Two great things happened in the year 1966. This club opened ... and I forget the other one :-)
It hasn`t always been the "Red Shed". It was originally painted black. When it needed repainting during the early 1990s, the committee at that time thought it would be more appropriate to paint it red. And so a great brand name was born. Now we couldn`t imagine it any other way.
Wakefield Borough (as it was at that time) Labour Party Club was officially opened on Saturday 24th September 1966. Since then it has provided a base for the Labour Party and the trade union movement in and around Wakefield, also a meeting place and social club, mainly but not exclusively for Labour Party members.
The idea for the club came in the early 1960s, when the Constituency Labour Party was renting a room at 5 Cheapside. This was costing around £300 per year - a considerable amount in those days and much the largest item of expenditure on the accounts. So the reasons for establishing the club were twofold - financial and a desire to have a place to meet and socialise that the party members could call their own. Money for the project was raised by selling £1 shares and people were asked to become members and pay their subs. before the club was even opened. Financial backing was also obtained from Beverleys brewery (Wakefield). All that was needed then was a building and somewhere to put it.
The building itself was an old Army/RAF hut. It was bought from a firm at Stump Cross, Brighouse, who specialised in selling this sort of thing. A small delegation from the Party went to look at what they had and bought one for around £400. The site on Vicarage Street was chosen simply because it was available at the time. This is not as romantic as the rumour that it was chosen so as to keep an eye on the "enemy" (the Conservative Club being just across the road).
In the words of Bill Musgrave (founder member & volunteer steward) :
"We had to put a base down for it and then they put it up for us. It was just four walls when it was delivered so we had to do all the inside out. We bought some doors from Howarth Timber and we had to partition it all out. We had to buy some cedar wood to line it with and we got some rockwool to deaden the sound. Harold Everett and myself lined it. He was good was Harold, one of the best. And there was Alf Tranter - he did all the plumbing. We had the heating to put in and the toilets to build. Eric Fossey did the electrical work. That's really how we got it going. The ladies helped tremendously when we got it going of course. There was a lot of hard work went into it."
So the club started as it has carried on since. It has always been run on a shoestring and relied on the efforts of members to do most of the work on the building. It would be impossible to name all of those who have contributed time and effort here, but some who are worthy of special mention are Colin Marsh, Eddie Lee, Andy Gough and Eric Clarkson.
Although the official opening was not until September 1966, when it was declared open by Alice Bacon MP, the first pints were pulled in May of that year on the night of the local government elections. A special licence was granted and, although the club was not quite finished, many local activists attended.
The story told here could have been very different, or even not told at all. In the early hours of New Year`s Day 1969, a fire broke out in the bar area. The suspected cause was an electrical fault in a water heater (Eric Fossey insisted it was nothing to do with his electrical work). This was the first of two fires which, in a wooden building, could have easily put an end to it.
At the time the Labour Club opened, Wakefield also had a Trades Club (on George Street) which was the meeting place for many local Trade Union branches. Not long after the official opening of this Club, the Trades Club closed down (we believe these events were unconnected). This club then became the venue for most of these meetings. Trade Union activity has been a vital part of the club scene since then, reaching a peak during the year-long miners' strike of 1984/85, when the club was the focal point for Wakefield Miners' Support Group.
Shortly after the club itself opened, the Constituency Labour Party acquired 16 Vicarage Street (the house next door) for use as an office for the then MP, Walter Harrison. This remained in the hands of the CLP until the late 1980s, when escalating costs and its dilapidated condition made it unviable.
Throughout its history the club has had institutional links with the Labour Party, which elects the majority of the club management committee. The club was, and is, otherwise totally independent, making it a rare if not a unique organisation. Affiliation to the CIU (Clubs & Institutes Union) was considered and rejected due to that organisation's discriminatory attitude towards women.
Issues such as this have been thrashed out over the years at monthly meetings of the club committee and twice-yearly general meetings. In the early years, they were often quite stormy and involved left/right power struggles. Places on the committee were highly sought after and, at general meetings, you had to be early or you didn't get a seat. One decision which was very controversial at the time (1990 or '91 ?) was not to replace Byron Cassar when he retired as club steward. This was, however, essential as the club was in debt and could not afford to keep a full-time steward. Since that time, the club has been run from day to day by its committee. This change from a management committee to a working committee has been one major reason for the meetings being relatively sedate affairs more recently.
Politics has provided some notable events in this club over the years. Speakers at meetings here have included Ken Livingstone, John Prescott, Vanessa Redgrave, Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn and, more recently, Arthur Scargill and John McDonnell. We regularly run election night social evenings, which can be memorable. The atmosphere in here on general election night in May 1997 will not be forgotten. However, as the excitement wore off after election of a Labour government and "New Labour" turned out to be more like "Tory-lite", the general level of political activity went into a steady decline, so that the club was sustained more by its social side, and its growing reputation for real ale. Politics always remained important though - if we were just the "Vicarage Street Social Club" we would not be here - and there has always been the hope that political activity would revive.
