An exhibition of photos from London based photographer Julian Ward’s book ‘All the things you are’ – a photographic study of a SW London Constitutional club.
Most Constitutional Clubs were established during the second half of the 19th century — a time of vast political change, including the extension of the right to vote.The most prestigious club of them all, a gentleman’s club established in 1883 nearTrafalgar Square, was closely aligned to the Conservative Party. And, after the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1884, it became a place where newly enfranchised Conservative voters could meet. Many other Constitutional Clubs were established for similar reasons — including the Teddington Constitutional Club, which was rst purchased by the local MP at the time, Sir Frederick Dixon-Hartland Bart.
At their outset, Constitutional Clubs were clearly politically motivated. But, just like working men’s clubs, they’ve also had social and community functions since their inception.While political allegiances may have differed, all private members clubs based on subscriptions and not-for-pro t afforded their members self-help and mutual bene t. In the late 19th century, the state provided very little social welfare: ordinary people had to do what they could for themselves and for each other, and the club movement became central to this in terms of both ethos and practicality.
Fundraising events went on at these clubs all the time, and much charity work was carried out. Unfortunately, this good work — what we might now call community outreach — usually passed by unacknowledged by those outside of the clubs.The role that clubs like theTeddington Constitutional Club have played is often only grasped by their members, who have tried to keep this side of club life going over the decades — even through dif cult times such as war and economic crisis.
Entertainment in clubs is more readily recognised and written about. But again, the important social side of this is often missed. Over the years, clubs have provided millions of people with a value-for-money night out in a friendly, local place that they’re familiar with.With club games such as snooker and bingo having a bene cial effect on the players, clubs are now only belatedly recognised as having improved the wellbeing of their members.
Clubs were like a second home for many, offering company and a space for social discourse away from the pro t-taking public houses. In the late 19th century, there were few options for working men and women in their leisure time, which they didn’t have much of anyway. Clubs were self funded and self managed, unlike pubs, and they belonged to those who became members. So from the outset, most clubs gave their members a real sense of ownership and people would speak fondly of ‘their’ club. Some were literally built by their members, and much of the regular work was done on a voluntary basis, reinforcing the sense of ownership and belonging to a particular club.
Each club has its own history, characteristics and characters. Yet many of these private members clubs, established and managed by the members themselves, share a set of common features. The Teddington Constitutional Club, founded in 1905, demonstrates both the differences and similarities between such clubs.There is a sense of familiarity — of belonging, almost — despite the knowledge that it isn’t your own club, but somewhere different.
During their postwar heyday, there were over 4,000 working men’s clubs, hundreds of Constitutional Clubs — both Conservative and Liberal — and many other types of social club in the UK. While some were formed in the second part of the 19th century, others were established post-1945. In many ways, the latter continued the traditions of their predecessors on out-of-town council estates, becoming de facto community centres in places where there was little else on offer. Clubs were what local people, their members, made them.
But our society has seen many wide ranging and rapid changes since the 1970s. If the nature of work has changed, so has the nature of leisure.There is now much more choice when it comes to amusement, including much improved home-based entertainment. The internet and computers have eaten into our social lives, and people often spend a large proportion of their days online.With other more exciting things to do, younger generations have become increasingly less interested in going to clubs. In their eyes, clubs can appear too old fashioned, too sexist and home to too many rules.
The book will be released on the 8th March upstairs at The Social