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The History of Walsall Men's Probus Club

This is a short history of Walsall Men's Probus Club up to the year 2000

It is widely acknowledged that Probus had its foundation in Welwyn Garden City 50 years ago.   A man called Fred Carnhill, who was an enthusiastic member of the local Rotary Club and addicted to cricket, bowls and soccer had retired and found a conspicuous lack of facilities for men in his situation.   He had an idea about forming a lunch club to serve as a focal point for the development of social activity among men of similar age and background and sought support from Rotary through its Vocational Services Committee.    After a preliminary meeting in April 1965, the first 'proper' meeting took place on 6th May with 39 persons attending.   The club adopted the name of 'The Campus Club' and had no difficulty in attracting new members.   By the end of May membership had doubled and on 3rd June the first meeting as a body separate from Rotary was held, although the Rotary chairman still took the chair.   At this meeting the name of the club was finalised and eight simple rules emerged, the most significant being the one that read:  “The object of the club shall be the promotion of good fellowship”.

Harold Blanchard, James Raper and Edward Mockett OBE travelled by train to London daily to work, were reaching the point of retirement and realised they had a need for fellowship.   In September 1965, Harold Blanchard, the chairman of Caterham Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee, by now retired from business, presented the idea to the Rotary Club.   The members of the Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee decided to organise a monthly lunch.   In February 1966 a meeting was advertised for all retired professional and businessmen aged 60 and over. 42 men turned up.   A monthly lunch was arranged, at which the Rotary Club president took the chair until the club had formed its own rules and committee.   Thus the inaugural luncheon of the first Probus Club in the United Kingdom to use the name PROBUS was on March 2, 1966.   In May 1966 a committee was formed with Harold Blanchard as chairman.   The name “Probus” had been suggested by a member who took the first three letters from ‘PROfessional and BUSiness’.   It had the advantage that it was a Latin word from which ‘Probity’ was derived (meaning:  strong moral principles, honesty and decency)

In 1974 Probus expanded into New Zealand and by 1976 the idea had spread to Australia.   The first Probus club for seniors in North America was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Galt in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada in 1987.   Although Probus membership has its greatest concentrations in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, clubs today exist in all parts of the world, including the US, Belgium, India, Portugal, Holland, Germany, South Africa and several other countries in Africa and Asia.   Other countries have staffed headquarters to which clubs affiliate and which can impart advice and support.   In the UK and Ireland it is seen as a strength of the movement that there is no central organising body so each club sets its own rules, the watchword being informality.

Walsall Men's Probus Club was founded in April 1972 by Roy Taylor, a Rotarian, and the formation meeting was held on 8th April in St Matthew's Church Hall.   18 persons attended and the Chairman of Walsall Rotary Club presided.   It was agreed that there was sufficient interest to form a Club and a second meeting was arranged for 23rd April.   At this meeting 31 potential members attended, a Chairman and Secretary were elected and annual subscriptions set at £1 per annum.   After this meeting an Inaugural Lunch was held with the members paying two shillings (10p) for the meal!

The Club continued to meet in the St Matthews Church Hall at 10.30am on the first Tuesday of the month and it was not until 5 November 1974 that the first Annual General Meeting was held. Subscriptions were increased to £2 per annum and the first Anniversary Lunch was organised for early 1975.   It was at this time that the Bowls Section was created and arrangements made to play In Palfrey Park Inn at the Victoria Bowling Club.

By 1978 membership had increased to 63 and a new venue for the monthly meetings was sought, with the Club moving to the Walsall Cricket Club in June 1979.   1980 saw the creation of the Speakers Secretary role, a job previously done by the Secretary and since that date no Chairman has served for more than one year at a time.

In 1982 Gorway Probus and Walsall Ladies Probus were formed but Walsall Men's Probus continued to grow to 78 members.   Our annual subscription also grew to £5 in 1983.  1985 was the year that Walsall Probus implemented a 'No Smoking' ban at monthly meetings.   1986 saw the introduction of a five-day holiday to Bournemouth which was well supported by members and became an annual event.   Due to an increase in rent payable to the Walsall Cricket Club, subscription was increased to £6 and alternative venues were considered but no decision to move was taken.  At this time 5 Probus Clubs were meeting at the Cricket Club; Walsall Men's, Walsall Ladies, Gorway, Hampstead and Highgate Ladies.

1988 was a bit of a disaster on the social front with several events having to be cancelled due to lack of support - something that had rarely happened in the past - and a near cancellation of the Anniversary Lunch due to a Health and Safety inspection of the lunch location.   The following year saw the Anniversary Lunch at the Terrace Restaurant in Brownhills, where it was held until that establishment closed.   1989 also saw two major changes, firstly the demise of Carol Singing at the Christmas Lunch, much to everyone's delight, when the Secretary forgot to take the carol sheet to the event.   Secondly the introduction at monthly meetings of the 5 minute talk by members.

In 1990 the Bowls Section, unhappy with the green at Palfrey Park, moved to the Arboretum.   New members joined the section and it was decided that a small committee was needed to run it; Charles Goodwin was made Captain and Roy Davidson, Secretary. 

Mid way through 1991 the Cricket Club informed us that at the end of the year the clubhouse would no longer be available for Probus meetings.   This meant that all 5 Probus clubs began searching for a new venue and resulted in Walsall Men's Probus using four different venues in 1991/92 membership year.   The venues were:  Walsall Cricket Club; the Kenmare Suite for 3 months but it had insufficient parking; The Garage Arts Centre but that closed as well.   Then the Memorial Hall in Great Barr beckoned and we've been there ever since.   Throughout all this turbulence membership continued to grow and a decision was taken to remove the nominal 70 membership ceiling, which had been in place since the Club's inception.

Nothing much of note happened until 1995 though membership did continue to creep up.   In 1995 Hampstead Probus Club folded and several of its membership transferred to Walsall Men's Probus.   The post of Almoner was created this year with Sid Barrows taking on the role.   The Bowls Section visited the Royal Hospital at Chelsea and played against the Chelsea Pensioners and lost (badly!).   This was also the Club's Jubilee Year and a Celebration Lunch was held at The Terrace.

1996 to 1999 saw the Club continue to maintain its membership, the losses through natural causes being offset by new members.   The annual holidays took place and events were well supported.   In 1999 however, the Bowls section decided to move from the Arboretum, having been unhappy there for a long time.   British Rail had a green at Pleck and they offered to take the Bowls Section.   The standard of the green could have been better but this was offset by the facilities available and the bowlers adapted their game to suit.   Ray Murray took over the role of Almoner this year, a role which he held until October 2018.

Past Chairmen

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© Walsall Men's Probus Club

30 September 2019