Club Day Discord – 1897

In the nineteenth century the festival celebrating the anniversary of Ladies Club was, if anything, an even bigger event than it is now and was enjoyed not only by the people of Neston but by visitors from the surrounding area. Enjoyable though it was it was also a serious source of income for the Society. The Society’s average profit for the day in the 1890’s, after expenses, was in the region of £20, equivalent to approximately £2000 today. Some of this profit was from the dance traditionally held on the green of the Golden Lion. The Club’s annual expenditure paid in benefits to members averaged about £100 per year at this time.

Then, as now, organizing the day required a great deal of hard work and effort and in June 1897 the day also coincided with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the occasion can only have added to the stress on the organisers. Unfortunately an argument with the local Volunteer band in the run up to the day escalated and posed a serious threat to the Society’s income on that day and a great deal of bad feeling in Neston in the months afterwards.

The brass band of the Neston corps of the 1st Volunteer Brigade of the Cheshire Regiment (1st V.B.C.R) had, it appears asked for a higher fee that year to cover the provision of Town Halla band stand for the day. The Society refused to meet their demand, maintaining that they were already paid more than many local bands and charged the Society more than they charged the men’s societies.  When the Society engaged another, cheaper, band for the day the Neston Volunteer band decided to hire the Town Hall to hold a rival dance in the evening at the same time as the dance on the green. Allegedly their profit from the dance amounted to £15, a not inconsiderable sum in those days.

For at least two months following the Club Day a series of letters appeared in the local newspapers some attacking the band’s action whilst others defended their action and blamed the Society’s officials. A report of the day, which appeared in the Cheshire Observer (Saturday 05 June 1897) was, in all probability, written by the Society’s secretary Mr Edwin Kerns, who was a regular contributor to the paper. As well as the usual account of the procession and sermon it included a reference to the dispute over the band’s fees.

‘…The local band which has for many years been engaged for the festival declined to play this year unless an additional charge was paid for a ‘band stand,’ alleging that they had plenty of other engagements at a far higher remuneration than that paid by the society. The Committee of Management, after consulting with some of the trustees and principal honorary officials, declined to pay the increased charge, on the ground that they were paying the band at a far higher rate than was the case at other local friendly societies… Each of the tenders received from a distance was for a less amount than that refused by the local musicians, and the band of the Ist V.B.C.R. charged just one-fourth less…’

It goes on to report how the dance at the Town Hall reduced attendance at the green and profits for the Society.

‘On the evening that they received this reply the band engaged the Town Hall for an opposition dance for their own benefit, and in hopes of crippling the efforts of the promoters of the festival, all of whom labour without fee or reward…Unfortunately rain began to fall at the hour fixed for the dance on the green, and as a huge poster appeared outside the Town Hall announcing the dance and a Volunteer band, many strangers no doubt entered under the impression that they were patronising the society. The hall was crowded during the evening, while the attendance on the green was much thinner than usual…

It is not clear from the letters whether the Society wanted a bandstand or the band insisted on one but certainly on the day a stand was erected.

‘The courteous proprietor of the green, on being applied to at once lent the materials for a suitable stand, which was erected by the society for a few coppers. The society had never previously erected a stand, and the action of the band in playing in opposition to a benefit society because they declined to erect an expensive stand to be used for three hours is probably unparalleled.’

The letters that appeared in the newspapers in the following weeks were, for the most part, signed with pseudonyms . Only two of the writers revealed their real names and so can be identified with any certainty: Mr William Tranter, Secretary of Neston Town Hall Ltd and Mr William Bradshaw, a sergeant in the Neston Volunteers, though not a band member. Two correspondents not only used pseudonyms but also adopted a fictitious persona and a writing style which attempted to reproduce the local accent and included deliberate misspellings. This was not done with any intent to deceive, but was, perhaps, an attempt to introduce a lighter note into the dispute.
In the same issue as the account of the day there appeared the first letter on the subject, purporting to be by an elderly member of the club named ‘Selina Belinda Jones’. In fact it was quite possibly written by the Society’s secretary, Edwin Kerns, who wrote a regular, often humorous, column under the nom de plume of Old Fogy as well as reporting on Neston news. The writer claims to be ‘an ould woman’ with ‘one fut in the grav and the other in a red flanel bag cos of rewmatiks’.
The letter expressed a similar view of the band’s action as the report.

‘Well, tbe first bansman that comes past this house on club day al ear somethin’ he wont like. The mony, and the mony they’ve had off our club— a lot more than off the men’s! An becos they cudn’t skweese some more out of us off they bang like a lot of nawty babbies and play agen us.’

The Town Hall was the target of some criticism, from a Ladies Club member living in Liverpool, for accepting the band’s booking.

‘How came that to be let for a purpose so utterly at variance with the public spirit and the true interests of the good old town ? Surely there must have been some great misunderstanding here. It is to me, inconceivable the proprietors would lend themselves to any attempt to injure so worthy an annual institution as ‘ Club Day.’
Cheshire Observer – Saturday 12 June 1897

Mr Tranter response in the following week (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 19 June 1897) was short and to the point.

