It is very unfortunate that there should be an obituary section on the website but we feel that the closure of clubs and the passing of their once important place in their local communities should be marked in some way.
This piece below marks the closure of one of the country’s oldest clubs- the Coventry Working Men’s Club*
The beginning of August 2008 saw a very sad occasion as Coventry Working Man’s Club, one of the oldest in the country, closed its doors for the final time. Like many other clubs up and down the country, it had been struggling with changed social, economic and cultural circumstances which saw its membership severely reduced and financial troubles greatly increased.
Its historically iconic status couldn’t save it from the accountants and within hours of being declared bankrupt, the asset strippers moved in. In the current increasingly harsh economic climate the accountants wouldn’t be moved by the club’s special history, which goes back to the early 1860s when it was set up by a group of weavers after a damaging strike. Club Secretary Graham Shields, who had held this post since 1993, told reporters that “The official receivers called us on Friday morning (August 2nd 08) - it seems finance is more important than history.” (Daily Telegraph Online, 7th August 08)
The men with money wouldn’t be impressed either by the fact that this club was the first one to be visited by a reigning monarch, with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip including the club as part of their Jubilee tour across the country in 1977. The role that the club still played to local people, especially the older members who will now have difficulty finding another club to visit to find companionship and a bit of weekly entertainment, was probably also not a factor taken into consideration by the accountants either. These members are forlorn at the loss of their club and the city as a whole feels that one of its key pieces of heritage has been lost. But the economic reality was that the club was struggling to pay back debts of over £20, 000 and time was called. “We've had dire times before but we have always managed to pull something out of the hat and we didn't think this would be it,” Club Secretary Mr Shields told the local paper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph (6th August 08, p. 1)
At one time, the Coventry Working Man’s Club, known locally as the Cox Street Club, its long standing venue until 2000, when it moved to nearby Whitefriars Street, was the main club in the city centre. In its heyday in the 1970’s, it boasted a luxurious concert room as games facilities. It attracted visitors from all over the region, not just Coventry, and hosted local games leagues meetings which were attended by hundreds of men and their families. At weekends, people would queue to get in and there was a waiting list for membership. All this is history now as the gates are firmly locked.
Industrial decline and social change started to affect all clubs in the city, as elsewhere, from the late 1970s with less money for entertainment and leisure patterns changing rapidly. Increasing complexity of laws affecting clubs, such as Health and Safety, Gaming and Gambling, Licensing and so on, discouraged younger people from taking up committee jobs. Competition from cheap supermarket alcohol and the smoking ban introduced in July 2007 also had a negative impact for the Coventry club, as with others.
Graham Shields didn’t want to be the last secretary of this long-standing club and had hoped for some leeway. But the debts couldn’t be paid that in the short-term and the credit crunch and increased utility costs only worsened the situation.
Local people who had booked the function rooms were suddenly faced with having to find an alternative venue with hardly any notice. Three couples who had planned their wedding receptions there for August were devastated to find out that they could not use the club after all, with only a few days notice to make other arrangements. ‘The shock closure’ was a ‘nightmare’ according to Kelly Baker, due to get married on August 16th, who spoke to the Coventry Evening Telegraph about her disappointment.
(6th August, 2008 p.2)
Many people across the city were devastated in Coventry, a city once referred to as ‘the Queen of Club Cities.’ Other clubs at the time of writing are also in serious trouble and looking at similar sudden closure unless some sort of assistance is forthcoming.
*There has always been some dispute about whether it was Coventry or Walthamstow working men’s club that claims the status as the oldest club with both being founded around the same time.
Ruth Cherrington, 8th August 2008
More pictures of Coventry WMC by Paul Wilson can found here
©2008/13 - Club Historians