Prospectus for the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union

This prospectus was drawn up by Henry Solly in 1862 in order to obtain money and support for the establishment of the Club and Institute Union.

Founder of the Club and Institute Union and a great propagandist for clubs, Henry Solly (1813-1903) provided a much needed conceptual clarity to the notion of club work. He also was an important advocate for the extension of working class political rights and helped to set up the Charity Organization Society.

In this piece he sets out his prospectus for working men’s clubs and educational institutes – and develops some of the key themes and principles underlying the clubs.

links: Henry Solly and the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union; Henry Solly: the origin and nature of Working Men’s Clubs and Institutes

Objects and plan of operation. This Union is formed for the purpose of helping Working Men to establish Clubs or Institutes where they can meet for conversation, business, and mental improvement, with the means of recreation and refreshment, free from intoxicating drinks; these Clubs, at the same time, constituting Societies for mutual helpfulness in various ways.

It will be the aim of the Council of the Union to assist in extending or improving existing Associations which have in view objects of a kindred nature with the above, as well as to promote the establishment of Clubs or Institutes where no such Associations may now be found. In order to consolidate and strengthen the action and mutual fellowship of these various Associations, Clubs, or Institutes, the Council will invite them to become Registered Members of the Union. (In reference to the use of intoxicating drinks on the premises, the Council are strongly of the opinion that their introduction would be dangerous to the interests of these Societies, and earnestly recommend their exclusion. They make this recommendation simply on prudential grounds, the reasonableness of which, it is believed, the Working Classes will be the first to acknowledge. *) The Council also recommend that at least one-half of the managing body should be bona-fide Working Men.

The Council propose to carry out the objects of the Union:

  1. By correspondence with the Officers of existing Associations throughout the kingdom.
  2. By personal visits, by their own Officers and by honorary deputations, to such places as may seem to require to be visited. At these visits conferences will be held with the Working Classes, and with others in the locality who may be interested in the object.
  3. By the dissemination of tracts, or special papers, on subjects lying within the sphere of the Society’s operations.
  4. By supplying instructions for the guidance of persons who may wish to establish Clubs or Institutes; together with rules to define their objects, and to regulate their proceedings.
  5. By grants or loans of Books for Club Libraries, Apparatus, Diagrams, etc., to Societies in membership with the Union, in cases where local circumstances may seem to call for such aid.
  6. By grants of money in special cases, by way of loan or otherwise, towards the building, enlarging, or altering Club Houses, or procuring recreation grounds, for Societies in the Union.

As soon as a sufficient number of Clubs shall have joined the Union within a given district, the Council will combine them in local organisations, under specified conditions. Half-yearly, or sometimes quarterly, meetings of Delegates from the various Clubs will be held in each district, for the consideration of matters of local interest, and for the discussion of social questions; while an annual conference of District Representatives will be held at various large towns in succession, to consider matters of a more general character.

The Council will be glad to receive communications addressed to their Secretary, from persons desirous of promoting these objects either in their own locality or generally. Information and assistance will be gladly given and received.

Donations and subscriptions for the Union will be thankfully received by the Secretary, or they can be paid at the London and Westminster Bank (St James’s Square, S.W.), or any of its Branches.

An Annual Subscription of not less than £1, or a Donation of not less than £10, constitutes the contributor a member of the Union.

General remarks. Notwithstanding all the efforts made to improve the character and condition of the Working Classes in this country, intemperance, ignorance, improvidence, and religious indifference still abound among them to a deplorable extent. One main reason of the want of more complete success is probably to be found in the incompleteness of the measures adopted. Vast good, for instance, has been accomplished by the Temperance Reform, but it often fails to retain those whom it has reclaimed from intemperance, in not supplying something to occupy the leisure hours formerly spent at the public-house. Mechanics’ Institutes, also, with efforts of a kindred character, have done a great work; but they, too, generally fail in not providing recreation and amusement. Their aims have been too high for the great majority of Working Men; hence, while they have attracted and benefited many, the inducements held out have failed to withdraw the multitude from habits and indulgences which all alike deplore. As a result, we find such Institutions now generally given up to the trading and middle classes. Working Men’s Colleges, admirable as they are, require some such intermediate step between them and the public-house as the Societies above described.

Recreation must go hand in hand with Education and Temperance if we would have real and permanent improvement; while efforts should be specially made to awaken or cherish a brotherly spirit of mutual helpfulness among men themselves, as well as between them and the classes socially above then. The best hope of success is in thus binding people together for worthy ends in a true brotherhood, so that each may be led to give as well as to receive, striving to contribute to the common good. Higher results will follow as these preparatory measures are successful; and when the temptations to debasing indulgence are removed the way is open for good influences of every kind.

