Club for country gentlemen bows out
Last Friday 86 gentlemen met for the “last hurrah” at the County Club, after 97 years.
“It’s a sad day,” was a regular refrain from the macrocarpa and marble bar.
Club manager Colleen Kyle said members wanted the club in Queen St, Hastings, to finish with its head held high.
“We are closing now so we won’t be told to close,” she said.
Club committee member and past president Doug Phillips said the club’s popularity had declined since the 1970s and membership drives had been unsuccessful.
“We opened it up to women 25 years ago and only attracted one,” he said. She had since emigrated and none had joined since.
Ms Kyle said previously women were not tolerated in the club for country gentlemen. “When women wanted to pick their husbands up they waited in the Strangers Room and rang the bell,” she said.
Past president Peter Dennehy said the club was formed so farmers could network when visiting Hastings.
“There were plenty of well-to-do farmers in those times and they wanted somewhere to meet stock agents and with each other,” he said. Stock and station firms were all located in the downtown area then.
To get around liquor laws the club had operated a BYO system. “You filled a locker of your own grog and drank it on the premises. You could shout others as well.”
But the mahogany-panelled rooms were highly civilised. “When I joined in the ’70s there were stewards in white coats who called everyone sir. It was a shock for a country boy like me,” Mr Dennehy said.
The club began in Market St above a furniture shop in 1914 and moved to its current Queen St site in 1932.
The first president was George Ebbett. His great-grandson Ron Ebbett was a proud member who said he would miss the club’s atmosphere and the fellowship.
Membership no longer continued through families. “None of our sons are members. They are too busy – taking their share of domestic responsibilities,” he said.
Mr Phillips said that in its heyday the club’s bar, snooker and card rooms were busy from lunchtime five days a week. “You had to part the smoke before you could enter the cardroom.”
The committee had pondered long and hard about how to keep the club alive. A debenture to keep the club solvent until the 100-year mark had not been well supported.
Membership was $350 a year. The fee at the burgeoning Taradale Club was $10. “Clubs today cater for families. We never have. We have outlived our life for the type of club we are.”
The County Club used to compete against other clubs in bowls and snooker, but with the average age of the 113 members approaching 70, it had become too difficult.
The oldest member, Bill Read, recently died aged 99. Life member Les Elvy is in his late 80s. Retired diplomat Charles Paul and Gerry Van Asch, a former farmer and airman who flew in World War II, are 93 and 94 respectively.
For now the marlin and deer trophies remain. The committee is trying to sell the club “holus bolus”, preferably to another community organisation. Mr Dennehy has taken his portrait down from the club’s display of former presidents. “It’s no good to them any more – I’ll give it to my children,” he said.
Photo caption – LAST CALL: County Club president David Harding receives the last drink to be served at the 97-year-old club from manager Colleen Kyle, as Meredith Johnson looks on.
By Patrick O’Sullivan