Comrades Club, Huntingdon
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Comrades Club, Huntingdon description
The history was researched and written by Mr T. Fechter (President 1994-1997), who wishes to acknowledge the anecdotes given by Oliver & Basil Seaman, which has added interest to the document.
Following a meeting on Tuesday 2nd March 1920 of the Comrades of the Great War of which Colonel Chichester, the Chief Constable for the area, was the Captain of the Post, it was decided to form a club in Godmanchester for the comrades. The Club was to be called "Comrades of the Great War Club, Godmanchester", with subscription being 4/- per year and visitors being allowed in on payment of 1d.
An offer was made by Commander Locker Sampson for use of the back premises of the Constitutional Hall. The original Constitutional Hall is what is now the snooker room with the stage being where the bar is as you come through the double doors into the club. The lounge was used as the club premises with a platform down the side of the room adjacent to what is now the dance hall.
There were also two small ante rooms in the club premises of which one was used as a quiet room and at times for a bottle store. Some members used to take advantage of this by taking a bottle of beer without paying for it. The bar was situated in the region of the present small committee room and heating for the club was supplied by a tortoise shell stove. Opening hours were set to be from 5-10pm, with the first steward, Mr A. Boot, being appointed on a weekly wage of 30/-. It is interesting to note that in the first "Rule Book" there was a by-law which read :- "No liquor to be taken off the premises unless inside the member carrying same".
The club was officially opened by the Lord Lieutenant on Friday 19th May 1920. The Pesident was Colonel Chichester, Vice-President a Mr Markham, with 5 committeemen, 2 auditors and 17 members. The club wished to extend so it negotiated the purchase of a wooden hut from the soldiers of the 1st World War, for the sum of £50, to be funded by the issue of debenture shares at cost of £1 with 5% interest. However this proved a fruitless venture because in 1922 the hut was sold because of lack of use.
1924 saw the first suspension when Mr L. Seaman was suspended following a disturbance in the club. The club was a meeting place for the men of Godmanchester where they were able to play, billiards, draughts, darts and cards. There was also 2 "Quoit Beds" situated outside along the wall of the club premises. There used to be regular matches on a Saturday afternoon with beer being supplied in buckets and people just filled their glass from them. Another favourite past-time was "cork billiards".
This was also played on Saturdays and involved putting a cork on the blue spot (as in snooker). Each player put a penny on the cork and the idea was to come off the cushion and hit the cork. If the player was successful he claimed the money but if he went off the cushion into the pocket he had to double the amount of pennies on the cork. Cards was also a favourite game to be played, with a local farmer, Ralph Pratt, losing his herd of cattle over about a period of three years. In 1925 Godmanchester Football Club were allowed to use the club as their Headquarters and in the same year the club decided to provide a musical evening every fortnight.
1926 saw the resignation of Colonel Chichester who had presided over the club for nearly 7 years. He retired through ill-health and on Friday 14th January 1927 Reverend Kitchener was elected the new President.
1930 to 1939
1931 saw the first expulsion when Mr Oliver Seaman was expelled and 2 members were suspended for letting a firework off in the club. The circumstances were that a number of members had been letting fireworks off in the club and obviously run out. Oliver Seaman had a collection and got about 6/-, went off to the local shop and came back with a variety of fireworks. Some of the members got hold of a committeeman, Aubrey Pauley and let off a cannon firework underneath him. Oliver got most of the blame so was expelled. This was not the only occasion when Oliver got into trouble.
There was one occasion when some members turned the fruit machine upside down and out came a quantity of 6d pieces. Oliver together with some other members picked up a handful and threw them behind the bar so they would be safe. The whole episode was the source of much merriment in the club but not for Oliver, he got the blame and was suspended for 6 months. On another occasion Oliver had been to Leeds where he saw Table Tennis being played. He returned to Godmanchester purchased some table tennis equipment and started playing in the hut the club had at the time.
