Wednesday 28 January 2015

Bolton Socialist Club is helping keep radical politics alive

Bolton Socialist Club - this article also appears on the Rebel Road project of Unite Education. 

The origins of Bolton Socialist Club date back to 1886 when a branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) was established and soon grew rapidly during a bitter engineers’ strike the following year. 

Then in 1888, Tom Mann, arguably the greatest British trade unionist ever, was persuaded to assist Bolton SDF. The first Socialist Club was opened and became an important social, cultural, educational and political centre. There were subsequent moves to two other locations before a permanent home was found in Wood Street in 1905.  

Mounting debts meant the Club teetered on the brink of extinction on a number of occasions in the late 70s and 80s but on May Day 1984 it was reopened with a street party following a march headed by striking miners and nursery nurses. 

In the 31 years since, Bolton Socialist Club has survived thanks to the dedicated work of its members who in 2002 raised £10,000 for health and safety improvements. 

In 2005 a month-long festival helped celebrate the centenary of the Club in the wake of which many new members were recruited. 

In the decade since, Club members have revived past political and cultural activities and during an era when labouring people are under attack from a system that prioritises profit over people they’ve helped keep alive a local fighting, radical tradition that promises a better future for all.

The Club is thus the oldest remaining independent socialist club in the country. It is widely used for meetings by a wide variety of groups and organisations including Bolton Trades Union Council whose secretary Martin McMulkin, a Unite member of the club, is keen “for any Unite member interested in becoming a member of Bolton Socialist Club to get in touch.” 

There are regular events at Wood Street including a music night starting at 8pm every first and third Friday of the month. The club is open on Friday nights for members and friends and from 12 to 2.30pm each Saturday when lunches are usually available. There are guest speakers on selected evenings such as children’s author Alan Gibbons who in late January 2015 spoke with great warmth and humour on American radical John Steinbeck, best known as the author of Grapes of Wrath

The Club’s website page is regularly updated at where there is also an enquiry form for anyone considering becoming a member. 
Denis Pye 

Thanks to Denis Pye for his assistance with the information in this section of Rebel Road. A former teacher, Denis is the author of ‘Fellowship is Life’: the story of the Clarion Cycling Club. His pamphlet on (Bolton Socialist) Club and Party 1886-2008 costs £1. 

For more on Alan Gibbons go to

Alan Gibbons speaking with passion about John Steinbeck 

1 comment:

  1. The club also has a history of support for feminism - hosting a women's centre drop in in the 70s and always putting on events for International Women's Day. The Clarion choir is also worth a mention - singing socialist songs on demonstrations ,at events and just for pleasure.