There used to be dozens of these social clubs throughout the North. They were set up during the inter-war period by what were once patronisingly termed the ‘progressive working-class’ as a more respectable alternative to town pubs of the time. There are very few men-only clubs left, but two or three linger on in the Keighley area. I joined through tradition and because my dad and my uncle have been members for decades, and you really can’t beat having a pint with your dad and your uncle. In our club there’s a TV room, a small library and the click of dominoes. You get frowned at by older members until you remove your hat. The two full-sized slate snooker tables are immaculately maintained by the same local firm that installed them in the 50s. There are three handpumps, one for Timothy Taylor’s Best Bitter and two for Golden Best, the stealth mild that is Taylor’s biggest seller in their home market. Guinness is by the bottle, and Tetley Cask has recently been usurped by its ugly cousin, Smooth. I’m pretty sure that on my first visit a few days after I turned 18 they still weren’t selling lager (no ladies, see), but these days there’s a Carling tap.
When my dad, uncle and their mates joined there was a two-year waiting list and it would be three deep at the bar on a friday. Prospective members had to attend at least twice a month for those two years, and then present themselves to the committee to prove that you were of good character and had no criminal record (and presumably, not a woman). When I joined some eight years ago, there was no waiting list, and my exile Down South gave me special dispensation not to have to prove my worth in person. Fridays are very much quieter and the club no longer opens during the day. Times change. There’s still an annual club trip – usually to Scarborough – though these days it’s limited to veteran members and a crate of Landlord is no longer hoisted onto the coach.
The only female permitted on the premises is the Steward’s wife – and she’s not allowed out from behind the bar, even to collect empties. Some may consider the place a sexist anachronism, but it’s a well-loved sexist anachronism, and one that nobody really minds too much about. The club’s constitution doesn’t actually bar women, but none have shown the slightest interest in joining (as my mum has pointed out) what amounts to two rooms of middle-aged and elderly Yorkshiremen complaining about the state of Rugby League and (in summer) cricket, and at all other times, the government.
Members still talk about the only time a woman got over the club’s front threshold. One night an unknown elderly bloke pulled up in a Bentley and doddered in with a fur-coated peroxide blonde half his age, before being frantically but gently ushered out.
“I’m surprised they didn’t rebuild the place after that” noted my mum at the time.