Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Clarion Clubhouses

Manchester Clarion Clubhouses

“Comradeship and fresh air at a reasonable cost”

(article based extensively on an article by Denis Pye)

The Clarion movement was based around the Clarion newspaper established in 1891, one of its off shoots was a very successful cycling section formed in 1895. The slogan of the club was taken from William Morris's slogan “Fellowship is Life” and “Lack of Fellowship is death”.

One of the most successful areas for the Clarion movement was the industrial towns of North West of England.

Soon the Manchester Clarion Cycling Club began to organise regular summer camps for its members, initially at Tabley Brook near Knutsford in August 1895 and 1896

These Clarion camps were organised by
Charles "Charlie"D Reekie, Secretary of
Manchester Clarion Cycling Club.

Charlie Reekie was a Railway Clerk from Ancoats, Manchester.

The first Manchester Clarion camp at Tabley Brook was organised for three weeks in August 1895. The Clarion camp consisted of four bell tents, a square kitchen tent and a large marquee for dining and entertainment – all equipment for the Clarion camp (including Gorton ILP crockery) was transported in a horse drawn caravan borrowed from a farmer and Clarion supporter from Malpas, Mr William Ranstead

(The same van that was used by the first Clarion women’s propaganda van tour).

The first Manchester Clarion camp of 1895 was a huge success and was visited by over 2,200 cyclists of whom 460 camped.

After the success of this initial camp Charlie Reekie suggested other Clarion camps in other parts of the country under the slogan “Comradeship and fresh air at a reasonable cost” he also wrote a short poem

“Where thrushes sing and busy bee hums,
Far from the stinking, stifling slums,
We’ll pitch our tents by a troutlet stream,

Sink all sorrow, nor think of the morrow,
But look on life as a happy dream”

With the success of the Clarion camp, Manchester Clarion's began to examine the possibility of a Clarion Clubhouse in the country, an old “old farmhouse” was already mentioned being discussed by Manchester Clarion cyclists. The Clarion Scout Journal in November 1895 reported that the Burnley Clarion cycling club had already established a a Clubhouse (photo left) and that the Manchester Clarion Cycling Club were keen to get one by next Spring.

However by August 1896 the Clarion’s were once again camping at Tabley Brook this time with fourteen bell tents, two marques and Clarion cyclist came from as far away as Birmingham and London. Kier Hardie the great Labour leader even put in an appearance at the Clarion camp, staying the night and even help preparing the porridge in the morning (probably in the rain as Charlie Reekie once again wrote the following verse

“The rugs are wet and the beds are damp,
Conducive to ague, rheumatic and cramp’
We’re praying for sunshine, but the weather gets wuss,

Causing the campers to quietly kuss.”

Charlie Reekies dream for a Clarion clubhouse was modelled on guest houses in William Morris’s “News from Nowhere”.

They would be “clean, airy, well appointed rooms, furnished with fumed oak furniture, tapestry hangings and allegorical pictures” The house would be “ Surrounded by grounds and with a first floor balconies for al fresco meals (with) fruit orchard and playing fields on every side; the whole alive fair women and brave men; while up in the sky floated a captive balloon to guide comrades from miles around towards the pleasant by lanes approaching the spot – the ideal spot”.

The Rev T Arthur Leonard of Colne had already established a o-operative Holiday Association Guest House in Ambleside in 1893.

One local Clarion had even visited the cabin of Thoreau's Walden in Massachusetts, Thoreau lived in the woods of Massachusetts for two years, two months, and two days and wrote a book of his experience "Life in the Woods".

BUCKLOW HILL 1897-1902

“The first socialist guest house”

By February 1897 a plan was in progress for the Manchester Clarion Cycluing Club to take a cottage half a days cycling from Manchester, Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham and Liverpool (all flourishing Clarion cycling clubs)

In June 1897 the Clarion proclaimed that Bucklow Hill (four miles South of Altrincham on the A556) would be the “first experimental co-operative cottage of the Clarion clubs” it also noted that apart from the cottage their was a field for camping and football.

Bucklow Hill Clarion Clubhouse (the house being known previously as Acropolis) was officially opened on the 22nd June 1897 and was deliberately designed to offer socialist alternative to celebrations and holiday to mark Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary as monarch.

The Clarion cyclists met at Trafford Bar at 10am on the 22nd June 1897 in a great ride out to the opening at Bucklow Hill.

Robert Blatchford “Nanquam” the editor of the Clarion was to perform the opening with a specially cast diamond jubilee pig iron key, but he was not available on the day and as a result the Clarion clubhouse at Bucklow Hill was opened by Mr J. Pitt-Hardacre actor-manager of the Comedy Theatre, Manchester
and keen Clarion cyclist.

Some 250 were present for dinner (lunch and even more for tea). The clubhouse could accommodate up to sixty people overnight and up to 150 for meals.

The Clarion newspaper columnist Haydon Perry wrote an article stating that he found people on the balcony, and in garden deck chairs under Chinese umbrellas, reading and smoking. Tents had been pitched in the adjoining field and campers used spring water for washing. There was ample rooms for stabling bicycles, a large kitchen and dinning room, an office and a reading room. Up stairs a general purpose room opened on to the balcony , which offered a view of the road to Manchester ],. The dormitories were named after flowers.

The steward and stewardess of the Clubhouse were Mr and Mrs Bennett (Manchester Clarion cyclists)

The Secretary of the Bolton Clarion cycling club stated the new clarion clubhouse was “Centre of a cycling paradise, away from the Smokey towns” popular rides included rides to Arley Hall and Rostherne Mere.

