Sir John Bayley Club

Home of the Wellington branch of the British Legion that opened in the wake of the First World War, utilising two former huts from a wartime Midlands army camp.


In Wellington, one of the fastest growing organisations of the immediate post-war era was the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War, which was formed in 1918 by Sergeant-Major T Moss. Starting with just 14 members, the return of demobilised servicemen after the conflict bolstered numbers to the extent that over 300 had joined its ranks by the end of 1919.

The Sir John Bayley Club in Haygate Road

By mid-year, that prodigious growth had already provoked something of a dilemma for the fledgling Wellington Branch, which was formally affiliated to the Shropshire Division of the Comrades at the Wrekin Hall in May. At that meeting, a Representative Executive Committee was also formed, consisting ‘of men who had served overseas’, while a wounded former soldier, Thomas Fletcher of Trench, was appointed secretary of the organisation with the intention he should become salaried. Locating a venue for the social activities of the group was proving more problematic. News of its plight was already well known in the town; finding it a permanent headquarters was presented as one of the objects of the town’s official war memorial commemorations. In the event, that never happened and the Comrades eventually found themselves holed-up in temporary digs at the local Territorial Force Armoury next to Wellington Market in Walker Street.

The Search for a Home

Despite the difficulties of finding a permanent home, the Comrades remained very active organising events to support their ambitions for new clubrooms. A fundraising appeal in November 1919 realised £135 and was augmented by the proceeds from a garden party that added another £35 to the coffers. A full-size billiard table was also acquired thanks to a donation of £50 by Major Robert A Newill, a local Church Street solicitor and Commanding Officer of the Wellington section of the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery. By the end of the year, the management committee had established a membership fee of 2s.6d per half year and a very healthy bank balance of £55 was recorded. Other events followed in 1920, including a ‘flag day’ where the public were encouraged to purchase flags and ‘help the boys who fought for their country’ (it raised over £79), but the search for a home continued to be frustratingly elusive.

John Bayley stands before the college he created

At the end of 1920, the Comrades were treated to a large supper at the Armoury by Sir John Bayley, the founder of Wrekin College. In a passionate address, he acknowledged the lack of local formal recognition for returned servicemen and contributed £250 towards new premises for the Comrades. A few months later, in July 1921, the Wellington Journal carried a ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ article about the submission of plans for a temporary building in Haygate Road… by the Comrades! At long last, the organisation had found a permanent residence, which fittingly took the form of two ex-army huts purchased from a camp at Rugeley in Staffordshire. The building would eventually come to be recognised by the name of the man who had facilitated the arrangement, Sir John Bayley himself (although, as a civilian, he was initially precluded by the rules of the branch from entering). The year 1921 proved to be pivotal in more ways than one, as it was also the portent attending a name change for the Comrades of the Great War, which became known nationally as the British Legion.