The articles to be observed by a Society of Gentlemen, inhabitants of the Town and Neighbourhood of Aberystwyth were drawn up at their first meeting on Tuesday 14th March 1780. This manuscript copy on parchment, together with a printed version published in 1817, are deposited with other archives in the National Library of Wales. In 1817 there were 14 gentlemen - by 1823 it had grown to 27 but limited to 21 members resident within 10 miles of Aberystwyth and met every Tuesday evening at "a house which produces good ale". This was paid for by members subscriptions and a rotating chairman fined members for absences or other breaches of the rules. An annual feast was held in January and widows of members of at least three years standing were paid five sovereigns.
On 29/03/1838 this club (by now called the "Old" Social Club) became known as the St David's Club. The rules and signatures of members drawn up on this day are still to be seen on vellum parchment in the Nanteos Bar. The Annual Feast was changed to St David's Day, starting promptly at 5pm. with coffee served at 9 p.m. It is recorded that on one occasion 16 toasts were drunk, including the Queen, the Queen Dowager, the immortal memory of St David (in solemn silence), the Army, the Navy, The Society of Ancient Britons in London, the Lord Lieutenant, MPs, the High Sheriff, the Mayor and Corporation, the Aberystwyth Social Club, etc, etc.
Charity was also considered. In addition to grants to widows, grants were given to study in London. In 1839 a fund was launched to buy the town a lifeboat, presented to the harbourmaster in 1843. (The RNLI was not formed till 1861 when it presented the town with the Evelyn Wood). In 1860, a grant was made to enlarging and repairing the church organ.
In October 1888, members perhaps tired of their weekly "oysters, grog and cigars" and wanting a more permanent site, reformed and changed the name to the Queens' Club. They met in the Queens Hotel with dedicated billiard and smoking rooms. This was short-lived and these " members together with some members of the masonic lodge formed the new St David's Club, meeting in the lower two rooms of the new Masonic Hall in Market Street (8/12/1890). These premises were open daily (except Sundays) at all hours and included a new billiard table, eating and drinking facilities. The first management committee included Vaughan Davies, M.P. (later Lord Ystwyth of Tanybwlch) David Roberts (brewer), R. Geddes Smith (solicitor), John Morgan (Prop. Aberystwyth Observer) and J.R. Rees (bank manager). It is Lord Ystwyth's portrait which adorns the mantelpiece in the Nanteos Bar. Musical evenings and smoking concerts were held. In 1895 the rules were changed to allow ladies to join as day members only. Some men were very hostile to this and the uncomfortable ladies soon resigned. Another contentious change was to allow opening on Sundays. Although this was passed, it was postponed for a year but this proved eventually to be popular (as public houses were always then shut on the Sabbath) and membership passed the 100 mark for the 1st time in 1903. In this year it was decided to move from the lodge, where the tenancy was becoming somewhat uneasy, to more suitable premises round the corner. The Old Bank House in Little Darkgate Street (now Eastgate) became available. It was formerly the National & Provincial Bank (whose first manager, Joseph Downie, lived at the premises) and latterly a free library owned by City Brewery Company, Lichfield. This was easily converted to house caretaker, guest, billiard, reading and writing rooms, the expense being met by members.
On 17th October 1903 the present premises were opened with a Grand Smoking Concert. On 15th May 1915 a great fire occurred at about 2am. and by the time the fire brigade had put out the blaze at 4.30 a.m. the interior was gutted. The only occupant was the caretaker who managed a choking escape from an upstairs window using a thin clothes line. He was injured and lost everything but was compensated and given a gratuity by the club. The insurance of £350 did not cover the cost of refurbishment but members rallied round with donations of £201.
During the renovations the club met in the Old Post Office in Terrace Road but returned on 27/01/1916 and is still there to this day.
The most popular on-going function of the club was originally billiards and is now snooker. In the fire the billiard table on which the champion Peel had once made a record spot break was damaged. Lord Ystwyth presented the club with 2 new snooker tables in 1915, on which some great players have performed including Ray Reardon,. " although Terry Griffiths was turned down because the committee could not agree to his £25 fee and, shortly after, he won the world championship.
In more recent years, the St David's Bridge Section plays regularly to a very high standard and the club has played host to Mid-Wales Federation matches. Organisations which meet regularly include the Aberystwyth Camera Club, the Postcard Club and the Friends of Cardigan Bay.
Music of all kinds is popular and at present a pop group and a jazz band regularly rehearse. There have been smoking concerts, quizzes, German band and sausage nights, Karaoke parties and wine tastings. The Nanteos Bar has also been used for classical string quartets and, on a few occasions, the whole of the Aberystwyth Chamber Orchestra has squeezed in. Victorian and Japanese nights with everyone in authentic costume, were held in the 1970's with suitable music, ballads and poetry. Vincent Kane recorded a radio programme one lunchtime, talks about the club have been broadcast by Radio Ceredigion and it has appeared a couple of times on TV
Rules of dress
Although very relaxed these days (to reflect modern tastes) were, in the past, very strict and most members attended in lounge suits and black tie for dinners. Spare ties were traditionally kept behind the bar for members or guests who arrived tieless.
In 1985 the momentous decision was taken to allow ladies to join as associate members (later as full members) and although a few members resigned in protest at the time, ladies have played a full part since in the sociability and organisation of the club. Some members still remember the time when ladies were asked to wait in the Gogerddan Room until their husbands were ready to be driven home. In this new millennium it is sobering to think that we are entering our 4th Century of operation and in our present premises we are rapidly approaching our Centenary.
Let us raise our glasses and say "long live the St David's
John P Evans President 1989-2001
35 Eastgate, Aberystwyth, Mid Wales, SY23 2AR