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Thursday, 30 July 2015

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It was a bachelor’s life for these fine fellows who all belonged to the club

Bachelors! That’s what these 14 gentlemen in the photograph are.

Bachelor boys: The mysterious West Cumbrian club

They were all members of a “Bachelor Society” – according to the scarcely visible scrawl on the cards held by the young men on the bottom row.

So where was this club? I don’t know.

When was this photo taken? Again, I don’t know.

And what exactly was a Bachelor – or Bachelors’ – Club or Society?

And – guess what – I don’t know!

What we’ve got here is a hat-trick of mysteries.

As I’ve always repeated, when it comes to local history there are always more questions than answers.

We do have some clues.

This photo was sent to me by Brian Feenan.

He tells me that, according to information gleaned from family members, one of the men in the photograph is his grandfather – Albert Feenan.

But there’s one big problem – which one?

And who are the other young, and not so young, men sat there clutching their walking sticks – with clay pipes jauntily clasped between their teeth?

Since Albert Feenan was born in Workington and spent his life in the town, it’s a fair assumption that the society was based in Workington.

I understand that he died in the flu epidemic of 1918.

He was still a young man. It’s highly likely that the photo dates back to sometime between 1905 and 1914.

So there we have it: 14 men, nine clay pipes, 14 buttonholes (of any significance?) – 14 walking sticks, six straw boaters, three flat caps, a serious looking bowler, a trilby and three items of headgear which I can best describe as “other.”

They’re all dressed in their Sunday best, and all wearing ties or bowties. So were they all off to some social function?

The photo was, judging by the leafy backdrop, probably taken in a photographer’s studio.

But where?

So were the society’s members all intent on staying single? Or had they just joined a social organisation? Again, I don’t know.

I did come across mention of the Huddersfield Bachelors’ Society, in 1909. It gave a description of its official badge. This consisted of the official coat of arms of Huddersfield, above which was a crossed wish bone and latchkey design. The first was for good luck – and the second for freedom.

So was this a statement of intent or an expression of belated regret?

I have come across a local bachelors’ club before. In 1894, Distington Bachelors’ Club held its first meeting in the Victoria Hall. The members of the social committee were named: R Salkeld, T Wilson, RJ Foster, A McGuigan, R Bell and J Dobie (he played the piano.)

There was a lot of music and singing. They enjoyed a hearty meal laid on by Mrs Thompson of The Queen’s Head – after which they drank a number of toasts.

It was obviously not a teetotal affair. A good time was had by all. So why and when did this society fold?

Finally, was anyone in your family a member of the Workington Bachelors’ Society? And do you know anyone in this photograph? Let me know!

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