Southampton Women's Luncheon Club is still going strong after 60 years...

EVERY month for the past six decades, a loyal group of women has gathered at a Southampton hotel. Their aim has been to leave behind the reality of their lives for a few short hours over a delectable lunch.

Formed during the Second World War, Southampton Women's Luncheon Club had just 38 members. The club has grown in popularity over the years and, while others have fallen by the wayside, the club now boasts more than 80 women on its books.

It started as a way to forget the rigours of war - and as a relief from the war work in which many of the women were engaged.

In the early years it cost just half a guinea to join and they met in a hotel in Northlands Road. In 1949, lunch cost seven shillings and sixpence - or 37 pence. The following year, the club had a surfeit and the cost of lunch came down to six shillings - or 30 pence.

As membership grew, the club eventually moved to the Polygon Hotel - where it stayed until it was demolished and its new home became the Southampton Park Hotel.

Past president Pamela Ross joined in 1974 when it was still de rigeur to wear hats and gloves.

"In those days, women didn't go out to work so much. I had brought up my own family and I thought it would be nice to get away from the washing-up to meet the outside world.

"There were about 200 members and a waiting list when I joined - I had to be proposed and within about a year I was on the committee," she said.

According to a menu card from its 21st birthday luncheon on April 21, 1964, the club's object at the outset was to widen the interests of women by arranging a series of after-luncheon speakers on any subject that was non-political and non-sectarian.

Membership was initially limited to one member of each classification of occupation or special interest, but by 1964 they did away with this rule and membership swelled to 220, with a waiting list of women wanting to join.

As well as the chance to catch up with friends, the club has attracted some top-name speakers over the years.

The late Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Lady Baden-Powell and Alan Titchmarsh have been among those who have filled the after-lunch spot.

Today, the club celebrates its 60th anniversary with a birthday luncheon.

Guest speaker will be Hampshire-born best-selling author, Santa Montefiore. She will talk about her life as a busy novelist, wife and mother, as well as her latest book, The Swallow and the Hummingbird.

Membership of Southampton Women's Luncheon Club is open to all. It costs £30 per year plus a joining fee of £5. Guests are welcome to attend to sample the club's hospitality. The three-course luncheon costs £14 for guests and £12.30 for members.

To find out more about the club and its annual programme contact Bridgett Vane, speakers secretary, on Southampton 023 8076 9985 or e-mail