On News Years Day 1983, a small group of village drinkers out walking their dogs and with thumping hangovers, conceived the idea of forming a small fellowship to meet regularly, consume alcohol and do a bit of good for the local community.
Byron Hughes must take the credit for turning the hazy New Year’s Day discussion into concrete action. Within a few days, he created the following proposal and sent it to the rest of the group:-
As you are aware, a recent ‘bit of fun’ has discovered quite an interest in forming some sort of male drinking club. While the main purpose of the club will be the pursuit of merriment, camaraderie, and the ancient art of falling down, I feel there should be a responsible, charitable, side to it in order to sustain it and stop it from becoming short-lived wonder. I also feel that in order to retain its character this charity should be of an identifiable local nature e.g. the purchase of a radio for old and blind Mrs X from one of the local villages. The money would come from personal donations, fund-raising, (such as stalls at local fetes), specific ‘pass the hat around’ evenings etc. The club’s trademark of port-drinking and Stilton cheese consuming must be retained. It gives a sense of tradition and belonging. Whether the original concept of dog-walking should be included is open to debate as, indeed, are all aspects initially. The reason for the question mark over the dog-walking is that in all our deliberations we must be practical and sensible. Any ideas, however laudable, which do not fall into this category are doomed to eventual failure. We must also remember our womenfolk. While the stag concept will be jealously defended, the club’s long-term health will rely on their blessing (however limited) and quite often - during fund-raising etc. - assistance. An occasional dance or outing, therefore, would be sensible. While the New Inn will inevitably be the focal point of the club, I feel that the meeting place should be varied as much as possible. Apart from special occasions, business matters should be limited to one hour. A committee will have to be formed for organisational reasons, but rules should be kept to a minimum. An inaugural meeting will he held at the New Inn on Sunday January 30th 1983 at 11a.m. when the above ideas and any more from those present will be discussed. Conditions of membership, club crest, traditions etc. will also be debated, and the first committee elected - time per You are cordially invited.”
20 years on most of this proposal is still recognisable and the Sniffers still operate within the framework that Byron, John Taylor (who was then the landlord at the New Inn) and the others devised.
THE FIRST MEETING
The minutes of the first meeting are relatively short. They established some of the conditions for future Sniffing and are here recorded in full.
At the inaugural meeting on January 30th the following actions and decisions were made:
Mr. John Taylor and Mr. Byron Hughes were unanimously elected Chairman and Secretary/Treasurer respectively.
Messrs. Paul Fretwell, Richard Jones, Mike Loveridge, Jim O’Connor, Barry Snell and Ian Williams agreed to form the main Committee.
It was acknowledged that Richard March, Simon McDaid and Peter Wood would probably be in attendance at the next meeting.
One meeting will be held each month, probably on the last Sunday.
Each member will take it in turn to be host and standing the cost of same.
John Taylor kindly made the facilities of the New Inn available if it was not possible to hold the meeting elsewhere.
It was agreed that the subscription be £2 per head, per month and the Treasurer would invest the funds in a building society account.
The broad aims set out in the introductory letter were generally agreed.
The Secretary would hopefully be able to bring some suggestions for a crest design to the next meeting,
It was agreed that the first use of such a crest would be on a Club tie,
It was agreed that the next meeting be held on February 27th at 11.00 a.m. at the Secretary’s house,
Virtually all of the Sniffers meetings over the next 20 years were recorded and amazingly the minutes have survived through several changes of Secretary. They now fill three lever arch files and make fascinating reading.
Appendix I consists of selected highlights from 20 years of Sniffing. The selections aim to give a flavour of the activities, humour and occasional spats that make up Sniffing. They highlight what has changed but, more importantly, how much has remained the same over the 20 years.
NOT THE MINUTES
The minutes present a comprehensive picture of most of the important events in the history of Sniffing. One item that does not however get mentioned is the singing of the club song at the Annual Dinner. John Jacobs has conducted an enthusiastic if fairly tuneless rendition of “The Music Man” at nearly all dinners since quite early days. The sight of twenty overweight middle aged men standing on flimsy chairs doing Spitfire impressions has now been witnessed in some of the better eating houses in the region. The minutes do not record that one year, after a particularly impressive performance at the Porridge Pot, the Sniffers were discretely asked not to return. On another occasion a worried restaurant owner was about to protest but decided to say nothing when all his staff joined in the song! In the last couple of years this tradition has finally been allowed to die out as chairs no longer seem to be so strong and the Sniffers are definitely both weightier and less agile.
In similar vein, the minutes refer to the successful brewery visit in 1986 but cast a discreet veil over the condition of the entire party when they returned to the village. Some things are best not recorded.
The minutes do give some flavour of the fact that in the early days at least half of all Sniffer activities involved giving practical help to villagers in need usually in the form of gardening, hedge cutting etc. Twenty years on there are few genuine cases of need in a now prosperous village and the Sniffers tend to feel their age if asked to do any more energetic than lift a pint pot. This aspect of Sniffing should not however be overlooked.
Compiled from the Minutes, Accounts and Other Records
By Jonathan Rashleigh
January 2005 (updated from the original 2003 document)