NOSTALGIA: Flat end to the life of institute

Take a close look at the picture here because soon, like many other old buildings in Dewsbury, it will be converted into flats.

Friday, 13th January 2017, 4:01 pm
Updated Friday, 13th January 2017, 4:06 pm
ALL CHANGE: Dewsbury Club and Institute when it was offered for sale in the 1990s, later to be taken over by Dewsbury Textile, and now to be converted into flats.

Let’s hope the exterior of this building, one of the most historic in the town centre, remains as it is and isn’t messed about with.

Situated in Oates Street, it was built in 1883 by members of Dewsbury Club and Institute, believed to have been the first working men’s club in Yorkshire.

Throughout its long history, this building has only been occupied by two owners, Dewsbury Club and Institute, which closed in the 1990s and Dewsbury Textile Club, which closed about 20 years ago.

The Club and Institute was first founded in 1870 in premises in Daisy Hill before later moving into Nelson Street, and then moving again into Oates Street in 1883.

Many of my generation will remember the Club and Institute in an age when working men’s clubs played an important part in the life of the town.

They will also remember when Oates Street and the area surrounding it was a bustling, thriving part of the town centre.

Nearby Daisy Hill, was filled with lovely shops, Bond Street, a busy thoroughfare with all its buildings fully occupied, and Grove Street with its busy West Riding police station and magistrates’ court.

There was also Union Street just below, where the Ben Riley Dance Hall once stood, the place where all the young rock ’n’ rollers of Dewsbury (myself included) gathered in the 1950s and 60s.

And, who can forget round the corner in Daisy Hill, Joe Bananas cafe, our very own coffee bar, where I tasted my first hamburger and thought this was what life must be like in America?

Before the Club and Institute was opened in 1871, working men in Dewsbury and further afield, had nowhere to go to socialise except to public houses.

The temperance movement was very strong in Dewsbury at that time and many men had been converted to their cause. Not every man wanted to drink, and so a group of men in the town from both the professional and working classes, decided to form their own social club which wouldn’t sell beer.

It was to be a club where ordinary working men could meet up with friends and play a game of billiards (no snooker in those days) without being obliged to have a drink.

The club remained completely teetotal for some years to come until it was realised that cups of coffee and tea couldn’t pay for the upkeep of the building.

In 1881 members bought a piece of land in nearby Oates Street for the erection of a new club, and the foundation stone was laid in 1883 by Alderman Machell, a local mill owner.

The new club, which included a bar, was built within 72 days, at a cost of £1,287, and the Dewsbury Conservative club took over their old premises in Nelson Street, moving in on the same day as the Club and Institute moved out.

Although the club was now selling beer, it was emphasised that members should never feel obliged to buy it. The same stood throughout the history of the club, members always being assured they could go into the club and spend all day using its facilities without having to buy a drink.

Subscriptions were one-and-sixpence a quarter, and facilities included a coffee room, four billiard tables, a reading room and a library, dominoes, cards and refreshments.

Although the club was always fiercely non-political, three of its members in the 1980s were Members of Parliament, David Ginsburg MP for Dewsbury, Marcus Fox MP for Shipley and Sir Michael Shaw.

The following are a selection from the club’s minutes, compiled by two club members , Maurice Child and Chris Cawood, in 1983 when the building celebrated its centenary:

1904 – There was a smallpox plague in Dewsbury. The committee agreed to purchase three dozen flycatchers to hang in various parts of the club.

1908 – The Committee agreed that no cabs or hansoms be allowed to stand at the club door unless engaged by a member.

1914 – England at War. Members donated £52 10s to Mayor’s Patriotic Fund.

1917 – Club on war rations, potatoes served on two days only each week, and bread to be restricted to five ounces, and meat to two ounces at any meal.

1918 – There was some unpleasantness at the club when Captain C Hirst ordered two private soldiers to replace the tunics they had taken off to play billiards. The committee wrote to Capt Hirst telling him to stop interfering with members of the club, either military or civil.

The Club and Institute was at its height in the 1950s when it employed two stewards, one solely in charge of the billiards room. Later, darts, dominoes and chess were introduced, along with the club’s first television set.

In the early days membership was 800, but by 1983 it had been reduced to 230, and clearly the writing was on the wall for this once flourishing club.

In its first one hundred year history, the club had only closed for one day and that was for the King’s visit to Dewsbury in 1912.

Unlike most working men’s club the Club and Institute, didn’t have bingo or concerts, but they did have one raffle a year for charity.

In the early days they had few financial problems and were fairly well off. Among its members were a number of professional people, as well as a lot of businessmen, especially textile merchants who held their meetings in the club.

When the club closed down, Dewsbury Textile Club moved in, but they too were to leave a few years later to move into new headquarters near Dewsbury Police Station.

I hope in the future to write more about the Club and Institute and also about the history of the Textile Club.

Anyone with any old photographs of local clubs and club events, please contact me by email at [email protected] or call 01924 433013.