The treasurer, Mr Henshaw, saw Oliver and told him to stop but he refused and was suspended for one month. Oliver became a member of the club at the age of 17 when the minimum age for joining was 18 - he was a little economical with the truth when applying for membership. It is obvious that Oliver has either been "unlucky" or a "naughty boy", I leave the members to judge. However after 70 years membership he was made a life member in 1994 together with a Mr Tom Dighton and they were also presented with a suitably engraved tankard each.
Reverend Kitchener announced at the Annual General Meeting on Thursday 21st January 1932 that he was leaving the area and so Sir William Prescott was elected President. He was to prove a great benefactor to the club. The 1930's saw a lot of men out of work but they used the club as a meeting place and a place somewhere they could keep warm. They would sit without drinking and play cards', not for money, but for matches.
Since 1924 the club had been having difficulties with the various owners of the premises so the committee sought out their own destiny by purchasing some vacant land owned by a Mr Markham at a cost of £75. Sir William Prescott offered a hut 80" x 24" to the club free of charge. This possibly stirred the brewery owners into action and at a meeting on Tuesday 29th March 1932 they offered to sell the premises including the Constitutional Hall to the club for £800.An offer of £650 was made and accepted. Sir William Prescott very kindly offered the club to loan the money free of interest as well as providing a wooden extension costing £100.
After 1 year Sir William Prescott stood down as President to be replaced by a Dr A Greenwood.At a meeting on Wednesday 23rd January 1935 the first attempt to allow access to ladies failed when a proposal to start a ladies night failed to get a seconder. 1936 saw a further improvement in facilities provided by the club, when it was agreed to hold dances in the winter months in the club. It is not recorded if ladies were allowed?Another milestone in the clubs history occurred in 1937 when at a meeting held on Monday 1st March 1937 it was decided to make alterations to the Constitutional Hall so as to bring it into the main club premises.
This involved taking the stage down between the 2 premises and moving the bar to an area where the present bar is when you walk into the club. The cost of this was estimated at £40-50 and was carried out by the members. The club's main benefactor Sir William Prescott stepped in again with an offer of the £40 to be defrayed against the mortgage payment due to him. He also offered the club another billiard table, which is still in use today.
A dinner was held to mark the opening of the club premises and Sir William Prescott requested ladies be allowed to attend. It is not recorded if this was allowed. In June of this year the Seaman family were at it again when Mr E. Seaman was reprimanded for disorderly conduct, but to show there was no hard feelings he offered (gratefully accepted) to erect the new billiard table. The Seaman tradition has carried on down the years with our current vice-president, Basil Seaman, being suspended on a couple of occasions.
One of the occasions was when he was into horse racing and he came into the club to read the "Cambridge Evening News" to see if he had won. There was a particular member who used to "hog" the paper so Basil asked if he could look at the racing results. He was told after the particular member had finished reading the paper. Basil being Basil promptly got his cigarette lighter out, run it along the bottom of the newspaper setting light to it, making the comment, "if I can't read it, nor can you". He was suspended for 6 months.
On another occasion for swearing in the club he was suspended for one month.Dr Greenwood stood down as President at the Annual General Meeting held on Thursday 26th January 1939 to be replaced by a Mr Figg who was then Vice-President. The club continued to prosper and in July it was decided to install central heating. During the war the club contributed to the funds such as Comforts Fund, Parcels Fund, Prisoner of War Fund and Salute the Soldier. In 1940 the Home Guard were allowed use of the club
The Comrades Club 1940 to 1949
In February 1946 it was decided to purchase the first cooling system so as to cool the beer. On the Wednesday 13th February 1946, the ladies issue was raised again and it was agreed to allow ladies in the tennis tournament but that no alcohol should be served and that all doors should be locked except the one leading into St Annes Lane.
