The origins and early history of the Union Club

Nestled amongst the bed & breakfast town houses of Bath Street and just off from the flashing arcade lights of Nevill Street, stands a neat detached building of almost 170 years old, which many people probably miss if walking by on foot. They may stop to use the post box situated within the front wall, or inquisitively ponder over an inconspicuous plaque, that recalls the time that Lord Strathclyde opened the Bath Street guest house improvements scheme in March 1990. The building I am referring to is No.2 Bath Street, home of, ‘The Union Club’.

Images copyright R.Blakey 2022

The Union Club has a long history with fine traditions, with new members being encouraged to sit in its library and read through Harold Roberts book, Reminiscences of an old Man of Equity. Roberts, formerly of the Savage Club, believed that the origins came from the Exchange News Room, describing it as:

‘an association who met together for social recreation and pleasure, a club in all the truest and best sense of the word with its own premises and most of the amenities of the club’.

Roberts concluded that the News Room eventually moved from its premises on the corner of London Street and Lord Street along with its assets and billiard table to the present premises in Bath Street. Upon the wall of the Union Club library is framed document listing the officers of the Exchange News Room which was opened on March 25th 1859 under the presidency of Thomas Ridgway Bridson J.P. The Chairman was George Woods, Treasurer William Hogarth and an acting committee comprising of Thomas Muir, Peter Basset, J.P. Scowcroft, Charles Brown (Charles Henry Brown, who ran a Drapery business and was a known antiquarian) Richard M. Whitlow, H.L. Gregory and Secretary, John A. Robinson.

Reproduced with kind permission of Michael Braham/The Union Club

The Exchange News Room is mentioned in Mannex’ directory of 1866 where a Reading Society is described as being formed there,

‘for several years, and is held in the Exchange Buildings, London Street’. The subscription is one guinea per annum, payable half yearly in advance. The members are admitted by ballot and are able to purchase the most popular works of the day at a very moderate expense. Mr. J.A. Robinson is the secretary’

An almost word for word description of a Reading Society is to be found in the directory for 1854, with Robert Johnson (Southport Visiter founder) as the secretary, with meetings taking place the Assembly & Billiard Room, ‘a noble gothic structure’. This building became known as the Exchange News Room from 1859. It was to the rear of the Assembly Room when, in February 1848, Southport had its first purpose built Market, thanks to Draper, James Mawdesley who offered the bowling green at the rear of his Assembly Rooms to the commissioners as a permanent site for their market.

Site of Assembly Rooms c1850. Reproduction of an original water colour drawing as published in ’Southport Old & New’ c1904. This is the corner of London St & Lord St today where the Prezzo restaurant stands.

Photo of former Assembly Rooms and Exchange News Room c1904 As published in ’Southport Old & New’ c1904

Back to the 1866 directory:

‘Amongst the Literary Institutions must be mentioned the Southport Club, now kept in superbly decorated rooms in Nevill Street. The reading room is well supplied with daily and weekly newspapers, and periodicals and here are also billiard and card rooms- Mr. J.W. Inglemann (Inglemells) is manager’.

John Heywood’s guide, which also included a description of the Exchange News Room, c1868/69 stated:

‘The Southport Club has its rooms in Neville Street, which are for the exclusive use of members and introduced friends’

Johnson & Greens plan & directory for Southport published in 1868 shows that the Southport Club stood at the end of a row of buildings running from Lord Street towards Cable Street, the approximate location today would be the amusement arcade between Waterstones and the Neville Buildings (built in 1880/81).

In 2003, local historian and Union Club member Michael Braham decided to unearth the musty minute books from the cellar of the 2 Bath Street. Within them, was a reference to a meeting that took on Friday 30th July 1869, which unanimously resolved that a club be formed called ‘The New Club’. On the same day, included on the front page of the Southport Visiter an announcement read:

‘Any persons having claims against the Southport Club are requested to send in their accounts prior to 31st inst.’

The 1868 directory lists a Mr Joseph Litton as the secretary of the Southport Club, and as Michael Braham discovered, it was Litton who was listed as appointed secretary pro tem at the New Club’s inaugural meeting. This also disproved Harold Roberts belief that the Union Club originated from the Exchange News Room. No doubt he allowed himself to believe that the fact it appears that the President of the two organisations was a Thomas Ridgway Bridson, and that Richard Whitlow was both on the original committee of the Exchange News Room and was at the inaugural meeting of the New Club, meaning that they were somehow connected. Thomas Ridgway Bridson was the father of the President of the New Club, who also bore the same name. His father died in 1863, the event making an entry in Bland’s Annals of Southport describing his funeral as a ‘public one’ and that he taken ‘a prominent part in the affairs of the town’. It is understood that the Southport Club failed due to the ‘unsatisfactory state of the finances’, thanks to a letter to the Visiter from Birkdale resident Mr. B. Leigh Taylor at this time.

Joseph Litton had an agenda of his own as on July 10th 1869 he took an assignment to a plot of land costing £1,000.00, with a dwelling house and building described in a lease on 30th April 1853 as being 818 sq yards between New Bath Street (Old Bath Street was today’s Hulme Street) and Upper Lord Street (Stanley Street today). This is the only record I have seen of a street in Southport, where the term Upper appears at the front of a street name that is not joined or following on from the other street (Lord) bearing the same name. What is also interesting is that Upper Lord Street was of course less inland Lord Street, whereas every other street with Upper in front of it is more inland. Stanley Street was also referred to as Back Lord Street during the C19th.