The aim of the Union in all cases would be to help Working Men to help themselves, rather than to establish or manage Institutions for them — this being as essential for the moral usefulness as for the permanent success of our endeavours. Local and Working Class efforts may frequently be fostered and developed by external help with the happiest result, when the establishment of entirely new institutions, managed by the higher classes in the neighbourhood or by a central Society, would be viewed with jealousy or indifference. The very first step towards forming a Club or Institute would be to interest the Working Men of the district in the undertaking, and to make them feel that, when once started, its management and success must depend mainly on themselves.

The next point in forming these Societies would be to procure suitable premises for the accommodation of the members, containing rooms to be used for conversation, refreshments, recreation, etc., and others for classes, reading, lectures, and music. A library of entertaining and instructive books, scientific apparatus, diagrams, etc., a supply of newspapers, and some works of art, should be aimed at. The services of efficient teachers, paid and unpaid, should be procured; Discussion Classes, to awaken thought and a desire for knowledge, should be established; readings from amusing and eloquent writers, interspersed with music and recitations, should be given periodically; and, generally, any similar measures adopted for effecting the objects in view. Women should have the privilege, on a small payment, of taking books out of the library, and of admission to the lectures and concerts of the Institute; also to classes, when efficient female superintendence could be procured. The very valuable influence of educated women has of late years shown itself in various schemes to improve the condition of the Labouring Classes. A much wider field for this influence may be afforded by Societies such as those now advocated.

The Club Rooms in every locality will form the strongest counteraction to the allurements of the Public House. The desire for social enjoyment and the love of excitement are the impulses that habitually drive the Working Classes to visit the Beer Shop. These instincts also form a great temptation of reclaimed drunkards. They remain as strong as ever in their nature after they have become abstainers, and the Public House stands before them as the most available means for their gratification. Music, also, which ought to purify and refine, is now extensively employed as a temptation to drinking and other vices. Until there shall be established in every locality an institution that shall meet these instincts with superior attractions, but without temptations to evil, it is unreasonable to expect a great diminution in the drinking customs of the working population. This want the proposed Clubs will supply. Here the Working Man will obtain, at a charge within his reach, social intercourse and healthy mental excitement — the refreshment he requires or the improvement he seeks.

The extent to which Working Men suffer from their dependence upon the Public House merely for business purposes is also an immense evil, and one that is still inadequately appreciated. (See Mr Tidd Pratt’s last Report on Friendly Societies to the House of Commons, page 35) where he remarks, ‘The holding of these Societies at a Public House is also another ground of their failure . . . in the course of last year the Registrar found that in Herefordshire, since 1793 the number of Societies enrolled and certified were 136; of this number 123 were held at Public Houses and 13 at schools or private rooms. Of those held at Public Houses no less than 42 had broken up, but of those held at schools or private rooms only one had been dissolved.’ Even where no drinking is allowed during business hours a considerable sum is often spent afterwards, especially by the younger men.) Gradually, however, the proposed Clubs and Institutes will become the Houses of Call for men in search of work and will be the centres of various Working Men’s Societies, such as Friendly Societies, Freehold and Building Associations, Co-operative Societies, Circulating Libraries for the district, Temperance Societies, and of any similar agencies calculated to improve the condition of the Working Classes.

These are no mere visionary ideas. They have been already reduced to practice with most beneficial results in Westminster, Notting Hill, Clare Market, Brighton, Norwood, Manchester, Shrewsbury, Leeds, Farringdon, Liverpool, Carlisle, Southampton, Scarborough, and many other places. THE WORKING MEN’S CLUB AND INSTITUTE UNION aims at multiplying such results by stimulating and assisting local effort.

The time is evidently ripe for this movement. In all directions earnest and benevolent people are groping after the means of making isolated efforts for elevating the Working Classes above debasing vice and ignorance; but these efforts often need judicious guidance or timely support, and would be greatly assisted by united counsels and organised power. Our hard-working brethren can seldom find time to initiate, or can rarely obtain adequate support among their own class for local enterprises of this nature. Those best acquainted with them, however, know that they thankfully welcome such help as it is now proposed to afford.

In conclusion, it will be seen that, while the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union may be useful with the smallest, it will be able to make efficient application of the largest means that may be placed at its disposal — beginning with selected localities, and widening its sphere of action in proportion to the public support it may receive. The council earnestly solicit the assistance, personal and pecuniary, of all who approve their objects; and, sincerely praying that the Divine blessing may rest upon this undertaking, they commend it to the support of all who desire the true welfare of the Working Classes of this country.

* These sentences were added in 1864 and included in later editions of the prospectus.


Henry Solly and the Club and Institute Union

Solly – Working Men’s Social Clubs and Educational Institutes Chapter 1 (rev. edn. 1904)

To cite this piece: Solly, H. (1862) ‘Prospectus for the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union’, the informal education homepage,

A copy of this prospectus can be found in Solly, H. (1904) Working Men’s Social Clubs and Educational Institutes rev. edn., London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co. (First edition 1867).

This piece has been reproduced here on the understanding that it is not subject to any copyright restrictions, and that it is, and will remain, in the public domain.
First published in the archives: October 2001

Last Updated on July 5, 2019 by