I‘ve just read THE FIRST 90 YEARS, A HISTORY OF THE PEN AND PALETTE CLUB by the late Alistair Sinton, one of our most distinguished members. I learned a lot from it and I thought newcomers, particularly the ladies and any guests might be interested in a brief summary of our past.
In late 1899 a group of friends (all male) connected professionally with the Arts, Science, Literature and Journalism come together to form a club. Their manifesto was this:
“men of various callings but kindred tastes , they wish to make a sheltered place where they could meet and enjoy each other’s company, encourage each other if need be, and by chance, and when occasion offered, do some work for the world.”
Their first meeting was in an artist’s studio at 22 Blackett Street on January 11th 1900. They decided there would be no business or politics discussed; they would call each other ”brother’, and they would be a forum for the literary and artistic talent of the north of England. Aaron Watson, a newspaper editor, was made the first President.
Next they rented premises at 15 Market Street for £34 p.a., but being blokes they needed some good hearty grub and access to a bar to make discussions flow. Their first dinner was at the County Hotel in Pilgrim Street on 3rd March 1900 and others followed in various restaurants round town until they formed a syndicate to buy number 7 Higham Place just behind the Laing Gallery. The club was formally opened there by the Lord Mayor on 21st October 1908. The syndicate persisted until 1931 when two Fenwick brothers, who were club members, bought the house then leased it back at a generous rent of £65 p.a.
7 Higham Place is a four storeys high town house built by Richard Grainger in 1820. They ran it as a kind of imitation of a London gentleman’s club – they had, and we still do in theory, have connections to the Savage Club in Whitehall. It had a dining room, a club room, a billiard room, kitchens and a top floor flat for the cook-housekeeper. She provided a daily lunch as well as evening meals and the more formal Dinners. The professional men working round the town popped in for a sherry or two, then lunch of steak and kidney pie followed by roly-poly pudding or rice pudding. Whisky was 6 pence a glass and beer 3 pence per bottle. They sat at a round table (we still have it) then retired to sleep it off in the club room armchairs, or had a hand of bridge, read The Telegraph (there were complaints about the state some members left it in) or played billiards or snooker. In 1910 the committee had to put up a notice “intimating to members that they should not get on the table.”
There were frequent day outings to paint which much later grew into weekends away (with wives and non-painters) and these were still going when I joined in 2001 and for several years after. They were in Holiday Fellowship hotels in the Lakes, Yorkshire, Northumberland and so on - great fun and I wish we could revive them. In the 1920s the club sponsored fancy dress Arts Balls in the Old Assembly Rooms which” were advantageous to the interests of art, dancing and Bohemianism.”
The main activity however, then as now, was the dinner with a visiting speaker. These were held on Saturdays. Each speaker signed his name on our visitors’ boards - in the first 90 years none of them were paid and only three of them were women. Here are a few: Earl Grey, Lord Armstrong, Henry Irving, Ernest Shackleton, G K Chesterton, Malcolm Sargeant, John Barbirolli, Compton Mackenzie, Michael Redgrave, Yehudi Menhuin. Peter Scott, Owen Brannigan, Willie Whitelaw and numerous other Mayors, marquises, Honourables, Revs and bishops. Any famous man visiting the city was invited.
At dinners a grace was said, the Loyal toast was sung from the start (though I suspect it is older in origin than the club), but the Open Toast only began in 1938 with a talk on eating bolony sausage in Bologna (this masterpiece is lost). The origins of the Tuppeny End are also lost in the mists of time, though their position “below the salt” is obviously a reference to medieval dining custom where those of very low status were seated out of reach of the valuable commodity of salt. There are two Victorian pennies embedded in their gavel block but I don’t know why. They were supposed to be a source of banter, sniping at the President and other members with irreverent questions, though this role has mellowed over the last decade. Perhaps it’s a male thing. Anyway, if anyone can help explain the 2d End we would all be grateful.
All the club’s activities were published in the twice yearly Papers by The Recorder in Ordinary (currently Pat Cooper), an archive interrupted only by the two world wars. We also began to acquire other possessions: silverware, a library, furniture (including Thomas Bewick’s armchair) and pictures donated by the club’s own artists – some of them of museum standard. These are in our office upstairs in the Mansion House.
By 1980 it was becoming difficult to find suitable housekeepers . Several were fiddling the books and there were frequent sackings recorded in the Minutes. It was decided to let a professional restaurateur use the ground floor provided they also catered for our monthly dinner meetings. This proved to be only intermittently satisfactory so, with dry rot, roofing problems, a single dodgy lavatory and stairs so steep some ageing members couldn’t tackle them it was decided in 2011 to sell 7 Higham Place. After a spell at Gosforth Golf Club we ended here. With the sale came a healthy bank balance and we are now able “when occasion offered do some work for the world” by giving grants totalling up to £5000 to local arts, theatre and music groups.
The club has had its crises in terms of finances and recruiting members, particularly younger ones, but it has staggered though. It thought of itself as rather exclusive and had a blackball system to exclude undesirable applicants – in 1962 some poor chap received three blacks. We still have the box. By 1947 the fees had reached 3 guineas to join and 3 and a half guineas annual fee, and they have risen ever since, though now we are able to subsidise the meals, membership fees and to pay our speakers and musicians (though any club member giving a talk is not paid).
