Club work


On this page we explore the nature of clubs and how they came to be a key site of informal education activity. Focusing on developments in Britain, we examine their benefits and some of the issues that face those that work in, and with, them.

To be completed

contents: introduction · philanthropy · parish work · the development of club work · the consolidation of club work · clubs in decline · some reflections on the nature of club work · conclusion – developing club work · further reading and references · links

When Charles Dickens in 1837 celebrated the activities of the Mudfog Association (in Master Humphrey’s Clock) he was, according to R. J. Morris (1993: 395), ‘recording one of the most pervasive, diffuse and amorphous social developments of the last 200 years’. Formal voluntary organizations were not new, Morris comments, ‘but what was new was the increase in their number, variety and public importance which took place, especially after 1780’. That increase was to continue for many decades and an extra-ordinary mix of clubs and associations emerged in Britain and Ireland. Many were organized around leisure needs, a vast number around welfare, and a lot involved both.

By the end of the nineteenth century most communities of any size with a mixed social make-up would have boasted working parties, Dorcas meetings, mothers meetings, Bible societies and temperance societies, which met in homes, churches or chapels, or in mission rooms rented for the occasion. Also common were other voluntary bodies that had welfare which had specific welfare functions, such as lying-in and maternity charities, blanket clubs, coal clubs, medical clubs, sick benefit societies and advice bureaux with a poor man’s lawyer (the Salvation Army was a pioneer of the latter). Often such agencies were attached to city missions, district visiting societies or mothers’ meetings. Innumerable penny banks, savings banks, provident clubs, goose clubs, and slate clubs, which reflected the Victorian obsession with thrift and mutual aid, were also attached to charities (Prochaska 1988: 42)

Early voluntary associations had a minimal set of defining characteristics: a set of rules, a declared purpose, and some means of joining or becoming a member. They ‘acted independently of the family, household, neighbourhood, firm of work group. They had none of the prescriptive power of the state of the contract’ (Morris 1993: 395). Initially, a significant factor was the number of informal drinking groups that developed more formal structures and rules. One reason for this was so they could organize more coherently around a common interest. Examples here include sharing business or craft information, enjoying philosophical and political debate, and joining in literary exploration. Many such clubs or groups were male, but there are also a number of examples of women’s societies. According to Morris (1993: 406-430), by the mid nineteenth century two groups of voluntary associations clearly stood above the rest:

The subscriber democracies of the middle classes – these involved the collection of subscriptions, with funds and activities being organized by a committee and officers elected by an annual general meeting. Examples here range from literary and philosophical societies, through Mechanics Institutes and medical initiatives, to horticultural and floral societies.

The network of neighbourhood societies favoured by the working classes and some of their middle-class allies. Initially associated with the skilled working class and small masters and independent producers, groupings appeared based on the power of co-operation, and a concern for mutual benefit. Of particular significance was the emergence of trade unions based upon local and community occupational groups, and the growth of friendly societies. By 1815 over 8 per cent of the population belonged to one of the latter. ‘Through their weekly meetings and subscriptions they offered members convivial and select companions as well as sickness and burial benefit’ (ibid: 417). By 1870s there was also a vast range of clubs and groups organized around sport such as athletics, football and rugby league.

In the rest of this piece we want to explore:

  • The focus for workers – and how new forms of informal education provision emerged and developed in Britain.
  • The educative nature of club life.
  • Some current concerns around associational life and the ‘club’.
  • How club work may develop in the coming years


Before we chart the development of club work in the various guises it has taken in Britain, it is important to make four brief points that contextualize developments – and these follow the analysis offered by Frank Prochaska (1988; 1993). First, it is vital to recognize the fundamental role of churches in generating and sustaining such philanthropic activity. In particular, as Prochaska (1988: 22) has eloquently argued, the rise of evangelicalism, or ‘Bible Christianity’, from the late eighteenth century on, ‘brought a new and vigorous emphasis to personal sacrifice and good works which had repercussions for people, whether they shared in the religious enthusiasm or not’. Second, evangelicalism with its focus on the family, social pity and the moral fervour, had ‘the important side-effect of opening up greater opportunities for women in charitable service’ (ibid.: 23). There was a massive growth in societies run by women. In the welfare arena women far exceeded men in their participation (Prochaska 1988: 42). Third, much of the early Victorian philanthropic effort was infused by a deep belief in ‘the value of the individual and the social value of social conscience’ (ibid.: 24).

