Knutsford Circle in 2000 – looking back on 42 years

The following article is an extract from a book produced by the Brother Bob Quin (RIP).


This record of Knutsford Circle, spanning some 42 years, was deemed by the Circle Council, to be an appropriate record to herald the Millennium celebrations and I feel privileged to have been asked to produce it.

In such a brief history it is impossible to itemise all the comings and goings of brothers and it is inevitable that someone will be omitted who deserved to be included. I can only ask for understanding from any of my brothers to whom I fail to do justice; – of your charity, remember that it is human to err!

I hope to place on record some of the valuable individual contributions that so many brothers have made over the period, efforts which have resulted in the mature, healthy, thriving adult of today, which has grown from that original, largely inexperienced baby, conceived with such hope by the Macclesfield Circle, and born over 40 years ago.

I have identified four distinct stages in the life of our Circle and would itemise them as follows: conception, birth, adolescence and growth/maturity. Fortunately or unfortunately, they overlap in such a way that to separate them is difficult if not impossible. The logical place however, is to start at the beginning and that I will do.


One could say that the gestation period for the Circle was a long one. From conception to birth it was all of two years and was the original brainchild of Alan Burke. He led a small group of men, who were well instructed by Frank Lomas of Macclesfield, and they attended many formal and informal meetings in that town. Macclesfield was our Mother Circle and No 182 Circle was born on the 30th of January 1958. There were twenty five brothers as founder members and some 79 brothers from neighbouring circles, who witnessed the birth.

Amongst the visitors, we were privileged to welcome the Grand President V. Palmer, Grand V.P. A Carus, and Grand Secretary, Laurie Tanner. Among the other hierarchy present were four Grand Directors and the Provincial President, John Gorna. Some brothers from neighbouring circles became joint members in order to help Knutsford to be established. Several men living in the Wilmslow area, led by Walter Pettitt, helped in the formation, on the understanding that in the fullness of time, Knutsford would be the Mother Circle for the foundation of a daughter Circle at Wilmslow. This promise was kept, and Walter became the first president of that Circle in 1969, just eleven years later. During those years, the ’Wilmslow contingent’ gave full measure to the Knutsford Circle in establishing its foundations, Walter himself serving a term as president. The problem arose when they went – they left a great big hole, which took some time to fill.

One can browse quietly through some of the earliest minutes and records during the period of adolescence, but I think it is essential that one stands back to see the whole picture. As I do so, and invidious though it may seem, I am going to pick out some of the men who have made notable contributions to No 182. Of course, such a task is asking for trouble – I shall omit someone who should not be omitted and I shall eulogise someone who may well be embarrassed. They are risks I must take and I ask forgiveness from any brother whom I may inadvertently offend.

The late Tony Dolan served no less than three terms as President, and Alan Burke, Jim Butterley, Peter Pozzoni and the late Jim Vallely, all served two. Founder member Walter Pettit served a term as president of Knutsford in 1962/3, was the founder president of Wilmslow Circle and was again president of that Circle again in 1994/5. As secretaries, treasurers and indeed all officers of our circle, it is quite heartening to weigh the contributions that have been made by so many over the years. Peter Hardman, Tony Weir and Tony Andrews, were not only past presidents of Knutsford, but were all Provincial Presidents and remain active members of the Association to this day the two Tonys in Knutsford and Peter in Warrington. Winston Churchill reminded us of the debt we owed to the few’. In Knutsford’s case it is the debt we owe to the many.

In those early years, apart from Alan Burke, I must pay tribute to some who, alas, are no longer with us. Denis Hayward, Eddie Dowling, Eddie Anthistle, Steve Leach and Jim Redhead are names that spring to mind. Eddie Dowling was our first secretary and was untiring in his efforts.

In November 1960, Eddie was succeeded as secretary by our Founder President Alan Burke, who retained the post until May 1964. Ted Lowe, who served three of those early years as treasurer and held several other officers’ posts, Marshall and Registrar among them, would never accept nomination for President.

Had it not been for the dedication and enthusiasm of these early brothers, and there were many more besides the few I have just mentioned, we should not now be celebrating our 500th meeting. However, the list is not confined to the founder members. There was a steady influx of new members and all have contributed in so many ways. Again, some names spring to mind and undoubtedly I shall miss out someone who ought to be mentioned. I cannot omit Tony Weir, who joined the Circle in December 1959 and succeeded Alan Burke as secretary in May 1964. Frank Brady, Peter Duffy, Dennis Willoughby and Peter Hardman were also all stalwarts and the backbone of the Circle during its growing adolescent years. The trouble is that the list is endless: I could go on and on and it becomes more invidious with every step. To pay proper tribute I would have to mention everybody and that is impracticable.

