How a Norwich club helped stamp out crime in the city
- Credit: Archant Library
This framed tribute is an important part of a family history.
As you can see it honours Francis Victor Brundish, and includes two photographs of him, alongside his membership card to the original Norwich Lads Club which he joined in April 1918.
It was left in our office some time ago and today we are trying to track down any members of Francis’s family so that it can be returned to them.
A Norwich boy, Frances went to Bull Close School and then joined the club when it first opened aged 15. He later went on to serve nine years with the Norfolk Regiment, mainly in Egypt.
The photograph of him in his uniform was taken when he was 18.
He died in 1982, three weeks before his golden wedding. He had kept his membership card to the Lads Club which he cherished and must have been so proud of.
It was a club, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, which played a leading role in thousands of young lives.
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And it almost wiped out juvenile crime in the city. It gave boys a purpose in life.
There is wonderful book telling the story of the club written by our former editor Robert Walker. Called Seventy Years Young it was published in 1988 and is a fascinating read.
He tells how, on a night in March 1918, a motley group of about 30 Norwich boys stood outside an old building in St George’s Street waiting for the door to open.
They had no idea what to expect.
Certainly, they had no thought of being pioneers in a movement that within a few years would spread across Britain and overseas, arousing the interest of the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.
All these boys thought about, and all they wanted, was to see what the Norwich Lads Club on its opening night, had to offer.
The revolutionary idea for this club came from a man described as a big, tough practical police officer with a waxed moustache. The sort of gentleman who commanded respect.
Chief constable John Henry Dain was also a kindly man and one with a vision…to help young people.
Dain’s basic belief was that a boy of natural wickedness was rare indeed, that most boys wandered into trouble because by nature they were mischievous and energetic. If those qualities could be channelled in the right direction, then crime would be prevented before it had a chance to begin.
And so it came to be that Dain opened the only club of its kind anywhere in the world. Run for lads by the police.
Not with a fist but with a hand of friendship…reaching out to boys not just for their benefit but for the community in general.
The views of Dain were controversial at a time when Borstal and the birch were the order of the day.
“A boy belonging to a team, band, or club, quickly learns that he is part of an organisation…thus he learns early in life the fundamental principle of democracy – co-operation,” he said.
The community responded to his call for support.
The tumbledown building was transformed into a top-notch club and the official opening was performed by Lord Mayor Richard Jewson on April 18 1918. He was the club’s first president and from then on the Lord Mayor of the day became the president during their term of office.
The entire Norwich City Police Force volunteered to help and many stayed on to help at the club which, within a few months had attracted more than 1,000 members. Many becoming talented boxers, gymnasts and musicians.
There were also lantern lectures on travel, nature, transport, machinery, science and history plus concerts.
Juvenile crime was falling. The lads were having the time of their lives and in the summer of 1919 one of Dain’s great ideas became a reality.
The first group of lads arrived at the Norwich Fire Station to be taken by motor car – an adventure in itself – to Warren Farm on the Gorleston cliffs for a weekend at the seaside. “Utter freedom allied to good behaviour,” he said.
Hundreds of boys went weekends away. It truly was a dream come true.
The gymnastic team went on to put on a display at the Norfolk Show, the boxers were a force to be reckoned with in the ring, and then a Lads Club band was formed under “dear old” Ernie Daniels in the 1920s.
Supporters gave the boys instruments and one of the members, Alfred Betts, said: “We entered the Crystal Palace euphonium competition, bottom section and got fifth place, Jock, a Scot on the second euphonium, threw his uniform cap in the air and never saw it again!”
A century ago, in February 1922, the band gave a display at St Andrew’s Hall, under the baton of Ernie Daniels before a crowd of 1,500.
The gymnasts, the footballers and the boxers were becoming local heroes and the Lads Club was running out of space. It was time to move on to much bigger and better equipped premises in King Street – a story for another day.
If you are related to Francis Victor Brundish and would like to have the framed tribute please contact me at email@example.com
Statistics show that in 1919, one year after the opening of the Lad’s Club that number of under 16s charged with criminal offences had halved. In 1922 the figure was down to 12 and in the following year only seven were brought before the courts.