Stockcross Working Men’s Club
In line with the rise of the Temperance Societies Rev John Adams, Vicar of Stockcross, saw the effect of excessive drinking on the welfare of the local working men and their families. In January 1874 he started a village club for the purpose of giving the men an alternative to the public houses and to offer amusements and the chance to improve themselves.
The Reading Mercury 7 March 1874 records a meeting chaired by Sir Richard Sutton. The club had been in existence for just three months and already boasted 61 members. They were congratulated on ’showing outsiders the superiority of rational enjoyment and amusement over drunkenness.’
The opportunities suggested to members included games: vocal and instrumental music: classes for mental improvement; musical parties on Saturday evenings and excursions; establishment of a penny bank to start small savings habits; form clubs for group purchases of coal, clothes etc at cheaper rates. Above all escape the many temptations attending public houses.
Rev Adams then announced that to achieve this Sir Richard Sutton was to build new rooms for them with every convenience. He hoped this would ‘stimulate those without comfortable homes and cheerful firesides to use the club rooms. At the club they did not have to spend their hard-earned money but would be allowed to enjoy a pint of beer at cost price if they chose.’
NEW CLUB ROOMS
The new buildings were completed in January 1875. The architect was Mr G A Barnes of Bartholomew St, Newbury. The building contractor was Mr Samuel Elliott of West St, Newbury at a cost believed to be £800.
The original building is described in an article in the Berkshire Chronicle 30 January 1875
‘The building is designed in the cottage Gothic style. It is built chiefly of red brick, relieved by white and grey brick bands, the window sills etc being of stone.
The interior arrangements are as follows: - In front is the club, consisting of two spacious and lofty rooms with an angular porch providing a separate entrance into each. These rooms communicate with one another by means of folding doors, which, when open, form the two into one large hall, convenient for concerts, lectures etc. Adjoining are complete lavatory conveniences, and immediately at the back of the club rooms is a bar, with a cellar beneath and serving door into each room; behind again is a cottage for the superintendent, having separate entrance, porch, sitting room, scullery, pantry, store etc and three bedrooms over. A coal store has been provided for the use of the members of the club.’
A meeting with tea was held to celebrate the opening of the rooms at which Sir Richard Sutton accepted the presidency of the Stockcross Working Men’s Club. The other officers elected were vice president and treasurer, Rev Adams; Secretary Mr Isaac Watts; chairman of the committee and trustee Mr Freeman. It was suggested that the post of hall keeper be given to Mr Stephen Fowler who had worked hard on behalf of the members over the past year.
Rev Adams speech was reported and included:
‘The consumption of beer at the club had been very moderate indeed and there had not been a single case of drunkenness at all of the events at the club. The quantity of beer consumed had been at an average cost of five farthings per head per day for each member. Not only had the club secured temperance amongst its members whilst in the club room, but it was no exaggeration to say it had almost abolished the vice of drunkenness in the village of Stockcross. Unfortunately, in times gone by they had rather a bad name for tippling and hardly a week passed without a drunken row from one or other of the public houses………
…deeply thankful to Sir Richard Sutton for erecting that room. He believed that it would tend very much to the welfare of all by promoting sobriety and preventing men from wasting their money at the public house, encouraging them to spend their time in a rational manner, making them better husbands, better fathers, and better labourers….’
The object of the Stockcross Working Men’s Club - to provide working men of Stockcross and its neighbourhood with the means of social intercourse, mutual assistance, mental and moral improvement, and innocent recreation.
Ordinary members – Working men age 21 and upwards elected by ballot at a quarterly meeting. Subscription was one shilling a year plus one shilling entrance fee payable in advance.
Honorary members – who could be admitted at any time by committee member or permanent Club officer who, with a subscription of five shillings or more, would have full privileges of the Club.
Youths under 21 and Females – could be elected by the Committee of Management to such benefits of the Club as determined by the Committee but could not hold office or be allowed to vote on any club matter. Female subscription was sixpence a year.
Officers and Committee
The officers to be three Trustees, President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and Chairman of the Committee of Management, whose offices shall be permanent; a committee of management to be elected by ballot at general meetings; and a superintendent of the rooms to be appointed by the Trustees.
The Committee of Management to consist of six members, two of whom shall retire by seniority at the end of every quarter. The permanent officers of the club shall be ex officio members of the Committee.
The business of the Club to be conducted by the Committee of Management.
The Committee to meet on the first Tuesday of every month and all decisions to be taken by majority vote with the Chairman having the casting vote if votes are equal.
