In the early 90s I worked London’s markets; the following is an account of true events (continued from: Geezers and Goldfish Bowls):
Gotta wonder what kinda image ‘workingmen’s club’ conjures for anyone without a clue.
Almost unique to the U.K. (apart from a couple in Australia and Ireland; at least according to Wikipedia [though citation needed apparently]) they’re private clubs with committees, rules and membership.
The benefit of membership to a workingman being, as a prime example, that the club as a licensed premises can buy alcohol in bulk to then sell as close to cost as overheads will allow; its purpose being to benefit members, not profit from them.
They started doing this long before supermarkets full of beer at cut prices existed.
My grandfather (not pictured), mother’s side, was treasurer of one. He was in charge of things like the ‘Christmas Club’ where members would put in each week for an end of year pay out with interest.
Back then workingmen got paid in cash and didn’t have bank accounts; by banking it together via the club the interest accumulated was higher at a time when rates on savings could make an actual difference.
Workingmen’s clubs were at their prime when there was no Welfare State or NHS. If needs be the Christmas Club would be used to give emergency loans to anyone falling on hard times like needing a doctor.
Without the Christmas Club, money would’ve been left to burn holes in workingmen’s pockets, inevitably being spent on booze in the club before doing too much damage to the fabric.
Though it was no socialist utopia
Women had to enter by a different door and sit in a different room;a ‘luxury’ afforded that particular club due to its size. There was no bar in the women’s room; women had to rely on men to bring a drink in for them whenever it suited. At least, given the whole separate entrance and room thing, it seems unlikely women could’ve gone stood in the doorway to the men’s while waving their empty stout glass with a ‘coo-ey’.
I saw it all firsthand in the 70s when a nipper, taken to granddad’s club by ma despite her always chiding pa anytime he took me in a boozer.
As the random images lifted off the net for example show, separate rooms were far from a possibility everywhere. To compensate there’d be tape stuck on the floor to mark a distance of about 3 to 4 foot from the bar; that being as close to it as women were allowed to get.
It was still like this in the 90s, when due to certain associates (T being an example) I’d had various reasons to go in others; though by then these so-called socialist organisations had become liberal enough to allow women access to the bar one night a week. It varied at different clubs, but would always be a weekday. Like a Tuesday or Wednesday. Which is fine if there’s nothing better to do like get kids up for school the next day.
These days, hard to imagine that any woman would want to go somewhere treating her like that, but Ladies’ Nights were always popular thanks to those old adages about beggars not being choosers and pride going before a fall.
Drinks were cheap and the ladies taking advantage relied on slim pickings from the hubbies, who inevitably wanted as much dough possible for their drinking.
The kids could sort their own toast out in the morning.
I’ve no idea how many of these places still exist today, if any at all, but on the score of women, the Wikipedia page says:
“A dispute at Wakefield City Workingmen’s Club in 1978 led to a national campaign for equal membership rights for women. Sheila Capstick, whose husband was an activist in the NUM, had been a regular snooker player at the club before a ban was instituted on women playing snooker. Her protest A Woman’s Right to Cues developed into a nationwide campaign for equal rights ERICCA – Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action. In April 2007, after the resolution had been consistently rejected over years, the Club and Institutes Union accepted equal membership rights for women.”
Another staple was a jobsworth to make sure everyone was signed in as should be; some old bloke who seemed to have nothing better to do than hang around draughty doors pedantically nagging people about petty points (though, to be fair, clubs found to be in the slightest breach could lose the right to that status and the benefits it gave).
Back in the motor heading to Peckham, I said. “Workingmen’s club’s the last sorta place I’d expect you to be member of.”
T always went places a bit flash, hence his ending up drinking with Babs Windsor (Horses for Courses).
“Then again . . .” I added, pausing to navigate a snowy corner. “The amount you drink.”
“Fuck off,” T replied. “I ain’t a member.”
Non-members had to be signed in by members and only one per member. If T didn’t know anyone already there at stupid o’clock in morning, it’d mean driving all the way in the snow just to turn back again; though given I didn’t wanna go in the first place . . .
The club was in the middle of a giant council estate; parking was hard to find and not exactly close. We loaded up four giant kit bags—which still left some stock in the motor—and headed gingerly across the slippery pavement towards the club.
The doors were closed but unlocked with no one on the other side checking memberships or that anyone was signed in. It was large, but with only five people there drinking; hardly a surprise given the time.
Reaching the bar, we dropped the four brimming-beyond-closing bags at our feet, and T ordered two pints.
The barman lent forward, looked over the bar at the bags, and firmly said, “No. You can’t bring that in here.”
To be fair, I didn’t blame him; last thing needed in a bar is stuff all over the floor for drunks to fall over. Only, there was no one in there. And even if there had been, no way was I lugging it all the way back to the motor to leave it all on display there, just to come back again; he, well T, could fucking do one if –
“Follow me,” the barman added, lifting the hinged part of the bar so we could.
T had picked up two bags and was doing exactly that.
When in Rome
We went down a small corridor to a room full of beer barrels and boxes of crisps; somewhere to leave the bags while we drank beer? No.
“Wait here,” said the barman, leaving.
When he returned it wasn’t to deliver our pints; instead everyone who’d been drinking in the club was with him . . .
A Life of Crime vs. the Free Market:
- Horses for Courses
- Songs T Taught Me and the Mystery of Charlie Chaplin
- Geezers and Goldfish Bowls
- Banned from the Pubs
- Mr T and the Art of Profiting from Snow
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan
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