Pride of place for Tonbridge as first ever Lions club on 100th birthday

Pam Mills

TONBRIDGE Lions’ President Gordon Hill was invited to Buckingham Palace last week as part of the organisation’s 100th birthday celebrations.

But he could claim a special claim to fame among the 350 members gathered in the state ballroom from around the UK, since Tonbridge was the first Lions club in the country.

Formed in 1949, the Tonbridge branch was in fact inaugurated the following year. It had to wait its turn because members in Canada thought a ‘Host Club’ in London should be the first to be officially recognised.

The Countess of Wessex, Patron of the club, attended the ceremony to mark the centenary, and encountering the Tonbridge President proved a special moment to her.

“The Countess of Wessex gave a very eloquent talk without notes,” relates Mr Hill, “after which I managed to exchange a few words with her, explaining that I represented the first club to be formed in the UK and one of the largest.

“She seemed impressed and explained that she knew Tonbridge well, having been brought up in Brenchley and studied at Kent College and West Kent College.”

The occasion was held last Wednesday [February 28], a day after the arrival of the Beast from the East, but the snow was not going to stop the intrepid Lion on  Tonbridge.

“The journey there and back was…expeditionary – especially as we were dressed in our finery! To see Buckingham Palace covered in snow a rare sight,” said Gordon.

The Lions were actually formed in 1917, by the American Melvin Jones, and it is now the largest service organisation in the world, with more than 1.35 million members belonging to around 42,500 Lions clubs in 178 countries.

There are 810 clubs in the UK and Ireland, comprising some 16,000 members and collectively known as Multiple District 105 (MD105).

It began as a vision of a Chicago insurance man, Melvin Jones, who thought local business clubs should expand their horizons from purely corporate concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large.

Twelve men from across the United States voted the Association of Lions Clubs into existence, and at the first convention in Dallas the principles – or ‘objects’ – were formulated, one of which was:  “No Club shall hold out the financial betterment of its members as its object.”

The summer of 1949 saw the beginnings of Tonbridge Lions. During World War Two, a hairdresser in the town, Charles Addy, was often in touch with servicemen from the United States and Canada.

He heard many stories about the Lions and their objects, and decided that he would try to organise a club in Tonbridge.

In 1947 he wrote to the international headquarters for advice, then notified them two years later that he had contacted enough interested people in the town.

At that time there were no Lions in the UK, but Toronto Central Lions agreed to sponsor the new club. Before the International Office proceeded with the official formation of the Tonbridge Club, however, they decided to form a Host Club for the UK and the obvious place for this was London.

With the help of US and Canadian businessmen working in the city, enough members were soon forthcoming and on December 29, 1949 the London (Host) Club was born.

The official formation of Tonbridge Lions followed on February 9, 1950, though it had been operating as a club for several months prior to that date.

The Tonbridge Free Press newspaper reported in the edition of November 18, 1949: “Mr Charles Addy hopes to introduce the town to the ‘Lions’ organisation before the end of the year”.

By the edition of February 24, 1950, they wrote: “The branch is now formed and Mr Charles Addy is the President.”

The current club Secretary, Keith Bourne is the son of one of the original charter members, Master Butcher F.W. Bourne.

ROARING SUCCESS: Lion Tom Wakefield with the first Christmas barrel organ collection in 1952; the tradition continues to this day

The original British Lions

The founder members of Tonbridge Lions were:

E.D.B. Adamson (Estate Manager); Tailtwister; C.W.H. Addy (Hairdresser), President; F.W. Bourne (Master Butcher); G. Brooker; A.G. Burke (Doctor), director, B.T. Gardner, second Vice-President, J.A. Graves (Bank Manager), first Vice-President; W.G. Hanson (Fire Chief), Secretary/Treasurer; H.V. Hooker (Journalist), third Vice-President; F.G.W. Lett; J.H. Longhurst (Farmer); J.G. Parks (Electrical Engineer), Lion Tamer; W. Pierce (Watchmaker); A.J. Portlock (Greengrocer); L.P. Wright (Builder)

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