The Superintendent of the Club to reside on the club premises and for his services be allowed fuel and lights, in addition to his house free of all rent, rates or taxes. He shall be generally responsible for the safe keeping of the club property and furniture, He shall serve out articles of refreshment to the members when required and shall keep the rooms and premises clean and tidy to the satisfaction of the Committee of Management to whom in all respects he shall be subordinate.
A general meeting of all members will be held quarterly March, June, September, December.
The rooms were open to members daily from 10am to 10pm, excepting on Sundays when they closed during and for 30 minutes before Divine service.
The Reading Room was available for exclusive use by female members between 2pm and 5m on one day each week. The day to be decided by the Committee.
The Club could provide food, beer and tobacco to fully paid-up members when the club was open except on Sundays. Each man was limited to no more than two pints of beer per day, unless for use in the cricket or harvest fields. Anyone found selling goods on for profit would be expelled from membership.
Interestingly the rules state firmly that ‘female members shall in no case be served with refreshment for consumption on the premises. It is understood that they would come to the front door with their jugs for filling and take their beer home to drink.
Strict rules were in place all with the penalty of exclusion from membership if broken. For example:
no conversation in the Reading room; no books, periodicals, newspapers, notices or adverts to be introduced to or taken from the Club Rooms without sanction of the Committee; no gambling, no bad or unruly behaviour. Membership cards not shown when requested resulted in immediate expulsion.
Other Facilities Offered in Early Years
Members could rent allotment land via the Committee for twelve months at a time. So long as the annual rent was paid in advance and the allotment well-tended no one would lose their allotment.
There was a library with the opportunity to borrow one book at a time and controlled by an appointed librarian.
The Stockcross Working Men’s Club Brass Band
Bandsmen had to be members of the SWMC. The instruments remained the property of the Committee of Management and once issued to a band member could not be passed on but had to be returned for re allocation. The safety and upkeep of the instrument was down to the player whilst in his possession.
The Band had its own subcommittee and was obliged to play for free at Club events. The Band could make money by playing elsewhere. Any money made was to be split, one tenth to the benefit of the SWMC and nine tenths firstly to maintain the instruments with any surplus being divided between the Bandsmen at their discretion.
No Band practice was allowed in the Club Rooms without prior sanction of the Committee. Where did they practice? There is a clause expressly forbidding instruments to be taken to a public house without express permission from the main Committee of Management.
The Penny Savings Bank
Was established on 7th October 1875 for the benefit of SWMC members and their families. Patron was Sir Richard Sutton, Treasurer was his agent A J Bingham Esq and Secretary was Mr Freeman, Committee Chairman. The Bank was open in the Reading room every Monday evening between 8-9pm October to March and from 9-10pm April to September. Deposits of anything between one penny and five shillings could be made weekly. A week’s notice had to be given for withdrawals. Interest of 3% was paid on amounts between five shillings and five pounds, no interest was payable on amounts of more than five pounds. Records were kept by the Secretary and each depositor was given a book recording their deposits.
S&sha’s copy of the club rules dated 1878 shows that these extra facilities lapsed at some point as they have been crossed through. The booklet was owned by the Gibbons family who were caretakers at the club from 1892- 1939.
The Gibbons Family
Two generations of the Gibbons family were Superintendent/caretakers of the Stockcross Working Men’s Club subsequently known as The Sutton Hall
William Gibbons and his wife Sarah Palmer Gibbons were originally from Cambridgeshire and moved to Benham in the mid 1860s when William became a stud groom on the Sutton Estate. They had Twenty children but by the 1911 census only six were still living.
When William retired in 1892 he was appointed superintendent of The Stockcross Working Men’s Club and the family moved into the cottage provided.
In 1906 in honour of the couples’ Golden Wedding anniversary Club members gave them a gift. With the gift went a list of all those who had contributed. Honorary and male members are listed separately from the female members. (Click on the images to enlarge)
William Gibbons died on 13th December 1908 and mention is made in the Newbury District Magazine of 1st January. His widow continued to live at the Clubhouse as hall keeper until her death in 1913.
Their son John and his wife Rosa with their three sons, Bertie, Walter and Cecil lived at Furze Hill. John’s occupation was groom/gardener. After his parents’ death John was appointed Superintendent/Hall Caretaker and the family moved into the Club House. The Gibbons family’s connection with the hall ended on John’s death in December 1939 and his widow moved out when the new caretaker arrived in May 1940.
We have a delightful letter written by John’s granddaughter, Joan Wilder, giving some insight into the running of the club during his time there. Here is an extract with memories of the Club.
‘Before the 1914-18 war the Club had a bar which was situated in the middle of the downstairs room of the house the cellar was underneath down a narrow staircase (When the Sutton Hall was built the cellar was used as the stoker hold with a large furnace to heat the water for the radiators in the club and hall ) One of the drinks sold in the bar was porter.
