The Thames & Avon Branch of the Murray Club has the distinction of being the first English Apprentice Boys of Derry Club to be formed outside the Merseyside area. The idea of forming an Apprentice Boys of Derry Club in the south of England had been considered since the mid 1970’s by members of the other Loyal Orders there. A meeting was held on 29th April 1978 at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Wolvercote, Oxford, to begin the process of founding a Club. It was agreed at this meeting that a committee be formed to take the project forward. It was also agreed that the new Club would be a branch of the Murray Parent Club. The meeting was chaired by Brother Ron Magee, who was a member of the Liverpool Murray Club, and the meeting secretary was Brother John Adams, who was also a member of the Liverpool Murray Club.
By September 1978 thirty-two potential members had expressed interest in forming a Club of which 9 were already Apprentice Boys. Further informal meetings were held to progress matters and at a meeting on 20th February 1982 at the Landor Hotel, Clapham North, London, dues started to be collected and the Club began to take shape. Brother John Adams, as secretary of the formation committee, undertook much of the work to get the Charter application ready, including arranging for members to be initiated in Londonderry.
However, it was over four years after the first meeting at Oxford that the objective was achieved when on the 21st August 1982 the Thames & Avon Murray Club was presented with its Charter at the Landor Hotel. Senior members present from the Murray Parent Club included the President, Brother Billy McClay, the Vice President, Brother John Quigley, and the Secretary, Brother Douglas Caldwell. Brother McClay presented the Club with a set of gavels and a Bible on behalf of the Parent Club. Members from the Liverpool Murray and Campsie Clubs were also present. Five new members were enrolled at this inaugural meeting and the first Officers installed were:
President: Brother Ron Magee (Surrey)
Vice President: Brother John Adams (Gloucestershire)
Chaplain: Brother Pastor Maurice Lawson (Surrey)
Lay Chaplain: Brother Sid Black (Oxford)
Secretary: Brother Archie Richardson (London)
Treasurer: Brother John McDowell (Hampshire)
Tyler: Brother James Young (Surrey)
The Club’s membership quickly increased and by the end of 1982 there were 26 members who came from all over the south of England from Essex to Cornwall. A year later the Club had 40 members. As the membership was widely spread the Club did not have a fixed meeting venue, but instead met at locations where there was a cluster of members such as London, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Oxford, Woking and Bristol.
By 1985 the membership was approaching 50 and the time had come to build on the missionary work of the Club by opening new Clubs in areas where there were sufficient members. The first off-shoot Club was the City of London Campsie Club which was formed in 1985 and Brother Archie Richardson was to the fore with this initiative. This was followed by the Solent and Southdown Browning Club which was founded at Portsmouth on 22nd August 1987 to coincide with Thames and Avon’s fifth anniversary celebrations being held there. Members from the City of London Campsie Club were subsequently able to open the City of Westminster Campsie and Benfleet Campsie Clubs. Three Clubs were later formed out of the City of Westminster Campsie Club – the Surrey Campsie Club, the Sheffield Campsie Club and the Darent & Medway Apprentice Boys of Derry Club.
In the late 1980’s the Thames & Avon Club took a leading role in helping to get approval from the General Committee to form the English Amalgamated Committee (EAC) of Apprentice Boys Clubs. The EAC was presented with its Charter at a meeting in Orange Street Church in London on 9th April 1988.
As the off-shoot Clubs were formed the Thames & Avon Club continued its nomadic life by meeting in various locations. The reduced membership was thinly spread across southern England but mostly located in the south west. The loss of members to the newly formed Clubs started to take it toll and the fortunes of the Thames & Avon Club began to wane. After a meeting in Swindon in June 1995 no formal meetings were held for over 3 years and the future for the Club looked very uncertain as the number of members had now dropped to a widely spread 13. Despite these lean times the Club Charter was not returned to the Parent Club in the hope that things would improve.
Then at a meeting in St. Peter’s Church Hall, Wolvercote, Oxford, on 25th November 1998 the Club was re-launched. At the re-launch meeting three members transferred from the Westminster Campsie Club, three new members were enrolled and one member was re-instated. Elections were held at the meeting and plans were put in place to get the Club back on its feet.
Until June 2015 the Club held meeting in Bristol and in Oxfordshire. Today the Club meets quarterly in south Oxfordshire. The membership, which is still widely spread, has stabilised at about 20 and the Club is usually represented at the Shutting of the Gates and Relief celebration days in Londonderry.
The Officers and members of the Thames & Avon Club look to the future with confidence and, although we may never be a large Club, we are determined to maintain the ‘Crimson Cause’