Early Times

The Beginnings

The Winkle Club is over 100 years old. In 1900, the year of the club’s foundation, one of the most popular of the fishermen’s locals’ in the Old Town was the Prince Albert, now alas defunct but guaranteed immortality by the fact that therein the club was born. A number of the fishermen who used the ‘Prince Albert’ regularly had often discussed the idea of doing something to raise money to give the poor children of the Borough a happy time at Christmas. In those days there was no welfare state and some working-class families, especially throughout the winters, existed in conditions bordering on poverty. Although they were little better off themselves, the fishermen grew more and more concerned at the conditions they saw around them and one night their desire to help crystalised into action…

…Of those present on that memorable occasion, only one survives at the time of writing this (in 1972) – Dick Betts, now aged 92 but with mind and memory remarkably keen. He tells us that, to the best of his recollection, those present at the time included himself, Bill Betts, `Old’ Jimmy Gearing, Alec Chatfield, Joe Bannister and Albert Dighton. Apparently at that time in another Hastings pub, the Royal Oak, an Acorn Club had been formed. All members had always to carry acorns, failure to do so involving a fine, all such money being devoted to charity. The fishermen decided to organise an effort on the same lines but one of them – Dick thinks it was Alec Chatfield – said: `Why an acorn? This is the Old Town; can’t we have something to do with fishing?’ Just then, so the story goes, Providence took a hand. Somebody appeared with a pail of winkles collected from the rocks. Inspiration! Let’s make it the Hastings Winkle Club. And so it was. No time was lost in getting the club under way. Dick Betts agreed to collect the subscriptions for the time being and did so for three months after which he handed the job over to Johnny Hart. Jack Webb, landlord of the Prince Albert, was appointed treasurer and Tom (Tit) Willis became the first chairman…

The rest of the story of the club’s early days is one of logical and indeed inevitable development. Obviously every member would have to carry a winkle. The mortal remains of the original occupants of the shells were removed and their places filled with sealing-wax. The luckless wight caught without his badge of membership, the winkle, had to pay a fine – a penny in the early days, a pound nowadays – and the challenger likewise had to report him or pay a fine too. An elaborate system of such penalties developed but nobody minded as all the money thus raised went towards the cost of the clubs great objective – a monster treat at Christmastide for poor kiddies.

Source: ‘Winkle Up!’ The Story of the Hastings Winkle Club, by Bill Dyer and Bill Vint | Photos by ‘The Hastings Observer’

A glorious tradition

Princess Elizabeth at Hastings Castle presented by Bunk Harffey with a winkle mounted as a gold brooch, 18th May 1951
Lord Montgomery walking to Winkle Island to be presented with a Silver Winkle,
accompanied by the Mayor of Hastings Cllr D. Wilshin, MBE
Club Supper at the White Rock Pavilion, 1st January 1964
Sir Robert Menzies made a Club member by Charlie White, 27th July 1966
H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh being made a Club member by Charlie White with John Burton in the presence of H.M. The Queen, 28th October 1966
Christmas Party for local children (around 1948)
Club Committee members on Winkle Island in 1966
Officers and committee members at the Fishermen’s Institute headquarters, 16th July 1971