Thursday (12 September 2019) saw Leeds Civic Trust unveiling a blue plaque to celebrate the Holbeck Working Men’s Club. The unveiling featured a specially commissioned poem by Ian McMillan (see below), as well as a performance by the Commoners Choir.
Formed in 1871 the Holbeck Working Men’s Club is the United Kingdom’s oldest continuously opened working men’s club with the current premises opening its doors to the working men of south Leeds in 1878.
Photos courtesy of Leeds Civic Trust
The plaque reads:
“Holbeck Working Men’s Club
“Originally established in 1871, these purpose-built premises officially opened on Easter Monday 1878.
“Built at a cost of £1,172 the club included rooms for refreshment, billiards and bagatelle and a lecture hall for 300 people.
“No other working men’s club has been in continuous operation for so long.”
The club was originally formed to help to educate working men through classes in addition to social and community activities. Bars were introduced as a way of making money to plough back into their educational activities.
The club recently found a new lease of life when Slung Low theatre and community college made it their home – thus bringing education back as one of its key uses.
Martin Hamilton, Director of Leeds Civic Trust said:
“People often complain that blue plaques are given to ‘worthies’ at the top of their profession but the workers who put in the hours to give them that status are often forgotten. This plaque is an opportunity to correct that.”
Alan Lane, Artistic Director of Slung Low said:
“The Blue Plaque is a massive moment for the community. It’s rare for working class culture to be honoured in this way and this plaque is a clear tribute to the collective effort that the whole community.
Back in 2014 South Leeds Life reported on how members had taken over the running of the club as volunteers to save it from bankruptcy. Then last year, as part of Slung Low’s move to The Holbeck, they cleared the club’s historic debt and took over the day to day running of the club.
Holbeck’s Never Ending Story by Ian McMillan
We all need a palace when we come in from a shift
We all need a big room that can give our hearts a lift
We all need a spot to meet our mates and have a laugh
And talk about the old times and say ‘Here’s a photograph
Of the club in 1946 and there’s your mam and dad
Sitting in the same seats that the buggers always had;
Their parents came in here and their mams and dads and all
You can see the smoky shape of grandad’s Brylcreme on the wall.
We can all remember how they queued on New Year’s Eve
For hours in the freezing cold and folks might not believe
That we had waiters serving drinks; the concert room was full
Of people laughing, dancing, life was never ever dull
And workers wiped the dirt off, put on their frocks and ties
And laughed away the weekend with ale and tunes and pies
And the idea of a club is that people get together
Help each other through the sunshine and the heavy weather
We all need a palace but this palace almost fell
This building and its history could have been an empty shell
But six people rolled their sleeves up to save the Holbeck club
And it was hard and it was mucky it was lift and clean and scrub
It was order beer and pay for beer and make the windows gleam
And all these different people made themselves into a team
Now glory days are glory days but the past has been and gone
And the waiters fade, the big turns end, but Holbeck carries on
The oldest club in England, the doors still open wide
A matter of survival? Yes, but here’s the thing: it’s pride
Makes Holbeck what it is and a willingness to say
The future’s where we’re aiming from the springboard of today
We’ll see you in a hundred years when we’ll all still be here
The future’s dancefloor shining and the future’s glass so clear.
And let’s march on together: we are Holbeck, we are strong
I’ll tell you what: If we could sing we’d make this poem a song!
This post is based on a press release issued by Leeds Civic Trust