Chatham Book Society was founded in 1883 and the first meeting was held at the Dover Castle Inn.  Meetings of the Society were held there each week until the disasterous fire that occured on the night of the 4th November 1920 when the Inn together with all our records was totally destroyed. Details were recorded by the local newspaper and you can read the report of the fire in the Dover Castle page. This report indicates that the Records of the Society were found the next morning, although the Hon. Secretary at that time clearly states that they were destroyed. If you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the original records we would be pleased to hear about it.

The Secretary at that time was Charles W. Fiske and he had the forethought in 1921 to write "A Retrospect" of the history of the Society as best as contemporary memory allowed. Fortunately, the original letter calling the first meeting of the Society survived and is held in our archives 

The following is a transcript of notes written by the then Hon. Secretary, Charles Fiske in the Minute Book written after the fire at the Dover Castle.

"A Retrospect"

The commencement of these Minutes marks a definite point in the life of the Chatham Book Society; lest there be a tendency to forget the early history; the following interesting facts are penned for the information of latter-day members.

On the 4th November 1920, our headquarters at The Dover Castle was completely destroyed by fire and the whole of our property (including 250 volumes) was lost.  The destruction of the old minute book containing the names of every member since the birth of the Society, and a complete record of early happenings was our greatest loss.

Foundation.  The Society was founded in 1883 and the first meeting was held on the 4th October 1883 at the Dover Castle; weekly meetings were held at this place until the fire on the 4th November 1920.  The letter calling the first meeting and signed by the first Secretary, Mr. C.P. Hackett has fortunately been saved and is attached hereto.  Amongst the founders mentioned were:

Messsrs. J. Bathurst, M. Budden, J. Coulter, J. Foord, J. Gifkins, A. Gammon, W. Johnson, S. Senior, W. Savage, T. Mason & Andrews.

Purpose.  It was apparently the custom for many of the above named gentlemen to take country walks together to Gads Hill and Cobham during the summer months.  In the winter it was desired to maintain in some form this companionship and the outcome was the Chatham Book Society.

Amongst the early members may be noted:

Messrs. H.G. Allen, G. Bond, C. Way, Rev. W.W. Driver, A. Way, J. Aldridge, Beyfield, J. Albert, Trickford, F. Hutton, W.K. Heam, Major Tyler, A. Hastings, H. Lawrence, A.H. Lawrence, E.T. Richardson, W. Wildish, J.J. Broad, H. Barnes, H. Williamson , C.P. Hackett and E. Gill.

Character.  At the first Meeting, definite Rules were drawn up and their character has no doubt been the secret of the extraordinary success of the Society. All subjects of a controversial nature and which may be grouped under such headings as politics and religion were rigidly excluded; although all shades of political opinion and religious thought have been represented in the Society, the wisdom of this course has been apparent as no instance of broken friendship can be traced to membership of the Society.  It has remained from its first meeting essentially social in its character; every member has always considered it a personal duty to maintain and if possible enhance that espirit de corps which stamps the highest hallmark of good fellowship.  Ome of the greatest has been the stability of membership; indeed this has been its greatest charm and hasd contributed in no small degree to the continued success.  Quite half of the present members can claim association with the Society of over 12 years.  The membership of the following members is worthy of record:

E. Nicholson  elected 1895,  A. Richardson elected 1896,  S. Tyler elected 1900 , A.S. Filley  elected 1900
A. Bathurst elected 1900,  A. Martin elected 1901,  E. Rye elected 1902 ,   J. Chater elected 1903,  C.W. Fiske elected 1905,  P. Broad  elected 1905,  E. Hawkes elected 1908.

General Remarks. The establishment has always been limited to 30 members, but there has invariably been a list of candidates awaiting election.

Many Societies, framed on the lines of Chatham Book Society have been formed in the district since 1883, but most of them have ceased to exist: a silent tribute to the charm of good fellowship which is our greatest asset and strength.  They apparently lacked that companionship which was the initial factor of our foundation.  The following gentlemen have been in succession Chairman, Arthur Gammon, George Bond and Arthur Way. The present Chairman is Albert Richardson and Vice-Chairman Edwin Nicholson and Hon. Secretaries have been C.P. Hackett, T. Crockford, A. Hastings, H. Laurence.  At present in Office A.H. Filley and C.W. Fiske.