It would I think be interesting to give you a few sidelights about No 182, compiled from research of available material and by talking to those who remember. They will take seconds to read but I assure you took a lot longer to compile. The minutes, letters and circulars for the period 1958 to 1964 are sketchy to say the least, but the ones for the seventies and up to 1986 are non-existent. Somewhere in those years, they were destroyed after a burglary – at least that is what I am told. Since one cannot make bricks without straw, I make no apology for anything in that period which may not be wholly accurate.

In the early days, the officers included a guard as well as a registrar. In Knutsford, either on the registrar’s table or the guard’s, I don’t remember which, was a dish. This was for the contribution of half a crown from every brother to pay for the drinks. The system was discontinued in 1962. All our early meetings were at the Royal George and we subsequently spent several years at Cottons and a short time at the Swan. We returned to the George but for many years now Cottons has been our home. The venue for the Council has altered more times than one can count. So far as I can make out, Council meetings have been held at half the pubs in Knutsford – I think we must be a drunken lot!

I just want say how sad it is, that of the twenty five brothers who were founder members, only six are still alive. Of these six, one has retired to North Wales (Bill Kilbride) but five are still active Catenians. Walter Pettitt is in the Wilmslow Circle, Gerry Coghlan in Birmingham, whilst Alan Burke, Ted Lowe and myself, remain in Knutsford.

Perhaps it is even more sobering that of the 79 visitors at the inaugural meeting, I can only trace five who are still in the Catenian register and the assumption must be that the majority are no longer in this world.

Over the years, membership has fluctuated as indeed it does in most Circles. It took some time to recover from the ‘exflux’ (it’s not in the dictionary but I think it’s a wonderful word), when Wilmslow was formed and we had a lean time some eight or nine years ago when our numbers were dropping dangerously. At that time, like many other circles, our average age was rising. Today, 1999, we have passed through our adolescence and are mature. We are however continuing to grow and this year at the time of writing this treatise, our strength has increased to fifty. Most important of all, the average age of members is reducing. In the last year, the majority of the men who have joined us have been between thirty five and forty five. I cannot in this connection fail to mention the efforts of our Membership officer for the last three years – Past President Ted Yates. His ability to encourage his small committee to produce not only new members, but young, active and enthusiastic ones, is little short of miraculous. Yet another brother to whom we have to be grateful.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have picked out several individuals, I personally think that the strength of our Circle is its team spirit. We tend to pull together and quite apart from what the Manual might say, there really isn’t any wrangling. Of course we don’t always agree but in 99% of cases, having said our piece, we go by the majority decision and buckle down. I was about to write ‘as in any true democracy’, but on reflection that might have caused a few raised eyebrows. Whatever we are or are not, I doubt anyone could say we are a true democracy – perish the thought..

The years throughout have had their highs and lows, their ups and downs, but the strength of the Circle today bears testimony to the original nurturing. I doubt there are many circles who in the last few years, have nearly doubled their numbers and also reduced the average age.

Whilst it is Catenian tradition that we are not a fund raising organisation, individual brothers are deeply involved with all the church activities in the parish. We are more fortunate than some, in that the vast majority of our members are now all from the Knutsford parish. As a parish event, we now organise a children’s party every Christmas and it has become an annual fixture.

One of the lifebloods of the Association, is the visiting of neighbouring circles quite apart from supporting one’s own. Here again, as one looks back over the years, some presidents regard this as a high priority and some don’t. Only twice in the last ten tears have we recorded less than 100 visits, reaching the highest ever in 1994/5 with 170. I am well aware that some circles will have a much higher average but I am reporting on Knutsford and with the way the Circle is progressing it is unlikely that the target figure will not be broken before long. I personally am not a lover of visiting circles in order to win trophies for it, but I believe that visiting complements one’s membership and furthers its ideals. One should not visit because it is a duty – but because it is a pleasure, and I believe that future Catenians in this Circle will believe that and act accordingly.

As one looks back through the archives, the important milestones have always been celebrated with a dinner as well as a meeting. There was an inaugural meeting of the Knutsford Group, incorporating a dinner, two years before the formation of the Circle. Then there was the Inaugural Dinner itself on January 30th 1958, and similar dinners at the 100th meeting, the 250th and the 400th.

