Death of the working men's club

They used to guarantee a cheap pint and a good night out but, as more close every month, a bastion of British life is now under threat

Working men's clubs have been a bastion of the British entertainment scene for 150 years, blooding young comedians and crooners before unforgiving audiences and setting them on the long hard road to stardom or the short cut to obscurity. But now there are fears the clubs themselves are facing an even tougher audience – their creditors.

Fondly lampooned by Peter Kay in the series Phoenix Nights, they are struggling to compete in a world of DVDs, cinema multiplexes and arena concerts – and not even their reputation for a cheap pint is enough of a draw. Last week, one of the oldest working men's clubs in the country brought down the curtain for the last time.

Coventry Working Men's Club first opened its doors in 1862 and enjoys the reputation of being the only such club ever to receive a visit from the Queen, who went there in 1977 as part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations. Now the working men of Coventry will have to go elsewhere for their entertainment, after the club's committee blamed a combination of debts, cheap supermarket booze, the smoking ban and the credit crunch for its demise.

Graham Shields, the club's secretary, went to the High Court in May and persuaded a judge to give it more time to clear its £26,000 debt. But the management was unable to turn its fortunes round in time.

"It is a tragedy," said Mr Shields. "Years of history have disappeared at the stroke of a pen. We've had dire times before but we have always managed to pull something out of the hat... Finance is more important than history, it seems."

A similar fate has befallen many other clubs in the UK, with as many as two closing every month. The Working Men's Club and Institute Union has seen its number of affiliate members halve from a 1970s heyday of 4,000 to 2,300 today.

Kevin Smyth, general secretary of the union, said the Coventry club's problems stemmed from the post-war rebuilding of the city when people were rehoused away from the area.

Clubs were closing all over the country, he said. "The movement is in decline and it's very sad. Where will working people go to socialise? Will they become confined to their homes?"

Dr Ruth Cherrington of the University of Warwick, who is researching the subject, said the effect of closures on communities was devastating: "If you are old and you have been going to one of these clubs all your life, you have nowhere else to go. They were also places which brought the generations together."

Dr Cherrington said the clubs developed because the working classes did not feel there was anywhere for them to go, so set up places where they would be in charge. "They were owned and run by the men themselves and, because they were private members' clubs, the police could not simply barge in," she said. "They also fulfilled a charitable function before the emergence of the welfare state."

But the invention of television and the erosion of the working class itself have helped put paid to a long tradition. "I'm sad to say this, but we're likely to see many more closures," said Dr Cherrington.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Start a Career as a Financial Markets Trader

£40000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Become a professional Trader a...

Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation Consultant

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Recruitment Genius: Service Desk Co-ordinator / Client Services Administrator

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Warehouse Assistant

£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks