What was once lined with the dusty spines of well-read novels, with tales of Russian soldiers in the Napoleonic War or a young girl heading down a rabbit warren in search of a warped reality, today the former reading room in Wortley is filled with stories of a different kind, all brimming with communal camaraderie.
When Wortley Hall became the British Army base during World War II, the men of the village complained they couldn’t ever get served at the local pub as the off-duty soldiers were clogging up the bar.
Without wanting to leave a bad taste in the villagers’ mouths, the Earl of Wharncliffe sought a license for his reading rooms for use by local men, exchanging his original educational usage for more of a social haunt.
Opened by his wife, Lady Maud, on 22nd December 1945, Wortley Men’s Club as it was named, has served numerous pints of ale over the past 70 years, welcoming members from across the village and further afield.
Now run by steward Nigel Pickering and his wife Teresa, who took over the running of the club in 2004, the pair have become a force to be reckoned with within the club scene, having won a host of accolades over the past few years.
With little changing with the interior décor since its early days, the quality of beer behind the bar has been the driving force for the club’s success.
High, ornate ceilings, a glass chandelier and pelmets above the windows, the décor is somewhat far removed from a typical working men’s club. With a log fire and Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s portrait above, it is cosy and traditional with a sense of opulence you’d associate with the aristocratic history of Wortley village.
There is even the Earl’s private competition-size snooker table in the games lounge which came from Wortley Hall.
“We didn’t want to lose the essence of the building, but of course we’ve had to change things in some respects,” Nigel says.
The biggest change the couple made was introducing cask ale in 2005. Starting off with one pump which was rotated monthly, the club now has one Timothy Taylor, two guest ales, plus a scrumpy cider, all hand-pulled from traditional casks.
Along with real ale, the club also have many popular draught beers and lagers, as well as wine on draught and a whole rainbow of liquors and spirits.
Thanks to their beer quality, club atmosphere, level of service and in-keeping interior décor, Wortley Men’s Club has won the Barnsley CAMRA Club of the Year for the past five years, along with three consecutive Yorkshire CAMRA Club of the Year titles.
As a champion for beer drinkers in Barnsley, playing a critical role in the village and far wider area, the clubs real ale campaign also saw Nigel and Teresa bring home the coveted CAMRA Real Ale Club of the Year 2015 award from the organisation’s national awards.
After winning the regional heat last year, the club was automatically put through to the national competition, before fighting for the top spot against three other super regional finalists.
Beating off 24,000 other applicants, the prestigious award proves just how hard the pair have worked to turn things around for the club, continuing to devote their lives to the good of the village.
And as if their national recognition wasn’t already brimming to the top of the glass, Nigel was named Steward of the Year at this year’s awards in Manchester, which he says came as such a surprise.
Aside from day-to-day happenings, Nigel and the committee also organise an annual charity beer festival in the club’s car park each summer, serving up over 60 variety of beers in the marquee. Last year, the event raised over £5,000 for Barnsley Hospice, with the club also raising £11,000 for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance over the past few years.
Along with their 650 members, with some in their 90s, Nigel also hopes to welcome new faces with his range of events planned throughout the year.
“Our main competitors are those people sat at home, not really doing much. Maybe watching the TV with a beer. I want to make them sit up and think, ‘shall we go out tonight, love? There’s something going on at club,’” Nigel says.
Thanks to their continued hard work and the full support of the committee to keep the club at the heart of the Wortley community, its long-serving history will continue to brew for many years to come.