The origins of the characteristic traditions of British voluntarism may also be detected in the particular affinity and mix of evangelicalism and liberalism which emerged in the nineteenth century against the background of the problems and opportunities created by industrial and demographic change. Evangelicalism harnessed social conscience to liberal doctrine. Much nineteenth century philanthropy may be seen as liberalism turning its mind to social conditions under religious pressure… Both liberals and evangelicals, who were often the same, were ardent individualists. (Prochaska 1988: 24)

Last, it is crucial to appreciate the extent of working class philanthropy. ‘The workman’, Engels (1892: 154) wrote, ‘is far more humane in ordinary life than the bourgeois… [I]n general more is done by the workers than the bourgeoisie for the maintenance of the poor’. Subsequently historians like Frank Prochaska have charted the massive scale of such ‘local, spontaneous and independent’, and often unrecorded, philanthropy. Examples include:

Caring for aging relatives, assisting kin in times of adversity, the provision of Sunday dinners, visiting sick friends, taking in washing, helping with rent, or dropping a coin in a hat at the local voluntary centre, the pub, to support an unemployed neighbour or someone who had lost a purse. Such actions in which women often played the dominant role, were commonplaces in the day-to-day unadministered lives of the poor. They help to explain why so many of the unepmployed in the past never entered the workhouse of became paupers. So too do the more formal and therefore more often recorded charitable activities carried out by the working classes: setting up soup kitchens in emergencies,… teaching Sunday school or ragged-school classes, running a Dorcas meeting or boot club, joining a visiting or temperance society. (Prochaska 1988: 29)

More formal institutions set up by working-class men and women include orphanages, refuges, ragged schools and district visiting charities. The ‘respectable working class’, frequently linked to churches, chapels and religious organizations such as the Salvation Army were especially prominent in charitable activity. They frequently joined with the ‘higher classes’ to develop and run charities and associations (Prochaska 1993: 366) – in many cases taking over institutions (e.g. Sunday schools, ragged-schools and working men’s clubs) (McLeod 1984: 24). Sometimes working people came involved in such organizations as a means of advancement and achieving status, sometimes they were a means of staying on the right side of an employer (Prochaska 1993: 369-370). For many it was a natural expression of their commitment and beliefs, or a commonsense response to the situation that they found themselves in.

Parish work

The development of the club as a key organizing form for the activities of educators and welfare workers in Britain owes much to the work of philanthropists such as Henry Solly (and his conception of working men’s clubs), developments within the ragged schooling movement, and the emergence of different forms of self-help and mutual improvement described above. With the founding of clubs, institutes and societies for girls and boys (and the associated activities of exponents like Arthur Sweatman and Maude Stanley), the development of the YMCA and YWCA, and the emergence of social settlements, the club began to emerge as a site for groupwork and as requiring the intervention of people with particular expertise. Here, I just want to outline some of the key developments in the mid part of the nineteenth century – and then turn to some of the shifts in thinking that appeared broadly in the late 1920s and 1930s. First, though, we need to turn to three key areas of philanthropic endeavour usually associated with local churches – Sunday schools, district visiting and mothers’ meetings.

