Bowburn Workmen’s Club closed - 1912

Bowburn Working Men’s Club was the first building in what became nos. 1–4, Durham Road West.

Nos. 1 & 2 were built next.

The plan here was submitted for Council permission in about 1908.

The Club was closed in 1912 but the building was soon afterwards used again, this time by Crowtrees Working Men’s Club – the subject of a famous court case that made its way into the “CIU Bible” as “When is a club not a club?”

Bowburn Workmen’s Club closed - 1912

Durham County Advertiser, Friday 12th January 1912, page 5


WEDNESDAY, January 10.– Before Colonel Darwin (in the chair), Dr. J. Wilson, R.M. Battensby, and J.W. Appleton, Esq.



An application was made by the police that the Bowburn and District Workmen’s Social Club be struck off the rolls on the grounds that it was not conducted in good faith as a club; that there was frequent drunkenness on the club premises; that illegal sales of intoxicating liquor had taken place on the premises; and that persons were habitually admitted without an interval of 48 hours between nomination and admission. Mr W. H. Oliver appeared in support of the application, and Mr H.E. Ferens represented the club.

Mr Oliver, in opening the case, said the evidence would go to show that the club was not conducted in good faith, and he thought it would also show that the club was nothing more nor less than an unlicensed public-house.

The club was formed, amongst other things, for social intercourse, mutual helpfulness, mental and moral improvement, rational recreation, and all other advantages of a club.

To show how far this idea was carried out he might say that when the raid was made by the police on the club premises on the 22nd December, there were found eight daily and weekly papers for a membership of over 200, together with a library of 36 books, whilst some 20 other books were stated to have been lent out.

A watch had been kept on the place for about two months prior to the raid, and many drunken men were seen to leave the premises. There was also a constant succession of people at different times, women and children, going to the club and being supplied with liquor to be taken home, which was an offence. By the Act of Parliament, members of a club must not be admitted within 48 hours of their nomination. By the rules of the club, no one was to be admitted a member unless he had been nominated 7 days beforehand. The Act also provided that there should be kept on the club premises a register of all the names and addresses of members, together with a statement of their last payment of subscription. That register was practically non-existent in this case. There was a list of members, about 200 names, but not a single address was given, nor a single intimation that any payment had been made. By the side of some of the names an amount of money was entered, but there was nothing to show whether it was money owing or money paid. He thought on these facts the court would be fully entitled to come to the conclusion that the club had not been conducted in a bona fide manner. In conclusion, Mr Oliver said if these proceedings had no other effect, they would let the managers of clubs know that they must be conducted in conformity with club life, and must not be turned into mere drinking saloons.

Supt. Waller spoke to visiting the club with Inspector McDonald and other officers. Witness sent the Inspector to the billiard room, and went himself to the recreation and news room. The billiard and recreation rooms each had a bar which ran from the one room into the other. Witness seized 14 books in all, including the nomination and minute books. The club was registered in 1909.

Mr Ferens at this juncture applied for an adjournment in order that he might have an opportunity of inspecting the books. He had a perfectly good answer to this charge, but he could not be expected to conduct the case without first having an opportunity of seeing the books which would be put in against him.

The case was adjourned for a week, in order that Mr Ferens might be able to inspect the books along with the secretary.



Durham County Advertiser, Friday 19th January 1912, page 5


WEDNESDAY, January 17.– Before Capt. Apperley (in the chair), Dr. J. Wilson, M.P., R.M. Battensby, Esq., Col. Darwin, M. Forster, Esq., and J. Shiel, Esq.




The hearing was resumed of the application by the police that the Bowburn and District Working Men’s Social Club and Institute be struck off the register, on the grounds that there was frequent drunkenness on the premises; that there were illegal sales of intoxicating liquor; and that there were breaches of the club rules in regard to the admission of members, etc. Mr W. H. Oliver appeared for the police, and Mr H. E. Ferens for the club.

Mr Oliver outlined the case for the prosecution, and said the club was nothing less than a mere drinking saloon and unlicensed public-house.

Supt. Waller gave evidence as to obtaining a warrant and raiding the club on December 22nd. He found several daily and weekly newspapers on the premises, and there was a billiard table, cards, dominoes, draughts, and a XXX [mug? ping?] board.

Mr Ferens: Have you had much experience of what is provided in clubs of a similar nature? – Supt. Waller: Seeing that I have only been once in a club as a visitor in my life, I do not.

Have you given any warning, or instructed any warning to be given to the officials or members of the club? – No, sir: I don’t think that is necessary or part of my duty.

The club was watched by the police? – Yes, by plain clothes officers.

But no warning was given: No. I was not going to show my hand – not likely!

Mr. Oliver: Was the club you say you once visited conducted like this one? – Supt. Waller: No; entirely different.

Inspector McDonald gave detailed evidence as to the manner in which the books were kept.

The Chairman asked whether a member could introduce a friend into the club.

Mr Ferens said the friend’s name must be in the visitors’ book.

