Wolverhampton working men’s club is ‘oldest left in UK’

It first opened to thirsty punters more than 120 years ago – and now a working men’s club in the Black Country is staking its claim to being the oldest one left in the UK.

West End Working Men’s Club in Wolverhampton started trading in 1893, and committee members reckon it is the oldest in the country after the Anstice Memorial Institute in Madeley went into liquidation last month.

Now club treasurer Doug Whild said he is in in discussions with the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union to find out if any other clubs can match its 121 years of history.

“We think we are the oldest one left, and we are waiting to hear back from the powers-that-be to confirm it for us,” said the 71-year-old from Pendeford.

Last year the club came under threat due to spiralling debts, but it was pulled back from the brink after a newly formed committee brokered a deal to sell the club’s car park to Wolverhampton City Council for £80,000.

Mr Whild said: “The club had been losing money for 10 years, so it needed something drastic to get our heads above water. These are difficult times for working men’s clubs everywhere. Seeing a club like the Anstice closing up shows how difficult it is to stay afloat.”

The committee at the 146-year-old Shropshire club voted to go into liquidation after the club fell into financial difficulties. It had steadfastly refused to allow women to become full members, a decision that left it unable to apply for funding to maintain the building.

Mr Whild said he could not understand the decision. His club on Merridale Street West has around 450 full members, more than a quarter of whom are women. “It just seems silly to me they would rather close down than allow women to join,” said Mr Whild, who is joined on the West End committee by his wife, Janet, 61.

She said: “It amazes me other clubs still refuse to accept women in this day and age.” Activities at the club include bingo, karaoke, snooker and dominoes. Mr Whild said it had begun to thrive over the last few months, with Ken Harris, grandson of founder Alfred George Bentley, at the helm.

“We have gone from strength to strength in the past 12 months and hopefully we’ll be here for many years to come,” he added.