Sunday schools. The development of Sunday schools is usually associated with the activities of two key innovators – Hannah More and Robert Raikes. More believed that ‘the depravity and inertia of the poor were due to their lack of religious knowledge and moral teaching…, accepted without question the social stratification of society, [and] believed that it was her calling to “train up the lower classes to habits of industry and virtue”’ (Young and Ashton 1956: 238). Her efforts in the Mendip villages, beginning in 1787, became well known through her writing – and are significant not just for their aims, but also for the methods used. In Hints on how to run a Sunday School, Hannah More set out her model. She argued for ‘the need for a programme suited to the level of the members, with plenty of variety and as entertaining as possible. She believed that the best came out of a child if his affections were engaged by kindness, and that terror would not pay’ (ibid.: 239). She was also not above the use of bribery (a penny a chapter to learn fundamental parts of the Scriptures). There were schools for adults and adolescents as well as children. Her concern with young people, and the interest in friendlier and more entertaining ways of working have marked her out as a pioneer of voluntary youth work in Britain (Milson 1979: 6). However, Sunday Schools were to develop into major social institutions in many churches and chapels, and were often linked by the end of the nineteenth century into a network of clubs and activities (see the discussion in Smith 1988).

District visiting. Many of the key figures in the development of club work began their activities as district visitors. For example, Maude Stanley who went on to found several clubs worked around the Five Dials as a visitor. Largely associated with churches, visiting was a system of investigation, support and relief usually organized around parish boundaries. It drew upon the innovatory work of Thomas Chalmers who beginning in 1819 ‘undertook and completed the monumental task of visiting and noting the circumstances of every family in the Tron parish of Glasgow’ (Young and Ashton 1956: 70). He found that a large number of people were living ‘a hand-to-mouth existence on poor relief, demoralized and friendless, and likely to remain so as long as relief was administered legally (op. cit.). He developed an alternative, more personal, system of relief. The parish was divided into districts each with around 50 families (or around 400 inhabitants). It was then the duty of the deacon or visitor assigned to the district to investigate and understand the situation of each family or individual they came across and to seek out ‘natural resources’ that could be mobilized to solve the problems. This included encouraging or finding work; sorting out household budgets; seeking help from other family members and neighbours; and in the last resort dispensing parish funds. Visiting became the central institution in the charitable response to poverty in the second half of the nineteenth century and was supported by various visiting societies with local committees. For example, visitors of the Christian Instruction Society usually called on families twice a month, ‘and besides inquiring whether the family attended a place of worship, possessed a Bible, or if the children went to school, they were also concerned with the families’ material condition, their savings bank resources, their membership of a benefit society, their need for hospital treatment and the like’ (ibid.: 89). Visitors were usually female, and as well as undertaking the more formal aspects of their work, were great sources of local information and gossip. They also put people in touch with evening classes, mothers’ meetings, Sunday schools and other groups. Crucially, many visitors began to undertake programmes of training in the methods they used and to develop a more systematic understanding of the situations they faced. Innovators like Ellen Ranyard developed visiting as paid work. Starting in 1857, she introduced the idea of the idea of the ‘Bible woman’ into many of the poorest areas of London.

This missionary cum social worker, a working class woman drawn from the neighbourhood to be canvassed, was to provide the “missing link” between the poorest families and their social superiors… Given a three month training… in the poor law, hygiene, and scripture, Mrs Ranyard agents sought to turn the city’s outcast population into respectable, independent citizens through an invigoration of family life. (Prochaska 1988: 49)

They were the first group of paid social workers in Britain and were to be followed by another Ranyard innovation – ‘Bible nurses’ – in 1868 (effectively the first district nurses in London). The direct contact with, and involvement in, such distress and poverty led some visitors to look for alternative ways of working – and it was in this way that people like Emmeline Pethwick got into youth work.

Mother’s meetings. Mother’s meetings were seen by a number of key commentators (e.g. Lord Shaftesbury) as ‘among the most practical and successful forms of philanthropy’ (Prochaska 1993: 381). By the beginning of the twentieth century it is possible that more than a million women and children attended such a meeting each week (the vast majority of whom were drawn from working-class communities).

