Marking the 150th Anniversary of the CIU with a Visit to the Grave of Reverend Henry Solly
June 14th is an important date indeed- it marks the 150th anniversary of the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union, founded by the Reverend Henry Solly.
The way I chose to commemorate this key date was to make a trip a few days prior to the 14th to the grave of the very man himself. This was something I’d wanted to do for several years. Sunday June 10th was a date I’d arranged to make the trip with former CIU General Secretary Kevin Smyth and his wife Yvonne.
The planned visit to the Reverend Solly’s grave in the small Oxfordshire village of Childrey was like a pilgrimage to a club historian like me, especially on this special occasion.
Without Solly’s vision and tireless efforts, there would have been no CIU and the working men’s club movement would have faltered. We might have had several hundred clubs scattered across the country of course. But they would not have been part of a national, united movement that through collective action supported men not only in their efforts to establish their own leisure spaces but offered assistance in many other ways. Additionally this gave them a voice in certain matters before all adults had the right to vote.
What better way to pay my respects to him than visiting the peaceful spot where he was laid to rest in 1903, at the grand old age of 90! I headed first to Northampton where I was met my Kevin and Yvonne, who kindly drove us over to Childrey. They know the place very well indeed having visited the grave many times.
In fact, without Kevin Smyth’s tireless efforts three decades ago to locate the Reverend’s resting place, the visit would have been impossible. Kevin retired in 2009 after decades of working for the CIU including as Education Secretary, prior to becoming General Secretary. But he has never stepped down from his role of keeping Henry Solly’s memory alive and his grave well kept.
It was almost 30 years ago, November 1983, when Kevin’s dedicated research led him to St Mary’s churchyard in Childrey. It had been difficult getting that far but the overgrown, rundown state of many of the graves offered another final puzzle to work out- which one was Solly’s? After walking around the whole graveyard, he found the right spot.
For a long time, the grave had lay overgrown but due to Kevin’s efforts, we now know where it is.
He returned to CIU HQ and persuaded the Executive to restore the grave. In January 1985, Union President Derek Dormer along with National Executive members Colin Wright and James Cooke, laid a wreath on a new memorial stone on behalf of all club members.
The grave was restored with new inscription in 1985
Kevin and Yvonne have kept up their visits. We cleared the stone of grass and weeds on this Sunday, cleaned it up, took some photos and quietly paid our respects. It’s a beautiful setting- peaceful and calm.
I was very honoured and humbled to join them on this very significant anniversary.
Kevin and Yvonne at a familiar spot- Henry Solly’s grave
Ruth at the head of Reverend Solly’s grave
Kevin and Yvonne showed me the bench where they sometime sit
to enjoy the quietness and view.
Inside the church, I looked at the visitor’s book and saw the entries for the CIU official visit in January 1985. I felt there was a nice link there for me as James Cooke was the President of my local club in Coventry, the Canley Social, for almost 40 years. He was an important man in our local community and in a sense I was retracing his footsteps coming to visit Solly’s grave.
I was also very pleased to see a very small Working Men’s Institute in the village, which surely must be due to the Reverend’s efforts. It is now used as a community centre.
It was a special day for a special anniversary. I would like to thank Kevin and Yvonne Smyth for taking me there and for finding the grave in the first place.
I thoroughly recommend anyone interested in club and CIU history to take a visit!
June 13th 2012
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