During the years before the 1914 -18 war and maybe for a short time after the male members of the Club were given an annual dinner (I believe at Christmas time) the meat was generally beef and the next day the lady members were given a meat tea using the remainder of the cold meat from the day before.
Our Great Grandmother, (Sarah) during cold winter weather made large suet dumplings containing apple etc which were given to the poorer people of the village.
Our Grandmother, Mrs Rosa Gibbons, assisted by our Great Aunt used to provide lunches and teas at cricket matches at Benham Park, the annual flower shows and many other village functions including the refreshments for the dances, socials etc at The Sutton Hall.
The above was told to me by my Great Aunt Emily Gibbons (William’s sister) who died aged 85 in 1964.
I can remember the club and clubhouse before The Sutton Hall was built although I was only 4 years old.
I can also remember the Rifle Club Pavilion which was at the end of the garden and the railway or trolley that ran on it to convey the targets from the Pavilion to the Butts at the back. When The Sutton Hall was completed the pavilion was dismantled and re erected at the Recreation Ground.
Our grandfather used to generate electricity for the club and Hall with two generators situated at the end of the garden in a small room next to the coal pen and under the large room containing some very large water tanks which was the village water supply. The water being pumped up to the tanks from a source down in the valley somewhere near Benham Park.
In the early days there was a coal club and members paid as much as they could afford and coal was delivered to the coal pen and the members then came and the coal was weighed out and given to them when they had paid sufficient money. Our great aunt used to help weigh the coal. The coal pen was open at the top until the upper storey was built to match the new houses in the village just before 1914 to contain the water tanks.
The village had a main drainage system before 1914 which was very unusual for a small village in those days, it was dug and put in when our father Cecil was a boy.
During our Grandfathers time the Sutton Hall was built in 1927.’
In 1927 a new chapter began when the Club was extended and renamed The Sutton Hall.
The Sutton Hall 1927 to Date
Sir Richard Vincent Sutton 6th Baronet (1891 – 1918) grandson of the benefactor of the Working Men’s Club, inherited his title at birth. During his minority his extensive estates were run by trustees ending on 26 April 1912, his 21st birthday. His coming of age was celebrated over three days at Benham House.
It soon became clear that he wanted to improve life for the people of Stockcross and Marsh Benham. He renovated the Working Men’s Club, provided a new billiard table and land to create the recreation ground.
He fought throughout WW1 but caught the Spanish Flu and died in France in 1918 aged just 27.
In accordance with his wishes his executors ensured that a new hall was built as an extension to the original club. The new building was finished in late 1927 and presented to the Parish. It was named The Sutton Hall.
The Hall was let to three Trustees, Mr HC Sutton, Rev CF Trower and Mr G West.
There was still a Men’s Club which became part of The Sutton Hall from 1928.
All the money and property of the old Working Men’s Club was handed over to the Trustees to be used for the benefit of the members of the Hall and Club.
The Trustees appointed a Committee of Management and called a meeting at 6.30 pm on Tuesday Jan 16th 1928 under the chairmanship of Rev C F Trower. The Trustees advised that they would not attend the monthly meetings in future and so the committee elected Mr W West as the first Chairman.
John Gibbons was confirmed in his role of Caretaker for the new hall and Club.
RULES OF THE SUTTON HALL AND CLUB 1928
To provide the residents of the village and district with means of social intercourse, mutual assistance and recreation.
- The management of the hall and club shall be invested in three Trustees who will appoint annually a committee to assist then, when they will receive a report from the secretary and treasurer on the management and finances.
- The Trustees to be ‘the owner or tenant for life of Benham Park’, the vicar of Stockcross and the resident agent of the ‘Sutton Trustees, Berkshire Estate.’
- The hall shall be available for all legitimate forms of amusements, meeting or classes, at such rates of charge as the committee shall fix, always providing, it shall not be used for political, treasonable or irreligious propaganda.
- The committee shall have free right of entry to the hall at any time for the purpose of inspection, on production of authority for the same.
- The committee shall have the power to grant or refuse any application for the use of the hall.
- The persons hiring the hall shall be deemed responsible for the proper conduct of the hall during the time of their occupation and shall be held liable for any damage or loss of property.
- The consumption of intoxicants on the premises is strictly prohibited; any persons committing a breach of this rule will be summarily dealt with.
- Dancing in nailed boots is strictly prohibited, any breach of this rule to be reported to the committee whose decision on the matter shall be final.
- Rights of admission to the hall will at all times be strictly reserved.