On 23rd January 1947, Mr Kisby was appointed President. Later that year the question of affiliation to the C.I.U. was investigated but no action was taken. At the same meeting Mr Kisby stood down to be replaced by Mr Summers. Mr Barringer was elected Vice-President with a Mr Readwin as Secretary/treasurer, names remembered by a number of club members today.
Darts was a favourite game in the club, there being 6 boards in the original premises and 2 in the bar area. Darts were so popular that if you didn't put your name up at the end of the evening you would have a job getting a game the following evening. Cards were still popular and many a time the steward would go home leaving members playing cards sometimes all night.
They would help themselves to beer but would always leave the money on the counter. Over the years the club's fortunes continued to prosper with takings increasing every year and in 1949 the turnover was reported as £7085 1s 8d.
The Comrades Club 1950 to 1959
At the Annual General Meeting 27th January 1951 Mr Barringer was elected President with Mr J Looker as Vice-President. Our current Secretary Treasurer, Mervyn James was elected to post on 23rd October 1951 and has now served the club for nearly 44 years.
At the Annual General Meeting 25th January 1952 Mr J Looker was elected as President with Mr P Thompson as Vice-President. It was also decided to form a sub-committee to look after the club's finances to ease work on the main committee, and the finance committee still exists today, meeting half an hour before the general committee.
In 1952 the ladies issued was raised again when the Huntingdon & District Darts League wanted to use the club's facilities for darts competitions and also requested admission of ladies. The main request was granted but the admission of ladies was refused. 1952 saw the club purchase its first cash register.
1953 the Huntingdon & District Darts League again raised the question of ladies but again was refused. On 13th October 1953 it was decided to advertise for interest to run a Thrift Club. The result was 50 members responded and eventually 70 took the option up. Rules were drawn up on 17th November, 1953 and the club was formed. It was started by Mr Trafford James, one of our current Trustees, and the club was a resounding success with receipts and membership increasing most years. Trafford ran the club for 26 years.
1954 saw Mr J Looker elected as President and Mr P Thompson as Vice-President. Again the ladies issue was raised and a momentous decision was made to allow ladies in as guests on a Saturday night. The same year the Huntingdon & District Darts League asked about ladies and this time they were admitted. In view of the decision to allow ladies entrance, the sports committee organised a concert party and wives/ladies allowed entrance on the night. A room was made available in the hut for the ladies but escorts had to purchase drinks, the room to be opened on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.
1959 saw the "News of the World" holding its area finals in the club. 1960 saw the election of Mr P Thompson as President, and Mr E Summers as Vice-President.
The Comrades Club 1960 to 1969
1961 saw ladies being admitted without paying the visitors fee. The first steps were taken to make alterations to the bar and toilets assisted by Whitbread's Brewery and over the next two years well over £5000 was spent on improvements. 1961 also saw the club purchasing 53 Cambridge St, which was demolished some years later.
The Club continued to prosper with bar takings increasing which allowed more money to be spent on improvements. Takings at the 1964 Annual General Meeting were reported as £13078. The same year it was decided that ladies tickets would be sold to members for wives and girlfriends at a cost of 1/- per visit. This ticket would allow ladies to visit the club unaccompanied on said occasion as the committee decided with no more than one ticket being issued per person. It was also decided that membership cards would be issued to members.
1965 saw the purchase of 1 St Annes Lane which was to be demolished and used as car parking. Another momentous decision was made when at a committee meeting held on 20th July 1967 the secretary was instructed to arrange for different type of toilet paper in Ladies toilet!
1967 saw takings rising to £19000 and also saw the acquisition of the first Condom machine in club with 60% of the profits going to the club! It is not recorded as to amount of use and amount of profit.
1969 saw Mr Jim Lomax elected as President and Mr Cecil Summers as Vice President. The club also purchased 6 Ravenshoe to be used as stewards accommodation. The question of C.I.U. affiliation was raised and representatives from the C.I.U. attended the club to give a talk on the benefits. At a meeting on 14th January 1970 it was agreed to proceed with affiliation.