The following facts connected with the past and present members may be noted:
       Rev. W. Driver - 3 times Mayor of Chatham and Vicar of Gillingham
       Ald. Paine -        7 times Mayor of Chatham
       G. Bond -    President of Royal Society of British Architects
 and Architect for the building of  the Chatham Town Hall as well as the Theatre Royal
       A. Way -            Councillor of Chatham
       H. Laurence -    Councillor of Chatham
       A. Gurr -            Councillor of Chatham;

All through the stress of the Great War and in spite of the varied and strenuous activities of all members, some of whom were away on Active Service the Society continued its weekly meetings.

It is pleasing to place on record the above particulars; we are all proud to be associated with a Society so happy in its traditions and may due care always be exercised in the submission of candidates.  We have now moved to new HQ at the Prince of Wales Hotel: apart from this change the old order of things remains unbroken: may it continue for many many years.

Chas. Fiske
January 27th 1921"

Arthur Gammon who we believe may have been the first Chairman was born in 1845 in London.  His occupation was Coal Merchant and Cooper, and in 1891 he lived in Holborn House.

Joseph Bathurst. A Builder employing 5 men and 1 boy, who lived at Five Bells Lane 5 Bathurst Terrace, Rochester St Margaret

William G. Budden  A Wine & Spirit Merchant who lived at 59 High Street Chatham. Originally born in Winchester.

Clarence P. Hackett Worked as a Clerk in William Budden's business and also lived in the same house with him.  C.P. Hackett was the first Secretary and called the first meeting . He was born in Exeter.

John Coulter Born in Detling was also in the Wine trade. In 1881 he is shown as a Wine Merchant's Traveller living at Scott's Yard, but his situation improves by 1891 when he is a Wine Merchant living at 79/81, High Street Chatham.

J Foord. No confirming details, however may be an Engine Smith living in Nelson Road Chatham.

J. Gifkins  Was a Brewers Agent and in 1891 lived at 5, Fort Pitt Street, Chatham

W. Johnson  Most likely to be Boot & Shoe Maker living at 23 Olive Street Chatham.

A. Senior  No information found

W. Savage No information found

T. Mason Most likely to be General Merchant living at 3 Rhode Street Chatham


The first entry in this Minute Book reads:

11th November 1920.

An extraordinary General Meeting was held at the Sun Hotel.  On the 4th Inst. our H.Q. had been completely destroyed by fire.  The Annual Dinner was fixed for the 11th and all books had been collected at the Dover Castle for distribution: as a result the complete library was lost.

After some discussion, it was decided to leave the selection of future accommodation in the hands of a small committee consisting of The Chairman, Vice Chairman, Mr. E.W. Hawes and the Hon. Secretaries.  Proposed by M. Billinghurst, Seconded Mr. Paine.

It seems that this small committee did their work as the next entry is

18th November 1921:  First meeting of the Society at the Prince of Wales Hotel.

Between the above date and 13th January 1921, the fire insurance claim was made and settled.  The Society's property was insured for 100 and the Fire Company accepted liability to the value of 90.  A general heartfelt thanks was passed  to Mr. Filley who had been the only representative of the Society to meet the Fire Insurance Company.

Other entries for the period leading up to the Annual General Meeting are:

27th January 1921: A general meeting was held to discuss the disposal of the 90. To partly compensate for the loss of books caused by the fire, the following proposition was passed. 

Each member to purchase books to the value of 2 and hand receipted bills for same to the Hon. Sec. not later than Thursday February 24th.  The balance to be transferred to current account.  Proposed; Mr. E Hawes, Seconded; Mr. Paine.   Messrs A.E. Taylor and C.E. Trowell elected members.

24th February 1921:  Councillor G. Bray elected a member

10th March 1921:  At this meeting the question of having a Summer Outing was discussed.  The following proposition, proposed by Mr. Paine and Seconded by Mr. Hawes was carried. A charabanc be engaged for June 23rd and members proceed to Hastings.  The arrangements to be left in the hands of the Officers of the Society.

The rebuilding of the Dover Castle Inn appears to have been completed by September 1922 as it was decided to return to that establishment for future meetings. Indeed, the Annual General Meeting was held there on the 12th October 1922.

!923 being the 40th year of the founding of the Society it was agreed by the members to invite the then Chatham Mayor-Elect Alderman G.A. Billinghurst C.C. to the Annual Dinner.

July 24th 1924:  Charles Fiske had been the Hon. Secretary for the past 15 years it was decided by the members tp present him with a "handsome expanding suitcase" as a slight token of their high esteem and appreciation of his services. He was also made a Life Member.

