“Probably a no more generous action has ever been done for the welfare of the town of Highbridge” was a statement made in the “Burnham Gazette”& “Somerset Advertiser” in October 14th 1913. This referred to the erection of a handsome building in Church Street, to be known as the Highbridge Social Club.
It is certain that there has never been a more useful one; the construction was carried out at the entire expense of Mrs. John Tyler. This lady was the wife of a local businessman John Tyler who owned the well-known shop on the Cornhill in Highbridge, it sold practically all your household needs – that is the non-edible type.
The splendid building would, at the end of two years be handed over to the people of Highbridge. There being a proviso, that, in the event of the club falling through at any future period, it would pass again into the hands of the donor.
The new social club was built on the site of property owned by a Mr. Hardacre. His family had lived in the house in Church Street from 1897 to 1912 but sold up before relocating in Wales. The buyer was Mr. John Tyler a local ironmonger who purchased the property for the princely sum of £160. The new premises were to be built on the site of workshops that ran parallel to the cottage’s garden.
Mrs. Tyler performed a formal opening ceremony with a silver key (jointly subscribed for by the architect and builder) in the presence of a large and representative gathering. During his speech in 1913, the Chairman of Highbridge Urban District Council – Mr. A.E. Fisher – alluded to the fact that two large educational events had recently taken place in the town; the opening of the Council School and of this new club.
The club had been formed several years earlier (probably in 1905) but was dropped owing to the lack of good accommodation and various other reasons. It was hoped that this would not be the fate of this present institution, he emphasised the need to obtain a good roll of members.
The club (institution) was entirely free from religious or political connection, and would not be restricted simply to the reading of papers and the playing of games. Many uses could be found for the building, both from the artistic and scientific point of view, it was hoped that the committee would be able to draw up programmes, which would suit all views.
Highbridge had dreamt of having a building such as that now presented to them, but few thought the dream would be realised. Members of the old club had served faithfully and had worked under great disadvantages; but now that there was a new club it could become a centre and an influence for good also prove to be a means of mental and physical recreation. A special point was made that the institute would not only be a club for men, but that ladies would also be admitted to the membership.
When the club was opened in 1913 it was proposed that if it proved to be a success, Mrs. Tyler would hand it over to the town or to a board of trustees for the benefit of Highbridge forever. It was hoped that all would put their “Shoulders to the Wheel” to make it a success. A penny (old money) a week was not a very large sum to pay, this was all that was required to make up the membership fee of four shillings a year (20p). Honorary members could join for five shillings (25p) a year.
The club was a brick construction, practically fireproof, with a reinforced concrete floor and a flat roof. It was artificially lighted by gas, and heated by circulating radiators. There were two large rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the first floor, that on the ground floor being converted into two rooms by means of a collapsible screen, one would be a reading room the other for games. The upper room was for bagatelle and (subsequently) billiards, there were also the usual offices. – (Note – no bar). The architect had been Mr. E. Binding and the builder Mr. F.Hucker.
1915 – Social Club & Institute
On Tuesday September 14th 1915 at a meeting of the Highbridge Urban Council Mr. J. Tyler asked the Council as a representative of the town to accept on behalf of his wife Mrs. Emma Tyler the ‘Highbridge Social Club & Institute’. “That excellent and handsomely equipped building in Church Street which, through the generosity and public spirit of that lady, was opened just two years ago. It had since been a highly appreciated rendezvous for the young men who passed many hours at billiards, or in other pastimes, or in the well equipped reading rooms”.
This magnificent gift made a splendid addition to the public buildings of the town and was accepted with grateful thanks. Mr. J. Tyler took that opportunity of saying that Mrs. Tyler, the donor, wished to place this Social Club and Institute and all things connected with it, in the hands of the Council.
Two years earlier in late September when the club was opened and placed in the hands of a committee, they were pleased to find that it was a considerable success; the desire had been to appoint trustees for this institution and place the management in their hands. However, after discussions with a solicitor it was found that difficulties could arise and that the best way would be to approach the council, it was the only governing body in the town, there would be no expense to the town. There would be a small governing body elected from the Council and they had accepted this gift; it would be for the benefit of the young people and coming generations of Highbridge.
Sometime during the period 1915 to 1929 proposals had been made that the club committee should comprise six councillors and six members and at the Annual Meeting held on April 24th 1929 the Chairman Mr. W.H.Hatcher remarked on the splendid gathering. It comprised six Councillors: -Messrs.F.Foster, W.J.Keats, G.W.Gulliford, W.H.Pratt, D.C.Murrish and R. Knight; and six Members; -Messrs.E.C.Baker, E. Hicks, C. Marsh, H. Beesley, L. Knight and H. Marsh.
At the General Committee Meeting in April a “Caretakers Agreement “ was accepted, with the addition that ‘whoever it may be’ would be responsible for the monies taken in the skittle saloon.
During 1933 the question was raised concerning the appointment of new Council Trustees in view of the amalgamation of the Highbridge and Burnham on Sea Urban District Councils It was agreed to defer this until the new Council had been formed. In 1935 following the formation of the new Town Council, the appointment of Club Councillors took place, comprising Councillors and Members. The deeds to the Club had been lost and a new copy was being supplied. Four years later in 1939 the General Committee Meeting revised the rules following the amalgamation of the two councils of Highbridge and Burnham. Subscriptions were raised to six shillings (30p)
On 1st January 1945, following the difficult war years it was proposed that the Club start afresh; later that year the it was proposed the subscriptions for 1946 be seven shillings and sixpence for adults and five shillings for juniors under eighteen.
A meeting in October 1945 recommended that the Club apply for a license to sell intoxicating liquors; the proposal was carried on a majority of 17 to 1. On completion of a new bar it was recommended it be opened from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Daily – Christmas Day, Good Friday and Sundays accepted.
Between 1945 and 1970 the Social Club continued as most club’s do, with no major upheavals just the usual ‘Domestic’ problems, which were resolved by the committee. In 1971 there were discussions by the full Council concerning the provision of a ‘New Club’, in mid 1971 a new site was considered. Discussions continued into 1975 when a suggestion was put forward concerning the possible purchase of London House Motors who had premises next door. There were numerous proposals and counter proposals put forward, but eventually it was decided to demolish the existing club and build a new one on the same site. A cottage next door (No 96, Church Street) was purchased and with the extended site a larger club could be built. There was a grand opening on the 25th April 1981 of the rebuilt club.
At the formal opening the Tyler family’s association with the club was continued with Mrs. P. Counsel and Mrs J. Hatcher, carrying out the re-commemoration; both ladies being the granddaughters of John and Emma Tyler who had presented the original club to the town in 1913.
A further wing including a lounge was opened on 9th December 1989.
Throughout the following years the club has gone through many phases, having been built in 1913 and given to the community in 1915 it celebrated 80 years ‘not out’ in 1995 and is looking to 2005 when it will be 90. With another 10 years to go before its centenary, one can only wonder what other changes may occur.
(This article compiled from information supplied by Fred Faulks and Mick Brown)