“The idea of a social club for returning men and women of the Forces after the Second World War, as well as ex-members of Molesey Youth Club and any other young person over the age of 18, was originally conceived by Terry Curtis, Ivor Pooley, Bill Dawson-Marsh and Mr. ‘Archie’ Albone,” recalls Donald Harmes .The Phoenix Club with its black, yellow and blue flag and legend ‘Out of the Ashes’ started up in April 1947.
It soon became apparent that the old schoolroom (now the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses) was too small for the growing membership and so the Club asked for permission to renovate the large, derelict, corrugated iron building at the rear that had been used as a fire station during the war. Most of the work was done by members themselves with the help of some skilled tradesmen.
“The volunteer roofers walked quite casually upon the somewhat ancient corrugated iron to do their work; nowadays health and safety would be appalled” says Donald who became Chairman of the Building Committee. The new clubhouse was opened on 15th January 1949.Renee Goodsall (Assistant Secretary and editor of The Flame, the Club newsletter) and her husband, Peter (Treasurer and President), who sadly died earlier this year, reckoned that over 300 people were Club members at one time or another.
Although the Phoenix Club was only formally wound up about four years ago, its heyday was the 1950s. The club nights were Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7.30-10.30pm. There’d be table tennis, darts and snooker in the first part of the evening and then after tea (no alcohol!) gramophone music, talks, discussions, quizzes, team games, film shows, etc. At the weekends and at other times Club members went on rambles, cycle runs, supper hikes, treasure hunts, coach (‘charabanc’) trips to the seaside and theatre visits. Popular activities included cricket, amateur dramatics, photography, doing the carnival float, organising a Christmas party for the children and the annual dinner dances. The Club was even nicknamed the ‘marriage mart’!“ The Phoenix Club was extraordinarily successful.
In its day, it brought a great deal of happiness to a great many people” says Donald. Membership dwindled for a multitude of reasons. The increasing age of its members, changing social habits, the impact of TV, members moving out of the district and the state of the clubhouse all played their part. In 1966, a campaign meeting to save the Phoenix Club was well-attended but only netted eight new members. The clubhouse eventually became the home of the Barn Theatre Club in late 1970. “I’m still in touch with two surviving members” says Donald “and it’s very nostalgic looking over the old photographs.”
By Anthony Barnes