- The committee will not hold themselves responsible for the loss of any valuables in the hall or dressing rooms.
- All applications for the use of the hall to be made in writing to the secretary, stating the date and purpose for which the hall is requested, at least 7 clear day notice to be given.
- Any resident of the village and district shall be eligible for membership for the Men’s Club, if elected by the committee.
a) No proposed member shall have the use and privilege of the club until he has been duly elected by the committee at their monthly meeting
b) Any member shall be allowed to introduce a visitor to the club (providing he is not a parishioner) and such visitor shall have the use and privilege of the club.
- the subscription shall be two shillings a year payable in advance
Junior club One shilling per annum
- Members shall not be elected under the age of 17.
Junior club 14 years until they attain the age of 17.
- The papers or books may be removed from the club, except those loaned from the library.
- The club will be open at the time fixed by the committee, who reserve the right to close same on special occasions
- No gambling shall be allowed in the club, nor shall any game be introduced without the consent of the committee
- Any person, who injures or destroys the property of the club, shall be required to make good the same.
- The general committee shall meet on the first Tuesday in each month, five of whom shall form a quorum.
The rules have been regularly updated ever since.
The First Decade
Much went on at the hall before WW2. Here is a summary of events noted during 1931.
There were regular socials and whist drives. Later in the 1930s badminton and table tennis were introduced. Billiards continued in the Men’s Club and in 1934 six Gaming Stewards were appointed: Messrs A A Penwill, M Hine,E Rogers, F Palmer,F Auger and J Copeland.
In 1938 the Committee’s AGM was moved from February to September. The end of the financial year was also amended to June annually. The reason for this could be that the Hall was now closed between May and September.
Stockcross at War 1939 - 1945
At the start of the war the hall remained open. Soldiers in uniform were admitted to the clubrooms without payment of membership but had to pay for the billiard games they played.
Whist drives continued with HM Forces in uniform admitted to them at half price.
Badminton & table tennis was discontinued but reintroduced in late 1940.
Sunday opening for soldiers was considered but as all the men, except those on fatigues, were either on weekend or 12 hours leave and facilities for recreation and writing were being provided at Benham Park it was resolved not to open clubroom on Sundays.
The lady’s cloakroom and stage was taken up with First Aid work by The Red Cross without consent of the committee but this issue was resolved by the local ARP and all was cleared so that both areas could be used again for any local functions.
In December 1939 Mr John Gibbons long time caretaker of the hall died and in May 1940 Mr Wakefield was given the job.
In September 1940, a meeting of the village and district was called. The chairman, Mr A A Penwill explained that the reason for the meeting was to form a new Committee of Management for the hall and club. He pointed out that the posts of Treasurer & Secretary were in the hands of the Trustees. It was agreed that the size of the committee should be 8 with the power to add to that number.
The following Committee was then appointed
Miss Haines, Mrs Escott, G Palmer, J Eacott, W Wickens, Miss J Baillie, Mrs Mason and Ms Crickard.
From March 1941 The Home Guard used the hall on Mondays and Thursday at 5/- per session.
On 1st September 1941 the hall was requisitioned for use as a supply depot and so was unavailable to the local community or the Home Guard. The caretaker moved out and the cottage was also requisitioned and a local policeman was housed there.
Intermittent Committee meetings were held at the vicarage hut throughout the war.
Then the Americans arrived.
Here are war time memories of the hall by Pat Hine
When the hall and cottage were finally due to be derequisitioned in 1946 an open meeting was arranged to discuss the future of the Hall and club.
At that meeting it was agreed that;
Activities at The Sutton Hall should be restarted at the earliest possible moment.
That the committee should consist of a Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer plus one member of each organisation in the village and three more people to come from outside the organisations with the option to co-opt another
Around this time a new set of Hall and Club rules were drawn up and published
In the 1980s the hall was in dire need of improvement and at one point may even have been lost to the village as an amenity. A group of villagers dedicated themselves to obtaining charitable status and a lease for the premises from Sutton Estates and ensured that the hall could be saved. A huge fundraising programme was launched to improve the facilities and on 4th September 2000 the new kitchen and toilet extension was officially opened.
The original Working Men’s Club building is now the Stockcross Billiard Club and is in regular use by its members.
In 2011 a new 25-year lease was signed between The Sutton Hall Management Committee and Sutton Estates securing the Hall and Billiard Club until at least 2036.
The original object of The Sutton Hall ‘to provide residents of Stockcross and District with some means of social intercourse, mutual assistance and recreation’ remains and has been met by the many elected Committee members over the years.
The Sutton Hall remains a vital amenity within Stockcross