The Comrades Club 1970 to 1979
On 19th March 1971 Mr R. W. Looker was elected as President with Mr Summers as Vice President. This year also saw the building that is still the current concert hall. This was obviously a major works for the club taking over 7 months to complete. With the new hall it was decided that there would be bingo and light entertainment on Fridays, main entertainment on Saturdays and family nights on Sundays with children not below 5 years being admitted.
Membership at the club had risen by 1974 to 1200 men and 200 ladies. This year also saw the appointment of Mr Ron Beasley as steward to be assisted by his wife Mary. In 1975 the club purchased 2 St Annes Lane for £6500 and converted it into a into 3 bedroom house with part of the garden being used as car park. On 24th March 1976 Mr Cecil Summers retired after 30 years serving the club as President, Vice President and committeeman.
Tragically the steward Ron Beasley was taken seriously ill in 1977 and eventually died. The committee appointed Mary to take over on 17th January 1978 on a trial basis and she was appointed fully on 3rd April 1978.
The Comrades Club 1980 to 1989
1980 saw another milestone in the club's history when Trafford James stood down from running the Thrift Club after 26 years ably assisted by Fred Pauley. To ensure continuity Trafford's brother Mervyn, club secretary took over. The following year Trafford stood down from the general committee after 29 years service. 1980 also saw the 60th Anniversary of the club with a week long programme of activities and reduced beer prices.
1983 saw Mr Sid Bird elected as President with Mr Mick Gillett as Vice-President. Over the years the club had continued to prosper with bar takings continuing to rise, with sports activities and dances being an integral part of the club through an active social committee.
1985 the social committee brought in a club newsletter which has been a resounding success. Copies are sent by members to relatives in different parts of the world and in this year, the club's 75th Anniversary year the newsletter also celebrates its 10th Anniversary.
The mid to late 80's saw the club really prospering with bar takings at record levels. 1987 saw Mr John Hunter elected as Vice-President and also saw the start of further major alterations to the club, in relation to a new bar, foyer and toilets.
Plans were drawn up but because of various delays, works were not completed until November 1989. During the crucial part of the works the concert hall had to be used as the bar area which resulted in dances being cancelled and it is fair to say that some people who frequented the club for the dances have not returned. Many people will remember the green portable cabin used for the gents toilets which was parked on the car park and there were a lot of comments made about its usage.
In 1988 Hinchingbrooke Hospital launched an appeal for a Scanner. Organisations throughout the district raised money and the Comrades Club was no exception. Various functions took place in the club including raffles, groups giving their services free for a dance on Sunday nights and over a number of months the club raised a total of £3500.
At the Annual General Meeting on 23rd March 1989 the bar takings were reported as the highest ever. However then came the recession and like most places the club's fortunes began to suffer and bar takings went down over the next four years.
The Comrades Club 1990 to 1999
Club history was further made when the first lady secretary/treasurer was appointed in February - Mrs Sheila Penton.
The club also saw some major improvements during this year to the concert hall, with it being completely redecorated by voluntary help from the committee and with new seating and tables being purchased. The club had endured alot within the year but it hadn't finished because in March, the president Mr Tony Fechter announced his resignation. Thus concluded one of the most difficult years in the club's history with 2 stalwarts, Mervyn James & Mary Beasley retiring, the replacement steward, Steve Osborne, leaving after a short while, the social secretary, Fed Carter, resigning, the new secretary, Mr Keith Bonner, resigning and culminating in the president of 3 years, Tony Fechter resigning.
At the club elections, Mr Fred Carter was appointed the new president, he being the only applicant. However Fred Carter resigned in May with the then Vice-President, Basil Seaman taking over. In December, the Steward, Geoff Thompson resigned with Mr Jon Holohan-Green taking over.
In March 1998, Basil Seaman reverted to his Vice-President's role with Mr Lou Livesey taking over as President. Mr Basil Seaman resigned as Vice-Presdent in March 1999 with Alan Suter taking over. Alan had performed most roles in the club, Deputy Steward, Social Secretary, Committeman and now Vice President.