Between 1853 & 1869 it appears No.2 Bath Street was a lodging house. Despite there being plenty of lodging houses listed in the 1854 directory for Bath St, the earliest confirmed record for this address I have found is in the 1857 directory, listing Ann Bradford as the proprietress. She is there again on the 1861 census, along with three other groups of families, with the majority hailing from Essex. In 1864/65, Miss. Margaret Speaks is listed, and again in 1866 however, this time named as Margery Speak.

This plot of land can be seen clearly on the 1868 plan. Just four days after the Visiter announcement of the winding up of the Southport Club, plans for a new billiard room and alterations were provided, and were accepted with the work carried out by the Haywood Bros, with these extensions shown clearly on the 1894 OS map and still present today. Also on the 1868 plan can be seen the location of the previously mentioned Southport Club, shown as a marked building, numbered 20 on Nevill Street. We will suggest that these premises where owned by James Turvey who operated at No. 5 & 7 Nevill Street in 1866 as a music & book seller, stationer and probably most tellingly, he ran a circulating library.

Section of Johnson & Greens 1868 plan of Southport & Birkdale. No.2 Bath Street is highlighted. The Southport Club is shown as marked building No.20 on Nevill St. Reproduced with kind permission of Martin Perry of the Southport Civic Society.

Section of 1894 OS map the extension to No.2 Bath Street. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The success of the New Club was evident at a ‘special meeting’ on March 5th 1870 with the following rule amendment being declared:

‘The New Club is composed of Gentlemen of known respectability and the number of members be limited to sixty’

This was an increase of over ten on the original maximum membership. At the AGM five years later this was increased to eighty. It was however, that later in this year the New Club were to lose one of their own ‘known men of respectability’, as Joseph Litton, the man who took it upon himself to take on No.2 Bath Street leading to the formation of the New Club, passed away on November 6th. He is considered today as the founder of the Union Club.

Joseph Litton was born to parents John & Mary, at a place recorded on 2nd February 1816 as ‘Horse Market’, when he was baptised at Holy Trinity, Warrington. His father, John Litton was a Corn Merchant. On the 1841 census he is living in Wilderspool with his family and is listed as a File Merchant. At some time in the 1840s, Joseph’s brother William, rented Orford Hall and by 1851 Joseph and two other siblings lived there with their ten servants until 1866 when William Beaumont, Warrington’s first Mayor moved in.

Image source

Orford Hall was at one time considered one of the most important buildings in Warrington and was the former home of the Blackburne family, who had indirect links to the slave trade via investment in Liverpool’s Salt House Dock. Also housed within the estate was a ‘pine stove’, which harvested the first ripe pineapples in Northern England.

A notice in the London Gazette on 12th July 1864 shows us that Joseph Litton dissolved his joint businesses with four others which included a file & tool manufacturers in Warrington and a steel works in Rotherham. As he is listed in the 1868 directory as secretary of the Southport Club, it is highly likely that the Litton family moved to Southport in 1866 when Beaumont moved into Orford Hall.

In 1871, we find siblings Jospeh, William and Jane listed as visitors at the former Victoria Hotel on Southport Promenade. Both William and Joseph are recorded as being retired merchants. Joseph is shown in the electoral register of 1875 as living 10 Queens Road. The 1871 census entry for 10 Queens Road lists four servants including a butler. This house was appropriately named ‘Orford Lodge’ and is a fine house, still standing and looks like it has been converted into luxury apartments. On the 1861 census Queens Road is named as Queen Street. The 1864/65 directory does not show numbered buildings on Queens Road. In the 1869 directory, Orford Lodge is listed after No.8 (Thornton House, owned by a Catherine Blackburn), before Hawkshead Street and then No.10 is across the junction. It must have been shortly after this that Orford Lodge became No.10 as is shown by 1875.

Orford Lodge pictured 15/10/2021

What looks like former servants quarters between Orford Lodge and the site of Thornton House, Queens Road.

Remains of the word Orford on one of the gate posts

Lodge can just about be made out on another gate post.

Above images copyright D.Walshe 2021

In January 1880, the New Club was to undergo a transformation as it was proposed by Mr.C Heape at the AGM to change the name to the Union Club. This motion, was fittingly seconded by Henry Litton, brother of Joseph, who is also found amongst the electoral registers as living at Orford Lodge, then later in the late 1880s & 1890s, residing in another famous building of old Southport, No.1 Manchester Road, then called ‘The Woodlands’ which stood on a huge site encompassing the Police & Fire stations and former Law Courts today. The site was a used as VAD hospital during WW1.

Mr. C. Heape as pictured by well known photographer Silas Eastham of Lord St. Reproduced with kind permission of Michael Braham/The Union Club

The Woodlands, originally View Lodge and later Sea View Lodge. During WW1 this was the site (with other buildings) of the largest VAD hospital in Gt Britain. Image source—woodlands-8642432?u

Southport had numerous clubs of this nature that were formed during the C19th: The Mechanics Institution c1837. The Atheneum Library in 1862. The Reading Society, quite possibly formed from the Mechanics Institution, and by 1859 was known as The Exchange New Room. The Southport Club which we know was in existence by 1866, and which failings led to the formation of the New Club in 1869 thanks to Jospeh Litton, then being re-named The Union Club in 1880. In 1925 The Union Club amalgamated with The Savage Club, whose records date back to the late 1880s, with their premises being housed within the Albany Buildings.

There was also a club called The Meols Club, formed in September 1874 for ‘influential young gentleman’ housed within, ‘commodious rooms over the Victoria Baths’, and that included the then Mayor, Dr. Barron on its committee.

Yet it is only the Union Club on Bath Street, a Southport institution for no less than 152 years, that is still going strong today.

David Walshe & Michael Braham, copyright 2021.

Sources used, not previously mentioned within the main text:

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