A small group of retired men, including William Fairhurst, George Christie and Thomas Redhead, began meeting and reminiscing by Whitley Bay seafront in September 1937.
Changing weather prompted them to move into the nearby Willow Cafe, an art deco building run by the Bagnall family since 1926, where the group set about fundraising for local hospitals and charities. Their numbers swelled to 12 and they formally established themselves as the Willow Club, named after the cafe, on December 8, 1938, following an idea by Martin Cheeseman (pictured), who was secretary until 1952.
By its nature, the club was able to keep going during the Second World War, making it the oldest retired men’s club in the region still in continuous operation.
Its mission is to bring friendship, goodwill and understanding at weekly meetings, with guest speakers. It is non-denominational, non-political and still raises funds for local charities.
With membership of well over 100, the Willow Club had to seek larger premises so it now meets on most Thursday mornings in the Wesley Hall, attached to St John’s Church in Ilfracombe Gardens.
It has a website, with its archives held at Discover, North Shields Library’s Local Studies Centre.
When the Willow Cafe building became unstable in 1976 after winter storms the council stepped in to carry out emergency repairs so after 50 years the Bagnalls gave up the business. After a spell as the Four Seasons, and then standing empty, it was demolished in 2001 as part of the regeneration programme.
If anyone has further information, ask for Discover at North Shields Customer First Centre on 0191 643 5270 or email firstname.lastname@example.org