Supervised by ladies, often with the assistance of working class missioners, meetings typically had about fifty or sixty regular members, who listened to stories or lectures while bowed over their needles. The meetings offered cheap clothing to poor families, relief from domestic drudgery, a source of female comradeship, training for children, respectability, and for many, the consolation of religion. In time, the organizers have more and more attention to social schemes, medical benefits, and infant welfare. Like the working party or Dorcas meeting, the mothers’ meeting relieved the rigours of self-help with outings and teas. (Prochaska 1993: 381-2)

With the development of Parish and District visiting, the establishment of Sunday schools as a major social institution and the emergence of mothers’ meetings several of the key elements of what we have come to know as club work fall into place. While not initially using the notion of the club as an organizing idea, these initiatives brought three key dimensions into sharp focus: a concern with local activity, the beginning of the use of groups as a means of working; and the need for intervention by ‘workers’. In many ways the activities of district visitors lay the groundwork for the development of new occupational groups.

The development of club work

By the mid-nineteenth century we begin to see the emergence of institutions and associations that consciously adopt the notion of ‘club’ to describe aspects of their activities. Conceptually, it was probably the work of Henry Solly with regard to working men’s clubs that lay the key foundation, but the mix of activities around developments like the YMCA and ragged schooling also added considerably to the way in which it came to be understood. With developments in work with young people (and their consolidation in principles and practice texts by workers like Pelham (1889) and Stanley (1890) and the embracing of the club by settlement workers, club work became firmly established – and in so doing helped to put groupwork on the map.

The YMCA and YWCA.

Ragged schools and homes.

Men’s institutes and clubs. Working men’s clubs began as an example of the promotion of ‘rational recreation’. Tending to emphasize good fellowship rather than adult education, they had roots in the Manchester Lyceums that appeared in the 1840s (Bailey 1987: 116). Similar clubs also appeared in Birmingham. However, the Brighton Working Men’s Institute (established in 1849) is often presented as the first recognizable workingmen’s club (Trevett 1987: 5). The Colonnade Working Men’s Club (Clare Market, London WC2) was the first institute to use ‘club’ in its title according to Henry Solly (1867). It opened in 1852 to provide ‘wholesome and constructive amusement’, newspapers, books and later refreshment (strictly temperance). Many of the early attempts such as the Colonnade were not very successful. (In 1859 its premises were opened as the Colonnade Boys’ Home and Club. It included lodgings for 18 boys and eighteen young women; bible classes and night schools for both sexes, educational classes; a soup kitchen; and a laundry [Eagar 1953: 155]). However, it was through the efforts of Henry Solly and his associates that the working men’s club and institute began to be recognized as an important social institution.

The club format was seen by its supporters as the right milieu for more subtle forms of education. It offered recreation (Henry Solly believed this to be a basic need of social welfare) but it also provided ‘an informal teaching situation into which more serious matters could be gradually introduced’ (Bailey 1987: 120). Everyday talk could lead onto regular classes (and here political economy was stressed) – but that was not the only fare. Henry Solly’s formulation of the nature of Clubs became deeply influential (Eagar 1953: 157). Drawing upon the work of F. D. Maurice (and the Working-Mens College) and developments around ragged schooling (especially around the use of clubs by Miss Cooper in Westminster) he defined clubs as:

Societies of working men formed to promote social intercourse, innocent amusement, mental improvement and mutual helpfulness embodying the concept of a Brotherhood for the completest possible culture of its members as human beings – for their whole development as men.

He believed that many forms of provision like reading rooms had failed because they were places to go rather than being societies to belong to, they frowned on recreation (Eager 1953: 157). With the promotional power of Henry Solly and Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (founded by Solly and others in 1862), a significant number of clubs were established (55 alone in its the CIU’s second year). The London clubs, in particular, began to attack middle class patronage, and there was a strong campaign for the sale of beer. Through these efforts in the 1870s, middle class influence waned (see Tremlett 1987). By the early 1900s there were over 1000 clubs in the CIU and by the end of the Second World War there were approaching 3000 clubs.