Another date that will live long in the memory of those who were here is Monday 8th April 2013, when Margaret Thatcher died and a wild party erupted in the club.
The club has always also had a social as well as a political role. Entertainment here has been very varied. Events have been laid on by the club itself, by club members, and by other groups. These have included folk music, rock bands, comedy and pantomime. Much of this is home grown, including our own Red Shed Players but we have also had some big name performers, such as comedian Mark Thomas, whose career as a stand-up comic started right here. A long-running (over 10 years during the 1990s & "noughties") monthly musical event was the "Acoustic Cabaret". An even longer-running (over 30 years and still going strong now) monthly event is the open mic night run by the organisers of Wakefield folk/music festival.
Over the years, the club has experienced high and low points in its fortunes (sic.) On more than one occasion it has been seriously short of cash and threatened with closure. At other times it has been bursting at the seams and seriously short of space for its activities. That was the case in 1994, when the Labour Club was thriving at the same time as the Conservative Club (just across the road) closed down. At around that time, we were starting to experience increasing difficulty of maintaining the fabric of the shed, which had already considerably exceeded its expected lifespan.
We then got a generous donation of money from Crigglestone Branch Labour Party after their sale of a piece of land. This led to the establishment, on 1st March 1995, of the "Red Shed Development Fund" with the aim of expanding and improving the premises.
Plan "A" was to extend the existing building. Plans were prepared for this during 1995, which came to nothing because the foundations were found to be unstable (previously the site was occupied by terraced houses and, when they were demolished, the cellars were filled in with rubble), which would have increased the costs enormously to rectify that first.
Plan "B" was to look for new premises nearby. A number of options were looked at. These included moving into the terrace of 3 houses next door (conversion would have involved structural changes including knocking walls through) or moving to another part of the city. One place seemed suitable for us (the New York bar) and we got as far as making an offer on it during summer 1999 ... we were gazumped. The search continued for some time but, with nothing promising turning up and the need to concentrate on running the club, it petered out. To date there have been no other definite plans and we are still using our old faithful shed.
Another thing that made our future very uncertain was a major redevelopment of the old market area of Wakefield city centre. This was planned from about 2002 and originally included part of the land that we occupy. We spent some time trying to persuade the planners to move the boundary of this project and, fortunately, were successful. Once work started (around 2007) the scene outside the shed changed drastically. Vicarage Street was previously a through road but became a cul-de-sac, and the car park opposite the shed disappeared, whilst we were sat next to the boundary fence of a big building site. This lasted a lot longer than expected because 2008 brought the "credit crunch" ; the national economy hit the rocks, funding for the development collapsed, and work stopped in March 2009 for about two years. The project was eventually completed and, for the last decade, we have been sitting under the sign of Debenhams - part of the new Trinity Walk shopping centre.
In 2016 the club had a real buzz about it as we celebrated our half-century. A series of special events through the year led up to the anniversary party in September. A group was set up to research the club`s history in some more detail. A grant was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the project, which resulted in a new commemorative book, edited by local historian and media personality Ian Clayton, which was published towards the end of the year. Copies of this book are still available.
The club was now financially stable and the long hoped for revival in political activity (see above) was actually happening with the Labour Party (going back to its roots since Jeremy Corbyn`s election as leader) being more active than for many years. This gave us optimism for the future but, to secure that future, we needed security of tenure on the site, which we rent from Wakefield Council. In 2017 we negotiated an extended lease period, which now guarantees the club at least 20 more years in our present location.
Having achieved this security, we could safely start planning for some long-desired work to improve accessibility for people with restricted mobility. This took longer to achieve than we had hoped, mainly due to Covid-19 and the two periods of closure that we had to endure with the national lockdown. We started work on this project in March 2022 and the results can now be seen in the rebuilt toilet block.
To be sung to the tune of "The Red Flag"
... or, if you prefer, the traditional German song "O Tannenbaum" ;-)
The Labour Club is our Red Shed
It keeps the rain from off our heads
So stuff your brick-built Tory Club
We'd rather pay our Labour subs.
Then raise your glasses to the sky
We'll drink a drop until they`re dry
Though Tories scoff and Liberals sneer
We'll keep the Red Shed standing here.
[© Red Shed Players]
This page incorporates much of the text from a commemorative booklet, compiled by Richard Clarkson and published in 1991 for the club's 25th anniversary. A few copies are still in existence.