The Harrison’s Club, Great Wyrley – War Memorial History

Harrison's Club, Wharwell Lane, Gt Wyrley

Harrison’s Club, Wharwell Lane, Gt Wyrley

Having noticed a possible discrepancy between the Harrison’s Club war memorial and that of Great Wyrley (well, the memorial gates), I thought I would look into the history of both of the memorials and the soldiers named upon them. This article is about the Harrison’s memorial and will be added to over the next few month with biographies of the fallen soldiers; a later article will cover the Great Wyrley memorial.

When I say possible discrepancy, it must be remembered that Harrison’s is a club and drew, and still does, its members from further afield than Landywood and Great Wyrley, so a soldier on their memorial doesn’t automatically have to appear on the other.

Originally of course Harrison’s was a mining club, built in 1909 after Colonel Harrison’s Wyrley No 3 Colliery purchased a parcel of land at the end of what is now Wharwell Lane. At that time the club was flanked by allotments on one side and Wharwell Farm (the former Engine Public House) on the other, on what was little more than a trackway. Wharwell Lane wasn’t widened at that part until 1915, according to the Cannock Rural District Council minutes.

The War Memorial

Harrison’s have two memorials; one is for those that died and has four names upon it – it is in Sicilian white marble and carries the inscription: This tablet is erected by the members of this club and institute in grateful memory of those that fell in the great war for freedom 1914-1918. After the names (in gilt, along with other parts of the tablet) it carries the quote, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. The other was for those that served and has seventy-six names. It is in black slate with gilt lettering. It carries the inscription: For God, King and Country, To the men that went forth from this club and institute to the great European war, 1914-1918. After the names it carries the quote, “Not once or twice in our rough island story, the path of duty was the way to glory”.

So, that makes eighty names in all. Now, by the outbreak of the First World War the club had around 270 paid up members, all of which were men of course. Whilst membership figures do not cover visitors, spouses and so forth and we have no idea how meticulous they were over memberships, especially during the war years, nevertheless, there must have been a considerable impact upon the club in losing effectively one third of its members at some stage during the war years.

Looking at this coldly for a moment, the two tablets also perhaps help dispel the myth that virtually everyone that went to the front was killed. If one accepts the one in eight fatality figure proposed by social historians such as John Stevenson then Harrison’s actually ‘got off lightly’ – small recompense of course to the families of those lost.

The Harrison's tablets, unveiled in July, 1921

The Harrison’s tablets, unveiled in July 1921

The memorials are now situated just inside the entrance, but they can’t have always been there. The club has had the entrance remodelled slightly, enclosing what was once an open veranda. This would have meant that the memorials would have been open to the elements for much of their life, but there is no evidence of weathering on the tablets – further, I know that the club was opened especially for people to inspect the tablets just after they were unveiled, something they would not have needed to do if they were in the veranda.

To answer the question I nipped down to the club and did what any self-respecting historian would do – I found a long-time member and asked! Sure enough it appears the tablets were in what is now the main function room, on the centre of the back wall (opposite the serving bar). They were, it seems, removed to their current location when the interior of the club was remodelled and refurbished around 1981.

The history of the memorials starts in March 1921 and really gets sorted very quickly. In that month the ex-servicemen of the club, clearly a significant proportion of the membership, approached the Committee regarding a permanent memorial…

Harrison's Committee are approached by the ex-servicemen, March 1921

Harrison’s Committee are approached by the ex-servicemen, March 1921

A sub-committee was duly appointed and within the week – April 4th – they had decided on what they wanted and how it was to be laid out…

Harrison's Committee decide on the tribute

Harrison’s Committee decide on the tribute

The arrangement of the tablets, April 1921

The arrangement of the tablets, April 1921

Again, things moved quickly. At the next Committee meeting, on the 19th April, it was reported that Arthur Walker of Cannock had been approached to supply the two tablets – one of Sicilian white marble for the fallen, and one of black slate for the roll of honour. Two Union Jack flags were also purchased for the unveiling and a qualifying date for those wishing to be included on the roll of honour was set as having to be a member on or before the 31st December 1919.