Institutes and clubs for girls and boys

Settlements. – clubs  (Woods in Carson)

The 1951 survey


The consolidation of club work

Community associations.

School clubs.

Hobbiest groups.

Youth clubs.

Community development.

Clubs in decline


Some reflections on the nature of club work

‘The key to the problem of the whole man’, Solly (1867) wrote, ‘was to combine social fellowship, recreation and education in one organization’.

Josephine Macaliser Brew (1943), in her classic statement of youth work, argued that the ‘club’ was a means by which people could freely identify with one another and gain the skills, disposition and knowledge necessary for citizenship:

The club at its best creates a society of personalities with a community sense, which is the essence of good citizenship… We are not concerned with the making of ‘good club members’ or ‘well-organized youth groups’, but with a much wider issue, the making of good citizens. This can only be done in a society where each member is important, where each one is given a chance to contribute something to the life of the group – the leader no more and no less than the member. It is for this reason that self-government is so important in club work. (Brew 1943: 12)

The use of clubs in this way was not new and had been articulated most notably within the Boys’ Club tradition by Russell and Rigby (1908) and Henriques (1933), and by Pethick (1898) and Brew within the girls and mixed club movement. Brew was prepared to embrace looser organizational forms such as the ‘in and out’ clubs and to engage with ways of organizing which were more of young people’s, rather than leaders’, making.


The problem of buildings.

The issue of activity.

The ebb and flow of activism.

Conclusion – developing club work

It is to this tradition that we need to appeal today. Here I want to briefly highlight three areas for exploration.

Working with ‘spontaneous’ youth groups. The Albemarle Report is usually associated with the promotion of open youth centres (‘places of association’). However, there was also a recognition in the Report of the significance of spontaneous groups, ‘which may spring up and passionately absorb the energies of their members… and then fade away as the members grow out of them’ (ibid.: 54). Writers like Peter Kuenstler (1955a; 1955b) had charted the potential, and significance, of informal groups of friends and enthusiasts for youth work in the 1950s – and it is something that we need to return to now. Such groups may come into being for a one-off activity, or for a more sustained period of time. Often they do not have a formal structure, but they have other ‘club-like’ qualities. We need to see more time given to the encouragement of such groups – both for the overt benefits they bring in the form of mutual activity, and for the way they can build social capital and add to individual feelings of well-being. Two significant elements here would be the development of funds with a simple application systems to which young people can apply if they want to organize an activity or event; and the availability of informal educators both to encourage activity, provide help with the practicalities of organization and to encourage reflection on the experience.

Organizing around enthusiasms. As Bishop and Hoggett demonstrated some 15 years ago, there is considerable potential in exploring and enhancing mutual aid in leisure. Some groups organized around particular interests such as hobbies, sports, arts and crafts will be spontaneous and short lived, but many become full associations. As such they provide a means by which people can share information and specialist products; undertake collective projects (such as exhibitions); and develop friendships and commitments (Bishop and Hoggett 1986: 33). They are also both a training ground for democratic engagement, and the means by which most of us connect with political systems. For those concerned with young people there are two obvious areas of direct development. The first is the cultivation of interest in different areas – whether it be bird watching, painting or snow-boarding. The second is working with groups of young people to organize around their enthusiasms.

Working for associational space. A further, crucial, dimension of practice must be working to open up associational spaces for young people in existing organizations and groups. This might involve, for example, working with interest and enthusiast groups so that young people are more readily attracted to them, and can find room to develop and express their interests. It will certainly entail exploring and exploiting the potential for organizing around enthusiasms and interests in schools. Associational life in UK schools has taken a considerable battering since the early 1970s. Key elements here have included a declining readiness on the part of teachers to be involved in extra-curricula activities; the grinding requirements of the national curriculum and coursework; the corporatization of schools (with the adoption of business models and frameworks); and specific measures to curtail the involvement of young people in the governance of schools. With the spread of learning mentors within schools, and a renewal of interest, in Scotland at least, in community schooling there are at least some avenues for activity. Research such as that of Putnam (2000) may well provide some motivation on the part of heads. However, real progress will not be made until policymakers can be unhooked from the crude Taylorism that has dominated educational policy for the last decade, and until teachers are given space, and gain the ability, to respond to the needs of those they are working with (Palmer 1998; Horne 2001). Last, but not least, it is important to audit existing youth provision for associational activity and potential. There remains an underlying disposition to treat people as consumers rather than creators (Smith 1981)



