News / 24 May, 2013

End of an era? Mildmay Club ‘hanging by skin of teeth’

Newington Green venue is one of the last of London’s Working Men’s Clubs

Mildmay Club

The Mildmay Club in Newington Green. Photograph: Gabriel Gauffre

Only a handful of Working Men’s Clubs still exist in London.

The Mildmay Club in Newington Green (established 1888) is one of them.

The Victorian building, which boasts three halls and a nine-table snooker hall, has played host to several lucrative camera shoots over the years – Vera Drake and a series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle were shot there.

But Brenda Brown, 70, a Mildmay Club committee member of 12 years standing, says the club is now “hanging on by the skin of our teeth”.

While all work done by the committee is completely voluntary, maintaining the vast building comes at a price, as do the wages for the three permanent staff.

Camera crews can apparently no longer access the building thanks to a recent spate of yellow lines painted down the road, and the club lost out on three shoots just last week.

But on the night the Hackney Citizen visits Ms Brown seemed more troubled by the cancellation of an elderly club member’s birthday party.

Brenda, like many, has been priced out of this formerly working class but now increasingly gentrified corner of the borough.

She now lives with fellow committee member, Alan Fitzgerald, 77, on Daubeney Road, near Hackney Marshes.

For the members, who all jointly own the club, it is the social centre of their community, but for the middle-class newcomers it is seen differently.

“They may book it for a wedding but this is not their scene, they call it quaint, they say it’s retro,” says Mr Fitzgerald.

Fred Jeffryes, an ex-plumber, says: “When the club can’t afford a bill, us committee members put our hands in our pockets.”

Fred Jeffryes, Keith Riches and Alices Riches (l-r). Photograph: Gabriel Gauffre

Fred Jeffryes, Keith Riches and Alices Riches (L-R). Photograph: Gabriel Gauffre

The club’s oldest member is Alice Riches, 97, who sometimes attends the club with her son Keith Riches.

“I’m 78 and she calls me her toy boy,” says Mr Jeffryes.

Fred tells me that many of the club’s current members have come from other Working Men’s Clubs which have shut down.

Being part of the Club and Institute Union allows members to visit other affiliated clubs for free.

“I do sometimes go to other clubs,” says Mr Jeffryes, “but they’re overrun by bloody Spurs fans.”

Tom and Sadie Kehoe, of Statham Grove, have been coming to the Mildmay Club for 35 years and say they would be lost without it because “the pubs are too expensive and we’re like a family here”.

They are certainly right about prices, a pint at the Mildmay Club will give you change from three pounds.

25 years ago this club was 3,000 members strong, now it has just 300 members.

“They are all going to that big club in the sky,” says Brenda Brown.

/ 24 May, 2013
  • Denis Lenihan

    It would have useful to know if the club were seeking new members and how people should go about applying, as I for one, would like to support…

  • Ralph_Coates

    Sadly Denis I tried to get a friend membership a couple of weeks ago ( I became a member in January) but was told ‘the books are closed until January’.The ‘old guard’ of members including the ones in this article have no interest in keeping the club open.They merely want to cash in by selling to the nearest property developer.They are suspicious of any new members,any new ideas to improve the club are shot down.The committee run the club like there own personal fiefdom and god help any one who gets in there way.Two new members were elected on a few months ago,but 1 has been suspended for 3 months whilst the other 1 is marginalised.I believe club rules state every committee member must stand for re-election once a year and we were told in January half would do so in the Spring and other half in Autumn.However while 6 did this in Spring the rest have decided not to stand for re-election until ‘next year’.Indeed I believe a woman on the committee hasn’t stood down in 14 years.I would also like to see on paper how much money Mr Jeffryes has lent/donated to the club.This club could survive with new blood and new ideas but with the current regime in place the club will close by the end of next year because most of the most influential committee members simply want to cut and run.I call on all Hackney & Islington residents who are interested to call the club with membership inquiries maybe they will climb down and accept new memberships (nothing in the rules says you have to wait until January) but I doubt it.


    I used to use this club in the 1960s and you could hardly get in the door it was that packed. been back since during 2004-2008 period totally dead. I belonged to the Ramsgate ciu run by deadbeat crowd as are running the mildmay club also. totally agree with ralph coates comments but sadly these fiefdoms occur everywhere sadly due to human nature. I wish the club every success as I have many happy memories from the past plus they have a smashing snooker room downstairs.

  • Andrew Lishak

    I wanted the club to join the local The Hackney Pool League and got the impression from three people that to join the league it would have to be talked about at a meeting between the members. I gave my phone number and they never called, at the end when I said it would be £110.00 to join I got the feeling goodbye!. They showed us where they have 12 snooker tables and 1 pool table and it looked amazing but just a real shame that it has gone to pot but like most snooker halls its just not the same any more. I came back a few weeks ago and £50.00 again was to much money. It needs new blood in my opinion. Amazed about 1 year ago Bradley Wiggins collected an award there so is it finished!

  • Tom

    If Brenda wants the Mildmay to survive she could think about actually considering all the local people I know who really want to be members and whose applications have gone nowhere – not even a reply. The place would thrive if it actually opened its doors to local working people instead of being run by a …[Deleted by moderator]… cabal desperate to sell it off to a developer.

  • Tibbles

    The club is cutting off its own revenue streams.It has prevented a popular discos from running.
    It has turfed out tenants from the three flats its has upstairs. If you look on any of the estate agents websites you will see market rent for a one bedroom flat in hackney is £1400/month even if they brought in half that it would still be £25k/ annum.
    This is a club in a crisis created by its committee.
    it would be worth asking how many members of over 5 years standing actually still reside in Hackney – I suspect there are a large contingent in Spain waiting to trouser the cash and screw the local residents.

