The formation of the Circle and the early years

Although the Inaugural Meeting of the Circle was held on Thursday 6 November 1952 in the Cadena Cafe, the Guildhall being unavailable, its formation had been considered as much as ten years earlier. Then, in the early days of the war and despite the blackout and petrol rationing, three Catenians had travelled regularly from Winchester to meetings of their local Circle in Southampton. According to Alan's papers - "they frequently discussed and fervently desired the facilities which such an innovation as a Circle in Winchester would provide." The Southampton Circle did everything possible to keep "The Winchester Three" even to the extent of holding quarterly meetings in Winchester. While this generous gesture was fully appreciated, it was unsatisfactory to both Southampton and Winchester members; it was also confusing for visitors. "Exigencies of military service and pressure of work eventually disseminated the three Winchester members" though one of them Stanley Evans, was President of Southampton Circle (1939 - 42), the first President of the City of Winchester Circle and a future Provincial President. He was also the first Catholic since the Reformation to be a Mayor of Winchester.

The lead up to the actual formation of the City of Winchester Circle started in 1952. A first exploratory meeting was held in the Southgate Hotel in May and it was well attended by Southampton 
brothers and would-be members. The original “Winchester Three” were present and over the next five years each of them were to be the Circle President. On 12 June 1952 the decision to go ahead was taken with a view to inauguration "about October." At that time there was a total of only eighteen for enrolment but seven from Southampton became dual members and so the necessary minimum of twenty-five was achieved.

The Grand President JJ Lawlor and approximately one hundred and fifty visiting brothers attended the Inaugural Meeting. At the subsequent Dinner, Archbishop King presided and gave his blessing and good wishes for the future of the new Circle. Alan Birtwhistle recalled him as a white bearded, kindly, shy character who subsequently joined the Catenians regularly for their after Circle dinners.

The new Circle soon found many difficulties. As Michael Bell put it, the first one hundred meetings could be subtitled as The Struggle for Viability and he detailed many of the problems in his booklet. Alan recorded that "many of our members were young and ambitious and were soon leaving the district; others were finding that the Association was not what they had anticipated and expressed a wish to resign." However " there were still an enthusiastic few who were blessed with sufficient faith to persevere." Thus the Circle survived and in October 1957 its 50th meeting was held at the Potters Heron. Alan recorded "they had the honour of being the first Circle to entertain as visitors, the brothers of the newly formed Jersey Circle." He believed this to be the first occasion that any visitors had arrived by air and also that they took away the much coveted Childrens Trophy. He concludes "one can look back over the last five years with a feeling of progress and achievement. Early difficulties have been overcome and solid foundations have been laid and with evident goodwill on all sides, a bright and progressive future is the endeavour and hope of all associated with The City of Winchester Circle No. 163."

Michael Bell
John Exworthy
Alan Birtwhistle