In my youth I regularly visited the gentleperson’s establishment of Bishop Eton Parish Centre, known locally as Birch House, a church club. At the time, it seemed like the centre of the universe. Cheap beer, cheap cigarettes, quirky vending machine in the entrance and two hi-reward fruit machines. It also boasted a friendly hostess and a bloody handy lock in.
Lock-ins, for those not in the know, are when an establishment continues to entertain selected patrons after the doors have closed and alcohol sales are required by law to cease due to the time of day or night. Of course, once the doors are closed and the curtains are drawn, there’s no telling what goes on in there. Drinking mostly. Occasionally until 4am.
As well as a patron, I was also a member of staff and frequently had to facilitate the lock-in despite having a job to go to in the morning. However, in those days the clock was weird and 4am was just a time on the clock while sleep was something that happened for six hours between eyes shut and 7am in the morning. Being a member of staff I was also fortunate enough to be able to monitor the usage of the fruit machines and determine when it would pay out, which it often did, in my favour.
The club was owned by the local parish church and used for functions and meetings of local groups including a group of professional males who followed a sinister type of catholic free-masonry, a Women’s Institute knock-off, a couple of local self-build groups, the youth club (complete with a local weirdo who liked to stare at the girls) and a weird and secretive “invite only” quiz league. It really was a happening place.
Sadly, land values around the area rose and the thought of a quick cash injection for the church became too much for the clergy. As a result, in the early noughties, the club closed its doors for the last time. The building, a graded listed building, was earmarked for “redevelopment to luxury accommodation”, which meant falling into disrepair, catching fire and it and the ground eventually being bulldozed and turned into a gated community of several houses.
Thankfully, the name, if not the memories, lives on in the street name – Birch House Close. Bless.