The 100-year history of Rotary in York
The preliminary meeting of the Rotary Club of York took place at the Mansion House (home of the Lord Mayor of York) on the 12th January 1921. The Inaugural Meeting was held on the 4th February 1921 and York became the 36th Club in the British Association of Rotary Clubs (now Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, RIBI ) and the 1000th Club in Rotary International, RI.
The preliminary meeting was chaired by The Lord Mayor, Alderman Edward Walker and attended by 13 guests and Rotarian officers from District. York was included in District 1 (England North), which covered the whole of the North of England and included only 9 clubs in 1921. The decision was taken to form a Rotary Club and the Lord Mayor was elected President. An interim committee was established to take the project forward and take the membership to 25. They were successful and the Inaugural Meeting went ahead with 25 founder members representing the professional and business leaders of the day.
Our founders developed a committee structure, which bears a similarity to our present format - membership, proceedings (speakers), fraternal and social (fellowship), civil (community service), and education (foundation).
Founder President Edward Walker
At first they met fortnightly at the Royal Station Hotel on a Friday. Today's club still meets on a Friday, but weekly and at a different venue. The annual subscription in 1921 was two guineas (£2.10) and the cost of lunch three shillings (15p).
Founder Members of the Rotary Club of York
Lord Mayor - Edward Walker
Alderman J B Inglis
H S Anderson - Solicitor
A Barron - Accountant
A Bell - Postmaster
E L Bennett - Secretary, YMCA
H Coning - Grocer
A M Duke - Dyer
C E Elcock - Architect
J E Gibbs - Motor Engineer
A Gray - Piano Retailer
H P Hall - Hotel Manager
J Hamilton - Insurance Manager
N L Hood - Surgeon
T C Humphries - Station Master
W H Humphries - Chartered Engineer
P Hutchinson - Impressario
C B Johnson - Printer
E Leetham - Flour Miller
F Pennell - Theatre Manager
G Potter Kirby - Draper
O F Rowntree - Confectionery
Dr E M Smith - Medical Officer of Health
H J Watson - Land Agent
Royal Station Hotel in the 1930's
Paul Harris visits
It appears Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, visited the club on Sunday 10th June 1928, after attending morning service in York Minster. According to the Yorkshire Herald he gave "a brilliant speech" to a specially arranged lunch meeting of the club at the Royal Station Hotel. However early records are sparse but it appears community activities were mainly directed to children and assisting ex-servicemen. A benevolent box was passed around at each meeting and donations made to worthy causes. Membership reached 100 by the thirties and remained above that figure until the late 1980s.
The community involvement became more diverse and the social activities widened. Tom Shouksmith, a keen golfer, organised a number of annual visits to golf clubs throughout Yorkshire and following his Presidential year in 1933/4 presented a trophy to be played for annually on these visits. The same format was followed until the late seventies, when it was changed to a knockout competition, which now attracts around thirty entrants every year.
The war years saw many members involved in active service, but meetings continued with a variable attendance and community service was concentrated on refugees and evacuees with help sent to serving servicemen. Following the war the attendance rule was tightened and some members resigned, but nevertheless membership moved up to perhaps its highest figure of 138.
International links have been established with the Rotary Clubs of Aubusson in France, Erlangen in Germany, and Gorinchem in Holland with reciprocal visits being made on a regular basis.
York Rotary's involvement in community service has benefited a whole range of local organisations and worthy causes over the decades since it was formed in 1921. We are now committed to numerous fund raising ventures to support its charitable aims, including the annual York Rotary Dragon Boat Challenge, first held in 2003. This event now takes place each year in early July and annually raises over £75,000 for local charities. Our predecessors would, we are sure, have approved of the objective but the means - dragon boat racing - might have raised a few eyebrows.
A longer perspective
As we now approach York Rotary's centenary in 2021, it is interesting to speculate how our 25 founder members would view our achievements over the years since our formation.
The fact that the Club has produced sixteen Lord Mayors, seventeen Sheriffs of the City, three Archbishops, a Foreign Secretary and numerous holders of various honours would give them quiet satisfaction.
The chronicle of the Club's history and activities over those years has been carefully compiled in two volumes by Past President Cy Read. These volumes record in detail a part of the history of York, its business, its professions, and in particular the involvement of Rotary in the life of the City through the twentieth century. In 2020 York Rotary set up a digital archive on Google Drive, digitising and collecting material relating to Rotary activities from the 1950's to the present day.
Successive generations have continued to carry forward the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise but our forefathers would have probably been surprised by some of our activities. A monthly newsletter, the Rotagraph, launched in 1951 would certainly have had their approval; but our web site, founded in 2002, re-designed in 2010 and again in 2016 and most recently 2020, which now has over 85,000 visitors a year - and our strong Social Media presence on Twitter and Facebook - that's another question!
The Shambles, York, 1920
St Sampsons Square, York, 1920
Cy Read's York Rotary History
Vol 2, 1992