Mr Oliver remarked that most of those workmen’s clubs were affiliated to a central body, and the members assumed they had a right to go into any affiliated club and purchase drink as though they were members. In his opinion that was illegal.

Witness was being examined in detail as to the entries in the books, when Mr Ferens said he was quite prepared to admit the minute book had been irregularly kept.

In reply to the Chairman, Inspector McDonald said he saw no drunkenness whatever on the club premises at the time the raid was made.

The Chairman said the Bench could see from the books there were clerical irregularities, and the wording of the minutes was proof of the inefficiency of the secretary. What they wanted to know was what happened at the club during the two months it was under police observation.

P.C. Foster spoke to keeping watch on the club and to seeing drunken men both enter and leave the premises. On various occasions he saw women leaving the club with jugs and bottles, and he had also seen a drunken man or two supplied.

Mr Ferens said it was quite legal for a member to get drink at the club and get his wife to take it away for home consumption.

Mr Oliver said he would prove that the people who got drunk were not members of the club.

P.C.Foster, continuing his evidence, said one Sunday night, when he was keeping observation, 33 men came out of the club at closing time, four of whom were drunk. On the 4th November, there was a disturbance inside the club, and one man was “chucked” out.

The Clerk: Was the ejected man sober?

P.C. Foster: No, he was drunk and very angry, and one of the men said “Go away, Cooper”.

Continuing, witness said on a later occasion there was a disturbance in the club, and a man came out drunk and threatened to smash the windows. His companions told him to have a bit of sense and go home. Another night the club was very disorderly. On frequent occasions men came out of the club drunk and vomited in the roadway.

In reply to Mr Ferens, the Chairman said he thought the law was perfectly clear that a woman was not entitled to go to the club and take drink away.

The Chairman said the chief point now was as to the charges of drunkenness which were alleged. One of the things in the summons was that drunkenness took place on the premises.

Mr Ferens said he would call his witnesses at a later stage to refute it.

P.C. Brumpton gave corroborative evidence, and said drunken men repeatedly came out of the club and bumped him as he was keeping watch. He had had occasion to warn the officials when the club was first opened, but had given no warning since.

This was the case for the prosecution.

Mr Ferens said the Bench had already intimated that they had come to the conclusion, and probably to the right conclusion, that the books had been very irregularly kept, and they had also intimated that they appreciated the fact that they had been kept by men who had not had a proper training for book-keeping, nor perhaps a sufficient education to properly fit them to keep books of this nature in such a way as to meet the strict requirements of the law. He took it, therefore, that the bench were not prepared to deal harshly with his clients as far as the irregularities of bookkeeping were concerned. The magistrates had, however, asked him to meet what was probably the more serious charge of drunkenness. Before dealing with that point, he would like to say a word or two about the club premises, and he submitted the premises were adequate and suitable for the purposes of carrying on a club such as this. They admitted of a billiard table, and there were also various other games which were calculated to keep men out of mischief and make them respectable members of society. There was also a library containing daily, weekly, and monthly papers, and to say that the necessaries of a club were not provided was certainly not correct. Proceeding, Mr Ferens said it seemed to him rather peculiar that although the police authorities had their suspicions that the club was not being carried on in accordance with the true spirit of club life, yet not warning of any kind was given. To his mind it would have been a kindness, and, moreover, the proper step to have taken, if the police had give a kindly warning to the officials. This, however, was not the method the police adopted, and no warning was given. What the police did was to conceal themselves to find out what was going on, and then allow it to go on until they thought they had sufficient evidence to come to court and ask the Bench to wipe the club out of existence. He submitted this was not a proper method to adopt at all, inasmuchas if a kindly warning had been given, a remedy in all probability would have been forthcoming, and the court would never have been troubled with the case at all. Proceeding, Mr Ferens said it was the duty of his friend to prove his case as to the alleged drunkenness, but all the police evidence showed was that drunken men had been seen to go in and come out of the club. The prosecution had not proved anything with the exception of the two occasions on which P.C. Foster had said he saw beer supplied to drunken men.

Mr Oliver: We are not charging you with supplying drink to drunken persons.

Continuing, Mr Ferens said he was going to call the man who supplied the drink, and he would tell the court that he had done his best in the matter of serving only those men who were in a fit condition to be served. The steward would tell them that in the course of his duties he had turned men out of the club who were not fit to be supplied, also that men came in drunk and, naturally, when they were turned out drunk, they got the club a bad name. As he had stated, he was prepared to admit certain irregularities, and to admit that in certain respects his clients had been inefficient in carrying out their duties. No doubt the Bench would feel they ought to be punished to a certain extent; but he asked the Bench not to take the step the prosecution asked them to take, and strike the club off the register. The case would prove, not only a warning to his clients, but a warning to other clubs in the county who, most probably, were committing similar irregularities, not knowing they were found wrong, and he thought a warning from the Bench would meet the case. The club officials were honest, hard-working men, who had done their best to carry out their duties properly, and thought their best had not met the full requirements of the law, he hoped the Bench would not go to the extent of striking the club off the register. Mr Ferens concluded by saying he did not object to the prosecution, as it would, perhaps, serve as a warning to other clubs in the county; but he strongly disapproved of the action of the police in giving his clients no warning.

