90-years of Rotary in King’s Lynn remembered

Rotary Club of King's Lynn 1928
Rotary Club of King's Lynn 1928

The Rotary Club of King’s Lynn holds a celebration of the 90th anniversary of its founding on Saturday night with a dinner-dance at the Town Hall in Lynn.

Here, Rotary stalwart Ron Jackson takes a look back at the history of the organisation that has done so much for charity.

It begins, of course, with a mention in the Lynn News, saying: “A Rotary Club for King’s Lynn starts under Mayoral auspices”.

It appears that the then mayor, WR Sadler, called a meeting of the great and the good with the view of forming a Rotary Club in Lynn, but oddly I can find no evidence of him actually joining.

At the inaugral meeting at the Globe Hotel he said “ I do not know anything about a Rotary Club and I think that most of those present arequite as ignorant as I am.”

So who were these leaders of industry who were invited to join our Rotary Club? Quite a few still very familiar names.

Alan G Hawkins was a lawyer and the club’s first president who later took on the role of District Chairman; JH Catleugh a man of power in the town and who ran a mens outfitters; Frank Bullen was a Chandler and ran an haulage business; Freddie Hares - an entrepreneur extrordinaire who was District Governor throughout the war years; A V Speed - jeweller - father of Philippe Speed (President 1972/73); Dan Burlingham - optician and jeweller; OR Jermyn - (now Debenhams); RH Bolton, printer, and a host of others whose names are still well known. Donald Ferrier, solicitor with Hawkins, John Lewin, surgeon and a District Governor, Ben Walton, outfitter, RH Guest, garage owner, J C Thornley, accountant, GS Hayhow, accountant.

The Lynn News carried reports of most Rotary meetings, the speakers and their topics and it was obvious that Rotary was held in respect.

But at a meeting in June 1935 a speaker gave a talk when he defended the Nazi takeover of Germany stating that “Revolutions will always be nasty things” and said that he was convinced that 55 million (out of 65 million) Germans supported Adolf Hitler.

There were later meetings not quite in the same vein when things like “blackouts” and the formation of A.R.P. groups were discussed.

Not a lot happened during the war but in 1947 the club celebrated its 21st anniversary with a ball at the Duke’s Head - austerity still prevailed but they managed to include chicken with game chips on the menu.

In 1956 the first Japanese visitor came to the Club in the guise of the Rev Tako Matsumato, who was a member of the Hiroshima Club and who had lost his wife in the atomic bombing of the city.

In 1960 year membership was recorded at 69 plus two honorary members.

In 1964 the club twinned with Villa Maria in Argentina - if anyone knows why I would be pleased to know - but oddly Villa Maria was also twinned with Thetford. It is on record that a colour film of King’s Lynn was sent to Villa Maria.

In 1965 the club’s meeting place, The Grosvenor Hotel in Norfolk Street was burnt down and the original Charter lost - however some of the club’s banners were saved.

I wonder what happened to the President’s chair donated by Freddie Hares, it was in use at the Mildenhall and the Dukes Head and bore a plaque with his name on it. When Freddie died he bequeathed £100 to the club to purchase a loud speaker system. That was in 1966.

In 1967 the club twinned with the Waterville Club of Quebec (membership 114) I wonder what spawned that relationship and why it, like Villa Maria, it has completely gone off our screens ?

The Vice President’s collar was presented to the club in 1968 by Mrs Joy LeGrice (now Mrs Percival) in memory of her late husband Frank.

In 1969, an Interact Club formed. I’m not sure when this ceased but some time later a Rotaract Club was formed which ran out of members and closed some years ago.

It was also in that year that things began to get a tad expensive as in July of that year the subscription increased from 5 guineas to £6.

It will be of little interest, but I will mention that on 11 th September 1972 President Philippe Speed inducted me into Rotary having been proposed by the then chief reporter for the Eastern Daily Press, Frank Keeler - someone I had known through my days in Round Table and Lions.

At the time I joined there were around 70 - 75 members - it took quite some time to get to know people - in fact there were some I never did get to know - having been a member for a couple of years I well recall filling my car at Mann Egerton’s pumps next to a well known bowler hatted senior Rotarian who just “didn’t see” me - to be fair some years later he did actually speak to me !!

In 1976 I was asked to stand for president and at that time we had Junior Vice and senior Vice presidents, being something of a sprog I thought I had a couple of years to get to know the ropes, but senior vice president Fred Calvert became very “put out” when the club wouldn’t support some idea he had for his presidential year and he resigned from office, pushing me headlong into the chair in 1978, a year sooner.

I did get my own back when Prince Phillip attended my presidents’ night and I asked Fred to be MC, which he actually did very well, regally togged out in his red jacket and his stentorian voice.

To go back to the Villa Maria connection. Just prior to Christmas 1978 out of the blue I was contacted by a member of the Villa Maria Club to ask if our club could host a young lady from their town.

There seemed little choice as the young lady was already in London and telephoned to say she was on her way to Lynn the next day. So Doris Azzolini, a delightful 30-something stayed with us for a few days just after Christmas.

One or two of our older members may recall her coming to the club. One frosty Sunday morning with the trees glistening from snow (something she had never seen) we took her to West Newton to see the Queen attend church. Unusually there were few people, but she saw the Queen only a couple of yards away and just couldn’t believe it. Doris still writes and we occasionally speak on the phone. She says we are her English parents.

In 1979, Lynn was in the throes of twinning with Emmerich in Germany and I recall attending the Emmerich Rotary Club at which a venison dish was served from a wild deer shot by one of the members. My well-rehearsed speech in German, from a tape made by the college, rather rebounded on me as they all thought I spoke and understood German!

Sidney Hands was responsible for confering a Paul Harris Fellowship on Prince Phillip in 1981 and as many of you will remember HRH later attended a meeting in Bill Irwin’s year 1992/93, again in John Doubleday’s year 1997/98 and most recently in Michael Walker’s year 2013/14

I am not too sure exactly when, but at some time before I joined we had spawned clubs at Downham, Hunstanton, Fakenham, Wisbech and East Elloe - also for some reason we formed a club at Bishops Stortford.

Not forgetting of course Priory in 1970 and more recently Trinity (the brain child of Leonard Barrett).

In the last year or so the club has recruited younger members, which augers well for the future and keeps some of the more senior members “on their toes”.