Down at the club


MY lifelong fondness for licensed premises possibly derives from the fact that my home town was named after a pub.

Nelson, Lancashire, did not exist until the mid-19th century. The area on which it stands was described then as a ‘peat-covered and rain-sodden wilderness’ including two villages, Little Marsden and Great Marsden.

In 1849 the East Lancashire Railway was completed and workers began to pour in, building houses and mills. There was already a Marsden station near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire so it was decided to name the one between Brierfield and Colne after the Nelson Inn, which commemorated the great Naval hero.

Renamed the Lord Nelson, it is one of only two left in the town, the other being the Station Hotel. But Nelson was never a great place for pubs, with most of them rough-and-ready dives where a punch-up was seldom far away.

What we did have was working men’s clubs in profusion.

The first WMC was founded in Reddish, Stockport, by mill owner Robert Hyde Greg. He became concerned that many of his workers were shut out of their lodgings during their leisure time and had nowhere else to go but pubs, of which he disapproved having had an uncle who was an alcoholic. Greg set up the Reddish Mechanics’ Institute and Library where chaps could read, play games and talk without necessarily getting as refreshed as a newt.

Non-profit-making private members’ clubs began to spring up all over the North, Midlands, Wales and Scotland. In Nelson, they soon outnumbered the pubs. Most were dedicated to their members’ occupations or hobbies. Hence the Warp Dressers, the Carters’ and Motormen’s (known as the Fast and Slow), and the Overlookers’ Association or Tacklers’ Club which I mentioned here. 

So long as you belonged to an affiliate of the Club and Institutes Union, you could sign yourself in to any of its thousands of branches – quite useful when you were in a strange place and fancied a few beers and a game of snooker.

There were several Catholic clubs in Nelson including the Hearts of Oak and the Knights of St Columba. There was the Poultry Club, where I never heard chickens discussed in dozens of visits and whose members seemed to comprise mostly policemen.

Neither were pigeons ever mentioned at my favourite club, the Short Homers. This was a wonderful backstreet retreat where the beer was good and cheap and there was a well-maintained snooker table. Best of all were the members, mainly old geezers who kept their flat caps on at all times. Since most of them lived close by, they tended to turn up in their slippers, sometimes still holding a mug of tea. There was never any profanity or indeed argument. There was a separate TV room into which no one ever ventured unless the footie was on. And with the one-armed bandit on a generous setting, you could often go home with more in your pocket than you set out with.

The Short Homers, or Pigeon Club as everyone calls it, is still with us but most of its rivals have long shut up shop. Let’s hope it’s still around if and when I reach my eighties, when I’ll invest in a cloth cap and a new pair of slippers and move in next door.

Passportless at the airport

I HAVE to admit that my ‘senior moments’ are becoming more frequent. Although I can recall in great detail incidents from nursery school more than 60 years ago, events which happened three minutes ago disappear from my mind. I believe the correct psychological term is CRAFT (Can’t Remember A F***ing Thing).

Which brings me to a fairly recent holiday in Mallorca (I think, although it could have been Lanzarote or even Tenerife).

Everything was perfectly planned. To avoid the crowds at Manchester Airport we booked flights from the much more civilised Leeds/Bradford, similarly an hour’s drive from home. Avoiding Ryanair like the plague, we opted for the consumer-friendly Jet2, flying at 7am to ensure arrival nicely in time for a liquid lunch.

Our taxi arrived at 4am on the dot, as booked. Our cases were by the door, our hand luggage containing passports and other paraphernalia on a wooden chest a couple of feet away.

As he loaded the cases into the car, and observing our decrepitude, the driver asked: ‘Have you got everything? Passports, tickets?’

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ we said smugly as we stumbled into the rear seats and promptly went back to sleep. What kind of idiots did he take us for?

At the airport, the driver unloaded our suitcases and asked if everything was OK. At that point, sh*t! We noticed the hand luggage was conspicuous by its absence. Each of us had left it to the other to transfer the bags from wooden chest to taxi.

The driver had another booking to fulfil, so we were left in the car park wondering what the hell to do. We trundled into departures and explained our predicament to the helpful staff on the Jet2 desk. They assured us that this happened all the time, and booked us on to a later flight for a small adjustment (about £40 as I recall, although it could have been £4,000 for all I know).

A local taxi firm took us home, where the hand baggage smirked mockingly at us, and a few hours later we were on the way to Mallorca (or wherever).

So it could have been a lot worse. But knowing that it was all down to our own senility was a bit of a blow. Next time you’re going abroad, please remember our daftness and double-check your passports.

Old jokes’ home

I backed a horse last week at ten to one. It came in at a quarter past four.

A PS from PG

Anybody can talk me round. If I were in a Trappist monastery, the first thing that would happen would be that some smooth performer would lure me into some frightful idiocy against my better judgment by means of the deaf-and-dumb language.

PG Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves


2 Replies to “Down at the club”

  1. Reddish is close to my heart! It is the southern-most point of Lancashire (on old maps at least) and unlike a lot of places it still has most of its pubs; all of its clubs and a couple of fairly new micro bars to boot. The few pubs that have closed down were at the northern end, towards the Manchester border.

    The name of Greg is synonymous with Reddish, as is that of another mill owner: William Houldsworth. They were the Bradley Hardacres of Reddish! Houldsworth also built a Working Men’s Club, which is still open. It is in a beautiful building which was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, who is better known as architect of both Manchester’s and Colne’s town halls.

    Picture of Houldsworth’s club before surrounding developments:

    Picture of St. Elisabeth’s Church, Reddish, also Waterhouse, of which you get a splendid view from the bowling green of the club:

    About William Houldsworth:

  2. Hi Alan.
    Re Down at the Club? My uncle was the pro at Nelson Golf Club which as you know is some 800ft above sea level and high above the town. As a kid I occasionally helped out in my uncle’s (Bob Preston) wee pro shop close to the car park. I also played a round of golf occasionallyand was astounded to discover that the bunkers had no sand in them! I assume that was down to high winds.
    As for Nelson itself there was a quarry on the other side of town from NGC where I did a lot of climbing. It was easy and so slabby you could easily survive a fall!
    Sorry, I don’t remember any pubs!
    Jeff Connor (former Daily Express and Daily Star)

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