Britain’s oldest working men’s club will close today after failing to qualify for funding because managers refused to change 19th century rules – which bans WOMEN.
The Grade II-listed Anstice Memorial Institute in Madeley, Shrops., opened in 1868 where it only sold Victorian gentleman pints of bitter – which cost 12d, the equivalent of 6p today.
It has been run by members ever since and has catered for thousands of working class men in the town and surrounding area.
Women have always been permitted to use the club as “associates” of men but have been banned from becoming members under the original 146-year-old rules.
When a surveyor examined the premises in 2010, club members were told they needed to raise £50,000 to repair the crumbling brickwork and to bring the building up to safety standards.
The members applied for Lottery funding but were turned down because their archaic rules on men-only membership breached equality laws.
Despite the threat of closure, 246 out of the 300 members refused to change with the times and voted to close the club forever.
The club – which includes four bars, a snooker room, pool room and ballroom – will now close for the last time.
But the decision to close the club has been branded “ridiculous” by women who work in the bars.
Susan Colley, 43, who has been the manager of the bars but never allowed to sit on the board, fumed: “The rules about women not being full members were made when the club started in 1868.
“They haven’t changed since, it is time for change, the rules are ancient and we need to be living in the 21st century now.
“At this club, women have no rights at all and it is sad.
“When a man gets to 65, he becomes a life member, when a woman reaches that age, she doesn’t, it makes me very angry.
“Everyone has just stuck to the rules since they began because changing them would mean changing the whole book and that would take too long.
“Although now, it would be a small task to do if it meant saving the club.
“The rules should have been changed years ago, we shouldn’t even be talking about this in 2014.
“All of my bar staff are female and they feel the same as me, I know rules are rules but it is ridiculous and I don’t want to be seen as though I am having a go at anyone but it is how I feel.
“The time for change is now and the time for equal rights is now.
“It says something about the mentality of the majority of men here who would rather close the club forever than allow women to become full members.”
Ken Newbrook, 74, who has been a member since the age of 18 and chairman of the committee for the past 14 years said: “I am gutted that the club is set to close.
“We used to have so many people in here, playing snooker, using the ball room, people would come from all over for our facilities, but they have slowly stopped.
“We used to have a members only policy, but we changed that two years ago to let non-members use the upstairs room for functions.
“Now, people just choose to drink at home, it is cheaper for them to go to Tesco and buy alcohol from there.
“This is the oldest working men’s club in Britain, so it really is the end of an era, but this sort of thing is happening all over the country due to the economy.
“Pubs are closing everywhere and it is really sad to see.
“I am hoping the club can be used for something else now, but I don’t think it is in our hands.”
The club was built in memory of John Anstice, the proprietor and manager of the Madeley Wood Company, which had extensive coal mining and iron founding interests in the district.
Mr Anstice died in 1867 at the age of 57 and forced the area to come to a standstill as the local workers, shops and schools closed on the day of his funeral.
On December 2 1867, it was decided to build a working men’s club by the local people in honour of Mr Anstice.