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working men's clubs

working men's clubs. Clubs which brought working men together sociably took many forms, including friendly societies for mutual insurance and gatherings in pubs or beerhouses for news and information and to enjoy shared interests and pursuits such as music and gardening. But the working men's club movement, as such, was a product of philanthropic and controlling concerns within the mid-Victorian middle classes, anxious to reclaim the working man from the pub and its temptations to alcoholic, political, and other excesses, and conscious that formal educational provisions like the mechanics' institutes were a minority taste. Clubs in which men could gather for uncontentious reading, games without gambling, and sociability without alcohol were proliferating, especially under temperance movement auspices, by the 1850s. The prime mover in the foundation of the Workingmen's Club and Institute Union, established in 1862, was the Revd Henry Solly, a unitarian minister whose experiments in Lancaster had convinced him of the viability of this approach to social reform. After the 1867 Reform Act opened out working-class urban electorates the political parties also became involved, especially the Conservatives, whose clubs were popular because of a lack of inhibitions about beer and billiards. But the CIU itself soon threw off most of the restrictions intended by its original patrons, and beer (ostensibly in moderation, as befitted a respectable, self-controlled membership) soon appeared as part of the clubs' attractions, followed by musical and comic entertainment of a kind not envisaged by the reformers. As with other cultural initiatives promoted from above, working men took what they wanted from the CIU and rejected the rest, and by the end of the 19th cent. the movement was firmly set on the road to the current emphasis on relaxation, sociability, drink, and glamour: a far cry from the godly, righteous, sober, and improving aims of the founders.

John K. Walton

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