Woolley Bridge Working Men’s Club
This great write up of the club, and some very interesting experiences there, were kindly provided by Sam Wood
Where is it? The club is located at Woolley Bridge, a village near Glossop, Derbyshire. Hadfield, another mill town, is just to the north.
How big is it? I'm sure this club isn't the smallest in the country, but it must be close to it! Some photos of the club are included here, taken on 15th November 2012. You can see that the club is converted from an ordinary terraced house. (Editor’s Note: this was often the case with clubs set up in the first part of the 20th century.)
The two downstairs rooms have been knocked through to form the bar area. The side view shows an extension to the rear which houses the bar itself, toilets, and presumably a beer storage area and kitchen. The stairs to the first floor are also in this rear extension, they must have been moved from the main part of the building to create more space. To the side of the club is access to a mill, but this area can be used for car parking at night. There isn't any steward's accommodation; perhaps the club is too small to justify full-time staff.
Some difficult snooker shots! When I visited I noticed some fairly large beams in the ceiling of the bar, and I guessed the upstairs rooms had been knocked through as well. When we went upstairs for the buffet I found I was right, and there was actually a full-sized snooker table squeezed in! I talked to a club member about this, and I was told that shots from some angles were difficult due to the restricted space - the chimney breasts caused the worst problems. I think there was another small bar in this upstairs room.
So what was I doing there? I was playing with a jazz band. I used to keep diaries of all my musical activities but a couple of years ago things went a bit quiet and I got out of the habit. I know it was either August or September 2010. In March that year I had been to the funeral of a well-known Stockport jazz musician - Bill Oldham. I met a lot of musicians who I hadn't seen for a few years.
After the funeral there was a get-together at Burnage Rugby Club, with food and beer. The food was Hot Pot, Red Cabbage and Beetroot, a good Lancashire dish but not ideal when you're wearing your best white shirt! As everyone started to relax, three of us started playing a few tunes. The line-up was Clarinet, Trombone and Banjo.
A few weeks later the Clarinet player, Stan Davies, phoned and asked me if I would play at a jazz night at his club - Woolley Bridge. I made a note of the date and then forgot all about it. Fortunately Stan was an efficient band-leader and phoned me a week or so in advance to check I was still available. I hadn't got anything else arranged, and didn't admit I'd actually forgotten about it! Stan also gave me directions, which were easy, as I had driven past on the main road countless times. The club can be seen from the junction near the bridge, I just never realised it was a club.
I turned up in good time, and found that I did at least vaguely know the other members of the band. I think there were only four of us, possibly five. This is sometimes known as a "telephone band", the leader phones round until he has got a band together. Usually the musicians already know each other, and have enough repertoire in common to get through the night!
We set up just behind the front window, the bar was at the back of the club, and waited for our start time. While I was waiting I noticed the visitors' signing-in book on a table near the door. This looked very old, the pages were yellow. There was also a notice saying visitors and guests weren't allowed to buy drinks, that could have been a problem for thirsty musicians. Fortunately we weren't short of offers from club members, including our own band-leader of course, but I was driving so I couldn't take full advantage. (Editors note: private members clubs usually cannot allow visitors to purchase drinks- only members.)
The club soon filled up and the majority of the customers were smartly dressed with a good number wearing suits and ties. There was a good mix of age groups. One person in particular stood out. I guessed he was a club official or a prominent member of the local community. He seemed to know everybody and was warmly and politely greeted by all the other members. Eventually we started playing and although we hadn't played together as a band before we soon got into our stride. Everybody seemed to be enjoying it, and I think we had a few requests.
We had a couple of breaks during the evening and I remember one of the members being presented with a certificate for long service to the club - I think this was from the CIU.
Musicians never refuse free food!
There was a buffet served upstairs, on the covered-up snooker table. After the members had eaten we were invited to help ourselves, which we did (of course!) I do remember some lovely home made pork pie. During another break I went outside for some fresh air and started talking to one of the bar staff, who was having a cigarette. She pointed out other nearby buildings that had been pubs. There is the Riverside Inn, a big pub next to the actual bridge. That pub has been closed for a long time and is now derelict and probably beyond saving. There was another pub near the club, and possibly another not far away. It was interesting to see that the little club had survived and the larger pubs hadn't.
Anyway, it was a good night for all involved and there was talk of another similar session. I never heard of anything happening, but over the last couple of years I have drifted away from the Manchester jazz scene, so perhaps nobody thinks of phoning me! I should really phone Stan to remind him I'm still around, I would enjoy another visit to Woolley Bridge Club.
The good news is that when I stopped to take the photos the club was obviously still open for business, but not at 11.00 am!
Good news indeed Sam! Thank you very much for your account of your time in the club. If any members or committee members read this, then please get in touch! And if you are in the area, why not stop by? You might find yourself lucky enough to be listening to the ‘telephone band.’