Castledawson building celebrates centenary

The Chichester Memorial Club, Castledawson, pictured when it opened in 1912. MM15 502con
The Chichester Memorial Club, Castledawson, pictured when it opened in 1912. MM15 502con

IN this, the 300th anniversary year of the official naming of Castledawson (Castle Dawson), one of the towns most prominent landmark buildings celebrates its centenary.

It was back in 1912 that the Hon. Lady Spencer Chichester officially opened what was to be known as the Chichester Memorial Working Mens Club, which is sited on The Gravel at Main Street.

A century later, it is one of a number of buildings in the town that has lost its original identity and has become better known by another name. Despite this, the facts remain that it was instituted in memory of Captain Edward Chichester, and was conceived during the time of his long illness.

Reports of the time were not exaggerated when stating that it was safe to say that few provincial towns ,not to say villages, could boast such a social club as that which Castledawson possessed in its Chichester Memorial. It had billiard, bagatelle, reading, games and boxing rooms as well as a shooting range and ball alley.

Here from six to ten nightly, the young men of the town met, profitably and pleasantly employing themselves in rooms heated, lighted and well supplied with pictures of a superior description. It was impossible to measure the great social and moral uplifting influence exercised by such an institution.

It was recalled that members rightly revered the memory of the late Captain Edward Chichester whose original idea it was to open the club on behalf of himself and his mother, Hon. Lady Spencer Chichester. Since the lamented death of the Captain, she had generously improved and further equipped the building, defraying the annual costs of its upkeep. To show her Ladyship that generosity and interest in their welfare was greatly appreciated, the club members presented a handsomely chased and ornamented solid silver ink stand, which was suitably engraved for the occasion. In a letter of thanks Lady Chichester said that she would ever prize their beautiful gift and the kind words that accompanied it.

Going on to say that it had given her much pleasure to carry out the wishes of a dear son whose great desire it had been, during his sad illness, to smooth the path for young men and help them build up good moral, manly characters. She would always rejoice in the continued success of the club and prayed that the blessing of Almighty God, would then, and in the coming years, rest upon its members.

For those using this new social club, it was to be the billiards room that was most popular over 90 years ago. The very first handicap competition saw 34 compete in the first round.

The semi-finals saw, Rev F.G.Faulkener CC, Bellaghy, gain a bye while Leslie Mann defeated Jim Garvin after a close game. In the final, Father Faulkener had a handicap of minus 30 and his opponent that of minus 50. Leslie Mann won the match by 250 to his opponents 192.

Two valuable prizes were put up by the founder, and in the absence of the club manager, Mr A.L.Clarke, JP, it was left to Mr H.A.McAulay to present Leslie Mann with a handsome marble dining room clock with Father Faulkener receiving a novel walking stick containing an electric flash flight.

It was recorded that after just been open a few months, patrons made a collection for the Titanic Relief Fund, this tragedy also taking place 100 years ago.In the following decades, the club played host to young men of the district and soon became the meeting place of Moyola Park Football Club.

In 1980, the then manager of Cliftonville FC, Mr Jackie Hutton, officially opened the social club that we are familiar with today. Now in its 100th year (2012), inwardly the building may have met with many radical changes,yet the outer aspect remains intact.

It stands a proud memory to Captain Edward Chichester, whose hopes were to add “social and moral uplifting influence” to the men of the village!