Salford Lads Club, Manchester
Hardly an unknown institution, the Salford Lads Club has benefited from a tenuous connection with a celebrated Manchester band. It is now a site of pilgrimage for Smiths fans who queue up to have their picture taken under the distinctive green and white sign.
We were drawn by an exhibition of photographs of the local area called “The Smiths is Dead: Iconic Images From the Dirty Old Town” held to mark the 20th anniversary of Stephen Wright’s Queen is Dead photo session. These were displayed in the pristine Billiard Room, complete with its original tables and fittings. The photographs explored the cultural past of the neighbourhood, and highlighted the area’s importance, not least as the location of the original Coronation Street and Rover’s Return pub, and its role in supplying an authentic ‘Northern’ backdrop to the film East is East.
It was here that we met an enthusiastic volunteer called Leslie Holmes who gave us a guided tour of the building. Next to the Billiard Room is a tiny office containing card file records of every single boy who has ever been a member of the club. This was a persistent theme throughout our visit - the organisers and volunteers have, throughout its history, kept impeccable records and documented just about every event that the club has organised, including photographs of every summer camping holiday - they seem to have always chosen Aberystwyth but I could be wrong. It was a joy to leaf through albums of group portraits year by year and spot faces that soon became familiar. One in particular, Archie, joined as a 12 year old, became a volunteer in later years, and has just been awarded an MBE for his ‘Lifetime voluntary service with young people at Salford Lads’ and Girl’s Club.’
Although kept clean and very tidy, the building is completely original and its condition betrays its age. While it urgently requires renovation in certain parts - the theatre roof is a priority - I’d like to hope that it doesn’t get too cleaned up and lose its authentic patina of age. Leslie was a treasure, running to fetch keys and open up rooms so we could see an Arts and Crafts style brick fireplace in one room, or the double height ceiling of an old ‘fives’ court (a predecessor to squash). The club is redolent of its origins in Edwardian times, when ‘rational recreation’ was prescribed to keep working class youth out of trouble and the organisational and bureaucratic skills of the military were applied to philanthropic endeavours like this. Appropriately enough, Lord Baden Powell officially opened the club in 1904, three years before instigating the Boy Scouts movement.
The club has graciously opened up a disused room to permit Smiths devotees to post messages and photographs, and donate pictures and memorabilia. Previously, the room had housed the bodybuilding and weightlifting equipment which still lurks there, along with a priceless selection of vintage photographs and magazines. The combination of sepia buff bodies and the somewhat less buff Smiths images is incongruous but gratifyingly eccentric, and emphasises the irony of this institution’s association with the band. It is hard to imagine Morrissey, in particular, ever daring to set foot in the place, with its ethos of rigorous masculinity and tradition of combatative sporting prowess. Perhaps this was the mischievous motive in its choice as a location. Now the band and the club are so firmly wedded together in the public mind that some misguided fans send presents and correspondence to the Smiths via the club, where they still await collection.
This place is worthy of a visit whether you venerate the Smiths or not. As the last existing lads club of its era, its a determined survivor, and its still an essential resource in the local community. In recent years girls have been welcomed into the club, and it is now officially called the Salford Lads and Girls Club. The volunteer staff are friendly, patient and endlessly helpful and informative. Go there, soak up the unique atmosphere, then buy a t-shirt and help them fix that roof.
Salford Lads Club photos
More of Trevira's Salford Lads' Club photos
How to get there
Salford Lads and Girls Club, St Ignatius Walk, Ordsall, Salford, Manchester M5 3RX. Telephone: 0161 872 3767
Visiting information: please telephone or email the club to arrange a suitable time to visit, or check their website for upcoming public events and open days.
Travel: the club is just off the A57 (Regent Road) heading towards the M602. Look out for a large boxy carpet retailers on the right and take the next turn left and head left parallel to Regent Road. Or catch the 33 or 63 bus from Manchester. Google map.