The former Rye & District Royal British Legion (RBL) Club in King Street, Landgate, Rye is up for sale for £495,000 through local agents. This club was established by popular public subscription in the early 1920s for ex-servicemen, many of whom had returned from World War 1.
For the last nine years the Club has been operating as the self styled “Brewery Yard Club”. The background makes interesting reading and may cause many of those who founded the original RBL Club to turn in their graves.
In May 2006, the RBL in Rye operated according to the national model whereby the District Branch and the Club were administered separately by the RBL national HQ. The membership was around 170 comprising both ex-service and associate civilian members. Not all RBL Branch members were Club members but many were.
During 2005, a group within the Club organization planned to break away from the RBL taking the Club assets with them. In mid 2005, they registered with Rother District Council under a new name and were granted an alcohol licence. Meanwhile to all observers the RBL Club seemed to operate as normal.
In April 2006, the local RBL District Branch held its usual monthly meeting in the Club. It discussed its responsibilities for Remembrance Day, Remembrance visits to the battlefields, other fundraising events and welfare cases unaware that the breakaway group had called a members’ extraordinary meeting for the following week.
The precise circumstances of the Club meeting, who attended and what was agreed have long been disputed as there was no public record and no formal involvement of the RBL Branch. What is clear is that there was a vote to disaffiliate from the RBL. In late May 2006, the Club committee announced its new name (Brewery Yard Club) in the local press and removed all Legion signage and artefacts. The Legion records, trophies and photographs going back to the 1920s have never been handed over nor located.
In direct response to the vote, the then RBL Branch Chair in May 2006 secured an opposition petition from most Branch members and lodged it with the Brewery Yard Club committee. This and other formal letters from RBL officers were ignored. After taking advice from the National and County headquarters of RBL, the Rye Branch was advised to accept a fait accompli, with the Club going its separate way.
Some time after the split, the club adopted a new charter as the “Brewery Yard Club”. In this document the committee claimed authority for Club members, in circumstances where the Club closed, to sell and share the former RBL assets. Linked to the club was a house in the Undercliff which was subsequently sold.
It should be noted that the Rye & District RBL Branch remains alive and well and continues to provide the focus for Legion members locally. It meets regularly either in the George on the High Street or the Rye Club in Market Road and provides an umbrella movement for all three service organizations. It looks to the future by involving the Rye Sea Cadets in activities such as the annual Poppy Appeal and other youth organizations at Civic Remembrance.
Given the history, it is sad to see the club sold in such circumstances. The RBL would look for a substantial donation from the closing Brewery Yard Club. This is the very least that the original ex-service founders would have wanted.
Colonel Anthony Kimber has been President of the Rye Branch of the RBL since 2006