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Medbourne before the Welfare State

Horse & Trumpet in earlier years

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Sick and Dividend Club

In the days before the Welfare State the Sick and Dividend Club (also known as the Slate Club) was a remarkable and vital means of self help in the village. Towns and villages throughout the country had their Friendly Societies and Trade Unions, but the latter were not common in rural England. Whilst some Friendly Societies did operate in the countryside, in the smaller villages an important source of financial benefit in times of sickness was often the Sick and Dividend Club. The Public Assistance Committee of the County Council had been set up in 1930, but villagers still spoke of its assistance as "Being on the Parish" and the local institution was still referred to as the "Union Workhouse".

Membership

In Medbourne during the 1930's each member who joined the club paid a standard contribution and these were paid in cash at a public house in the village, the details being recorded in a book. No longer were payments written on a slate board, from which this type of club derived its alternative name. It was traditional for the men to wash and change out of their working clothes into their Sunday best before going to the public house to pay their club dues. This was very much a male dominated activity and apart from the Christmas share out, men rarely took their wives along with them. Those who organised the club did so for no reward, other than a pint or two of beer at Christmas and also for the satisfaction of knowing that they had done "their bit" for the welfare of the village.

Early Records

There is a record of a Sick and Dividend Club existing in Medbourne as far back as 1781 although the first recorded minutes date from 1927, when at a meeting the rules of the Weston and District Sick and Dividend Club were adopted. At this point in time Mr Lygo who resided at Bridgedale House became the chairman and a Mr Jenkins was elected Secretary. A preliminary meeting was held on the 10th January 1927 at the Horse & Trumpet Inn for the purpose of enrolling new members, the formation of a committee and the transaction of any other business. At the meeting it was decided that the first subscription would be paid on the last day of January 1927 and members who had paid their entrance fee and first subscription would be entitled to a benefit from the 1st February 1927. It was also agreed that at the end of the year a small sum would be left in reserve for the making of payments which might be incurred in January 1928. Members paid an entrance fee, followed by monthly subscriptions and at this time benefits were four shillings a week, this being paid when the member was sick and unable to attend work. When a member reached sixty five years of age he was allowed to continue in the club, but no persons over that age could join as a new participant.

Arthur Warner long serving Secretary

Surplus Monies

At the end of the year any funds which had not been paid out as benefits would be redistributed amongst the members, thus in the rare event of no sickness claims having been made the members would get back the whole of their subscriptions for the year. This meant that it was in the participants interests to ensure that no person was claiming benefit whilst not fully sick. If a person drawing benefit was seen in a public house after 9 p.m. he was deemed fit enough to attend work and would be reported to the committee. In this connection the records reveal that a Mr Burditt was reported as having been seen at a dance in Drayton and as a result had his benefit stopped !

It is interesting to note the method by which the "surplus" money was redistributed at the end of the year, particularly when it needs to be borne in mind that this was at a time when people did not necessarily have well developed skills of numeracy and certainly before calculators had been invented ! A backroom of a public house was booked in order that the organisers could carry out their task without interruption. The money was placed in the middle of a table, with cards bearing the names of the eligible members placed round the edge. Firstly one pound notes were dealt out on to each card until there were no longer enough notes to complete a full "round" on the cards. The remaining pound notes were changed by the Landlord for ten shilling notes and these were distributed following the previous procedure. Any ten shilling notes left over were changed by the Landlord for half crown coins and the whole process was repeated until only a few pennies were left.

If a member died the other participants would pay a levy and the money collected was paid to the deceased's wife. Interestingly at the Annual General Meeting of 1930 it was agreed that in future at the annual share out a supper consisting of cold meats, hot vegetables, cheese and celery, together with mince pies would be provided at a cost of two shillings and six pence. In 1933 the cost still remained the same although a pint of beer had been added to the fare.

Later Years

The club continued through the years of the Second World War and afterwards with Arthur Warner the village butcher collecting the monthly subscriptions which in 1952 stood at the princely sum of two shillings. Each December the members would congregate in the bottom room of the Horse and Trumpet consuming the sandwiches and pint of beer provided, waiting in turn to be called to the bar to receive their share. However, a fine of one shilling was levied on any member, who during the year had failed to attend in person a monthly meeting to pay his subscription.

Final Closure

The Sick and Dividend Club continued to flourish with at times as many as sixty to seventy members each year. Arthur Warner retired as Secretary through ill health in 1965 having loyally served the club for thirty six years and was replaced by Bett Crouch. The club continued in existence until 1975 at which time it had thirty six members, but the development of the Welfare State coupled with more enlightened employment laws saw its closure that year.

No one would wish to return to those days when a Sickness and Dividend Club was necessary for a family to exist during a period of sickness, but the feeling remains that the spirit of mutual self help that the club fostered would still be a valuable asset in today's modern society.


Contributed by Keith Sandars, March 2013