Further reading and references

Bishop, J. and Hoggett (1986) Organizing Around Enthusiasms. Mutual aid in leisure, London: Comedia. 132 pages. Excellent study of hobbiest and leisure groups and clubs. Examines mutual aid in leisure; leisure sub-cultures; the contribution of individuals to groups; the environment of groups; and the structure and dynamic of communal leisure organizations.

Booton, F. (ed.) Studies in Social Education Volume 1: 1860-1890, Hove: Benfield Press. 199 pages. This collection of material includes Sweatman’s paper on youth institutes and clubs, the full text of Maude Stanley’s Clubs for Working Girls, plus Pilkington’s ‘An Eton Playing Field’. Booton’s introduction helpfully sets these in context.

Brew, J. M. (1943) In the Service of Youth, London: Faber and Faber. 300 pages. (Later revised and published as Youth and Youth Groups (1957; 2e 1968 [revised by Joan Matthews]) Outlines what Josephine Brew saw as the essentials of a youth work approach; discusses the the emergence of the youth service; the situation facing young people with regard to education, housing, health, employment, leisure and crime; and gives practical guidance on programming, participation, and activities .The book is still worth engaging with as Brew has a strong sense of the educational significance of interactions and social institutions such as clubs and projects.

Broady, M., Clarke, R., Marks, H., Mills, R., Sims, E., Smith, M. & White, L. (Ed. Clarke, R.) (1990) Enterprising Neighbours. The development of the community association in Britain, London: National Federation of Community Organisations. 209 + ix pages. Chapters examine community associations as a people’s movement; roots and influences; early days; high promise and disappointment: fifteen post war years; community associations in changing society: 1966-1980; local groups and community development; group activities and personal development; retrospect and prospect.

Bunt, S. and Gargrave, R. (1980) The Politics of Youth Clubs, Nuneaton: National Association of Youth Clubs. 182 pages. Useful, but oddly constructed review that is stronger on earlier girls and mixed club work.

Eagar, W. McG. (1953) Making Men. The history of the Boys’ Clubs and related movements in Great Britain, London: University of London Press.437 pages. Quite the best historical treatment of UK youth work. Eagar begins by discussing the recognition of adolescence; the development of church and philanthropic concern around youth; the emergence of ragged schooling, clubs, settlements and missions and then charts the history of the boys’ clubs movement. There is some material on girl’s clubs. He is particularly strong on the idea of the club, linkages into schooling and rescue, and how these related to other Victorian institutions and concerns. Thoroughly recommended.

Elsdon, K. T. with Reynolds, J. and Stewart, S. (1995) Voluntary Organizations. Citizenship, learning and change, Leicester: NIACE.168 + viii pages. Report of a six year, large scale English research project which examines the place of voluntary organizations with regard to adult learning. A major contribution to the literature that explores the development of local voluntary organizations; provides a useful typology; and strongly evidences their associational and educational potential. In addition to the main report, the team produced some volumes of case study material – Adult Learning in Voluntary Organisations Volumes 1 – 3, Nottingham: University of Nottingham Department of Adult Education. Volume 1 (Elsdon 1991) contains two fairly substantial case studies – a local group of the National Women’s register and a rural community association. Volume 2 (Stewart, S., Reynolds, J. and Elsdon, K. T. 1992) consists of 13 case studies ranging from a long established voluntary adult education institute, through various women’s groups to mutual aid and enthusiast groups. Volume 3 (Elsdon, K. T. with Stewart, S. and Reynolds, J. 1993) contains a further 15 studies including a settlement, a residents association, 2 WEA branches, a PTA plus various self help and enthusiast groups. A last and fourth volume A Town in Action: Voluntary networks in Retford (Reynolds, J. et al 1994) explores the nature of local activity and relationships between groups and key individuals.

