Lions battle snow to celebrate 100th birthday at the palace

Pam Mills

The Presidents of local Lions Clubs were invited to Buckingham Palace last week as part of the organisation’s 100th birthday celebrations.

But for Tonbridge’s Gordon Hill it was a bit special. He could register a particular 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,’ recalled 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 Mr Hill.

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.

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter