The Winkle Club, Hastings is an internationally famous charity organization formed in 1900 by Hastings fishermen to help the under-privileged families of Hastings Old Town, in East Sussex, in the South East England. One of the original members present at the inaugural meeting in 1900, Dick Betts, wrote in 1972 that as he remembered it the Acorn Club had already been formed in the Royal Oak Public House and all members had to carry an acorn, failing which a fine was payable to benefit local charitable causes.

The fisherman decided to start a similar organization using an appropriate item connected to their trade and so the Winkle Club was born, the Winkle being an edible sea snail which can be collected and eaten in Hastings. On being granted entry to the Club Members are presented (in return for a fee) with their own Winkle which is an empty shell filled with sealing wax which they should keep in their possession at all times.

The Winkle Club headquarters is located at the Fishermen's Club in Old Town, Hastings which opened in 1882 as The Fishermen's Institute. The building was given in trust for the use of Hastings Fishermen and the ground floor area, today used as the bar and clubroom, was initially used by the fishermen for making and repairing their nets.

Apart from fishermen and local residents, Winkle Club members have included some notable personalities such as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Edward VIII Duke of Windsor, Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, Winston Churchill, Sir Robert Menzies. From the world of entertainment past members include Sir Norman Wisdom, Dickie Henderson, Lance Percival, Cyril Fletcher and Tommy Trinder. Other distinguished members have included Lords, Dukes, Ambassadors and Knights of the Realm. Queen Elizabeth II is a current Honorary Member, the club being an all male society.

During special occasions, members of the Winkle Club gather together on Winkle Island at the foot of All Saints' Street in Old Town, Hastings. Winkle Island is the venue for many of the club's outdoor events and the giant Winkle that stands on the pavement is an important local landmark, having in the past been used as a collecting box as well as a focal point for many important ceremonies.

Many events are organized to assist the work of the Winkle Club especially during the annual Hastings Week and Hastings Old Town Carnival. More than 50 organizations on average are beneficiaries of the Winkle Club in any given year helping people of all ages with many different disadvantages.

Apart from membership fees, donations and volunteer fundraising events, a consistent source of revenue for the club has been the self imposed fine system which penalises members for rule infringements, the resulting financial penalties generating revenue which is channelled towards local charities. The Winkle Club rules were originally few in number but have proved to be pitfalls for the unwary to the advantage of the funds:

The main rule is the challenge to 'Winkle Up'. If a member challenged cannot show his Winkle, he must be fined (originally 2d – nowadays £ 1 going to good causes), but if the challenger fails to show his own Winkle or fails to report the offender before the end of the week he has to pay both Members' fines.

The Winkle must never pass out of the Member's possession and he must always show it when challenged. A known fundraising technique is for one Member to ask to compare Winkles hoping to relieve the other of his Winkle. An example might be inviting another Member to put his Winkle on the table for comparison of size. Members need to be wary of another member saying he wonders who has the bigger winkle, it may be a trick. If the Member, in an unguarded moment, puts his Winkle down as requested, he at once becomes liable for a fine for not having a Winkle.

Moreover, no Member may ever have more than one Winkle. Another moneymaking ruse is to casually invite another Member to hold a Member's Winkle for a moment in order to reach for something for instance or to avoid dropping something. If he complies he is liable to be fined for holding two Winkles. It has to be remembered that the first Winkler is also in breach for not having a Winkle if the other Member is holding both Winkles.

Anybody challenging a non-Winkler has to pay up. It has been frequently reported that new Members have been encouraged to go and challenge another to Winkle-Up only to find that the target has never had a Winkle and is not a Member. Another fine is payable, all's fair in Winkling and it all goes to charity.

No Member may Winkle-Up a Member at work or driving or doing anything else that requires concentration – this rule came into being in the early years after original Member Albert Dighton had challenged fellow Founding Member Dick Betts when the latter was riding his bicycle. Startled, Dick braked too quickly and shot out on to the road.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the word Winkle as a Verb {to extract with difficulty} and a Noun {small edible shore-dwelling mollusc} so a member could legitimately be challenged to "Winkle your Winkle" but "Winkle-Up" is the accepted challenge.

Visitors to Hastings and the uninitiated should be advised that if they see a man in Hastings frantically reaching deep into his trouser pocket in an apparent state of anguish it may not necessarily be cause for alarm – he could simply be looking for his Winkle!

Source by Sally Rimer

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