April 1921, Arthur Walker is engaged to produce the two tablets

April 1921, Arthur Walker is engaged to produce the two tablets

For a while things went quiet, presumably while the tablets were being made; however, by late June preparations for the ceremony were starting to be finalised. A Saturday afternoon timing was chosen and the Committee wrote to Col. William Harrison, the pit owner and founder of the club, and to his pit manager, JC Forrest, to perform the unveiling.

Further guests and speakers were Major Hatton , Rev A Lanfear (vicar, St Mark’s Church), Mr AE Henshall (Headmaster, Landywood School), Mr J Baker and Mr F Dean (Pelsall Miners’ Association). The families of the fallen were formally invited, with Mr and Mrs Wallett representing Patrick Downey. Some buglers were requested from the Rugeley military camp.

The guest list.

The guest list.

By the following week, 30th June, a date for the 16th of July was chosen, with the ceremony at 3pm. Harrison’s decided not to advertise in the newspapers, but instead opted for a massive local marketing campaign – all of 50 leaflets! It was interesting to note that the Committee ordered the bar to be closed on the day, until the Secretary allowed it to open. Apparently, only the Committee and the Steward were allowed behind it – yeah, like they won’t have a swifty – something that the current Committee wouldn’t contemplate of course 🙂

June 30th 1921. A date is fixed.

June 30th 1921. A date is fixed.

So, the day of the unveiling came – 16th July, 1921. Fortunately, despite not advertising in the local press, the Cannock Advertiser printed an account of the unveiling ceremony…

Cannock Advertiser, reporting the unveiling, July 1921

Cannock Advertiser, reporting the unveiling, July 1921

Forrest, the pit manager, presided. He thanked the Club for the invitation to unveil the tablets, accepting that just because they ran the pit it did not give them automatic right to perform such a duty. He went on to say that this was the first time Col Harrison had visited the club since he had been manager, and then praised him as someone who took great interest in his workmen – indeed, would go out of his way to benefit them. Applause was forthcoming. After what today maybe seen as a touch of sycophancy from Forrest, Colonel Harrison unveiled the tablets and addressed the crowd.

Harrison, you felt, was being honest. He opened, genuinely, with his feelings of gladness over his selection to unveil the tablets. He was their employer (well, many of them) and he acknowledged not only could they have asked anyone, but at the current time there was “big industrial unrest, big upheavel, a big stoppage of work, And it surprised him all the more that this invitation was sent when the current state of affairs prevailed. It showed him that… they might disagree [but] at heart they were one“.

Harrison admitted he had only visited the club twice before and one of those was the opening ceremony, but he was now here for a very serious purpose. He talked of the loss of the flower of manhood and those left having a responsibility to make things better – urging capitalists not to be greedy and labour to give its best. He hoped by pulling together the country would pull free from the terrible unemployment and trade depression it was experiencing. He was greeted with applause.

The names of the fallen were read and the Rev Lanfear offered a prayer. Two buglers sounded the last post. The hymn, ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ was sung. After which Major Hatton offered words on serving with some of the men in France and the fact that Landywood and surrounding area did “exceptionally well” and how it was “a valuable hunting ground for the recruiting sergeant“. Devotion and duty were emphasised and how the Club had a record that was hard to beat. The jingoism subsided with his hope that the younger people in the village would see the tablets as an ‘example’ to follow if the necessity arose.

Headmaster Henshall continued the patriotic frenzy of duty….

AE Henshall, Landywood School Headmaster

AE Henshall, Landywood School Headmaster

After the sagacious headmaster, John Baker spoke. Baker may well have been the union official, as he spoke of the ‘boys’, knowing their class and the dangers miners faced – indeed, he himself had been injured. He parodied Harrison’s words when he said that the tablets showed ‘labour had given its best’. He too was greeted with applause.

