From dance halls to nightclubs Keith Johnson looks at the changing face of Preston's dancefloors
With their rich civic history, the people of Preston have long known how to let their hair down.
For centuries the Guild celebrations would be marked with balls and masquerades.
But it was the middle of the 19th century which saw the surge in popularity for dance halls.
Back in Victorian days the George Inn Concert Hall, at the top of Friargate; the Sun, in Main Sprit Weind; and the Guild behind the Parish Church regularly had a bit of dancing mingled with the bawdy activities which often took place there as the gin flowed.
By the Guild in 1882 the Corn Exchange had been much altered and renovated and was known as the Public Hall and played host to the Guild Balls. The place would go on to become a focal point for dancing of all types down the next century, playing host to the leading bandsmen and those groups and artistes who brought their top of the pops music to town.
It was still a popular venue in the 1960s, and although its days were numbered it still had the capacity to attract great entertainers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The Saturday night dances at the beginning of the decade regularly drew a crowd of 1,000 or more.
One ballroom remembered with fondness by the older generations is the Hobkirk Dance Centre, formerly the Adriatic Ballroom on Lancaster Road, with its roots firmly planted in the late Victorian days.
The Adriatic was the brainchild of Frank Foster who, aware that the famous liner was being broken up at Ward’s ship breakers on Preston Dock, salvaged panelling, decking and wall mirrors to create a first floor ballroom above his family’s foundry.
Generations of dancers flocked there and many in later years were taught their first steps under the guidance of Wally Hobkirk. Indeed, it remained a popular place for dancing until October 1984 when the doors were closed for the final time by then proprietors Pamela and Paul May, with the building deemed unsafe.
The Regent Ballroom on Tithebarn Street was, from 1926, a place to be for many of Preston’s younger people who danced the night away on the finest of dance floors. The resident band for more than 20 years was the JS Higson Band in the era of the clarinet, trumpet and accordion. Music for a quickstep, foxtrot, waltz and tango all echoed around the ballroom. There was also the Majestic Ballroom in Tenterfield Street owned by market trader Matt Wade, this venue had the popular Tommy Chadwick as band leader.
The Queen’s Hall was a venue which re-emerged every winter from the mid-1930s when the large pool of Saul Street Baths was turned into a concert and ballroom arena. The place entertained in the era of big bands and swing with orchestras aplenty. Band leaders such as Lee Marsden, Bill Shuttleworth, Stan Rothwell and Cyril Stapleton were familiar to the Queen’s Hall crowd.
If you felt that you had two left feet but got the urge for dancing then Preston’s couple of dancing champions Carol and Nick Atack might possibly have guided your first steps on the dance floor. The enterprising couple took over a neglected old printing works in Avenham Street and transformed it into a luxurious dance studio in 1978.
Dancers, formed originally in 1968, was a significant venue for all age groups as it taught old and young alike all manner of dances and held events that are cherished memories for many.
In the Odeon Cinema building on Church Street the Top Rank ballroom opened in 1963. A mixture of ballroom and disco dancing every night of the week as party goers danced the night away to pop, soul and Motown sounds.
There was a strict dress code for the fellows, a suit and tie and no suede shoes was the order of the day. A number of leading pop groups of the era played the venue with the dance floor packed. The music of The Hollies, Freddie and The Dreamers, The Searchers and The Rolling Stones gave the place a flavour of the 1960s pop scene.
In 1974 the venue was transformed into a heavenly night spot called Clouds, the perfect venue for the over 20s who flocked there week after week. So successful was the place that it was deemed worthy of a £150,000 upgrade including £70,000 spent on sound and lighting systems alone. Velour seats and luxury carpets awaited the visitors greeted by resident DJ Steve Martell.
Clouds was certainly the place to strut your stuff for a number of years but eventually, in an ever changing world of music it closed, leading to its relaunch in September 1989 as Easy Street. Of course it didn’t stop there, the younger generation now recalling the venue’s later days as Tokyo Jo’s and in October 2006 the venue was launched once more as Lava and Ignite at a VIP event following a £1.5m refit.
One place that seems to live long in some memories was the Catacombs; an apparently smoky, poky little club on Derby Street. Rhythm and Blues and music from Merseyside sure to get you grooving.
The world of night-time entertainment introduced alternatives to dancing all night long in the 1960s and by the summer of 1967 Preston folk were being attracted to the Flamingo Casino Club in Great Shaw Street where, besides a dance, you could spend time playing brag, blackjack or roulette if you fancied a flutter. It was later known as Samantha’s Nightclub and then became the Cherry Tree.
The Club Royale on Market Street was another venue attracting those seeking night life. This venue has down the decades had many a name over the door including the Worsley’s Dance Hall, the Gatsby Night Club, Molloy’s Dance Club, the Millionaire’s Club, Club Solid and finally the Blitz prior to its recent demolition.
In 1979 a sumptuous cellar night spot named Squires was unveiled underneath the Lancastria Co-op building after a £500,000 investment. Chandeliers and Greek statues in the foyer and a solid marble staircase gave you an idea of the grandeur inside. The Rendezvous night club with four bars, Snoopy’s, a discotheque of the future, and two restaurants making it the hottest night spot in town.
Twelve years later the night spot reflected on its success with renovation work bringing the place into the 1990s. The Squires dance floor catering for popular music and golden oldies remembered fondly by those who visited in the early days. As for Snoopy’s, it was rebranded as Quincy’s and soul was the popular choice.
Many people have fond memories of the Scamps discotheque that opened on the old Ritz Cinema site on Church Street. Its popularity waned in the early 1980s and the venue was relaunched as Brooks in February 1983 after a £250,000 revamp. Alas, that venture was short-lived as meagre attendance figures and mounting debts saw it close in July of the same year, before being relaunched later in the decade.
Since 1972 the Warehouse has been an alternative nightclub and music venue in Preston. For a later spell it was known as the Raiders, before it returned to its old name in the late 1980s as new owners took over.
Its popularity in the late 1970s earned it a reputation as a leading punk rock venue.
The Piper, on Tithebarn Street, was certainly a popular venue for many years and it went on to become Barristers before assuming the title Lord Byrons. Many will recall a visit to the Piper from the mid-1960s onwards. In 2001 it opened as Storm, a venue for over-25s, and later became Club Arena. Not surprisingly the emergence of UCLan led to many a club night, gig and dance party in the 1990s at the 42nd St Bar and the Venue, eventually leading to the building of 53 Degrees on Fylde Road. The Mill on Aqueduct Street was another live music centre designed to attract students and it opened in October 1998 with ‘Freak Of Nature’ topping the bill – more than 200 rock fans flocked there on the opening night.
So generations of Preston folk can wallow in the nostalgia of their dancing days and those of a younger age have plenty of choice to dance the night away – although in most cases the dancing won’t be in Strictly Come Dancing fashion.