Witley, May 3, 1917

Thursday        The weather today was superb not a cloud crossed the sun. We removed all the bivouac dust. Passed a pleasant evening at the Milford Working mens club whist drive scored 154

Working Men’s Clubs originated in the middle of the nineteenth century to provide working men with a space for “rational amusement and recreation.” (1) An alternative to the temptations of public houses, the working men’s clubs were intended to arouse their members to a “consciousness of the possession of the higher faculties of their nature, and the duty of using them.” (1) They were to offer reading rooms and lectures for self-improvement, and entertainments suitable for members’ to bring their wives and daughters. (2) This was the ideal imagined by the Reverend Mr. Henry Solly (1813-1903), Unitarian minister who established in 1862 the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union to support the establishment of such clubs, until they could be properly managed by their own members — a chance for them to develop and employ the afore-mentioned higher faculties. (2)

henrysolly.jpgThe reality was not quite as improving as Solly had imagined, as many clubs offered a bar, and their programs of improving lectures were not as popular as their entertainments such as whist drives. Though diminished in number and less important in their communities than in Solly’s or Percy’s time, working men’s clubs survive to this day, among them, the Milford one in Church Lane. Its Facebook page describes it as a social club and a pool and billiard hall.

(1) Woodroofe, Kathleen. “The Irascible Reverend Henry Solly and His Contribution to Working Men’s Clubs, Charity Organization, and ‘Industrial Villages’ in Victorian England.” Social Service Review, 49: 1 (1975) 20.
(2) Woodroofe, 21.

More can be read about Henry Solly in an article in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, online, from which the portrait is taken.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”
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