December 8 2019: Margaret’s marvellous medicine

The blog a few days ago raised a glass to the former Federation Brewery, formed exactly 100 years ago and owned by the region’s workmen’s clubs. They sponsored the Northern League for four years in the 1990s and Dunston, almost next door neighbours, for very much longer.

It sparked all manner of memories, not least of the time that they put me on a fizzer at Old Shildon WMC – barrack room lawyer, I got off – and of Billy Gypp at Cockfield WMC, perhaps the only man in history to be suspended for cadging.

Clubs historian Brian Bennison points out that a century ago it was the Northumberland clubs, not their colleagues south of the Tyne, who were keenest to launch their own brewery. On October 1 1919 the Northern Daily Mail in Hartlepool reported that the Co Durham CIU branch had circulated 181 – yes 181 – member clubs to gauge interest, of whom 124 didn’t bother to replay and only 37 of the remainder offered to chip in a few bob.

Ian Cusack, in the same connection, insists that it was Wallsend MP Ted Garrett and not his Easington counterpart John Cummins who get Fed beers into the House of Commons.

Perhaps the best remembered figure in the region’s workmen’s club movement is Jack Amos – great bloke, good mate, no relation – who wrote the Jack of Clubs column in the Sunday Sun and who left full-time journalism to be Durham CIU branch secretary for 20 years.

He did it magnificently, despite all manner of health issues which included the serious injuries suffered by both Jack and his wife Flo in a car crash on their 28th wedding anniversary.

“Other people talk about giving their bodies to medical science. I reckon they’ve had mine already,” said Jack.

He was also going deaf, poor chap – the result, he reckoned, of always being placed in the best seats at the front and thus endlesslhy assailed by the amplifiers.

Jack was from the Consett area, was appointed MBE in 2004 for services to workmen’s clubs in the North-East, died three years later. Most vividly of all he may be remembered for the Command Performances, organised through his Sunday Sun column to raise money for charity and attracting all the top names on the then booming circuit.

On one occasion they even persuaded Princess Margaret to put in an appearance – though not, it’s thought, to do a turn. Jack reckoned she stayed for several hours, steady away on the whisky and dry ginger. She insisted, he added, that it was medicinal.