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The United Wards Club of the City of London was founded in 1877 by Joseph Newbon, a Common Councilman of the City, as a general and central ward club for the discussion of public matters affecting imperial, civic, guild, and general interests, the promotion of the spirit of citizenship and maintenance of the high traditions of the City of London and the furtherance of unity between the motherland and overseas dominions and goodwill with foreign countries. Its membership consists of freemen, liverymen and members of City of London clubs, and others who are interested in preserving the traditions of the City of London.

Background to the founding of the club and the first meeting

The United Wards’ Club met for the first time at 6pm on Wednesday 31 October 1877 at The Bell Tavern in Carter Lane, its founding members some two dozen gentlemen resident or with businesses in the area of Blackfriars known as Doctors’ Commons. Joseph Newbon had represented the ward of Castle Baynard on the Common Council since 1875 and it was probably as a result of changes to ward boundaries brought in during the 1870s that he came up with the idea of a United Wards’ Club: Carter Lane, the central thoroughfare of Doctors’ Commons, was cut in two by the boundary between Castle Baynard and the neighbouring ward of Farringdon Within, inhabitants of these two wards forming the original members of the United Wards’ Club. Although ward clubs play an important part in City life today, most had yet to be formed in the 1870s. The United Wards' Club is thus one of the oldest clubs of its kind in the City and by the end of the Victorian era had grown to become one of the largest social organisations in the City.

Inaugural minutes of the club

The original members and their businesses

Joseph Newbon

Early activities and expansion

An advertisement for membership of the club appeared on the front page of the City Press in June 1878 and within only a few years the club grew to incorporate all the wards of the City of London. Following a difficult period at the turn of the century, the club was re-founded in its silver anniversary year 1902, its magazine the Transactions of the United Wards Club noting that from then it would restrict its programme mainly to ‘lectures descriptive of foreign countries, their people and customs and to the discussion of subjects that promote the spirit of Citizenship and the maintenance of the high traditions and prestige of the City of London’, whereas it had started out as a keen voice in local politics.

This earliest-known photograph of the United Wards’ Club was taken during an outing to Caterham Valley in June 1891. A number of the original members can be seen in this photograph, with the founder Joseph Newbon (seen with a striking beard, very much of the period) seated in the 2nd row, 4th from the right – the caption (printed many years later in 1929) is incorrect in giving his initial as H.

By the early years of the 20th century, trips included full-scale holidays which saw members visiting a location of note – usually, but not always, in Europe – where they were met by dignitaries with whom they exchanged gifts. In 1914 the club was visiting Belgium when the First World War broke out, and with more than a little anxiety returned post-haste to the United Kingdom before conditions worsened, the hotel in which they had been staying almost immediately being turned into a hospital. After the War, club holidays resumed and indeed continue to play an important part in club life to this day.

In the early years of the 20th century the club took over a room at the Cannon Street Hotel as its permanent base, which was open to members from 2pm daily; by the 1920s regular meetings took place at Cordwainers’ Hall. It is now some decades, however, since the club has had its own headquarters.

The club has always laid on for its members a varied programme of activities, with banquets (including both a Winter and Summer Dinner), dances, soirées, talks and lectures in addition to regular monthly meetings. Ladies were invited to attend various events, including an annual ladies’ dinner and dance. For its ‘coming of age’ in 1898 the club held a ‘conversazione’ at Guildhall; its 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1927 with a Jubilee Conversazione (attended by over 700); 10 years later at the Diamond Jubilee reception and conversazione held at Guildhall the guest of honour was the Duke of Gloucester.

Advertisement for membership from the front page of the City Press (June 1878)

Locations of the club’s outings from the early 20th century

Photographs of club events

The presidency

Although in its early years many of the meetings of the club took place at no.1 Wardrobe Place (the home of Newbon & Co., and an address that remains little changed today), with all committee meetings taking place there by 1879, it is worth noting that Joseph Newbon never became President of the club he founded – this honour initially fell to one Major Wieland. After its earliest years the presidency of the club became established (apart from during the Second World War) as a one-year term of office.

During the 20th century two gentlemen served as President twice over: Sir Harry Bird in 1906 and 1930, and Sir Gervais Rentoul (MP and founding chairman of the 1922 Committee) in 1929 and again in 1942 for a two-year stint during the War. Two pairs of brothers have served as president: Enos and William Howes in 1911 and 1924, and George and Walter Heilburth in 1913 and 1922. The President during the club’s Diamond Jubilee season of 1936-37 was former Lord Mayor Sir Charles Batho.

Since ladies were first admitted as members of the club in their own right in 1976 it is worth noting there have been 7 female presidents – in other words almost half the presidents of recent years. Only one husband and wife have so far both served as president: J. M. (Mac) Dyer Simpson in 1963 and Christine Dyer Simpson in 1997.

List of the presidents of the club during the early 20th century

Full list of all Past Presidents

Speakers of note

A number of eminent individuals have addressed the club and attended functions over the years. Because each successive Lord Mayor of London serves as patron of the club, numerous Lord Mayors have themselves attended club events and have opened up the Mansion House for club banquets. Perhaps the most notable speaker to address the club has been the Rt Hon. Winston Churchill back in 1920; he was at that time Minister of State for War and Air and spoke on the socialist movement, in particular Anglo-Russian relations in the aftermath of the Bolshevik uprising. Two years previously in 1918 another famous speaker had been the author Jerome K. Jerome. His talk entitled ‘Peace Cranks and War Cranks’ was much more controversial, however, than Churchill’s unanimously acclaimed address was to prove!

The club today

The United Wards’ Club remains a thriving City institution today, although its role has changed somewhat: whereas originally one of the club’s principal functions was political, its role today is mainly social and charitable.

The club nowadays has a busy schedule of activities, meeting on a monthly basis. As with many of the individual ward clubs a number of events take place in the City of London, but the United Wards’ Club’s programme of activities also includes visits to notable places of interest outside the capital.

For the past few decades each year at the end of October a Founders’ Day Banquet in honour of Joseph Newbon and the other founding members is held at one of the livery halls or another notable address in the City of London. During the banquet the minutes of the first meeting are read by the Secretary of the club and a guest speaker addresses the club on a subject concerning an aspect of life in the Square Mile.