Club History

We enter the club's centenary year with a display in the Clayport Library

Most of these notes are taken from “A Short History of The Rotary Club of Durham” published in 1998 to mark the 75th anniversary of the granting of the Club Charter.  The History was prepared by Past Presidents Alf Harold, Laurie Turner and the late John Heron; their work is acknowledged with thanks.
In his introduction to the History, the then President Gordon Mitchell said “While many of our activities are visible and public, much of our community, national and international service is performed quietly and out of the public gaze and deserves to be recognised.”  This is as true today as it has always been!

Rotary came to Durham in 1922 largely through the initiative of W.R.H. Gray (Gown Maker to the University of Durham).  The Club held its first meeting in the County Hotel, Durham, on 5th December 1922 when 19 people attended.  At this meeting Dr. A. Robinson (the then Master of Hatfield College, University of Durham) was elected President.  The formation of the Club was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Newcastle upon Tyne.  When the formal application was made for membership of Rotary International on 21st February, 1923, the membership had grown to 25.  The application was approved on 18th April, 1923, by which time the membership of the Club had grown to 35 – early indications of a healthy and popular organisation.

Early charitable activities were limited, donations being made to the “Police Boot Fund for Poor Children” and the “Samaritans Nurses Society”.  By 1930, a regular event was a dance to raise funds to assist the children in Durham County Hospital.

Luncheon meetings were held fortnightly until 1937, when weekly meetings were instituted for a six month trial period.  This experiment was successful and the weekly meetings became a permanent feature.

During the second world war, the Club provided rest room and refreshments for members of the armed forces returning home on leave.  A rota of car owners provided them with lifts home when there was no public transport available.

The wives of several members of the Club joined together to form the Inner Wheel Club of Durham in 1944 and we continue to work closely together.  

On the 13th April, 1973, a Grand Banquet was held in the Great Hall of Durham Castle to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Club Charter.  Among the guests were the Mayor of Durham, Past President of Rotary GB&I the Rev. D. Dick,  District Governor H. Botham and presidents of many neighbouring clubs.  A highlight of the occasion was a fanfare blown by the trumpeters of the Ushaw Moor ACF from the minstrel gallery of the Great Hall to summon the diners to table.  It was an evening that will be long remembered by those present.

As a result of procedural changes introduced by Rotary International in 1975, it became possible for more than one Rotary Club to be formed within the same geographical area.  This enabled the Club to sponsor the formation of the Rotary Club of Durham Bede early in that year.  The Club was also responsible, in 1977, for establishing the first Probus Club in the city.  This was so successful that a further two Clubs have since been formed.

To be continued ...

Durham Rotary Centenary



The Rotary Club of Durham was officially approved for membership of Rotary International on 18th. April 1923 – Charter No. 1425. The Club’s first half century was recorded and celebrated in the Booklet ‘A Short History’ produced in 1983.

Now entering our 100th. Year we are preparing the sequel to that booklet, following the next 50 years up to the present.

As part of the celebrations the club intends to produce 5 displays over the twelve months from July 2022 to June 2023. Each display will cover a decade and be available for three months, the 1980s starting in July 2022. The display is now available to view at the Clayport Library ; it will remain throughout the Rotary Year with additions/changes to reflect the 5 decades that followed the original 50 year history.



The 1980s


On the 17th. February 1980 100 Rotarians attended a service in Durham Cathedral to celebrate the 75th. Anniversary of Rotary International



In September 1980 there were 18,860 clubs with 873,000 Rotarians in 154 countries and by January 1985 there were 965,000 in 159 countries.

Finally in 1986 the number of Rotarians worldwide reached the one million mark.




The Club

In the 1980s the club continued to prosper and had grown to 70 members by the end of the decade with subscriptions set at £48.00. On April 18th. 1983 the club celebrated its Diamond jubilee with a banquet and ball in Durham Castle.


The Club continued its charitable giving in particular taking part in Rotary’s Polio Plus Project for which they raised £6,500 above their target. All charities benefited considerably in the decade with development of ‘the Car Park’ – volunteer collectors attended the University Staff Car Park every Saturday to receive donations from members of the public. On average in this decade over £150 was collected every week and passed into the Charity account to be given to local and international charities.


International activities

The club continued to provide assistance abroad with Eye Camps for India, Disaster boxes [2 per year], and  Group Study exchanges with the Rotary District of South Australia.


Nationally the club helped with the purchase of a RNLI lifeboat appropriately called ‘Rotary’.



Regular Public Speaking Contests were held amongst Durham schools, social evenings for  OAPs were  organised. The club assisted in the purchase of a ‘Sunshine Coach’ for children with special needs. In addition many local charities received annual donations which grew from £2,800 to well over £5,300 by 1990.



A vigorous social programme of theatre visits, weekends away, canal trips, even a visit to a nuclear power station ! There were also many sporting fixtures with other clubs – bowls, quoits, and golf. There were trips to the pantomime, a railway excursion and many interesting and enjoyable cricket matches against fellow Rotarians.




Club History sub-pages:

From the Peart Archives

more Some interesting photos supplied by Rtn Brian Peart

From the Archives - the Lectern

more ...

From the Archives - Membership & Communications


From the Archives - Some Speakers and their Topics


The President's Chair

more Restoration of the President's Chair

The Shelter Saga

more ...

Diamond Jubilee Dinner

more A memorable occasion ...

Jubilee Plaques

The Jubilee Plaques

more The Jubilee Plaques