14.  Sports and Social Activities

The Meynell Company boasted a football team in the 1930s and they were big drinkers with the game of football being the natural prelude to a good night out. The Meynell in charge of proceedings was the then young Hugo Meynell, who didn’t play himself but made all the arrangements. 

He told me that one Saturday before the match the team met at the local pub near the sports field at mid-day.  At the time to move off for the match, when the bar was vacated, the man who was to be goalkeeper slipped off his bar stool and passed out completely inebriated.  He was carried out to the pavement by the rest of the team who dumped him and said to Hugo “What do we do now?”  Hugo replied “Right, Lads, leave this to me”, whereupon he picked up the legless goalkeeper and threw him over his shoulder.  But unfortunately he slithered down Hugo’s back and hit his head so hard on the pavement that he fractured his skull and was taken to hospital. Worse followed because the gullible Hugo was drafted to play in goal and the team lost 23 - 1.  Even worse was Hugo’s being summoned to Herbert Meynell’s office on Monday morning to explain the absence (in hospital) of the workman who was goalkeeper, because Herbert didn’t understand either football or drinking as he was of strict Victorian upbringing.

The 40 Club was founded in 1947 for all employees with 40 years service or more to be taken out in a coach to some local beauty spot in Shropshire or similar interesting venue, perhaps Boscobel, where King Charles II hid in the oak tree. Dinner followed at a local pub in a private dining room with a few brief speeches from the Club Members and the Management. During the evening a gold watch, suitably inscribed “For Loyal Service”, was presented to any employee who had completed 40 years with the Company. 

One of the lasting lessons I learned in the Army was the importance of welfare for the troops and, for example, however hard, long and dirty had been the exercises in which we took part on the heaths at Munsterlager and Sennelager under assimilated battle conditions, we subalterns had to ensure that upon return to camp (after some days or a week or more), when everybody was exhausted, we had to see that the soldiers had hot food and hot water and stay with them to ensure that all was well.  This attitude was possibly and unwittingly at the back of my mind when I returned to the Company in 1951 and although the rates of pay and hours of work, etc were determined on a national scale with a few local variations, there was little scope for improvement by me.

However, we had no social club and amenities and in 1952 I started our company Sports & Social Club.  I put a notice on the board stating that we would start one and that the cost would be 2d per week per employee (about lp of today’s coinage).  I spelled out the aims and advantages and put in a small space for any objectors to sign.  They would, therefore, have to signify in public that they were against a scheme from which it was intended all would benefit but to which they would only contribute 2d per week.  Unfortunately, there were three objectors who shall not be named even though all are now dead.  But I managed to persuade them to agree after spending some time with each privately. 

Once acceptance had been given by the employees I arranged for a committee to be elected, with eight members split between all departments of works and staff.  I made some crude ballot boxes at home and the ballot was duly held.  At the first Committee Meeting I was elected Chairman and have held this post for over 30 years.  The first committee included Mr Turpin from the offices, Violet Purcell from 37 Shop,  Bob Finch  from Tool Room and Stores,  and Dorothy Mitchell from the Foundry and Core Shop;  but my memory robs me of the other four. 

The Club was a great success.  It was something new to have a works dance for all employees and the first one was at the George Hotel in Stafford Street.  It turned out to be the last one there because the beer took control of the better judgement of some of us and their old stag’s head, which hung on the wall of their dining room, was hurled unceremoniously through the windows on to the pavement, where it bounced off some chap, leaving him prostrate.  But seeing this, his friends came rushing up the stairs to do battle.  Anyway, we were ejected in disgrace and told never to darken their doorway again. 

The next year we staged a Works v Staff football match which was quite hilarious as several players on each side were so geriatric they could hardly run; but it was completed without serious injury and without any heart attacks.

We started the Christmas competitions that year, most of which have lasted ever since: dominoes, darts, and so on, including a Snooker Tournament.  For this event I had purchased a small size snooker table for £4, which I paid out of my own pocket because Club funds had become exhausted at that time.  I must reclaim  it one day! There must, by now, have been thousands of Meynell employees who have enjoyed playing on this table at lunchtime or evenings and I bet that not one of them knows that it is my private property.  Such is the way of a family business. 

The next year included a men’s Sunday morning outing (a pub crawl) and a ladies’ trip to the pantomime; and a ladies’ and gents’ trip to Blackpool, which we all enjoyed greatly.

The second year’s dance was held at the Molineux Hotel and is chiefly remembered because of Uncle Hugo’s hat. The dear chap always wore his hat at work and travelling around and was rarely seen without it.  However, he did take it off in church and also at the works dance. The challenge was too great for some employees who, after drinking a lot of beer, adjourned to the gents cloaks to be rid of it.  Once Hugo’s hat was seen it was quickly used by many enthusiasts instead of the urinal and it was eventually discarded in a corner of the room, having served its purpose.  When Hugo came to collect it at the end of the evening he insisted on wearing it, despite the awful stench, so as to protect his head from the cold night air.  I often wondered how bad was the stench of the pillow slip the next morning and how he explained the problem to his sisters.  The poor chap turned up with an awful head cold on the following Monday but in his usual saintly fashion he never complained to anyone.

A dance was held every year after the start of the Club but this is not the time or place to give chapter and verse details, except to record that venues included the Star and Garter, the Victoria, the Park Hall, the Connaught, Dunstall Race Course and the Hollybush.  But none has been as exciting as the first and only one at the George.

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