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A History of Great Haywood Sports and Social Club.

In the 19th century, the Ansons, in common with many other aristocratic families at the time, believed it was their responsibility to encourage and to help develop in local people such virtues as religious faith and observance, self-help and self-improvement, thrift and temperance. In the 1830s the 1st Earl had provided land and money for the building of the Chapel of Ease, while the 2nd Earl had funded its extension in the 1850s into St. Stephen’s Church. The 2nd Earl also provided land and money to provide education, with the building of St. Stephen’s School in 1868. In the 1860s the 2nd Earl also provided land and money to build a Reading Room in the village, with a library of books for the use of local working men. As the Trent Valley Parochial Magazine reported in January 1869:
The inhabitants of this village, having long felt the want of some convenient room in which they could carry on the monthly business of the local Benefit Societies, Penny Readings &c &c, the Earl of Lichfield, who is always desirous of helping forward any scheme for the benefit of his neighbours, is now most kindly erecting a building in which there will be a room sufficiently large and in every respect well-adapted for this purpose. 

Working Men’s Reading Rooms and Libraries had been opened in many towns and cities from the early 19th century and slowly began to appear in villages too. Not everyone supported them, some believing that making working men think would simply make them more aware of their miserable conditions and more likely to cause trouble. Others argued that Reading Rooms would encourage working men to improve themselves or, at the very least, help them to avoid the temptations of public houses.

On the evening of Saturday 19th June 1869 the 2nd of Earl of Lichfield opened the new Reading Room at Great Haywood, together with a residence for the person in charge of it, which was followed by an amateur concert of singers and instrumentalists. The interest in the concert was so great that it had to be repeated on the evening of the following Tuesday so that the rest of the village could experience it. As the Staffordshire Advertiser reported:
A most agreeable and successful entertainment took place on Saturday evening, on the occasion of opening the reading room and club room in the village of Great Haywood. The concert, in which the singers in the church choir took the principal part, assisted by some amateurs who kindly lent their aid to the occasion, went off with great spirit and éclât. At the end of the first part of the concert, the Vicar, on declaring the room to be inaugurated for the purposes for which it had been built, proposed that the thanks of the parishioners and all those assembled should be given to Lord Lichfield, who had so kindly and liberally provided such a room for the accommodation of the inhabitants. The proposal was received with the greatest enthusiasm, and responded to by three times three hearty and ringing cheers for the noble Earl, and one cheer more for Lady Lichfield. The room was brilliantly lighted and most tastefully decorated. At one end was placed the well-known portrait of Lord Lichfield, surrounded with flags, the family arms and motto “Nil Desperandum”, and surmounted by a coronet beautifully formed of red, white and yellow flowers, quite a work of art, and in the recesses were two large stars formed entirely of rhododendrons. The other end of the room was decorated with trophy swords, in which the Union Jack was most conspicuous, together with the Staffordshire Knot, most tastefully worked in white and green flowers. From the massive roof were suspended lamps and hanging baskets containing different flowers and trailing plants, and on the side walls between the lamps, the intervals were filled with brackets formed of pine cones containing lovely flowers. The room, which will accommodate 200 persons, was completely filled before the concert commenced; and in consequence of many persons being unable to get admission, the announcement by the Vicar that the entertainment would be repeated on Tuesday was received with marked satisfaction by the many outsiders who had come with the intention of hearing the concert but were unable to do so from the crowded state of the room. The concert was repeated on Tuesday evening, and was attended with great success

It was also, at the time, according to the Trent Valley Parochial Magazine:
. . . sincerely hoped that the intentions of the noble founder may be fully realised and that the Reading Room may be a means of moral and intellectual improvement and enjoyment to the neighbourhood. In July 1869 the same journal announced that, thanks to the efforts of the Rev. W. F. Elrington, Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, had presented to the Reading Room a copy of Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands, written by the Queen herself and Prince Albert. One wonders where that copy is now. 

There clearly had been some kind of men’s club in the village before 1869, as in July 1875 the Secretary, James Martin (who was also the village postmaster) was presented with a purse of money in recognition of his valuable services as secretary for the previous ten years, and of his general usefulness in the village. A few weeks later another collection was made for James after he was defrauded of £10, as a result of a forged Post Office Order, by a local man, William Dutton, who was sentenced to five years in gaol. By the rules of the Post Office, James had to bear the cost of the fraud himself. 

On 8th August 1870 a ‘Rural Fête and Tea Party’ was held in Shugborough Park to raise funds for the new Reading Room and for the Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund of the Loyal Victoria Lodge of Oddfellows which was based at the Reading Room. Admission cost 6d and music was provided for dancing in the beautiful pleasure grounds by the King’s Own Regiment of Stafford Militia. The rural sports included ‘Foot and Donkey Races and various other games, with prizes.’

Downstairs, the new building had a games room, with bagatelle and other games and a room devoted entirely to readers, while upstairs there was a large room in which public meetings and entertainments could take place. The Reading Room gradually built up a library of books and the first librarian was Mrs. Elizabeth Vickerstaff. From 1874 the upstairs room was also used as a schoolroom for older boys who wished to continue their education but could not be accommodated across the road at St. Stephen’s School that had been built in 1868. There were desks for 60 boys and so part of the Reading Room was effectively a school for almost 50 years. Between the wars, this same room was also the meeting place of the local troop of Boy Scouts.

By 1912, the Reading Room had 350 books, according to Kelly’s Directory, and was a popular place where local working men could go to read books, magazines and newspapers, in order to improve their knowledge and understanding of the world. Membership was open to local males from the age of 14, with a subscription of one shilling a year. 