Gilchrist, R. and Jeffs, T. (2001) Settlements, Social Change and Community Action. Good neighbours, London: Jessica Kingsley. 254 pages. A number of chapters in this very helpful collection provide examples of, and explore, the extent to which clubs and club life were, and are, central to the work of settlements.

Henriques, B. (1933) Club Leadership, London: Oxford University Press. 250 + xiii pages. A classic statement of the principles and practices of Boys’ Clubs work born out of the experience of working in Toynbee Hall, and the Oxford and St. George’s Club (later known as the Bernard Baron St George’s Jewish Settlement).

Marriott, P. (1997) Forgotten Resources? The role of community buildings in strengthening local communities, York: York Publishing Services. Important study that explores the contribution that the 18,800 community buildings make to local life in England and Wales (used by 4.4 million people per week). Focuses on the key role that volunteers play and the lack of attention paid to their potential by policymakers. A summary (Findings 218) can be downloaded from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation site (click on Housing).

Morris, R. J. (1993) ‘Clubs, societies and associations’ in F. M. L. Thompson (ed.) The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950 Volume 3: Social agencies and institutions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Excellent review of the development of voluntary associations. Other contributions include Prochaska on philanthropy, Obelkevick on religion, and Sutherland on education.

Percival, A. C. (1951) Youth Will Be Led. The story of the voluntary youth organizations, London: Collins. 249 pages. Useful overview of the development of voluntary work. Percival sets out to ‘give an idea of how one impulse after another urged men and women to be come workers in the field, answering the need that seemed most pressing their day; to show how the founders of various associations often “builded better than they knew” and to indicate the characteristics, the problems and the philosophy that lie behind the work being done’ (p. 12). Chapters on early history; middle class needs (YMCA & YWCA); the Brigades; the village girls’ club (GFS); clubs (lay and church); scouts and guides; ‘common interest’ associations (young farmer’s etc.); federation and partnership; state intervention; present trends; characteristics and motives; conclusion.

Pimlott, J. A. R. (1935) Toynbee Hall. Fifty years of social progress 1884 – 1934, London: Dent. Detailed review of the development of Toynbee Hall with some very helpful appendices concerning residents, provision and Barnett’s path-breaking talk. Includes various accounts of club life in the settlement.

Proshaska, F. (1988) The Voluntary Impulse. Philanthropy in modern Britain, London: Faber and Faber. 106 + xv pages. This is a concise and insightful exploration of the development of philanthropy in Britain. Proshaska is particularly good at bringing to light the many forms that working class philanthropy took, the relationship of evangelicalism and liberalism in the development of more formal philanthropy, and in highlighting the continuities and resilience of charitable traditions.

Putnam, R. D. (1999) Bowling Alone. The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster. 540 pages. Groundbreaking book that marshals evidence from an array of empirical and theoretical sources. Putnam argues there has been a decline in ‘social capital’ in the USA. He charts a drop in associational activity and a growing distance from neighbours, friends and family. Crucially he explores some of the possibilities that exist for rebuilding social capital. A modern classic.

Russell, C. and Rigby, E. (1908) Lad’s Clubs, Their history, organization and management, (revised edn 1932), London: A. and C. Black.

Shipley, S. (1983) Club Life and Socialism in Mid-Victorian London, London: Journeyman/London History Workshop Centre. 84 + vi pages. Fascinating study of six clubs around their formation in the 1870s.