The Clarion clubhouse was very popular with cyclists and non cyclists who came for the evening concerts and walked or cycled during the the day.

The funding for the project was to come from the proceeds of selling 2,000 five shilling shares in the Clarion cycling Clubhouses company limited, a company drawn up by Dr Richard Pankhurst (father of Sylvia Pankhurst).

At the first meeting of the shareholders in October 1897 at the Royal Oak tavern, Quay street, Deansgate, Manchester, some 150 people attended. However the good attendance did not materialise into share ownership and only some 120 out of 500 shares had been taken.

The Clarion Cycling Club spent its winter months raising money to maintain its new property, to this end they were helped by the Manchester Clarion choir who also organised concerts to pay for the clubhouse.

The Bucklow Hill cottage was acquired on a five year lease from the local Earl Egerton of Tatton, who only later found out he had mistakenly let one of his establishments to the hated socialists., unsurprisingly the lease was not renewed by Earl Egerton in June 1902.

HANDFORTH 1903-1935

After its untimely eviction from Bucklow Hill, Manchester Clarions scoured the countryside for a replacement Clarion Clubhouse and they found an ideal establishment eight miles from Bucklow hill, in the form of a dilapidated, old, empty farmhouse. It was located on the outward road between Cheadle and Handforth, about half a mile off the main Manchester-Wilmslow road.

It was flanked by two orchards and was secluded enough to minimise the possibility of causing annoyance to local people.

Handworth Clarion Clubhouse was officially opened in September 1903

Rambling farmhouse had a large kitchen with oak beams and panelling, which was as furnished with a comfortable sitting room. Here the presiding genius was Edward Fay, the much loved “Bounder” who had died in 1896 at the age of 43 and whose picture adorned the wall. There was a card room as well as a library and reading room. Four dormitories with a total of fifty beds, and tents available to sleep at least a dozen, failing that you could also sleep in the hayloft.

Outside, a lawn fringed with a well kept garden could be enjoyed from a number of wooden benches. The kitchen garden was the “pride of the steward” One of two orchards was used as an open air theatre

or auditorium (anything from Shakespeare to Shaw). Nearby was a large playing field with three tennis courts and space for cricket and football and the annual old English sports day held in July and included obstacle races, high jump, skipping, and potato gathering for the ladies.

Handforth played a pivotal role in development of the Clarion's and early socialist ideas in the North West.

Colin Coates (a keen Clarion cyclstated “I fear we were guilty of attempting to make the most of two worlds; the Clarion Cycling Club with the claims and charms of the road, and the benefits which the House afforded in the way of concerts, games, plays etc. there were amongst the members at that time many who were able and willing to draw from their store of talents; singers, players, reciters could always be tapped to provide good entertainment. Weather permitting, concerts arranged in the orchard. On the stage beneath the pear trees the artists did their stuff”.

The Clubhouse was surely one of the greatest treasurers of the Clarion movement and the leisure and enjoyment it gave to thousands of socialists toiling in Northern industrial towns must have been immense. Everything revolved around the Clubhouse and the saying “Clubhouse for tea” was a very popular slogan amongst the North west Clarion Cyclists.

It may have been a Utopian experiment but the mass unemployment of the 1930's forced the Handforth Clarion Clubhouse to close in the early 1930's

VALLEY HOUSE 1936-1951

In 1938 the Manchester Clarion Scouts were once again in search of a Clubhouse this time they found it at Valley House, Oversley Ford on the banks of the river Bollin near Styal, just two miles from Handforth.

The prominent gold painted clarion sign from the old clubhouse at Handforth was taken to the new premises and a fixed to the outside wall as previously do ne at Handforth.

The official opening was conducted by Hubert Humphries a Birmingham Councillor (later Mayor of Birmingham) on the 24th May 1936. Over 600 we
re present at opening and Sang the red flag

Those seeing it for the first time must have been impressed with their new home. The site was quiet and secluded, surrounded as it was by tall trees. The house was fronted by extensive gardens, while alongside the River Bollin was a large natural field with space for cricket or football with tennis courts and putting green.

While the Clubhouse was always in need of financial support money was raised after war to pay of its debts however the local Public Health Department demanded improvements, which would cost a further £2,000 and the Clarions were forced to sell the Clubhouse in 1951

Of the Clarion Clubhouses that were opened by 1950 only a handful remained

Clarion Club house - Sheffield Dore Moor (Left)

Their was previously a Clarion hut at Sheffield, Cordwell Valley, probably on the land of Edward Carpenter, and was used by Heeley Clarion Fellowship , It was transfered to the Dore Moor land in 1920, when built by local Clarion's.

The Sheffield Dore Moor Clarion Club House was not only used by the club house shareholders, [who could stay there overnight,] but also by the Clarion Cycling Club , and Clarion Ramblers . At the Club House there were the Clarion Entertainers, a Clarion Football team, Clarion Cricket team, there was a putting green , a bowling green, childrens playground,and a wonderful view of Sheffield from the club house verander at the back. The general public could buy their cups of tea and sandwiches in the cafe, or could even bring their own tea and just get hot water during the war years.

Ribble Valley near Ribchester opened in 1913 (right)

Yorkshire (Menston) Clubhouse opened in 1902 (Still open but lost control ?)( below Left)

(Halewood Clarion Clubhouse Left of which little is known ???)

The only Clarion Clubhouse open to day, under progressive management is the excellent clubhouse at Pendle.



Britain's Daily Socialist Paper suffered from a fire at its premises in East London on the morning of 28th July 2008
However, not one days production was lost, a record former Daily Worker editor William Rust would be proud of