Thursday, 16 June 2016

"See better days and do better things," the sad end of the Chorlton Liberal Club.

The Chorlton Liberal Club had opened in the October of 1897.

It wasn’t the first club the Liberals had had here, that was on Wilbraham Road but the new one on Manchester Road was more “commodious and suitable for the purpose.”*

Its opening was greeted “with the hope that the club would strengthen Liberalism in Chorlton-cum-Hardy” and membership figures seemed to bear this out. In the space of the year they had recruited another 50 members and were confident of more.  I suspect the club was only part of that success, with something also down to the influx of new people into the township.

Not that they saw it that way.  The official opening was done with a gold key and the job fell to Reuben Spencer “an old Liberal” who “hoped it would be a centre of light and leading, round which young men would be prepared to take a part in social, municipal and public life generally.”

We might jib at the emphasis on men especially as women were active in local politics and within two decades Sheena Simon was elected with a majority of over 1400 votes and 58% of the vote as the first woman Liberal councillor for Chorlton.**

Nationally the years around the opening of the club were not good for the Liberals.  They lost both the 1895 and 1900 general elections and would not be returned to office till 1906.

Locally they fared better both on the old Withington District Council and after our incorporation into the city on the Manchester City Council and by the 1920s were so evenly balanced with the Conservatives that the Manchester Guardian reported in 1928 that

“there are few wards in which Conservative and Liberal opinion is so nicely balanced.  Of the eight elections that have been fought in Chorlton since 1920 four have been won by the Conservatives and four by the Liberals.”**

But by the early 1930s the Liberals were on the defensive increasingly being squeezed by the Labour Party.

They won their last seat in 1932, saw their sitting councillor Lady Sheena Simon loose to the Conservatives the following year and after 1935 did not  contest another election  till 1946 by which time they had slipped to third place.***

I suspect this might have also been reflected in the state of the club which I remember as a slightly dowdy place by the 1970s.

All of which was a great shame.  It had been a private residence before becoming a club and I rather think might have been built sometime in the 1880s.  It last occupants had been the Lloyd family who where there in 1891.

It remains an impressive building and has gained a new lease of life after the fire in the 1980s and its transformation into the Lauriston Club.

Pictures; the Liberal Club after the fire from the Lloyd collection

*Liberalism at Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester Guardian, October 11, 1897
**Not that she was the first woman councillor here in Chorlton, that was Jane Redford elected in 1910.  She was not a Liberal but styled herself a Progressive Candidate and must have been close enough to the Liberal outlook to ensure they never put up a candidate against her or other Progressives.
**The Chorlton By-Election, Manchester Guardian December 18, 1928
*** Local election results 1904-1949, compiled by Lawrence Beedle

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