The question of membership of the C.I.U. had always been a talking point in the Club, with the main question being raised as to whether it was worth remaining as a member. At the 1999 AGM. Mr T. Fechter proposed a resolution that the committee look into the pro and cons of membership of the C.I.U. during the forthcoming year and report back to the 2000 AGM. This study concluded that on balance it was worth remaining in the C.I.U.
The Club has faced difficult times particularly post 1997 in a market that is continually changing and facing new challenges as people strive to take advantage of the many facilities on offer from private organisations.
The Comrades Club 2000 to 2002
In March 2000 saw the end of another era with the then President, Mr. Lou Livesey, retiring. Mr. Livesey had performed various roles in the club and with his expertise in running the White Hart PH he was a valued member of the management committee.
Mr. Roger Gladding was elected unopposed to take over from Mr. Livesey. However in December 2000 Mr. Roger Gladding resigned as president and as a result Mr. Alan Suter took over as acting President with Mr. Fred Carter as acting Vice President. As a result of Mr. Alan Suter taking on his new role he stated he was unable to carry on the role of Social Secretary but Mr.
Tony Fechter offered to take this role on and this was accepted by the Committee. In April 2001 Mr. Alan Suter & Mr. Fred Carter were elected unopposed to the office of President and Vice President. This meant that Mr. Alan Suter had carried out all roles within the Club except Secretary and Steward.
The Queen celebrated her Jubilee in 2002 and the Club hosted a number of events with the aim of raising money for Charity. The final figure was £2,600 which was split equally and on Saturday 8th June cheques were presented to the ‘The Laurels’ ( a children’s home for severely handicapped children) and The Woodlands Centre ( assisting people with Cancer). Mr. T. Fechter had announced his resignation from the position of Social Secretary effective from July 2002. The committee took over the running of the social side but in ???? 2002 Mr. M. Cooper took over the position as Social Secretary.
In spring of 2003 saw resignation of 6 committee persons which left the committee very short but still able to function.
In October 2003 the Secretary/Treasurer Sheila Penton announced her resignation and following a selection process Mr. Rob Sherwood was appointed as Secretary/Treasurer.
The club’s continued to face difficult times with a gradual dwindling of support not only in the Sports & Lounge Bars but also the Saturday night dances. The committee were concerned so they organized a survey of Club Members to gauge reasons as to what members wanted and what they saw wrong with the Club. The survey results were indepentadly assessed by Messrs. T. Fechter, L. Livesey & M. Chandler with a report being produced for the committee, which was then placed on notice board for all members to read.
The club’s problems continued so in February 2004 an ‘Open’ meeting was held to advise members of the state of the club and for the committee to glean ideas from members to improve support at the club.
Mr. Fred Carter announced that owing to work commitments he would not be able to continue as Vice President and handed in his resignation. This ended a long association by Mr. Fred Carter in various positions in the club. At the Annual elections Mr. M. Cooper was elected as Vice President. The attendances for Saturday night dances was of great concern to the committee with the result that from April 2004 they decided that one Saturday night per month there would be no dance and that members would be able to hire the hall for their own functions.
Over the past two year the club has seen a down turn in it membership base. The committee had to make some changes to the way the club operates to ensure its survival .
The clubs committee has seen a lack of members willing to serve on the committee. Over the last two elections no new members joined the committee. Last year gill wallwain left the committee after many years service to the club, but has kept up an interest in the running of the bingo with Alan Suter Club president. Martyn Cooper the clubs vice president and entertainment secretary has had to reduce the amount of events at the club due to a down turn in members using the club.
Rob Sherwood left as club secretary and was replaced with Ron Fleming for a short time. David Chambers took over as club secretary at the end of 2007.
Members of the clubs committee and trustee's have refurbished the lounge and bar area of the club.
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