‘People treasure their membership’: East Ham Working Men’s Club secretary shares a few memories of an East End oasis
PUBLISHED: 14:00 10 February 2019
For 130 years it’s been a bolthole for its loyal members many of whom would meet for a beer before West Ham United played just across the road.
East Ham Working Men’s Social Club is just a stone’s throw away from the Hammers’ old ground in Boleyn Road.
After the Premier League club moved to its new London Stadium home, the club remained while scores of cranes rose up around it as the developers moved in.
This East Ham oasis has been a constant in a borough which has seen many changes.
Reminiscing about the old days, Peter Bell, the club’s secretary, said: “Match days were crazy. You wouldn’t be able to see a bit of carpet in here it was that busy.
“There was a fantastic, brilliant atmosphere. It was a day you looked forward to. No one just went to football.”
On weekdays the place would be full of workers from the nearby bus garage and dockers coming in for a drink after work.
On matchdays, Peter recalled supporters filling the club’s bars both upstairs and down before and after matches with families and generations coming together united by their beloved team.
“Everybody would talk about what went well, and what we did wrong,” Peter said.
Two highlights in East Ham Working Men’s Social Club’s history were the celebrations after West Ham won the FA Cup in 1964 and when England lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy after beating West Germany in the World Cup final in 1966.
“Football was different then. You used to see quite a few of the older players. Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst used to drink at the club after games. They were ordinary blokes,” Peter said.
Actor Ray Winstone has also passed through the club’s doors.
Peter, who grew up around Central Park and Green Street, has been a regular feature at the venue for more than 30 years sorting out the bills, booking the entertainment and keeping things running smoothly.
But he started coming to the club with his dad, Bill, when he was a child.
“With youngsters barred from pubs it was the perfect place for fathers wanting a beer before taking their children to the game.
“And after football we would come in here to have a few drinks. It was fabulous,” Peter said.
But the club had to adapt quickly after West Ham’s move to Stratford putting on players’ talks and coaches from Boleyn Road to London Stadium for a while.
But it’s not the first time East Ham Working Men’s Social Club has had to respond to change.
When Peter, 70, took on his role as secretary in the late 1980s he promised to turn it into the best entertainment centre in the East End of London.
Thousands of pounds were spent modernising the bars with the club starting to attract bands which took to the stage of its huge upstairs concert hall.
“I started putting bands upstairs on Saturday nights and we would have a thousand people through the door. It was thriving. It took off immediately,” Peter said.
And the club’s tills were ringing with punters paying £3 and bands picking up £300 a gig.
Former committee member, Peter Duffy said: “It’s a brilliant place to play in when you’ve got a lot of people there to create an atmosphere.”
East Ham Working Men’s Social Club has also been a sporting venue hosting boxing matches and providing a home to clubs.
Its walls upstairs are lined with photos of boxers and matches.
And it is still a much loved venue for its members who meet for Sunday lunch to chew the fat and have a laugh and a drink.
“People treasure their membership,” Peter Bell said.
“I can’t remember the last time I went into a pub. To be honest I can count on one hand the trouble I’ve had in here.
“Anyone who brings someone in who causes trouble gets pulled up in front of the club’s committee. People like that security. They know they can bring their wives and kids in here and there won’t be any problems. This is a family club,” Peter added.
And it’s a club full of special memories for its members, and Peter who is soon to step down.
“I’m of an age now where I probably need to put my feet up. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.
“But the best thing is I haven’t got to go up the A13 twice a week,” he joked.