Finally on the day, votes of thanks were tendered, the hymn ‘These Things Shall Be’ was sung and the reveille was sounded by the buglers. The national anthem was then sung to close the ceremony and one assumes that the Secretary opened the bar 🙂

The final acts in the story, other than the moving of the memorials around 1981, were played out over the following weeks. On the 20th July 1921, Mr T Arthur Walker received his payment, some £61, for the supplying and fixing of the two memorial stones…

T A Walker is paid £61, according to the club account book.

T A Walker is paid £61, according to the club account book.

And, finally, the club decided to open-up the club on two successive Sundays so people could come and inspect the tablets for themselves…

It is decided to open the Club over the following Sundays, for inspection of the tablets.

It is decided to open the Club over the following Sundays, for inspection of the tablets.

That is the story of the Harrison’s Club war memorials, and I hope you found it interesting. Biographies of the fallen will appear shortly…..

All that remains for me is to thank:
Harrison’s Club
Cannock Library for permission to use my photographs
The Staffordshire Record Office for permission to use my photographs – the Harrison’s collection is D7143
The Cannock Advertiser – I am not sure who owns the rights for this.

  1. […] into local mining history and the Harrison empire will find stuff of interest, as will Cannock, Bloxwich and Walsall […]

    • Pedro says:

      Over from BrownhillBob’s Blog. Very interesting article, and concerning my specialist subject…the Harrison Dynasty.

      Will have a think and comment further.

      All the best Pedro

  2. Pedro says:

    John Baker may have a Wesleyan connection.

    In 1925 he gave £500 to start put up a new Church on a site acquired on Walsall Road.

    (Great Wyrley Millennium Souvenir)

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi Pedro – I did find later, when doing other work, the Baker was a union official and lived in Lower Landywood, by the original Wesy Chapel, so it wouldn’t surprise me!

  3. Pedro says:

    I’m sure Colonel Harrison was surprised and pleased to be selected to unveil the Memorial, but I think he was playing on home ground here. His audience would be sympathetic. He had not made the first Flower Show at Institute in September 1910, a couple of years after it was built, due to unforeseen circumstances, but banners were placed in prominent positions saying “Long live Major Harrison the giver of the Institute,” and “Long live the Major and soon may he be our MP.”

    The previous year, 1909, had been particularly acrimonious and the Harrison No3 miners had been on strike for 14 weeks. In the December the miners agent and MP, Albert Stanley, was astonished at dissatisfaction at the pit over various matters. At that time the Colliery manager was the Secretary of the Institute, George Goodwin, a Councillor, was vice-president and H Croxton, also a Councillor, was the Steward.

    No doubt, in 1921, the audience felt sympathy for the Colonel who unfortunately contracted Tonsilitis and heart muscle problems while at the training Camp in 1914. He was unable follow his Territorial men abroad, but must have done sterling work in training, and with the Special Brigade, to emerge with the OBE.

    Here, greeted with applause, he urged capitalists not to be greedy and labour to give its best. He hoped by pulling together the country would pull free from the terrible unemployment and trade depression it was experiencing.

    At this time the Colonel was the President of the Alrewas Village Club, and at a meeting in 1923 he said…

    “He knew how difficult it was at the present time, owing to the trade depression, especially among agricultural workers, for them to pay subscriptions, but he thought the trade of the country had passed its worst period, and there were signs that a gradual increase of trade was taking place. As the trade of the country improved they would get better prices, and the farmer would be able to pay better wages. There was also a better feeling between master and man since the men had been taken into their confidence and shown what a difficult task the masters had to carry on their business. He was pleased to say the workmen realised the position, and proved themselves men, and at the present time they were doing as much work in seven as they did in eight hours a short time ago. In reference to the club accounts he was very pleaded to see that they were doing their utmost to pay off the debts that they had to incur when they purchased the new premises…”

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