The Manchester Luncheon Club was established in 1922 on the initiative of the then Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor E D Simon (later Lord Simon of Wythenshawe), with the support of the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University. At an inaugural meeting in the Banqueting Suite of the Town Hall on 9 February 1922 (cost of lunch 3s 6d), it was resolved "that those present hereby form themselves into a Club to be called ‘THE MANCHESTER LUNCHEON CLUB’, the object of which shall be to afford opportunities for social intercourse to those interested in the Commerce, University, and other activities in the City, by means of periodical meetings". The initial membership soon grew to 130, and increased considerably over the succeeding years.
An early decision of the Club was that "in the choice of subjects suggested to or proposed by invited guests of the Club, topics on which strong differences of opinion may exist among the members shall not be excluded", a sentiment still enshrined in the Club’s rules today.
A glance through the list of speakers over the years gives an impression of the number of distinguished people who have addressed the Club – in the early years, the names of Sir William Beveridge and Dame Sybil Thorndike are just two picked at random. The topics dealt with for their part give some indication of the concerns of the time – in the 1930s there are echoes of ominous developments in both Europe and the Far East, with talks, for example, on "Germany and the Nazi Regime" and "The Far Eastern Turmoil".
The Club continued to meet during the war years, and both then and in the immediate post-war period and beyond continued to attract distinguished speakers, such as Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Neville Cardus, Barbara Castle, Hugh Gaitskell, Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery and Dr Mary Stocks. HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and HRH The Duke of Kent also feature in the list.
Speakers in more recent times have included Dame Stella Rimington (former head of MI5), Anna Ford, Gerald Kaufman MP, Dr David Jenkins (former Bishop of Durham), Sir Terry Leahy (Chief Executive of Tesco) and Ann Widdecombe MP.
Despite changes in the business and commercial life of Manchester, and in particular changes in lunching habits on the part of members of the business community, the Club continues to attract audiences of up to 100 and more to hear addresses by expert and eminent speakers, who often comment upon the quality of the questions and the discussion after the talk. The tribute of one speaker, recorded by one of the Club’s former Honorary Secretaries many years ago, is perhaps no less apposite today – "There is no audience in the Kingdom better for a speaker than your Luncheon Club".
THE LUNCHEON CLUB BELL
The Luncheon Club’s bell, which is used to call meetings to order, is a ship’s bell, from the Manchester Ship Canal dredger "Sir William", named after Sir William Jenkinson, a director of the Ship Canal Company. It was presented to the Club by Sir Frederick West in June 1939.
THE PRESIDENT’S BADGE
The President’s badge was presented to the Club by Mrs Alison Wilkinson during her Presidency in 1991. This silver badge of office is worn by the President on formal occasions and was designed and made by Mrs Wilkinson’s mother, Margaret Isaac, a retired silversmith.
The names of those Presidents who have held office since the badge was presented are recorded on silver bars attached to the badge’s ribbon, and to mark the Club’s 80th anniversary, and to commemorate those who had held office previously, a special silver medallion was added at the suggestion of the then President, Mrs Betty Gallimore, and presented jointly by her and by those past Presidents who were still members of the Club. This medallion was worn with the badge for the first time at the Club’s 80th anniversary luncheon, held on 5 February 2002.