In ‘Not Just Beer and Bingo! A Social History of Working Men’s Clubs’, Ruth Cherrington traces the history of working men's clubs from their mid-19th origins to their current state of declining popularity and numbers. This book is a unique and comprehensive account of a social movement that has provided companionship, education, recreation and a great deal of pleasure to working class communities for over 150 years.
All aspects of club life are covered here in a highly readable, often funny, but sometimes poignant manner. At all times, Ruth Cherrington maintains a scholarly approach, drawing upon wide-ranging research and the wealth of information collected from scores of club goers, officials and entertainers from across the country. They tell their own stories throughout this book, from nights out with the kids to seaside outings, the concerts and Christmas parties, the place of women, the popularity of games and gambling and the many charitable roles and activities that clubs are involved in.
Ruth Cherrington illustrates throughout the book how clubs were much loved social and community institutions that have always been about much more than beer drinking and bingo playing. They were often central to working class leisure time as well as at the heart of the communities where they were located. She shows how clubs played numerous social and cultural roles, making important contributions to the lives of their members and their families.
She does not shy away from tacking the downsides of clubs life and the criticisms that they have sometimes received for some of their policies and practices. The role of the Club and Institute Union (CIU) is also considered here. Established by a Temperance minister in 1862, it helped to nurture the early clubs, fight some battles on their behalf, eventually becoming a nationwide organization that represented the ‘Union’ of working men’s clubs.
As clubs now face many challenges and with around half the number that existed during their heyday in the early 1970s, the key reasons for the decline are laid out for the reader to consider. The discussion doesn’t end there with an account of the ‘fight back’ and what club people, from members through to officials and the CIU, are doing to keep their doors open and to adapt to the rapidly changing times we live in. The work concludes by offering some thoughts about their future prospects.