All things must change but change doesn’t always happen overnight. Just ask the members of the former Mudeford Men’s Club as it celebrates its ninetieth year – despite welcoming women since the 1950s it’s only three years since the ‘men-only’ rule in its second bar was abolished and The Mudeford Club adopted as its more inclusive trading name.
‘The club has gone through many changes,’ says the president of 13 years Laurie Wilkinson. ‘Looking back a little further some of the members genuinely thought we were going to ruin their club by admitting ladies as members and ending the men-only second bar. The funny thing was we had female bar staff and they were always happy to be served by women. As it turned out, if anything we have gained members as couples join together.’
The Mudeford Club continues to thrive at the heart of its community – with about a thousand members its annual activities raise thousands of pounds for local good causes and in conjunction with Stanpit village hall that sits on the other side of the road, it gives the village a focal point for social events.
‘What’s happened is that village pubs have had to go over to food,’ says club treasurer Paul Rogers. ‘Every village pub used to have a darts team, but family diners don’t want darts going on around them, so that’s a service we can provide and we have several men’s, ladies’ and mixed teams in the local Monday, Thursday and Friday darts leagues.’
The Mudeford Club’s history can be traced back to 27 February 1887 and the opening of The Mission Room in Stanpit on land and with money provided by General and Mrs Maberley. In time that became Stanpit Village Room and, again funded by the Maberleys, an annexe was built in which local fishermen could meet during winter. Members paid two shillings a quarter.
By the 1920s the Meeting Room was being run as an unlicensed drinking den named The Pussyfoot Club either after William E ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson, the man charged with enforcing Prohibition in the United States, or because locals would slip their shoes off and pad quietly home so as not to draw attention to their boozing.
Either way, in the face of local resistance to the idea, funds were raised for Mudeford and District Working Men’s Club to be built by members on land opposite where Alfred Edgell sold his allotment for £60. The club’s first president (also chairman and treasurer), Rev W Wynne-Hall was appointed in 1927 and on 31 March 1928 the official opening took place presided over by Captain Harold Wiggins in front of an audience of male and female subscribers and supporters. One, a Mrs Wormold, donated a collection of animal heads to hang on the walls of the new club as well as several books to form the nucleus of a library.
In his opening remarks Rev Wynne-Hall addressed the issue of drink: ‘Let it not be said that any member of this club will so far forget himself as to bring discredit on it. I don’t mind any man having his glass of beer. I am an Englishman, born in a free country, and free I will remain until the end of my days. On the other hand I shall be ruthless in the suppression of disorder by any person who is deficient in self-respect of his neighbours…’
The club thrived as a bastion of male communion, but always with a weather eye on the village at large. The first children’s Christmas party was held in 1936 and during the war it opened as a rest centre for those whose homes had been bombed. After the war membership blossomed and in 1947 not only did the president’s casting vote result in the acquisition of a wireless set, but the club was granted permission to sell food, establishing a menu of bread and cheese that remained largely unchanged for twenty years.
A decade later, on 10 November 1957, the first meeting was held to discuss the admission of female members in an effort to shore up club finances. Although it was thought the proposal had been passed another vote held in February 1959 overturned it and women were again barred… until a further vote in April that year permitted the trial admission of women on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months. With takings up it was duly voted to make the move permanent.
Its fraught relationship with change notwithstanding, The Mudeford Club has always contributed enormously to village life, fulfilling local needs as it is able to. Today it has become a de facto clubhouse for the local cricket teams whose players gather outside before away games and always return to the bar after matches.
‘It’s the same with the football teams,’ says Laurie. ‘We welcome them in and a lot of the younger lads are members now. They come in with their wives and girlfriends and on Saturday afternoons we admit children as well. If there’s live sport on TV we have big screens so major events like the cup finals, or the World Cup, or if AFC Bournemouth have a big game, they become family occasions at the club.
‘Mind you it took some persuading before everyone saw the value of having televisions in the main bar. My wife got talking to a nurse at the hospital a couple of years ago who said her husband would come in if it wasn’t for the TVs in the bar. These days he’s the first one in and always watching the telly.’
In the 1960s the club welcomed its first fruit machine – a year after members initially voted unanimously against it – and Sunday bingo appeared along with a new building alongside the original ‘Green Hut’. The dawn of a new decade brought the first annual dinner dance and the Pussyfoot seafood dinner to commemorate the founders. In 1974 members voted to introduce soft toilet paper to the ladies’ loo.
The annual marrow competition dates back to 1982 and in its diamond jubilee year the club donated £5400 to Portfield School for a soft room. In 1990 a CD player arrived, then in November 1992 a £100,000 extension opened, followed by a new kitchen in 1995 and by the end of the decade both bars had been refurbished and air conditioning installed.
And then it happened… the 21st century was barely a year old and lady affiliate members were finally admitted. Full membership duly followed and with the introduction of high speed wi-fi, a club website, multi-channel television and a large screen projector, the demise of the men-only bar confirmed The Mudeford Club is fit to face the future.
‘It has been a struggle at times, but we’re in good shape,’ says Laurie. ‘Sales are holding their own extremely well in difficult economic conditions. Membership is pretty steady and people are very committed to the club. We get good crowds for entertainment from tribute bands and discos to crib and poker nights. Friday is the weekly meat draw with around twenty prizes and at Christmas our prize draw is the biggest in the south of England – we had prizes worth £8000 last year. It took three nights to call all the winners.”
Members pay a joining fee of £15 then an annual subscription of £24. Senior members who have belonged for ten years pay £14 and the club has fifty-nine non-paying life members in recognition of their work on behalf of the club and the community. Non-members are welcome in the club but have to pay a higher price for drinks.
Financially, the club does rather more than wipe its face.
‘We made a surplus last year of £19,000 and £20,650 the year before,’ says Paul. ‘As a not-for-profit enterprise the money is ploughed back into the club so we’ve had a new kitchen, the dance floor has been done, new networked tills and the first stages of a planned redecoration.’
Having split with the Clubs & Institutes Union in 2007 it is constituted as a Registered Society under The Co-operative and Communities Benefit Societies Act 2014.
‘It means we have to keep proper accounts and follow rules that are there to protect the membership of the club and its officers and make sure everything is above board,’ explains Paul, fresh from a meeting with the auditors preparing the final accounts for 2017.
‘I feel less nervous now,” he smiles.
• First published by Dorset Life – The Dorset Magazine.