1887 Lithgow Workmens Club Formed

1887 Cook settles in Lithgow

Designer Phil Spark's comment:

Nigel Stokes made this. Nigel is the President of the NSW artist blacksmiths association which is an expanding group of blacksmiths and metalworkers which counters the often heard phrase “blacksmithing, it’s a dying trade”. Nigel was born in Derbyshire not far from Joseph Cook’s Staffordshire and like Cook went into mining straight from school though perhaps at a later age, Cook was 9 years old.


The Workmen’s Club is a Lithgow institution, formed on the bonds of labour, unions, socialising and beer. In its anniversary publication of 1947, an unnamed Club historian wrote:

The formation of the club was discussed by a small group, mostly railway-men, in a room at the Court House Hotel, but when the proprietor … learned what they proposed doing he ordered the men out of the house. Nothing daunted, they continued the discussion elsewhere and finally agreed that a club was practicable and desirable.

Lithgow Workmens Club
1902 Workmen’s Club, in Tank Street.

The Lithgow Workmen’s Club and Mutual School of Arts was established in rented premises on Tank Street on 24 September 1887, with the stated aim of providing:

… a Reading-room, Library, Chess, Cards, Dominoes, Draughts, and such other lawful amusements … and to advance the interests of and promote genial and social intercourse and for the advancement of literary, political, sporting, athletic, and other lawful purposes amongst its members. (Lithgow Workmen’s Club, Rules, 1887).

The fact was, the Workmen’s Club, also known as The Workmen’s Institute was soon selling more beer and spirits than any single hotel in the town. Run by a steward, the only women in the club were employed behind the bar, and as cleaners.

The Club prospered and erected a new two-storeyed building, with elegant verandahs and a fine bar, on Tank Street in 1902.

In 1906 licensing laws were introduced and the Club had to apply for a Certificate of Registration. Major H.E.S. Bracey and W.J. Thompson presided over a licensing hearing, at which the Secretary, Robert Vought, a committed unionist with links to many lodges, stated he had 500 members and the Club was not habitually used for the consumption of alcohol:

"… the object of the Club was social intercourse amongst the members; they had a concert hall and a first-class piano costing 60 guineas.

Cards, draughts, dominoes and chess were played, also deck and steel quoits. Gambling was prohibited by the rules and players did not play for drinks. There was a writing room with writing material."

The Club won its case that the premises were not habitually used for the supply of liquor, the licensing inspector appealed. The stakes were high. Future premier T.R. Bavin represented the licensing inspector and the Club’s Kings Counsel was former Prime Minister and NSW Premier, and current leader of the Federal Opposition, G.H. Reid, an ally of MP Joseph Cook, represented the Club. The Secretary was obliged to admit the Club had no library and membership was declining, but the appeal was dismissed. From its inception the Club has been a vital element of the Lithgow economy. It sourced its supplies locally: beer from R.J. Inch’s Eskbank Brewery; cordials from E. Summons and Thos. Young and bread and cheese for counter lunches from Bracey’s stores. Throughout its history the club has, as the original rules demanded, supported community, political and social events. The Lithgow Mercury of 10 May 1990 claimed it as the oldest registered club in Australia.

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The History and Progress of the Lithgow Workmen’s Club, Lithgow Workmen’s Club, 1947.

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