Social clubs were the place to be in Leigh

Social clubs were thriving in the 50s and 60s
Social clubs were thriving in the 50s and 60s
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Local historian Alf Ridyard in his regular Tash Tales this week looks back at the social glue that kept communities together in the 50s and 60s...

We look back to the 1950s and 60s when the social clubs ruled the roost for weekend entertainment.

Pubs held sway during the week with darts and dominos for the men folk in the tap rooms and at weekends for those who did not wan entertainment other than perhaps a piano in the snug.

We had the workingmen’s clubs and the politically affiliated clubs that booked the artists and promoted the parlour game of bingo.

Add to these the works’ social clubs and Leigh had a plethora of entertainment outlets.

Before we look at some individual entertainment outlets, let us test the memory of some of our older readers.

We had six Labour clubs: Eastleigh, St Paul’s, Abbey Street, Plank Lane, Edna Road, and Higher fold.

There were four Conservative clubs situated in Railway Road, Bedford, Firs Lane and Westleigh (later became the village club).

And there were two Liberal clubs at Bedford and Church Street.

Add to these the company social clubs: Albion (Gas Street), BICC (Bridgewater Street), NORWEB( Henrietta Street), and Leigh Miners social club.

Also we had six catholic clubs: Plank Lane, Bond Street, Sacred Heart, XII Apostles, St Joseph’s and St Gabriel’s.

There were two workingmen’s clubs, Plank Lane and Wigan Road. As well as these clubs, in my memory, there were two with sporting connotations: Leigh Harriers and Leigh Bowling Club, and last but not least the iconic Leigh Socialist club ,universally known as the Bomb and Dagger, in Wilkinson Street.

Workingmen’s clubs date back to 1862 but the political social clubs as we know them only prospered as entertainment centres after World War Two.

Without getting into gender politics, the ladies who, during World War II had done men’s jobs also wanted the same entertainment and why not? Being metaphorically tied to the kitchen sink was slowly being consigned to history.

The larger club rooms added a stage and the regimented rows of tables and chairs, the three or four snooker tables were now removed to the Vault/tap room and in some cases their numbers reduce.

The days of the concert secretary/compare were now upon us and terms such as “pies ’ave come,” “give order fert turn” and “checkin on one” when someone howls “House!” became the mainstay of every Saturday night’s would-be comedian.

Who can remember the tin bingo “slabs” with the numbers stamped in, everyone with a pocket full of buttons or tiddlywinks to cover the numbers, the days of the multi-paper tickets and dabbers, were still to come.

The attraction of these clubs as well as entertainment was cheap alcohol plus being a new place for the social gathering of adult families and friends, as opposed to church halls and beetle drives etc.

Not only did the clubs cater for adults, the annual children’s trips were a must for members’ children, my own recollections of the trip with the Labour clubs was the Red Badge.

There wouldn’t be any other colour would there, and back in the late 50s every child got five shillings for the rides at, in my case, New Brighton, Southport and Blackpool.

A café lunch of sandwiches, a tea of chips and pie with gravy ensured the children’s energy levels were catered for.

In 1939, the Plank Lane WMC trip sponsored by Major Hart went by train to Blackpool from Westleigh and Bedford station (Crankwood), with the Bickershaw champion brass band marching down Crankwood Road in front of them.

As you can see in the 1950s, a cavalcade of buses took the children.

Returning to the adults and we see the regularity of attendance spawned the habit of people sitting in the same seats every weekend, woe betide any stranger sitting in them, a withering look enough to kill would be issued to the would-be trespassers.

The clubs in their heyday also became a breeding ground for emerging talent – singers; comedians, ventriloquists and all sorts of novelty acts were booked.

There is no doubt the ultra-critical audiences of the northern social clubs sounded the death knell on some of these would-be acts, many suffering the ignominy of never being rebooked.

Some of course went on to greater things and left the local club scene behind.

Chapter and verse has been written about our own Clive Powell (Georgie Fame).

He left the town aged 16 but never forgot his roots. We mention a few other locals, some became the stars of the future... first up at Wigan Road Workingmen’s club was Leigh comedian Ken Platt.

He performed for a pittance before going into TV for the next 10 years.

The same could be said for Joe Crosbie, another Leigh comedian.

Probably the biggest star to learn his trade at the club was Russell Watson, the Irlam-born opera singer.

He was performing pop songs at the club and the Concert secretary asked him to sing Nessum Dorma from Puccini’s Turnadot, and the rest is history.

Watson’s fee that fateful night in the late 1980s was £70. Another couple of future mega-stars to tread the boards in Leigh, this time at the Bomb and Dagger were a duo called the Humblebums, two Scotsmen who, at the time, were generally playing around the Newcastle area.

They came to Leigh in 1967/68 for the princely sum of £40, the personnel of the duo were no less than Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty who later recorded the classic track Baker Street.

Many more, I have no doubt, will be recalled by our older readers. Unfortunately the clubs are , in most cases, in decline or closed, mainly the cheap beer available in the supermarkets and the longer hours in the pubs and also the smoking ban of 2007 and, of course ,the increased cost of putting an artist on.

One club that tried to buck the trend was the Plank Lane Labour club.

It tried to resurrect the now closed Garrick club. It was opened by Johnny Martin, the old Riverside club in Wigan compare and crooner of the 70s.

Unfortunately it was doomed to failure like some of the other clubs. Still I suppose the memory of the single line for £5 or the Saturday night flyer will stay in some older readers’ memories.