Malcolm Neesam History: Harrogate’s thriving working men’s clubs
Last updated Aug 13, 2021
The National Reserve Club, Harrogate.

This week the National Reserve Working Men’s Club closed on East Parade after more than 100 years. It’s prompted celebrated Harrogate historian, Malcolm Neesam to look back at the birth and growth of Working Men’s Clubs in the district. 

Harrogate’s first known club for working men was set up shortly after the 1841 Harrogate Improvement Act, which stimulated the town’s urbanisation, which in turn attracted numbers of working men to the town. 

This club does not seem to have thrived, as the press for November 9, 1867 reported “…On Wednesday evening last, a grand amateur concert was given by members of the funds for liquidating the debt remaining on the late Working Men’s Club…”  However, attitudes appear to have changed by the end of the century, and between 1899 and 1913 no fewer than eight working mens clubs sprang into existence in a remarkable burst of enthusiasm.

The first seems to have been the Oatlands Working Men’s Club, which first met on 16 October 1899 in Oatlands Board School, before moving into Florence House in Hookstone Road. By the 1960’s it had a membership of 420 men and 110 women. Then, a year later in 1900, Starbeck Working Men’s Club was founded, which had a high number of railway workers in its membership, which by the middle of the century had reached 1,250, including ladies. In 1901, the High Harrogate Working Men’s Club opened in a local public house before moving into no.5 Devonshire Place, and by the middle of the century, it had 682 members, including 200 women.

Step forward two years to 1903, when Trades Hall opened in Westmoreland Street, originally founded for members of Trade Unions only. By the middle of the century, this Club had a total of over 400 members, and the spacious building was thoroughly renovated a couple of years ago.

High Harrogate Working Men’s Club 1911

Read More:

There is some uncertainty as to the founding date for the Londesborough Club, one source stating it was founded in 1911 as the Legion of Frontiersmen Club, the premises of which were in the Westminster Arcade, before the move to 19 and 12 Bower Road was made in c.1914. Another version has the club founded by workers at the Royal Baths. The name Londesborough was adopted in 1916, and at one time, only people whose fathers had been members were allowed to join.

Oatland’s Working Men’s Club 1967

The next working men’s club to be established was the Harlow Hill Working Men’s Club, which opened in 1912. Finally, April 12 1913 saw four detachments of the Harrogate Battalion of the National Reserve marching to East Parade for the opening of the National Reserve Club at 29 East Parade, the closure of which has just been announced. In its day, this Club had many distinguished members, such as Prince Christopher of Greece, and it would be fascinating to examine any archive the Club may possess. In this same year of 1913, the impressively Gothic building of 1868, located in Skipton Road, became home to Bilton Working Men’s Club, an institution which like so many of the above, continues to thrive.

In my short account of these clubs, I have ignored such special organisations at the political clubs, or the Home Guard Club, which are equally deserving of examination. The greatest change with all these clubs over the last century must be the increasing participation of ladies in their membership, which in some cases began earlier than some might have guessed.

Did you know that the Stray Ferret has teamed up with Malcolm to produce audio walking tours of Harrogate? The walks are sponsored by the Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) and take you back to the Golden Age of the Harrogate Spa and a walk through the Commercial Heart of Harrogate. Why not take a walk back in time and learn about Harrogate’s glorious past. They’re easy to do and a great day out. For more information click here.