At the 100th meeting, Walter Pettitt made a presentation to the Circle of a Catenian Badge mounted on a stand. Today, over thirty years on, it is still proudly displayed at each meeting. For the 250th meeting, the dinner being once again at the Royal George, the guests included Grand President Richard Last, K.S.G., and Grand Director Peter Barratt. The Knutsford president at the time was Ken Somerset.

For the 400th meeting, we deserted our usual haunts and it was held at Statham Lodge in Lymm. There, President Jim Vallely welcomed the Grand President Bert Murnagham and many other distinguished brothers.

It was not until January 1993 that another milestone in the life of the Circle was recorded, when we held our first ever Charter Dinner. This was held at the Dun Cow in Knutsford and our guest of honour was founder member Gerry Coghlan who travelled up from Birmingham

In my researches, I came across an early show card from The Royal George There was no date on it but I estimate it was the very early sixties. It advertises beer at 2/- a pint (10p) and the hard stuff at 2/6 per glass (12 ½ p). Gin and French or Gin and Italian were very popular then as opposed to the present popular G & T. The interesting fact is that the mixer – French Noilly Prat or sweet Martini was provided without extra charge

Over the last 42 years, there have been thirty six presidents and thirteen secretaries. Most of the latter have retained the position for three years and two of them, Richard Mitchell and the late Jim Redhead, for five. It has been interesting to see how each brought his own special style to the minutes. Each had his own way of reporting the meeting but all managed to place on record the important facts. Mind you, one secretary, (who shall be nameless), on two successive years, reported in the minutes that ” the nominations for officers for the coming year were approved”. ! The interrogation mark is mine – pity the poor researcher. Nowhere in the minutes were the nominations quoted!

In 1994, the year I was president, the secretary was David Denne with whom I had a great rapport. He supported me when I altered the words which I was supposed to say, in regard to the minutes. (Incidentally I got ‘ticked off’ for it by a Provincial representative.). We had just introduced the circulation of the minutes and since this was known to everyone I declined to say, ” Brother Secretary, if they have not already been circulated…” We all knew they had been circulated so those few words were missed out. Oh well, I was always a heretic at heart.

Over the years, the Knutsford brothers have been great supporters of the Province 17 Golf Society and there is no less interest today. Of course, the entertainments programme has widened considerably, covering such varied activities as, a hot pot supper and quiz, a canal boat trip and barbecue, visits to the opera and to Bridgewater Hall, pilgrimages to a shrine, and bowls and cricket matches to name but some of them. We also have our own Golf competition for the Lochhead Trophy, competed for annually. As well as these, each year there is a series of dinners and dances, organised so that our ladies shall not feel neglected.

It is probably a truism to say that the Catenians as a whole, work very hard at entertaining themselves, and I would not deny it. However, they are proudly Catholic and if not collectively then assuredly individually, you can be sure that any worthwhile cause will be evaluated and get support if at all possible. The organisation was founded on the principle that there was a need for Catholic men to gather together for recreational purposes and I believe that the same holds good today.

In Knutsford, we do not neglect our partners, (as if we would), and apart from the meetings, do our very best to make every occasion a sharing one. Perhaps that is another reason for our success. It is a well-known cliché that behind every successful man there is a woman. Whether or not that is true, it is undoubtedly a fact that no man can give his all to any organisation unless he has the backing of his partner.

No treatise on the past can close without some thought to the future Having come through the adolescent period and reached maturity, many of us are realising much the same truism as when we qualified in our chosen calling. Qualified we may have been then, mature we may be now, but it wasn’t the time then to throw our books away and relax, and neither is it now. The hard work is still there to be done. I like the old cliché that no ship ever drifted into port it drifts on to the rocks. It gets to port by hard work and it is up to those in the Circle now, to see that we do not stint on out impute or we shall betray those who founded us.

I foresee the Knutsford Circle growing steadily but sufficiently slowly to ensure the quality of the new brothers. I am sure that there will be more variations and innovations in our entertainment programme. If the tendency to admit young men into our Circle continues, then more attention will have to be paid to entertainments which include young families. There will undoubtedly be some presidents who will have specific charities, which we as a Circle will support. Since, as I already said, over 90% of our Circle are in the parish of St Vincent’s, we shall maintain our close links with our Parish Priest, who is a great friend to us all.

As we look back over the past and savour the present, let us make every effort for the coming years and pray that we, and our children, will see those efforts bear suitable fruit.