above.

Even though my parents ran a pub for a time, a lot of my childhood memories are actually of social clubs. My grandad, a former prisoner of war, used to like the Royal British Legion at Pawlett which, as I recall, was wipe-clean white throughout and resembled a hospital waiting room. Later, he joined a working men’s club in Highbridge where the family spent a lot of Sunday lunchtimes and afternoons. It was cosy and dark, and there were mountains of ham rolls in clingfilm on the bar.

Years later, my parents joined the Railwaymen’s Club in Bridgwater, though neither had any connection with the trains. It was in a prefab next to the tracks and a pint of keg bitter was almost as cheap as a can from the supermarket. There were lots of raffles and usually ‘a band’ (that is, two blokes playing guitar and singing to a backing tape, or a man in a shiny jacket imitating Matt Monro to a keyboard auto-backing). It was too bright and, sadly, not very friendly, but it was an affordable night out.

Factory social clubs, like those affiliated with Wellworthy’s or British Cellophane, were the venues for weddings, wakes and children’s Christmas parties, too.

They’re rarely architecturally significant, often a bit glum, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Is anyone bothered about saving or preserving them?

When we mentioned this subject on Twitter, several people pointed us towards this book by Ruth Cherrington which is now on our wish list.

6 replies on “At the social, the Legion, the club”

For a while I went to the local Cricket Club once a week, for the Folk Club (clubs are good for function rooms). Norman, the barman, had a smile and a friendly word for everyone he’d known for 20 years or more, which let most of us right out. But he pulled a good pint (Holt’s bitter, and if you didn’t like that, you could get used to it).

Norman slowed down with the passing years, and the management put a barmaid on alongside him; she was less than half his age but just as friendly, and had that infuriating Guinness-derived habit of pulling 4/5ths of a pint and letting it settle before topping it up. Then I stopped going so often, having got into folk music (yes, I know – long story).

The last couple of times I went back the only Holt’s beers were the keg range; the two hand-pumps were devoted to rotating guest beers. They were still being pulled on the 4/5-and-wait principle, though. There was a plaque behind the bar with Norman’s name and dates.

Ah, yes — had forgotten rugby clubs and the like. Even my school had a weird hidden bar they used for, I think, Carnival club dos and that kind of thing.

Hey guys. Nice new blog, I like it. Much better to leave a comment on, anyway! Clubs – CAMRA have a clubs arm, don’t they? I know that our Leeds branch gives out plenty of coverage and awards to ones in Leeds, with one in Guiseley winning plaudits left, right and centre. However, I must say – the problem with ‘the club’ is the age gap – they are simply places younger people do not want to drink in, no matter how cheap the grog. That model is unsustainable, no matter what the institution. You need the ‘passing of the torch’ to happen.

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