The biggest boost of all has been the admission of ladies in January 2016 , an event stoutly resisted for over a century. Even in 1970 the committee unanimously rejected a suggestion that ladies be admitted on special evenings during the week. By 1972 they had weakened enough to admit them on Thurdays only, after 4.30. Later came Ladies’ Night Dinners, but a request in 1986 by the wives to show their paintings in the club was firmly booted out. Resistance crumbled steadily until here we are 119 years after our foundation, still with our original manifesto , but now it begins: “Men and women of various callings but kindred spirits etc.
Malcolm Yorke, President.
Noel Burton-Roberts on “Ludi Linguae. Fun and games with language” Pandon Room, Civic Centre, Evening on Tuesday 13 November 2018
By Malcolm Yorke
Getting’ thin on the top and wide at the bottom
Aches and pains well Lawd I got ‘em
Names go missin’ in the attic o’ my brains
Could knit you a sweater from my varicose veins
Oh this old age is slowly killin’ me
Now life’s a blur without my specs
Clean forgotten what they mean by ‘sex’
Tuckered out, and in bed by nine
With hot water bottle and my Oval-tine
Yup this old age is slowly killin’ me
Kids are sniffy ‘bout my body hygiene
They doused my pants in gasoline
Cold in my head and chill in my bones
Cain’t hear what’s said on them new phones
Sure this old age is slowly killin’ me
Doctor’s orders not to touch any liquor
My liver’s shot and I’ve a dicky ticker
Teeth in a glass, belly in a truss
Travel’s free but cain’t climb on the bus
Well this old age is slowly killin’ me
Grinds in my hips, creaks in my knees
Half up the stairs I stop for a wheeze
All-a my meals now gotta be tinned
So I cause social gaffes by breaking wind
Darn this old age is slowly killin’ me
Boils on my arse, corns on my feet
Plenty of food I’d better not eat
Got me piles, and I don’t mean money
Bladder sprung a leak and that ain’t funny
Jeez this old age is slowly killin’ me
Kids are all flown over the hill
But keep on ‘phonin’ about my will
Guess I’ll be missin’ from the family brawl
When they find I’ve left ‘em bugger all’
‘Fraid this old age is slowly ki…..
Malcolm Yorke 2018
for someone who complained my verse mentioned politics.
I really am in something of a fix:
I’ve Pen and Palette poems to compose,
But find there is a dictum that restricts
My choice of subject, and instead bestows
A limit to my muse, demands she goes
Only to places that some other ticks,
Ignoring subjects right beneath my nose.
I haven’t got to mention politics.
Just to throw something extra in the mix:
We don’t exempt great poets, I suppose.
Dryden liked giving statesmen kicks,
And Byron mocked his parliamentary foes;
And Shelley can be named as one of those
Whose poems weren’t afraid to throw some bricks.
I’m to keep shtum and contemplate my toes.
I haven’t got to mention politics.
At risk of getting rather too prolix
To grumble on and to bewail my woes,
I’ll get the poets’ numbers up to six
With Swift and Yeats and Marvell, which just shows
That verse of that sort’s not an idle pose.
This is a subject that routinely picks
Poets to slander statesman so-and-sos.
I haven’t got to mention politics.
Prince, I can’t write sonnets to the rose.
My muse, I fear, is up to other tricks.
If statesmen will have foibles to expose,
I might be forced to mention politics
Troilus and Cressida
The Stratford schoolboy, impatient with hard Greek
Vows that one day he’ll tell truth about Troy
And all those cardboard heroes who annoy
The lad forced to admire them every week.
When finally he gets the chance to speak,
He will contrive to show with wicked joy
These ‘heroes’ that torment the growing boy
Are selfish, petty, lustful, greedy, weak.
He will invent the lowest gutter mind
To tell them it’s just lechery and war;
Their heroine a manipulative whore,
And fabled Helen of the self-same kind,
Ajax a buffoon, Achilles a cad.
Schoolboy revenge upon the Iliad.
Caesar, like Hal, shows what it takes to rule;
It quiets no country to be just a man
With all his weaknesses, for he must plan
The deeds of Empire and be no man’s fool.
He must be Caesar, not the Senate’s tool.
Conspirators will claim that he outran
The needs of state, which he’s not greater than.
But Revolution is a slippery school.
Mark Antony learns that he’s no triumvir;
Short-sighted Cassius makes a fatal slip,
Misreading victory. The state’s a ship
Even well-meaning Brutus cannot steer.
However noble, and however skilled,
They can’t survive without the man they killed.
Othello, the Moor of Venice
Othello’s colour is a simple fact
But we find out what simple facts can mean
When hate manipulates the way they’re seen,
And jealousy, determined to detract
From noble honour, labours to extract
Foul meanings from fair words, and with obscene
Skill plots to orchestrate the steps between
Naïve belief and a destructive act.
Things have no meaning till we think they do.
It’s in the mind Iago takes control,
Playing the prejudice deep in the soul
Against black, Christian, Barbarian, Jew.
Consider if the base of your belief
Is any stronger than a handkerchief.