Girton village website

Focus on Girton Social Club

If you view the Girton Social Club from the road, your attention is the taken by the elegant terracotta bas relief on the outside chimney breast. It announces the "Girton Village Institute". And that is indeed its origin, as part of the village hall and institute movement that was a prominent part of the development of rural Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A hundred years on, the building and site are still owned by the trustees of the Girton Village Institute who lease the premises to the Girton Social Club, while retaining overall control over its use and destiny. Its evolution over this period charts the changing society of the English village across the twentieth century.

At the end of the Victorian era, the villages of England such as Girton were seen as being in need of the many educational and social advances already achieved by their cousins in the prosperous cities and towns, such as Cambridge. Hence it was argued there was a need to bring to the countryside all the urban amenities in order to achieve social progress. These included adult literacy classes, local lending libraries, technical and domestic instruction, as well as artistic and social gatherings.

How and where could these new amenities be formed? The building of village halls or institutes was seen as the answer. So they were constructed far and wide across the land - some 8900 still survive in England. Radical social commentators now argue that this movement was part of a conspiracy led by the clergy, in league with the new gentry and intelligentsia to evangelise, sanitise and rationalise the rural populace in its interests and pursuits - not to mention opposing the effects of excessive alcohol which particularly shocked non-conformist and right-thinking consciences. The new middle class values were for "rational recreation", with an emphasis on science and knowledge. This role for the village hall or institute as a focus for social progress in a village like Girton was thus set.

The present Girton Social Club

The Girton Village Institute duly opened with a concert in 1911, in the heyday of this movement. The founding objectives were "the religious, intellectual and social welfare" of the "artisan and labouring classes resident in the village".

The establishment of the Girton Village Institute certainly bore out the radical theorists' model of a coalition of old and new power. The Revd R. M. Linton, a notable Rector of Girton on 1 January 1911 wrote to the local gentry and bourgeoisie, soliciting a donation of half a guinea (10s 6d, or 52 1/2p - more than a day's wages for a working man) each as Vice-Presidents in order "to raise an Institute for the men (sic) young and old of this village". The principal contributor of £250 was "Mr Finch of Howes Close", who also purchased and gifted the land on which the Institute still stands. Gerard Brown Finch (1832-1913) was a true Victorian polymath. A fellow of Queens' College, a top mathematician (Senior Wrangler 1857), a QC, President of the Theosophical Society, and a prominent public administrator - his memorial is in St Andrew's churchyard. His portrait hangs in the Club.

The Girton Village Institute cost £624 2s 3d and externally it is remarkably unchanged since - only the spire has disappeared. Subscriptions (4/- or 20p per quarter) were first required of villager members, for which they enjoyed the use of a reading room in the evenings, a billiard table and facilities for edifying meetings. Sunday school teaching, bible classes, confirmation classes and charitable activities were held during its early years.

The Village Institute has passed through various stages over the years. Its support declined in the early 30s, and the library was not being used. A proposal in 1938 to make it a village hall for universal use was deemed by the trustees to be contrary to the original deeds. During the 1939-45 war, after brief commandeered use by the Army, it was an extension of the village school, then in the Cotton Hall. With up to 190 evacuee children at any one time billetted in the village, it was very needed as a classroom and canteen. It also doubled as a Village Hall, with a youth club and "Rabbit Club". After the war and with the opening of the new Glebe School in 1951, it became an ex-servicemen's club as the Girton British Legion and Social Club Ltd, who greatly repaired and improved the building. Membership was widened to all villagers in 1972 as the Girton Social Club, its present entity.

A total refurbishment of the Girton Village Institute building took place in 2009, with a major internal enhancement, particularly of the pool table area and bar, new furniture, as well as baby changing and disabled toilet facilities. The work was paid for primarily with an 80% grant from the Girton Town Charity, the remainder coming from the Girton Social Club's own resources.

Several special events are held each month, including live music, quiz nights, discos, karaoke, chocoholics evenings, race nights, and "play your cards right" sessions. The Club's teams are a strongly-supported feature - there are six for darts and one for pool. The Club is also available for private hire for parties and meetings. Playing its part in the community is a constant concern, with special membership for village sporting organisations such as the Football Club, the Colts' Football Club, the Motorbike Club and the Cricket Club. In these various directions, the Girton Social Club is tentatively moving back to its original role as an Institute for all the village, in 21st century ways.

The Girton Social Club, chaired since 2009 by Mr Brian Balaam, has a Vice-Chairman (Mr Tony Bennett), a Secretary and a Treasurer (all of whom are either resident in the village or have family roots in Girton) and a committee of 14 elected members out of a membership that currently stands at 200. Annual adult membership costs £7.15 for the first year, £5.00 for subsequent years. For pensioners the figures are £1.65 and £1.00 (there is even a special price "pensioners' pint"), and international students at the Cambridge Academy of English, armed forces members and 16-18s (parents/guardians must be current members) pay just £1.00. The Club is open every evening from 7.30 pm, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon, when alcoholic and soft drinks, tea, coffee and snacks are available. Families are particularly welcome at weekends.

At a time when pubs and clubs are closing at a rate of 30 per week, the Girton Social Club is surviving robustly, albeit with a little belt tightening. The officers and committee remain confident that the distinctive role of the Club will see it through the recession and changes in social customs as a continuing focus for the village.

The Girton Social Club celebrates in 2011 the centennial of the establishment of the Girton Village Institute, and has been asked to host the Girton Village Feast fete on July 9th. There will be both an afternoon event with activities for all the family and evening entertainment within the Social Club. Organsations within the village who may be interested in booking a stall should contact Wendy Ripley by 31st May, either by email or in writing at the addresses below. The highlight of the Centenary celebrations will be a Prom Night on the evening of 23rd July from 7.30 pm to 1.00 am. This is open to the public and tickets are on sale now, £10 for members and £15 for non-members. The dress code is formal and the ticket price includes a hog roast and a commemorative photograph. For more details, call Suzanne Brooks on 07585 775286.

With the recent major refurbishment of the premises of the Girton Social Club, the officers and committee have made a substantial relaunch of this time-honoured village institution. Whether this is the right stage in its evolution will be largely up to the parishioners of Girton, young and old, male and female, families and individuals. They have the opportunity to endorse it and influence it by joining as members and playing an active part in its future development. And ultimately, it is up to the trustees of the Girton Village Institute to support them, or indicate that another direction is needed.

Meanwhile the officers of the Girton Social Club very warmly invite the parishioners of the village to come and enjoy the new and enhanced Club, and hopefully to participate in the next stages of this central institution of our village. Call in at the Club during opening hours and see for yourself!

For general enquiries contact:
Wendy Ripley (Secretary)
c/o Girton Social Club
The Village Institute
Cambridge Road
Cambridge CB3 0PJ

Telephone: 276890 during opening hours


Facebook: Girton Social Club

"Focus on Girton" is a series of occasional articles on the organisations of Girton. The first series ran from September 2005 to April 2007 and concentrated on public service and commercial organisations. This present series covers the community and voluntary organisations of the village.

Articles are written independently by members of the editorial team of the Girton Parish News, with the consent and cooperation of the organisation concerned. The selection of organisations featured is entirely at the discretion of the editorial team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the aims or activities of organisations. No link exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the Girton Parish News, whether in the same issue or more generally.