From the beginning, the Reading Room had been the meeting place of local benefit societies and village clubs. The most prominent of these was the Loyal Victoria Lodge of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity, Stafford District), of which the 3rd Earl of Lichfield was an honorary member, and the Reading Room is sometimes referred to, then as now, in publications as the ‘Oddfellows Hall’. The Order of Oddfellows and other such benevolent societies evolved from the medieval trade guilds, set up to protect and support their members especially in times of need. 

The Independent Order of Oddfellows originated in the 18th century as an organisation similar to the Freemasons, with similar ritual practices. In the 19th century, however, it became much more of a working class organisation, although it retained its regalia. In many ways it became the model for later benefit or friendly societies, and grew to become the largest such organisation with branches all over the country. 

The Oddfellows Lodge in Great Haywood had been established in 1840 and in 1883 James Elsmore, who had just celebrated his Golden Wedding, was presented with a purse of money to acknowledge his valuable services as Lodge Secretary for more than thirty years. The Oddfellows were strongly supported by the 3rd Earl. As the founder of the Social Welfare Association, he was most anxious that working people should develop habits of self-help and self-improvement, and he promoted the Lodge to further that aim. Members paid weekly subscriptions into the Lodge, in return for which they could draw money in times of need, usually an allowance during sickness or unemployment, perhaps a small pension in old age and a sum of money at death to assist with funeral expenses. 

The Lodge also provided its members with social activities and comradeship. In 1892 it had 134 members, with funds of £2,833. E. P. Wood was its Secretary, a post he held for many years. He was the last in the long family line of village coopers, whose job disappeared when the village brewery closed in 1925. He was responsible for paying out money to claimants, including those who were off work due to sickness – or ‘on the box’ . 

The Earl also supported the establishment of a friendly society for women, which led to setting up the Girls’ Friendly Society in the village, of which Miss Theodora Tylecote later became Secretary. A branch of the Young Men’s Friendly Society was set up in Great Haywood in 1884. A junior branch of the Oddfellows was set up in 1901. 

Not everything went well in the running of the Reading Room. In 1900 it was closed down, partly due, it seems, to lack of use and partly to some incidents of disorderly conduct. In November 1901 it was decided to reopen on three nights a week initially, and then, if there was sufficient demand and subscriptions were paid, to open every night, except Sunday. The Trent Valley Parochial Magazine reported:
The supply of games has been replenished, the bagatelle board has been put in order. The room is well lighted and well warmed, daily and illustrated papers are supplied, and we hope that it will be speedily shown that what has been done is duly appreciated by good and regular attendance.

The local police sergeant, Thomas Parsons, was asked to act as secretary and treasurer and under his able and energetic management the popularity of the Reading Room improved, with better attendance and more subscriptions paid. 

It is very possible that the facility of the village Reading Room and Library was used by J. R. R. Tolkien during the time that he was convalescing in Great Haywood from December 1916 to February 1917. It is probable that he and his wife Edith lived at Rock Cottage during this time, very close to the Reading Room. In the winter of 1916-17 the Reading Room offered cosy surroundings with warm fires, the daily newspapers giving news of events in the war and a library of books If Tolkien did take advantage of this facility, then he may well have written parts of his two early stories here, The Fall of Gondolin and The Cottage of Lost Play, which provided the foundations and the framework for his highly successful mythological stories, including the incredibly popular The Lord of the Rings. 

During the Great War, the Working Men’s Reading Room and Library became known as the Men’s Institute, with a wider range of activities such as billiards, dominoes and card games. Its members, however, were still denied alcoholic drinks, for which they had to nip down to the Clifford Arms between games. In the 1920s and ‘30s it appears to have been doing well, with healthy cash reserves and memberships numbers. Its President, the Earl of Lichfield, actually presided over meetings while the billiard table and air-gun shooting were popular attractions. 

In 1926 Mr. R. B. Waddell was elected as secretary, with Mr. George Smith as treasurer and Mr. Thomas Mould as room manager. There were discussions about the need for a new and larger billiards table and various fund-raising events were held. A new table was installed in January 1927 and the first handicap competition on the new table was won by G. Statham (200) who beat H. Foster (179) in the final. The beaten semi-finalists were A. Johnson and T. Bannister. Lord Lichfield, the Institute’s President, also presented it with a set of snooker balls in 1927 to introduce a new game to the Institute. Billiards, however, continued to be the main competitive game. 

In 1937 the President was the Earl of Lichfield and there were three vice-presidents, the Vicar of St. Stephen’s, Rev. A. T. Phillips, the local doctor, Dr. Harrowell, and Mr. Moreton-Thomas from The Abbey. The hon secretary was Mr. R. Chapman, the hon. treasurer Mr. R. Stubbs, and the committee comprised Mr. H. Foster, Mr. B. Mottram. Mr. A. Murray, Mr. V. Mould, Mr. G. Statham and Mr. T. Tomlinson

During the Second World War, the Institute became the headquarters of the local A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions). After the war it continued to operate very much as before. In 1952 a soft drinks bar was introduced. However, in 1969, a hundred years after the opening of the Reading Room, it was transformed into Great Haywood Men’s Institute and Sports and Social Club, and was granted a licence to sell alcohol, which gave it a completely different role in the community from that envisaged by the 2nd Earl of Lichfield a century earlier. 

Today, the Sports and Social Club operates as a licensed members’ club, open to all villagers and others, with a nominal annual subscription. It is a meeting place for refreshment, conversation and entertainment, and for playing games such as darts, dominoes, and cribbage for amusement and in teams in local leagues. It has snooker and pool tables, is a village venue for many local charitable, voluntary and interest groups, and provides facilities for family events, from christening parties to funeral teas. It raises money for charities and organises events for villagers such as musical entertainments, bingo, sales, auctions and fairs. Although its purpose has changed considerably since its foundation in 1869, it is still a very valuable village asset playing an extremely useful role in the community.

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