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It’s amazing how few residents of Dalton know that the town has the oldest book club in the world! To be precise, it’s the oldest continually running book club, having been going consistently since 1764. And its history and rules are fascinating.

The eighteenth century was a period of tremendous increase of culture and yet books were relatively expensive, so book clubs started in many places. Kendal, Ulverston and Urswick were other local places to start one around that time.

On Saturday 12th May 1764 seventeen men of Dalton and district met in the White Horse Inn whose landlord, Thomas Taylor, gave support. They pledged to keep the club going for twelve months and made up “rules and directions” for the club, and the members have met every month since that date, over 250 years! It has not always been held at the White Horse, having moved to other inns at times, but is now back to its original home.

Photo: The White Horse on Weint Corner looking up towards Market Place – Ron Grierson


Dalton Book Club is not like the plethora of book clubs all around the country: its members do not discuss a book they have all read at their meeting. Indeed, its president at the time of writing insists that DBC is “not a reading club”. In fact it is more like a library with its own collection of books built up over the years.

In the early days all books were sold at the end of the year but now most are kept in boxes between meetings, so presumably storage is a problem, but they do get support from the present landlord of the White Horse, Adrian Moore.

Photo: The White Horse – Ron Creer

According to the booklet on the club written in 1982 by Ernest Boddy, beer was originally provided in a large copper jug that was passed around, each member helping himself. Although this tradition no longer pertains, it seems there is an unwritten rule that each member should fill his own glass and none other. Mr Boddy concludes, “It follows that each member shall empty his glass before he leaves!”

Talking of rules, the club has many and they are usually followed by fines for rule breakers. They are not allowed drinks until after the meeting’s business and a kitty, known as the “whip”, is filled with £3 for each drink. This is on top of the £12 membership fee that is spent on new books and the members’ subs which have remained at 3p – cash only! And then there are the fines … for lateness, not returning books, for bringing a dog, for blasphemy and for anyone lending their book to a non-member.

The method for borrowing books is by a sort of lottery. Each member takes a number from a wooden box; the numbers are written on tiny pieces of old rolled-up vellum. The numbers dictate the order in which members can go to the table to choose a book from those laid out; any absentees mean extra choices for those present, if they wish. Normally, four of five new books are added to the collection every month  and then at the next book sale about thirty of the older books are removed and sold to members. Hence, those sold are more or less matched by those added, thus leaving the total number about the same (about 120 – 130). This process results in the entire collection being renewed over a period of about two years and there is no problem with storage.

The club has various officers as well as president and secretary with “stewards” – the most recent members – responsible for putting out and returned the books to the padlocked boxes. The secretary has the job of keeping the register. These registers have continued in much the same pattern throughout the long history of the club and nearly all have survived. They record members, which books they borrowed, fines paid and their attendance. Thus the registers provide an invaluable historical resource.

As membership is limited to thirty and new members have to be invited, this restriction can mean the club is not always full. Strictly speaking, the club is not male only but it so happens that there never have been any female members.  Over the years, vicars and teachers, landowners and farmers, shopkeepers and engineers, bankers and doctors have all been members.

The club is mostly social, of course, and the annual highlight is the Simpson Dinner initiated in 1789 and held each year at a local hostelry. But other occasions are also organised.

The club are pleased to announce that the Summer of 2023 brought their first female member!

Written by Ron Creer

Dalton Book Club Website

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Dalton is the ancient and historic capital of Furness and has approximately 8,000 residents at the current time. Ideally located less than thirty miles from the Lake District and close to the Irish Sea coast and nature reserves, Dalton is home to one of the Counties largest tourist attractions, South Lakes Wild Animal Park.