Sir, — I would ask to kindly answer the question made by one of your correspondents in your last week’s issue, viz., how it was that the Town Hall came to be let to the Volunteer Band? I would remind the questioner that the Town Hall is the property of a limited company, and, like other public companies, always accepts legitimate business when it is offered. The Ladies’ Club had not thought fit to engage the Hall, and it was, therefore, open for the Volunteer Band, who availed themselves of the opening to hire it. — Yours respectfully,
W. Tranter,
Secretary, Neston Town Hall Co., Ltd.

Whilst most of the letters in condemned the band’s action there was evidently a great deal of acrimonious discussion in Neston itself. One angry correspondent signing himself ‘Justice’ was adamant that further action was needed-

An immediate inquiry should be instituted by those responsible, with a view to unmasking the wire-pullers, insuring such restitution as is possible, and making such contemptible tactics impossible for the future. The matter cannot be allowed to rest where it is. —‘

He welcomed the exposure given to the matter in the correspondence section of the paper.
The extraordinary action of the band led people to believe that the latter was suffering some great injustice, and torrents of abuse were heaped upon the club officials, by a section of the public and a few well- known individuals actuated by personal spleen, who now keep themselves carefully in the background and leave the band to bear the blame.
‘Justice’ was also concerned about the effect on Neston’s reputation in the area.

because they could not wrest more money from those responsible, they commit an action which, while it has put a few pounds in their pockets at the expense of the sick members of the club, has once more dragged the name of Neston in the mire, and made it a byeword in the surrounding districts.

Sergeant Bradshaw’s first letter was written as ‘Fairplay’ (he played for both Neston Cricket Club and Neston Quoits Club so the sporting reference seems apt) but he was impatient with the letter writers’ use of nom de plumes signed his real name on his second letter, challenging the other correspondents to do the same. None of them did. His letters were written mainly to make the point that the Neston Volunteer band acted independently of the Neston Volunteer corps as a whole as there were rumours that the Company would lose local support and that several gentlemen were intending to stop their subscriptions to the corps.

He was, however, also defending himself as it was being suggested that he instigated the booking of the Town Hall, although he insisted in his lettersthat he had merely advised the band to secure the booking by paying a deposit. In defence of the band he reported that the band had offered to provide tables and forms instead of a bandstand but had received no answer to this offer.

Another correspondent, also writing as a fictitious elderly member of Ladies Club, came to the defence of the band as well and accused ‘Selina’ (secretary, Edwin Kerns?) of being the cause of all the trouble.

‘I’m sartin, Selina, that ye ar to blame, and not the ban chaps at aw, for I know for sartin they proffered the sarvices as usual providin ar club would be content with the stand as would suffice for the band, as far as the band was consarned, but ye would not carry that tale and save a lot o bother. No it suited yore spiteful ends better and make mountains out on mouley work hills and persuade oursens and everybody else as it they intended impedence to ar club and yo know Selina it was nowt o the sort and yo know Selina Belinda I’m aumost as owd as yo.’

‘Selina’ does provide some interesting information about past members of the Club and Club Days earlier in the century. Of Margaret Archer, a member of Ladies Club until her death in 1888 she recalls –

Poor Marget. If anybody plaged her shed say “ha yul av a donkey ov your own to driv sum day,” and sur enuf they always ad.

‘She’ also describes a Club Day which took place in the 1850’s when Reverend Yarker was the Neston vicar (he died in 1853).

I remember the time, I darsay it is fifty years ago, wen Mester Yarker was the parson, there was a hopposition band and we had a playakters band from Liverpoole. They had to go back urly so we had a dance on the Cockpit. Mester Wolley, the register, him as my nevyew says does the hatches matches and dispatches, played the flute an’ Samuel Miller played the big drum, an’ somebody else played the fiddle. That was the best dance I ever had.

There is also a reference to an earlier attempt to divert money from Ladies Club by setting up a rival dance.

I forgot to menshun that some of the bowling clubers once tried to let their green for dancing to the musik of our band, which plays right agen um. It was clever, and it was mean, but bless yer sole, nobody went anigh urn.

Considering the age of the Society the number of serious disagreements have been relatively few. There was a fall out with the band on the occasion of the Society’s fiftieth anniversary when a different band was engaged for the day and the Neston band tried to disturb the church service by playing loudly (and discordantly) outside. There was to be another unpleasant incident, this time with Patrick Collins of Collins Fair in 1908. It is difficult to be certain what actually occurred between the Club officials and the bandbut, no doubt as is often the case there were misunderstandings and faults on both sides. The Society has weathered all of these past upsets and the traditional celebration of Ladies Club still continues.

Stella Young

(For transcript of some of the letters click here)

Newspaper articles accessed through The British Newspaper Archive
Newspaper articles are also available on which is available free of charge in most Cheshire libraries.