It appears the the Strood Book Society was still operating in 1924 as a discussion took place at the AGM as whether  to invite their Hon. Sec. to the Annual Dinner.  It was resolved  to adhere to the general rule of the Society "Members and candidates only".  At the same AGM it was agreed that Rule 14 should be altered to read as follows:-

"Any Member being absent from four consecutive meetings and a satisfactory reason being not forth coming within one month, he shall be considered no longer a Member of the Society."  At the same AGM it was agreed to accept the 6 Shillings Menu provided by Mr. Stickland.

1925: The publican of the Dover Castle Inn, Mr. C. Lane, left and the Members agreed that Two Guineas be taken from Society Funds to purchase a small memento to present to him.

November 19th 1925, the new tennant of the Dover Castle , Mr. W. Harris, wrote aking that the annual rent be increased from 4.4.0d. to 8.8.0d. Following negotations, it was agreed to accept this increase in rent but to discontinue the 2/6d weekly allowance to the waitress.

1926:  In October one of the Members - A.A. Dawes left for China.  At the AGM held on the 14th October the Hon. Secretary "expressed his regret at the continued resignations received especially those from E. Nicholson and H.J. Paine. He referred to the contempt with which the Society had been treated by the last new member - Mr. Rundell - and he suggested that his membership be discontinued."  (Mr. John W. Rundell was elected a member on August 12th 1926 and one wonders what transpired to make the Hon. Sec. make these comments at the AGM)

1927: At the AGM, it was reported that the Society's membership was very strong and that there was only one vacancy.  Mr. A.H. Bathurst one of the oldest members was having difficulty in attending the meetings and it was proposed and accepted that he be made a Life Member. The Mayor Elect, Councillor Osborn Taylor was invited to the Annual Dinner. Ticket price this year was 6/6d. Mr A.A. Dawes was also invited as a guest having returned from China.  Charitable donations were approved, 1 guinea to the Mayor of Chatham's Hospital Fund and 1 guinea to the Surgical Aid Cupboard.

1928: The cost of the Annual Dinner was shown to be 5/-d. At the meeting on 20th December, the Chairman referred sympathetically to the serious illness of H.M. The King. The Chairman "felt sure that as loyal Englishmen all were most pleased to know that a change for the better was officially reported and would in the name of the Members wish His Majesty a speedy return to full health and strength." 

1929: This year seemed to pass uneventfully

1930: Recorded the death of long-time members A. Bathurst, Edwin Nicholson, Alderman E.A. Billinghurst. It was noted that Mr. R Snelling was returned to good health.

1931: At the AGM, Mr. E. Hawes in accepting the office of Chairman stated that this year would be the 22nd Annual Dinner he had attended, whilst Mr Bert Billingshurst replied on being appointed Vice Chairman that it would be his 21st Annual Dinner.  Messrs A.B. Trembleths Menu costing 6/- per head was accepted.

1932: The Society decided to purchase three Irish Sweepstake tickets for the Derby.  Mr. W. Bliss proposed that a period of time at each Meeting be set aside for an organised discussion. This proposition was referred to a sub-committee. This was later approved and on 1st December Meeting, Mr. Bliss opened the discussion on "Wise Spending and Wise Saving".  On March 2nd., Mr. E.W. Stafford gave an account of his journey to Basutoland. His account of the tribal customs, the initiation of the youths and his interview with their Paramount Chief Shrimpi proved highly diverting.

1933: July 20th. On the occasion of the Annual Bowls Match against Chatham Bowls Club a pictorial record of the game was taken by Mr. E.W. Stafford on his 9.5mm movie camera. (This film record survives and is in our Archives) At the same match, Mr. W. Bulley presented the winners (the Book Society) with a handsome cup who expressed a wish that the Trophy should be competed for annually and an inscribed plate be affixed to the plinth to record each annual win. (This competition now known as "The Bulley Cup" still takes place annually although in recent years the Book Society's wins have been less than frequent!)

 At the AGM the incoming Chairman, Mr. W. Bliss,  made reference to his 49 predecessors.  The date for the 50th Annual Dinner was fixed to be held at the "Dover Castle" and a menu costing 6/- was approved. (A copy of this menu is shown in the Picture Gallery). No other special celebrations were undertaked to mark this Anniversary.

1934: The "Bulley Cup" changed hands for the first time!  It was agreed that the purchase of the Society's Books be made at a local bookseller (Macdonalds) and not at a multiple (W.H.Smith)

1935: The Bookworms being on top of their form wrestled back the custody of the "Bulley Cup".


Churchill Letter