Part 1 – Its beginning
By Pat Manning
The foundation stone for the new Public Hall opposite St George’s church, Beckenham was laid by Sir Chas Mills MP on 13 October 1883 concealing in a small hollow (according to Borrowman page 73) a current set of the coins of the realm and a copy of The Times for that date. Meanwhile, a small group of upper middle class gentlemen was planning and plotting for a quiet place away from the influence of their womenfolk.
Architect George Vigers provided the plans for the builders Messrs Brown of Camberwell and in March 1884 the Public Hall was ready. A notice was posted at the back of the hall inviting the gentlemen of Beckenham to become the founder members of The Club where they would have billiards, smoking and reading rooms.
Twenty nine gentlemen had voted in a provisional committee comprised of ten members.
The would-be President was Frederick Prat ALLISTON from The Ferns at 28 Copers Cope Rd. He and his first wife, Elizabeth Loader, according to the census returns were born in Margate but they married at St Pancras on 18 May 1854. Their daughter Florence was born in 1856 and her brothers Paul and Clement were born Wanstead in 1861 and 1864. By 1871, Frederick was widowed and living in Edmonton but shortly to marry his first wife’s sister, Mary Loader, with whom he had three more sons, Claud, Oscar and Norman born Kensington in 1873, 1876 and 1877. Moving from Kensington to Beckenham in the early 1880s, Ralph and Geoffrey were born in Beckenham in 1883 and 1885 .The census records tell us that Frederick was an Inspector and Wholesaler of cotton goods. Florence died aged 30 in Eastbourne in 1886 when Frederick had been the Club President for two years. He became the Club President again in 1897 and died in office after 14 years in the Spring of 1912 but exciting events were coming his way.
In 1896 Beckenham was in the news when Frederick Alliston proposed that the Union flag should be flown at all Elementary Schools on special occasions and this became the rule throughout the country. This was reported by Robert Borrowman of page 85 of his book Beckenham Past and Present. The Beckenham directories record that Frederick was one of nine members of the school board and by 1899 he was Sheriff of the City of London and later granted a knighthood by King Edward VII. The Club President was Sir Frederick Prat Alliston still from 28 Copers Cope Rd but the house was now Kamesburgh instead of The Ferns. This is a town on the Scottish Isle of Bute and a 42 roomed house in the Kamesburg Gardens, Melbourne, Australia but I suppose either could have suggested the name to the Allistons.
At least two of his sons assisted him in his business; Claud was an agent in cotton goods and Oscar went to France to learn the techniques of dyeing cotton where he met his future wife Marie Berthe Weiss whom he married in 1902. They had two sons, Lawrence and Rex.
Paul’s son, Cyril George Prat, also lived in Copers Cope Rd at Thornecroft, number 52.
The treasurer in 1884 was Robert Bertie LEMON from Moat Lodge of The Avenue and the Hon Secretary was George SCHOFIELD, son of Thomas Schofield merchant of Kinlock, Foxgrove Rd.
The other members were Arthur Henry BAKER from Elderslie in Wickham Rd (now South Eden Park Rd), William M BULLIVANT, a wire rope manufacturer from Willestrow in Rectory Rd and Ambrose P CARR from Boyston House at 4, The Avenue. In 1902, his daughter Ethel Carr was the Ladies Hon Secretary of the Beckenham Baths Swimming Club.
Charles V Hollibone, stockbroker, also lived in Rectory Rd at Deepthorne, number 17. Alfred P INGLIS, bank clerk was living with his family in Binfield, 16 Hayne Rd, W B Pattison was at Graylings, Cedars Rd and later at 6 The Avenue, Chas R Pilcher, insurance secretary lived at Colebrook, The Avenue and G T Rait from Milton in Hayne Rd was also the Hon Sec of the Beckenham Lodge of Freemasons 2047 who met in the Public Hall too.
The Cator Lodge of Freemasons 2266 met in the Public Hall together with the Beckenham Orchestral Society and the Amateur Dramatic Club but The Club occupied an extensive suite of rooms at the back of the hall, including a fine billiard room with two full-sized tables by Thurston & Co, reading smoking and card rooms.
In 1898, there were 150 members, non-political, including the principal men of the district.