November. A poignant time of the year, as we show our dignified respect to those that gave their lives in both war and peacetime, with acts of Remembrance at ceremonies within our communities, and the wearing of poppies. That humble flower which has come to signify so much.
For this November edition of What’s What! we take a look at the home of the Royal British Legion in Bridgnorth, the All Forces Club on Mill Street in Low Town, and find out more about the people who strive to keep the club open, as a place for the service men and women of the town, and a place which acts as symbolic tribute to the fallen of Bridgnorth.
The Bridgnorth branch of the Royal British Legion was formed on 3rd November 1923 and has been in continuous existence ever since. There are still a core number of ex-service men and women who meet every month, at the club, to continue the work of the organisation. October and November are the busiest times, as they co-ordinate the Poppy appeal throughout the district.
The All Forces Club on Mill Street is nestled between taller and newer 18th century buildings, quite close to the river – you could be forgiven for passing by without noticing this modest ancient structure with its gable end facing the street, but go inside and it’s a fascinating and impressive building. Dendro-chronologists have dated the timbers back to somewhere between 1392 and 1422, making it one of – if not the – oldest buildings in the town.
Steward of the club, Mark Blore is enthusiastic; “The origins of the building are unclear, it’s thought to have been either a merchant’s house, or possibly, and more likely, a storehouse – its proximity to the river makes us sure that its history is clearly linked to the river trade that flowed through the town.”
The building was gifted to the people of Bridgnorth by the Apley Estate after the Second World War; “For the use of service men and women of the town to use as a meeting place”. Inside, the club is like a tardis with well kept upstairs and downstairs bars, and an immaculate and surprisingly large garden and patio area.
But like many businesses and similar establishments, the club has faced real financial hardship over the last couple of years, as the effects of the recession are felt far and wide. “When the much loved previous steward, Claude Cooke left two years ago, the club went through a tough time. We really hit crisis point about 12 months ago, and the future looked very uncertain.” Mark explained.
However, through the valiant efforts of a dedicated committee and band of supporters, some of whom dug deep into their own pockets to ensure the place got back upon its feet, and all with a common determination that the All Forces Club should remain very much open as a resource for the community, has meant that today, the future is looking much brighter, and the fortunes of the club look better than ever.
The current Lord Hamilton of Apley Estate had these words of support: “I am very pleased that the All Forces Club has been able to continue through the efforts of their volunteers and that the gift made by the Estate is being put to good use. It is wonderful that the Air Training Corps and Royal British Legion, who do so much for our ex servicemen and women are able to continue their work in Bridgnorth”.
Mark, who became steward in 2011 having been actively involved with the club for more than twenty years, is clearly determined to ensure the continuance of the All Forces Club as resource for the whole community. “We can provide a meeting place for different groups, we have darts and dominoes teams who compete in all the leagues and we can cater for functions. More importantly membership is open to all – not just ex-members of her Majesty’s Armed Forces – goodness no!” laughs Mark. But when I visited, I came away with a strong sense of the qualities that have kept this legacy alive; friendship, commitment, enduring camaraderie – not so different from those brave souls who we are remembering on November 11th.
– Sally Themans