Smith, M (1988) Developing Youth Work. Informal education, mutual aid and popular practice, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 177 + xiii pages. Chapters examine the origins of youth work and the making of popular youth work; definition, tradition and change in youth work; the demise of the youth service; the notion of social education; informal education; and popular practice. There is a concern for forms of work that have been developed within local communities. See in particular chapters 1 and 2 (on-line at

Solly, H. (1867) Working Men’s Clubs (revised edn. 1904), London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co.

Stanley, M. (1890) Clubs for Working Girls, London: Macmillan. 276 + vi pages. Republished in F. Booton (ed.) Studies in Social Education Volume 1 1860 – 1890, Hove: Benfield Press. The first major text on club work – and still worth reading.

Sweatman, A (1863) ‘Youths’ clubs and institutes’ in H. Solly (1867) Working Men’s Clubs (revised edn. 1904), London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co.

Tremlett, G. (1987) Clubmen. The history of the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union, London: Secker and Warburg. 297 + xiii page. This book focuses on the history of the union rather than the activities of individual clubs, however there is some useful material on Solly and the various struggles in the movement.

Vicinus, M. (1985) Independent Women. Work and community for single women 1850 – 1920, London: Virago. Includes a substantial chapter on women and settlements plus other useful contextual material around women’s groupings and associations.


Addams, J. (1910) Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes, New York Macmillan.

Bailey (1987) Leisure and Class in Victorian England. Rational recreation and the contest for control 1830-1885 2e, London: Methuen.

Barnett, S. A. (1884) ‘Settlements of university men in great towns. A paper read at St John’s, Oxford on 17th November 1883’, Oxford: The Chronicle Company. Reprinted in J. A. R. Pimlott (1935) Toynbee Hall. Fifty years of social progress 1884 – 1934, London: J. M. Dent. Pp. 266 – 273.

Besant, W. (1894) The Jubilee of the Ragged School Union, London: RSU.

Carson, M. (1990) Settlement Folk. Social thought and the American settlement movement, 1885 – 1930, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Davies, B. (1999) From Voluntaryism to Welfare State. A history of the youth service in England. Volume 1: 1939-1979, Leicester: Youth Work Press.

Department for Education and Employment (2001) Transforming Youth Work. Developing youth work for young people, London: Department for Education and Employment/Connexions.

Engels, F. (1892) The Condition of the Working Class in England (1969 edn.), London: Panther.

Follett, M. P. (1918) The New State. Group organization the solution of popular government (3rd impression [1920] with introduction by Lord Haldane), London: Longman Green and Co.

Gosden, P. H. J. H. (1973) Self-Help: Voluntary associations in nineteenth century Britain, London:

Hammond, J. L. and Hammond, B. (1939) Lord Shaftesbury, Harmondsworth: Pelican.

Jeffs, T. J. (1979) Young People and the Youth Service, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kelly, T. (1970) A History of Adult Education in Great Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Kett, J. K. (1994) The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties, From self-improvement to adult education in America, 1750 – 1990, Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press.

McLeod, H. (1984) Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain, London: Macmillan.

Milson, F. (1979) Coming of Age. Present opportunities for voluntary youth organizations, Leicester National Youth Bureau.

Montagu, C. J. (1903) Sixty Years of Waifdom, London:

Pethick, E. (1898) ‘Working Girl’s Clubs’ in W. Reason (ed.) University and Social Settlements. London: Methuen.

Young, A. E. and Ashton, E. T. (1956) British Social Work in the Nineteenth Century, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.




(1) Dorcas meetings were named after the woman of Joppa who made garments for the poor (Acts 9(36)). They brought parishioners together in ‘domestic sewing classes and prayer in aid of local causes or benighted heathens’ (Prochaska 1988: 23)

To cite this page: Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Club work’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education,

Image: ‘First day of the spring break Eastside youth project 049’ by George Wesley & Bonita Dannells. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.

© Mark K. Smith
First published December 2001. Last update: July 08, 2014

Last Updated on February 18, 2020 by