Social Club

“I think it was during the winter of 1892 to 1893 that I started the first dance at Brandsby. The Reading Room needed pulling together and I proposed that we should have a Club Dance. It was to be run by our committee and every member was to have the right of inviting one lady. By this means we got everyone who wanted to come to the dance to become a member. The postmaster, Ringrose, who was one of the leading members of the committee was very doubtful of its success when I proposed it, especially when he heard that the only refreshments would be tea, coffee and lemonade with cakes and sandwiches. However, I carried it through and lent the drawing room at the Hall for the dance.

“In the previous week I got about fifteen couples of village folk and young men to come to the Hall and practiced them at two or three very simple country dances, which I had picked up in a very rough form. We also tried to teach them the Polka step. I taught them for two evenings in the servants hall with my sisters to help me. We charged 1/- per head for tickets and were able to pay for refreshments out of these and to make quite a good profit for the club.

“One of my difficulties was that in the past, whenever there had been any entertainments got up in the Parish a great number of people had always expected favours such as free admission in return for assistance. This was quite disastrous in making such entertainments self-supporting, and led to endless trouble and bickering among the lesser folk. So I resolved there should be no exceptions of any sort and that everyone from lowest to highest should rigidly observe all regulations and forms. This gave great offense to many of the leading people in the parish and that ill-feeling was of course fostered by the opposition.

“The men of the committee went round the farm houses and best houses in the Parish to beg for subscriptions or donations of food and they were most generously supported by the farmers, most of whom sent beautiful cakes and tarts. One even gave a ham, another a piece of beef. It was typical of the spirit in the parish that in spite of the dislike of the farmers to the whole enterprise, their natural generosity prompted them, when once the entertainment was to take place, to come forward in this way, and this continued in after years at other entertainments run by the Club Committee.

“Now the I look back upon it in after years I can see how hard it was that we should have been so much at variance in these matters. My feeling was that the well-to-do ought as a duty to support these entertainments from the modern philanthropic point of view – not at all a picturesque one, by the way. This did not appeal to them in the least; but their feeling made it a matter of pride and patronage and was mixed with a very real kindness and generous hospitality. It was tragic that with so much in common, the uncompromising nature of the struggle between us prevented a better understanding. But looking back on it I realize that though I might have placed myself in a more favourable light by acting differently on many occasions, a bitter conflict was inevitable, seeing that I was endeavouring to break down a feudal state and establish a democracy.

“Our dance was an immense success. My mother played the piano and Ringrose the violin. All the parish came from the Rector and his wife downwards. By sheer exuberance of spirits we kept the dancing going, varied by songs. Every alternate dance was a country dance of the two rows order, which enabled the learners to pick it up by the time their turn came. We had four varieties of these “Down the Middle”, “Pop goes the Weazel”, “Weavers or Swedish Dance” and “St Roger”. Every now and then we had a song to vary the proceedings. We began at 7.30pm and finished at midnight with Auld Lang Syne. The next day Ringrose told me that he had thought “it would be a poor do without any beer”, but now he knew he was wrong – a great admission!.

“Undoubtedly it was a great success, but it was annoying afterwards to find that the mischievous tongues at one house continued to sow discord by their spiteful criticisms of some of the village folk. These people caused me endless trouble by their constant efforts to spread snobbish ideas among the village people. It annoyed me the more because my own aim was to maintain a rustic simplicity in these entertainments.

“In those days dances were practically unknown in the villages around among the labourers and the Brandsby Reading Room Dance which hence forth was held annually, was a wonderful event. The next year showed an immense advance in dancing. Certainly I had fostered it a little by having short evenings at the Hall occasionally, from eight to ten, for the purpose of teaching some of the young people. I think the number of people who came to the second dance, that is the one in January 1894 was ninety five – a very big number for so small a place.

“One of my difficulties was that I had to maintain my authority while arousing the men to independence, and I had to guard against the outbreak of excesses with the introduction of such free entertainments. That my fear of this last was not exaggerated was shown by the results of similar entertainments which subsequently became more common in the neighbourhood. The Brandsby dances and festivities attained an enviable reputation for superiority and entry to them was very much sought after. Entry was controlled by tickets only being available to members or invitees of the Reading Room Club.

“A great help to me in the early years was the presence at Brandsby of two lads I had bought from our Beaumont Square Club with the idea of settling them to some employment of means of livelihood in Brandsby. They became my henchmen in all sorts of capacities. Besides these lads the only other support I had was from my family at the Lodge. My mother, Willie and my sisters were so good, but they did not share sympathy with my programme, the support they gave me was from affection and I did worry a lot about saving their feelings.”