In ‘Not Just Beer and Bingo! A Social History of Working Men’s Clubs’, Ruth Cherrington traces the history of working men's clubs from their mid-19th origins to their current state of declining popularity and numbers. This book is a unique and comprehensive account of a social movement that has provided companionship, education, recreation and a great deal of pleasure to working class communities for over 150 years. All aspects of club life are covered here in a highly readable, often funny, but sometimes poignant manner. At all times, Ruth Cherrington maintains a scholarly approach, drawing upon wide-ranging research and the wealth of information collected from scores of club goers, officials and entertainers from across the country. They tell their own stories throughout this book, from nights out with the kids to seaside outings, the concerts and Christmas parties, the place of women, the popularity of games and gambling and the many charitable roles and activities that clubs are involved in. Ruth Cherrington illustrates throughout the book how clubs were much loved social and community institutions that have always been about much more than beer drinking and bingo playing. They were often central to working class leisure time as well as at the heart of the communities where they were located. She shows how clubs played numerous social and cultural roles, making important contributions to the lives of their members and their families. She does not shy away from tacking the downsides of clubs life and the criticisms that they have sometimes received for some of their policies and practices. The role of the Club and Institute Union (CIU) is also considered here. Established by a Temperance minister in 1862, it helped to nurture the early clubs, fight some battles on their behalf, eventually becoming a nationwide organization that represented the ‘Union’ of working men’s clubs. As clubs now face many challenges and with around half the number that existed during their heyday in the early 1970s, the key reasons for the decline are laid out for the reader to consider. The discussion doesn’t end there with an account of the ‘fight back’ and what club people, from members through to officials and the CIU, are doing to keep their doors open and to adapt to the rapidly changing times we live in. The work concludes by offering some thoughts about their future prospects.
Ruth Cherrington grew up with a working men's club right across the street! It was a central place in her family’s leisure time just as it was for many local people and their children. She acquired a life-long club going habit from a very young age and as an adult became increasingly curious not only about the club across the street but the thousands of others across the UK. With her trained sociologist's eye and interest in social history, she set out to document how clubs came about in the first place in the middle of the 19th century and what they still mean for their many members 150 years later in the 21st century. Her belief in the social, cultural and community roles that clubs have played across the years, witnessed through her own experiences, has added depth and insight to this work. Ruth Cherrington is a scholar as well as a club enthusiastic and campaigner and this combination has placed her in a good position to tell the club story. Ruth never lost the club-going habit and is still partial to a game of bingo!
I grew up several thousand miles away and across an ocean from Ruth Cherrington's "Working Men's Clubs" but her book still brought back fond memories of going with my parents to the American Veterans' Posts or the "Knights Of Columbus" Catholic social clubs.
Ms. Cherrington blends an impressive amount of research with a light, almost storytelling, style that pulls the reader in with sort of the warm glow you might feel actually sitting down in one of those places. I say "almost storytelling" because, although she does do some storytelling along the way, the book is more focused on the history -- a history of the founding, development, and eventually somewhat of a decline of the Clubs as a British institution. The subjects of discrimination -- racial, class, and sexual -- are all examined thoughtfully as they were dealt with in places that originally were very strictly defined as being "men only" and "men" who only fit within the narrow definitions and desires laid down by members of each particular club, most usually being "white working class" and fairly intolerant of having guests, and most particularly, members, who did not fit within their guidelines.
She chronicles how the clubs grew out of that mold, and also how they dealt with issues of drinking, gambling, and various sorts of gaming in general; she looks at the importance they played in the social fabric of the communities out of which they grew; and she examines how the various clubs worked with each other through their CIU (Club and Institute Union) in relating to officialdom and its rules and regulations.
The only reservation I had about her writing, and it's a limited reservation and perhaps more in the "eye of the beholder" than in reality, is that she seems to have too strongly accepted the common downplaying of the impact of the smoking ban's destructive effects on the lives and institutions of of British social life. She acknowledges that the ban had an impact, and perhaps even an important impact, but too largely falls into the trap (or what I have always seen as the trap) of accepting the Antismokers' favored explanations for the difficulties of pubs in post-ban Britain: cheap off-premises alcohol and an unexplained but very conveniently timed simple "shift" of culture away from socializing in pubs and clubs. Noting that Britons suddenly began to "prefer to drink at home" rather than out with their friends suddenly at just about exactly the same time as the smoking ban rolled in without recognizing the overwhelming importance of the ban simply plays into the hands of those who'd find excuses to support the ban even if it meant the destruction of every social club in existence.
Ruth doesn't ignore the reality of the ban, but, and perhaps because of my own prejudices in the area, she did not give it the amount of attention I felt it deserved. And it's quite possible that my own analysis of the ban's effect, based largely upon statistical observations applying to Pubs, may be less accurate than Ruth's characterization of its effect as applies to Clubs: two re
Michael J. McFadden
Not Just Beer and Bingo
(A Social History of Working Men's Clubs)
This month sees the publication of a very important book which charts the course of the Working men's Clubs from Henry Solly's intial visions to present day troubles. Dr Ruth Cherrington, herself a 'club baby' takes us through 150 years of the club world as they battled to establish themselves, through to reliving the magnificence of the 1970's when many of our TV talents learned their trade and the clubs hit 'boomtime' and then the sad decline of the clubs as closures became commonplace.
Ruth was 'born into clubland' as her parents were all but married to the Canley Club in Coventry-but then they lived opposite the club so it's not really surprising! Ruth also runs www.clubhistorians.co.uk which is full of interesting facts and figures about the clubs but in reality this book is as masterpiece of social history revolving around the Working Men's Clubs. You don't need to read many pages to realise the enormous knowledge & research that has gone into this book and it is oh so easy to see the passion for the clubs held by the author as she progresses through the ages.
It is readily available at http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000588119/Not-Just-Beer-and-Bingo-A-Social-History-of-Working-Mens-Clubs.aspx and I would seriously suggest that all club secretaries purchase a copy and perhaps 'rent it out' to club members at £1 per time to read and enjoy-and support your club! After all, who knows what you might find out about your club!
Saffron Lane WMC
Not Just Beer and Bingo
A Social History of Working Men's Clubs
by Ruth Cherrington
This book has been written with a real sense of both personal feeling and research fact.
If like me you have been a long standing member of a workingmen's club then the opening pages will bring a smile to your face and you will know how Good the club was, the Author has told it how it was and how it is now including the clubs fight back to become popular once again and to get the membership numbers back up to a better level. There is no doubt that the Smoking Ban has played a major part in falling memberships of clubs all over the country has it has to pub customer numbers and I fear that until the government Reforms the ban to allow both the public and businesses the choice, closures will continue.
The Workingmen's clubs offer warmth and friendship and a social life like no other, it would be a great shame to loose such a valuable asset as the Author knows only to well.
With a pleasing blend of pacy narrative and meticulous research, Cherrington paints a fascinating picture of a disappearing world. She deftly weaves the stories of clubbers, stars like Vera Lynn and Steve Davis and her own memories into the historical and sociological context. I'm amazed no-one has written such a book before, but very glad that Cherrington has, before it's too late.