The Joy of Cranleigh – 50 Years of the Cranleigh Lions

by Joy Horn // Main Photo: Bonfire Boys and Lions, about 2020

‘The Lions are coming!’ proclaimed the local freebie magazine in its June 1974 issue. In case Cranleigh people did not know what this would mean, it explained that ‘”We Serve” is the motto, and they aim to build up a strong membership of sincere men who will serve the community, as well as enjoy themselves.’ 

Lions’ 1st Charter Night Dinner, 1974

The Lions’ movement was started in Chicago in 1917 by businessman Melvin Jones, in response to the social problems arising from World War 1. Its clubs aimed ‘to put kindness into action’. It soon spread to other countries, began to work with the United Nations Organisation in 1945 and in 1968 formed the Lions’ Clubs’ International Foundation pledging to serve communities locally and globally through humanitarian service and grants.

The Cranleigh and District Lions’ Club started to meet in the ‘Four Elms’ on Smithwood Common and quickly reached its limit of 35 members, with a waiting list as well. Soon they moved to the Royal British Legion hall (now Legion House in Ewhurst Road). The club was granted its charter in November 1974 and launched into immediate action. It raised money by holding a boxing evening, a furniture auction in the Village Hall, a ‘race night’ in the Golden Palace restaurant and a gala film evening at the former Regal Cinema at which ‘The Eagle has Landed’ was shown. There was a sponsored swim and a press-up competition (the winner did 714 in 15 minutes).  A New Year’s Day Pram Push was held and a car rally for blind navigators.

Presentation of the Hospital’s first defibrillator in Sept. 1975

The Cranleigh Lions used the money for the community by giving children’s Christmas parties and a pantomime (together with the Cranleigh Players), and buying a caravan on the South Coast, offering holidays to needy people. They bought the first defibrillator for the Village Hospital, besides a large washing machine. They organised a successful film, ‘Cranleigh, the Village that Cares’, filmed by an ITV cameraman, with Martin Lewis as narrator.

Washing machine for the Hospital new wing, 1982

The Lions breathed new life into the Cranleigh summer fête, running enterprising competitions and enabling local organisations to publicise their activities. One year, the Lions helped to set up climbing frames on which the 1st Cranleigh Scouts were sponsored to climb doggedly all day to the equivalent height of Everest: this raised enough to buy a child’s car for a little girl with Spina Bifida. Another time, the Surrey Fire Brigade displayed its high lifting gear. 

Building the 1979 Lions’ bonfire

The ‘Bonfire Boys’ had been running the November fireworks display since 1951, but as they formed the nucleus of the Cranleigh Lions it was natural for the two groups to join forces. What was already a big event became much larger, with a dramatic torch-light procession through the village. Originally the torches consisted of tin cans stuffed with paraffin-soaked cloth and fixed to poles: nowadays slow-burning wax candles are used. The bonfire on the Common took weeks to construct until a Lion who managed the Duke of Northumberland’s huge wooded estates between Shere and Clandon offered his coppiced trees.

Santa’s sleigh, 2010

For many years, the Cranleigh Carnival (or parade) had been associated with the South of England Agricultural Society’s annual show at the Showground on Bookhurst Hill. This society was glad to see the Carnival taken over by the Lions and incorporated into the summer fête, now relaunched as the ‘Cranleigh Lions’ Carnival and Fun Day’. Colourful and imaginative displays on flatbed lorries, many of them filled with excited children, processed around the Village, with a model lion called Gordon bringing up the rear, later succeeded by a costume lion known as Roary. The Lions invited all local businesses, schools, clubs and associations to enter floats. The list of the winners of the Cranleigh Chamber of Trade cup for the best vehicle shows the wide variety of contestants. They included the British Legion’s Women’s Section, Park Mead Junior School, St John Ambulance Brigade Badgers’ set, Bookhurst Residents’ Association (three times winners) and the Hair and Body shop. More recently, health and safety regulations have restricted some Carnival features, and it has been obliged to become a walking procession. The Lions have responded by hiring two bands to augment the Carnival. 

A Lions’ Easter Egg hunt, with Roary at the front

The 1990s saw the Lions inherit Santa’s Sleigh from the local branch of the Round Table. It is towed around different Cranleigh estates in the run-up to Christmas, while Lion Elves accompany it with buckets of sweets and collecting boxes. With this money, about 100 hampers are provided each year for deserving citizens recommended to them.

Classic cars parading through the streets of Cranleigh

In 2002 the annual Cranleigh and District Lions’ Classic Car Show began in the Showground. Eighty vehicles were displayed then; nowadays there are around 2,000, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for charitable causes. During the Covid19 restrictions, with typical Lions’ initiative, the show became ‘Classic Cars on the Drive’ and owners displayed their cars outside their houses, with street maps provided. 

Glebelands, 2023

During the 2010s, a major project was in support of the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance and £250,000 was raised from District Lions clubs.  Young people’s wellbeing has been another focus: the Lions organised a Drug Awareness evening at Glebelands, bringing together pupils, parents and the police. And in 2023 £15,000 was contributed towards ‘The Sanctuary’, a mental health suite at Glebelands.

Lions’ Presentation evening, 2018

A full list of the Lions’ grants can be seen on the noticeboard outside the Hospital. It astonishes by the amount of money raised and the wide range of recipients. 

The Cranleigh Lions have fulfilled the promises they made 50 years ago, and give the strong impression of enjoying themselves in the process. Long may they continue! With grateful thanks to Paul Withers for help with this article and permission to use many of these photos from his Lions scrapbook

Amazing sums raised for Cranleigh people from Cranleigh people by the Lions, 2022-23

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8pm in the Band Room. The next meeting is on Thursday June 13th, when Jo Gosney will speak on ‘The Empress Eugénie: the Bonaparte connection’.

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