The thirty three existing members, this year celebrate the 150th Anniversary since the founding of the Club in 1861. The precise date was 8th March 1861 when the Club met for the first time in ‘The Angel Inn’ at the centre of Loftus Market Place. Today the members meet monthly on the third Tuesday of every month at the Grinkle Park Hotel Cleveland (meaning “land of cliffs”) and Loftus in particular, was at the vanguard of the industrial revolution in the North of England during the early 19th Century, following the discovery of the iron stone seam at Skinningrove ,which in turn led to the development of commercial ironstone mining in 83 mines across the region. From that early discovery in 1847 grew the mighty iron and steel industry along the river Tees from Middlesbrough to Redcar which Prime Minister Gladstone described as being of “Herculean” proportions. How right he was. Consequently there was a rapid and massive rise in population as men flocked to the North East from all corners of the nation, hoping to get a share of the bounty which ironstone mining like that of coal and even gold and other minerals, promised to give.
Tiny hamlets with a handful of farms or fishermen’s cottages mushroomed into the Victorian villages and towns which now form Redcar and Cleveland as we know it today. Hand in hand with the growth in this new mining industry and population explosion, came the growth in trade and tradesmen. There being no ‘Welfare State’ the relief of poverty particularly for the sick and elderly , became a priority and a number of welfare institutions emerged, one of which was known as the ‘Loftus Farmer’s and Tradesmen’s Reform Club’, and from which the present day Club evolved. Initially membership was open to men of “good standing” (except miners), who were over 35 and certified as being of “good health” and who could afford the membership fee of two shillings plus 2/- per month subscription. They also had to live within two miles of Loftus. The objects of the Club at that time were stated in the articles of 1870 as follows: – “The objects which this club have in view are: – pecuniary aid in times of sickness and other casualties incident to mankind: also the promotion of good feeling amongst the tradesmen and farmers of which the club is composed.
As the wellbeing of all societies depends on their having a judicious code of laws, all persons joining this club will act in strict accordance with the laws framed by the management thereof”. By the 1870’s it is recorded that payments of seven shillings a week were being made for periods up to six weeks, to members who were considered to be suffering genuine illness – provided he was not “seen drinking or to be drunk in public”. The clubs Minutes Books are held in the Middlesbrough Archives and make interesting reading. Around the second half of the 1800’s death benefits of £3 were paid in respect of a tradesman and £2 in respect of a tradesman’s wife, always funded by the members. The laws of the club were strict. Nonattendance at meetings attracted a fine of 3d for the first two months, rising to 6d after three months and one shilling after five months. Foul language during club meetings was met with a fine of 3d, as did failing to remove your hat during a meeting. Members were expected to wear an armband and attend at all funerals of members and were subject to a fine if they did not comply. At the monthly meetings members were restricted to speaking for a maximum of twenty minutes on any subject. Over the years the club has been involved in many local causes and debated many subjects as the records of the club record. In 1879 money was donated to the establishment of ‘soup kitchens’. In 1883 they led a debate on the most effective method of growing crops at the lowest price in the Loftus area.
In 1884 they were active in debating the means of improving the Saturday market in Loftus and the provision of late transport back to Redcar and Middlesbrough districts for buyers to get home. In 1887 members financed a tea in Loftus, in aid of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, to name but a few. Since that time the club has maintained an almost unbroken record of monthly meetings, save for a brief period during wartime. Today membership stands at 33 and new members are always welcome. Although “farmers” no longer feature in the Club title, there are farmers amongst the membership, along with a diverse group of various tradesmen, professional, skilled and unskilled workers and retired. With modern day welfare provisions the welfare role filled by the club in the early days has become largely redundant though from time to time fund raising events are staged for charity. A major Anniversary Charity concert is planned at the Grinkle Park Hotel for Friday June 17th to further celebrate this important Anniversary. Ordinary meetings now provide an opportunity for members to hear a variety of speakers on a multitude of subjects and to provide a social forum for the improvement of fellowship. On the evening of Tuesday 8th March the speaker was the well-known former BBC Radio Tees presenter Stewart Macfarlane MBE speaking on ‘My Life So Far’. The 150th Anniversary was further celebrated in style with me wearing period costume and all members enjoying a typical Victorian supper of game pie and roast potatoes, accompanied of course by ale and stout. Ken Gillance President Loftus Tradesmen’s Reform Club 2011.