The Thursday Club – Then and Now.
The Thursday Club is almost exclusively made up of retired engineers who worked for British Telecom and it's precursors, The GPO Engineering Department and the Post Office Corporation (telecommunications division). The Guys who started this particular club were a group of pals, colleagues and acquaintances working in the London North Central Area.
In passed times, there were many groups of telephone engineers who would meet up Friday lunch times for a social break at the weeks end. There was a particular bond of comradeship between these engineers who had been meeting like this for many years.
So how when did the Thursday Club come about? It could be said that it's origins go back to 1990. It was then British Telecom introduced it's infamous strategy, called Project Sovereign, with the idea to half the BT work force in the following two or three years. In 1991, this policy was focused sharply on engineering management. The main thrust was to offer early retirement packages, which were particularly attractive to it's oldest staff. It soon became clear that a lot of guys were going to take up the offer and go.
It looked like these lunchtime get togethers were in jeopardy, along with a lot of personal friendships. However, in the London North Central Area there was one group who met regularly in a Fleet Street pub called
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This group consisting of Chick Hammet, Keith Drynan, Terry Harper, Jim Andrews and Ray Cleghorn to name but a few. It was these guys who in the latter part of 1991 decided to seek a solution to the inevitable demise of these social occasions due to the retirements that were taking place.
Typical of Telecom engineers, these guys soon came up with the idea to form an informal club, so that all retirees who wished, could meet up in central London once a month. It was decided to have a fixed time and date in a predetermined pub. This would be held on the last Thursday of each month in the afternoon.
There were plenty of retirement parties happening around this time, so the people there where informed what was intended and asked if they would like to join. The idea was well received and so the Thursday club was formed. The Thursday Club was successfully constituted in March 1992 in The White Hart at 191 Dury Lane. John Petch, Derek Fleming, and Ray Young were there at the beginning.
The White Hart continued as the venue for a few years, where others, like Martin Hagger who were still employed by BT, would pop in to say hello. By 1995, the character of the White Hart changed, becoming what Keith called a student pub, and unforgivably, stopped the sale of light ale. Now every discerning beer drinker will know, you can't have a light and bitter without light ale. The search for a new locale was successful when the group moved in, that year, to the Newton Arms in Parker Street, just off Kingsway.
This was a most convivial pub with the most friendly staff, together with a very obliging and genial host, Finbar Desmond.
Within a very short time, Mick the barman knew everyone's favourite drink, and would be pouring it out the moment you entered the premises. The fact that on every occasion the lads were given complimentary sausages, chips and Baguette, did not go amiss.
In 2003, it was mooted that several retired engineers who were old acquaintances from apprenticeship days, but not from North Central, could be invited along for a drink at the Newton Arms. Being an Apprentice in Faraday, and later a stalwart of North Central, John Petch gave out the invitations, and about half a dozen ex-Long Distance Area guys were welcomed into the club.
The group continued to meet at the Newton from January to November each year. December being different, the last Thursday is always going to fall somewhere between Christmas Day and New Years Eve, consequently, December's meeting became a movable feast. By mutual agreement an alternative Thursday being chosen, together with an alternative venue suitable for catering for a much larger congregation. In the past, the venues have been the Newman Arms in Rathbone St, the London Welsh club in Gray's Inn Road, the Calthorpe Arms in Gray's Inn Road and a return in 2018 to the London Welsh Centre.
The eleven meetings a year, at the Newton Arms, continued until it was cruelly seized by developers in 2014. The last Thursday in October 2014, was a black day indeed.
Forced into a move, It was decided to give ourselves time to find a suitable alternative pub. Until then, the meetings continued at the Shakespeare's Head, in Kingsway. This vast pub was OK, but it was never envisaged as a permanent home. It was during this time that this website was set up, so that guys could take a look at what was going on, and where we were currently meeting.
Early in 2015, we were still meeting in the Shakespeare's, when an investigation to find alternate licensed premisses got underway. This enquiry was undertaken by a couple volunteers looking for a pub that had prospects for a more permanent tenure, stoically carried out by sampling the beer in a few pubs in and around Kingsway and Dury Lane. In April 2015, it was decided that we would move to The Freemason's Arms in Long Acre, and in June 2015, we moved to the new location.
The Freemason's was a typical older pub of the area, with decent beer and friendly staff. We even had a regular seating area reserved for us. However everything was not Hunky Dory as it was soon realised that we were drinking in a Covent Garden pub charging Covent Garden prices.
In January 2016, after much discussion on continuing with the Freemason's as our meeting venue, it was agreed that a bunch of OAPS having to pay tourist prices for a convivial drink was unsustainable. It was a no-brainer when it came to deciding to resume meeting, the following month, in the Shakespeare's Head.
The Shakespeare's Head continues to be our regular meeting place and would appear to be our venue of choice for the foreseeable future.
Another milestone reached in March 2017 saw a very well attended meeting at the Shakespeare's for our 25th anniversary celebration.
There are other similar groups of retired North Central engineers who meet occasionally and some of our Thursday Club group have participated in their functions. As the years have rolled on, the inevitable decline in numbers has effected us all. It maybe because of this, that in the past couple of years we have welcomed a few old faces from North Central in joining our regular Thursday meetings. We are also pleased to see a boost when it comes to our Christmas event and it would nice to see them throughout the year.