The following excerpt is from the book “Proud Valley” by Ian Kirkwood and John Barnes. The book is a profile of Lithgow’s rich history and is available from The Club reception or Angus & Robertson Book World, Main Street Lithgow.
Among the earliest recorded registered clubs in Australia, the Lithgow Workmen’s Club was established in 1887 with an initial membership of just nineteen local citizens. The formation of the club was first discussed by a small group, mostly railway men, in a room at the Court House Hotel, but when the proprietor, Mr J.M. Hughes learned what the group proposed doing he ordered the men to leave the premises. Nothing daunted, the men continued the discussion elsewhere and unanimously agreed that a club was practicable and desirable. A house in tank Street was subsequently rented for this purpose at ten shillings per week, located on the western side of the street adjacent to the old ironworks railway crossing.
Soon after opening, the police came to the club and ordered the steward to close the bar. The members then applied to the Court and, after hearing the case, the Magistrate decided in their favour and the bar re-opened the following day. Tickets or tokens were introduced at this period and continued to be used until 1939.
The foundation members of the Club on the 24th September, 1887 were: Jack Adams, Richard Arbuckle, William Chudleagh, Benjamin Colley, David Davies, Arthur Disturnal, Septimus Drury, Jonathon Evans, John Featherstone, George Greatrex, James Janes, Donald (“dan”) Lamont, John Leach, Isaac Merril, Henry McKellar, Richard Poppett, Tim Smith, Jack Summons and Robert Vought
The inaugural President was Richard Arbuckle and the Secretary was Robert Vought.
About 1890, the club moved across the road to the present site, where a bar-room was built, meeting being held in the Protestant Hall opposite. In 1891 a room fourteen feet by ten feet was erected for the use of the steward. A double fronted brick residence on the next allotment, owned by Mr Chas. Baggs, locomotive inspector in charge at the Eskbank Depot, became vacant in 1892 or 1893 and the Club secured this property as a dwelling for the steward.
The title deed is interesting historically as it is associated with three of Lithgow’s pioneers. Part of the land was originally granted to Thomas Brown of Eskbank in 1841, another part to Robert Pitt in 1866, while the remaining portion was granted to James Rutherford in 1889. Thomas Brown bought his first land in Lithgow Valley in 1840 for twelve shillings per acre. Robert Pitt’s son, William, was Brown’s manager and James Rutherford was the leading spirit in the Eskbank ironworks when they were established in 1875. Rutherford handed the works over to William Sandford in 1886 after sinking 150,000 pounds in his effort to establish the iron industry in Australia.
In 1898, it was moved by Mr James Hamilton, at a general meeting, that the premises be extended to the street alignment and a bar room measuring 31 feet in length by 22 feet wide was subsequently built, and when further extensions were carried out in 1901 by Mr Pippard, a local contractor, the value of the land and buildings at that stage amounted to 3,200 pounds.
When the law applying to the sale of liquor was amended, the Club was obliged to apply for a Certificate of Registration. The case was heard on March 6th, 1906, before the local licensing court presided over by Major Bracey with Mr. W.J. Thompson, J.P., on the Bench. The bulk of the evidence on the Club’s behalf was tendered to Robert Vought, who gave a detailed outline of the Club’s history. In reply to a question, Mr Vought stated that the Club was observing the new Liquor Act by closing the premises on Sundays since 1st January, 1906. (Up to 1906 the bar was open for two hours on Sunday mornings and again in the evenings for a further two hours). Mr Vought went on to say that no new members had been admitted since the beginning of the year as the Club was waiting to see how the registration went. Supplementary evidence on the Club’s behalf was tendered by Emanuel Ashford (President), John Thirlwell (Vice-President) and Henry Handley (Steward).
Mr Thompson and Mr Richards addressed the Bench for nearly an hour in support of those objecting to the granting of the license. Both admitted that the management of the Club was conducted satisfactorily. After an adjournment of twenty minutes, the Bench announced that they had decided to grant the application.
Looking back over the early records of the Club, it is revealed that supplies were always obtained from local sources wherever possible. R.J. Inch of the Eskbank Brewery supplied the beer. E. Summons and Thos. Young & Co., the cordials, H.E.S. Bracey the bread and cheese for counter lunch and the spirits came from Stanley and Littlewood of Sydney. The Eskbank Brewery was on the side of the creek at the foot of Brewery Lane. Established about 1875, as far back as 1882 they were turning out 28 hogsheads of beer per week during the winter months and nearly double that quantity in summer. The beer was sent to Lithgow, Vale of Clwydd, Wallerawang, Bathurst, Mudgee and various “pubs” along the line. Mr Inch sold out to a company headed by Thomas Bennett, of Bennet and Gibbs, local storekeepers, at which time the name was changed to the Burton Brewery Company. It was not until World War I that beer in any great quantity was brought from the Sydney breweries.
The Club underwent many changes after World War II and in 1960 a total new Club was completed and was officially opened on December 3rd of that year by the then Minister for Local Government, Mr Pat Hills. In 1979, further extensions were carried out and than again in 1989. A fire partially destroyed the Club in May 1999 and since that time has seen a program of extensive renovations, extensions and improvements take place resulting in the building you see today.
The history of the Lithgow Workmen’s Club is only one chapter in Lithgow’s colourful and interesting past.