The Chairman: I think you must acknowledge that it is a very weak committee.

Mr Ferens: I quite agree; and they will have to reform very considerably to be able to properly carry out the law. There is a new secretary appointed. He is an intelligent young fellow, and I trust he will be able to do better for the club than has been done in the past.

William Alderson said he had been steward for the Bowburn Club since June, 1910. On no occasion had he deliberately served drink to men who were under the influence of liquor. If he thought a man had had sufficient, he always advise him to go home. Witness had done his honest best to carry out his duties in a proper spirit.

Mr Ferens: How much does the cost of drink per day per member work out at for the whole year?

Witness: Between 2.1/2d and 3d. 3d is an outside figure.

The Chairman: Does that include what is sent out in jugs, etc.? – Witness: Yes, everything – mineral waters, Oxo, and everything else that is supplied.

The Chairman said the magistrates had a bill before them for bitter beer only from Aitcheson’s, and that amounted to £58 for July and August only. This was for some 220 members.

Mr Ferens said that bill probably ran over four or five months.

The Chairman said it only appeared to run for two months, and that represented over £380 a year for bitter beer alone.

[? – £58 X 6 = £348! – MS]

Mr Ferens (to witness): Has it been your custom to supply liquor to your members, and for those members to send that liquor home by their wives or their daughters? – Witness: I have occasionally supplied drink to members to give to their wives of daughters to take home.

Were you under the impression that you were doing what was quite legal? – Yes, decidedly.

The Chairman: You are aware now that you have been breaking the law? – Witness: It appears so now, according to what has been said now.

Mr Oliver: There have been drunken men on the premises? – Witness: Occasionally. If a man comes into our club drunk from another public house, I turn him out.

Have you ever had men on the premises who had got that much that you have refused to fill them any more? – Yes.

And you let them get into such a state that you had to refuse to fill them? – You have to refuse them when they are getting too much.

John Ramshaw, doorkeeper at the club, said he had occasion to put men out who were drunk, and these were afterwards dealt with by the committee.

The Clerk: Was that frequent?

Witness: No, sir.

Mr Oliver: Have you had to eject drunken men? – Yes.

Who had been on the club premises for some time? – Yes.

Mr Cruddace, treasurer for 15 months, spoke to the method of electing members. The members were actually elected by the committee, although when a member was nominated his name was hung up on a board in the bar for the whole of the members to see.

Mr Ferens: Do the committee take any trouble to ascertain whether a man who is proposed as a member is a fit and proper person and likely to be a credit to the club? – Yes.

The Chairman: You don’t indiscriminately invite anyone to join? – No, sir.

Have you ever refused anybody? – There have not been any since I went there.

The Chairman: Amongst all those we have heard spoken of as being the worse for drink on various occasions, I should have thought there were a few who would have been better not to have been admitted.

Mr Ferens: You know there are a tremendous lot of irregularities in the keeping of the books? – Yes.

Mr Oliver: Would you agree with me that the books are not kept at all?

Mr Ferens: They are kept, but kept badly.

At this stage, Mr Ferens intimated that he had the late secretary, who was to blame for most of the irregularities in the books, also the present secretary in court, and he would like the Bench to say which they would prefer to hear.

The Chairman intimated that they would like to hear the late secretary.

George Hughes, sworn, admitted certain irregularities in the books, also certain breaches of the rules.

The Bench retired, and on their return into the court, the Chairman stated that irregularities had been admitted, and there had also been drunkenness, and the club would be struck off the register for six months, and the premises not used as a club.

Mr Oliver’s application for costs was granted.

Mr Ferens asked the Bench the effect of the order. There were other parties interested. The premises were mortgaged, and Mr Carpenter was there representing the bank.

The Clerk: The order is at an end at the close of the six months.




Cooper was possibly John Cooper, of 20, Steavenson Street, Bowburn.

P.C. Brumpton was at the time of the 1911 Census living at 15, Durham Road [the Police house], Bowburn. He must have left fairly soon afterwards [I wonder why?!], to be followed by P.C. Thomas Euen Nesham, who on 26 Apr 1920 died at home (15, Durham Road) as a result of wounds incurred during World War I.

Thomas William Alderson was living at Bowburn Club at time of 1911 Census, described as Manager of Club. He was a farmer’s son, of West Grange [Farm], Shincliffe, and had married in 1908. He was possibly the Thomas Alderson who was registered to vote at Clarence Villa Hotel in 1914.

Presumably John William Ramshaw of 25, Clarence Street, Bowburn.

Matthew Cruddace of 6, Clarence Street, Bowburn. He subsequently became steward of Crow Trees Workingmen’s Club and, in that position, on 8 Jul 1913, won an appeal against conviction by the County Justices for operating without a licence.

Presumably George Hughes of 35, Clarence Street, Bowburn