  • Pete Brown

    The club has no website, no email address. It’s very difficult to get in touch with them. But I persisted and organised my wife’s birthday party. It was fantastic. So many of our guests wanted to hold their own events there, or even join. I attempted to join afterwards and it was made very, very clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen. The club is deliberately being run into the ground.

  • I am a local Councillor for Mildmay Ward in Islington, which is home to most of Newington Green. I tried to join and was refused by the committee. This Club should at least have the chance to rejuvinate itself as a Community venue under new leadership. I would resist any move to see it sold off for flats. There is a huge potential market there for them if they will only open their books! It’s needed more now more than ever due to the local gentrification.

  • Ralph_Coates

    For those unaware there was a vote a few weeks ago for the members on whether to remain as a club or sell out to a property developer.The vote was 114-75 to remain open as a club.Much to the annoyance of at least 5 of the committee who wanted to cash in and sell up.Now however,they are saying that the vote needs to be done again due to a technicality.They claim the CIU have told them this.Whilst this is true I know of at least one instance where the committee ignored CIU rules saying since becoming a limited company a few years ago they are no longer beholden to CIU rules.It seems they ignore CIU rules when it suits them and then accept CIU rules when it suits there ends.They are obviously hoping there will not be the same turn out of members wanting to keep it open the next time round.Are they going to think up an excuse to hold a vote every couple of months until they get the result they want ? These snide,underhand tactics by certain members of the Mildmay committee would do North Korea proud.

  • Hullabaloo

    Love the club, don’t love the people.

    I went to a private party there in 2010 and so was taken with the place that I suggested it to a theatre company as somewhere to research set design. Living nearby I visited the club numerous times to make an appointment to get permission to visit again. Never anyone there.

    Eventually got in and – to be fair – they very generously allowed me to walk around the place, taking photos.

    So smitten with it I asked about membership. A sharp intake of breath and a shake of the head was followed by a ‘I dunno ‘about that. I’ll have to have a word with the committee’.

    Was told to come back in a few days, which I did. I’d been granted an audience with the membership committee (yup, really), whereupon I was summoned to an upper chamber to be greeted by an panel of 10 or so members and basically interviewed. Where do you live? Why do you want to be a member? Why are you wearing shorts? (It’s July, and I’m not at work. OK?)

    Rule no1 – no shorts. ‘If – if – we grant you membership, you can’t wear shorts here. Do you understand?’

    Grudgingly they let me in and – in return for £30 – gave me membership. However, given they made me feel as welcome as a dose of the clap, I never made it back.

    It’s a wonderful place and I don’t begrudge them the £30 – I genuinely hope it helped in some way. But, by God, what a miserable bunch. I’m not surprised to hear it’s languishing.

  • Jimmy

    I’m interested in visiting the place or perhaps booking a surprise birthday for my better half. She has visited as an audience member for one of Stewart Lee’s show’s and loves the place. How much does it cost to hire? The comments on here only make me more intrigued with the place!

  • Pablo_Picasso

    Hi Jimmy,the Mildmay is actively encouraging people to book it up for birthdays,weddings, etc.Phone 02072545458 for more information.

  • Elaine Mills

    Hi Can you tell me if this club was known as the Hackney working mens club in the 1930s? I think my Husbnads uncle used to do a turn here? James Henry Thornton.

    Any information you could provide would be great!!

    Regards Elaine Mills

  • Levent

    I have some very fond memories 80’s & 90’s of the Mildmay Club. My childhood friends and I would often take a ten min walk from the Highbury Quadrant (Birchmore Walk) estate to play a few games of snooker and have a drink. Very welcoming atmosphere, and an array of local people enjoying the club facilities. It would be a tragedy if this unique place were to close. That end of Newington Green, use to be home to a community of Turkish Cypriots, which was really nice interacting with, as well as people from the United Kingdom, Caribbean, Ireland, Jewish, and much more. The Mildmay working men’s club is a historical reference to the different peoples backgrounds, who lived in and around the area.

  • Martin Atack

    I ran snooker clubs for 20 years, what a great place – given the oppertunity I’d have a go. From the comments needs a change but how can it not make money? the right staff and the right outlook? This is a gold mine

  • Reports of the clubs demise are I am glad to say very much exaggerated. Please see the new website for details on membership.

  • Paul H

    Hi all, well the membership for the “new” residents has grown and now we make up half the membership. However, there is a very clear us and them mentality and anything suggested by the new gets rejected by the old one way or another. I have been a member for years, but consider myself on the side of the “new”.

    The story about putting hands in their own pockets just does not stack up. There are filming events every week, which brings in £000s every year. Whilst it is not enough to renovate the building, it is enough to keep it running, especially whilst other windfalls have come in (recently 300k) apart from it is not really clear where all that money has gone over the years (maybe hands in the pockets does stack up certainly there is a suspicion).

    Thurs / Fri and Sat there is the vote for committee members. Currently the committee is split almost 50:50 (even though it doesn’t feel like it) and the hope is that change may finally be afoot. Certainly if the membership votes in line, it should now be time.

    The only blocker to that, is that the adjudicators of the vote were appointed by the President (which is actually not in line with the rules within CIU) and the trust that they will count in line with what is voted is limited to say the least. So once again the old guard may have outmanoeuvred the new.

    It is a real shame that we had not reached out even further and made the voting intentions beyond doubt. I am certain that the Mildmay club could have found it’s old glory in the new world, but I think this is the last chance, and I think those who have dedicated their time and energy will decide that all the un-pleasantness has been going on for just too long.


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