It is 100 years since a group of army veterans got together to set up the town’s ‘Comrades of the Great War’ Club.
Now, a century later, what is known as the Comrades Sports and Social Club is marking not only its centenary, but also the 50th anniversary of moving into its permanent, purpose-built headquarters.
Restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic have meant that plans for an open day on Saturday have had to be abandoned. But club officials are still hoping to go ahead with a celebration concert, with limited numbers.
“It’s such a shame that we’re unable to hold an event that would really do justice to the achievements of one of the oldest organisations in Ellesmere,” said club president Jan Oliver, a former Royal Navy Wren, who has been a member for more than twelve years.
“For 100 years, the club has played, and still plays, such a vital part in bringing the people of the town together and it’s still thriving.”
The club’s origins date back to 1920 when a group of 63 ex-soldiers, founded the men-only club which met on the top floor of The Old Armoury. The Cross Street building occupied part of what is now Ellesmere’s main car park, but it burnt down in 1967 forcing the club to move into temporary accommodation.
The club was reorganised and decided to admit women as members.
In October 1970, the only surviving founder member, 76-year-old Albert Whiston, cut a ceremonial tape and raised a glass to drink the first pint, to mark the opening of the club’s new purpose-built premises in Victoria Street, built at a cost of £38,000.
Showbusiness stars who have performed at the club, including comedians Ruby Murray, Ken Dodd, Les Dennis and Jimmy Cricket, and pop groups such as the Merseybeats and The Ivy League.
Six-times world snooker champion Ray Reardon also visited the club to play an exhibition match.
Former chairman, Hamilton Lindsay, remembers the days when the club organised summer outings, with up to 16 coaches lined up to take members and their children to the seaside.
“Times were different then. There was so much more going on because people used to come out more to socialise,” said Mr Lindsay, who has been a member for nearly 50 years, half of that time as a committee member.
“We used to have fruit and vegetable shows and cage bird events. There was something happening all the time.”
The current membership is almost 400 and the building is home to more than a dozen organisations. It is used for a variety of events from bingo to fitness and dance classes.
The club also rents out two allotments. and an outbuilding serves as a base for the local pigeon racing club.
It also boasts a fully equipped kitchen offering Sunday lunches and a light bite menu on Tuesday lunchtime and Friday and Saturday evenings.
Secretary Tina Evans said: “During the lockdown we delivered lots of meals around the town and surrounding area, and they proved very popular. The service is still available for people who are self-isolating. In fact, we can cater for all kinds of functions and people can hire the facilities if they wish to do their own catering for their own private function. Membership is no longer required to make use of the facilities.”
Entertainment Secretary Lionel Edge is delighted that the club has been able to resume its programme of weekend concerts after the disruption caused by the Covid-19 lockdown and it is hoping to encourage a new generation of young people to use the facilities and take part in its activities with a snooker club already up and running.