It was the end of an era a few days ago when a local dance hall and nightclub was finally demolished after plans and campaigns to save the iconic building were unsuccessful.
The Astoria Palais de Danse, referred to by generations of locals as just The Palais, was opened in 1928 at the time when dance band music was all the rage. Created by a local builder who was a staunch teetotaller, it was somewhere where parents could safely let their daughters go, and it was the manager’s job to watch from the balcony all evening to make sure that girls weren’t being pestered by young men; any young man who tried was taken outside by ‘two strong-arm men’ and sent on his way. Even throughout World War 2 The Palais remained open, often visited by American servicemen who arrived by truck from their base, and some of them visited so often that they were eventually able to speak with a local accent.
People didn’t go to The Palais just to dance though, they could go for coffee on the balcony and for sixpence they got not only a cup of coffee but sugar as well, which at that time was strictly rationed, and in the 1940s the Bolton Palais de Danse company bought the local Greenhalgh’s Bakery shop, owned by James Greenhalgh, purposely to supply the dance hall with bakery products. The 1950s saw a boom in ballroom dancing and many young people would have lessons so they could dance properly and impress any prospective partners; The Palais was the epicentre of local social life and many relationships and marriages started off there.
Mecca Dancing Ltd took over The Palais in 1956 and the Phil Moss Band became the featured entertainers; in October 1958 the BBC’s popular Come Dancing programme was broadcast from there and a local couple reached the semi-final of the Inter-town Novice Quickstep Contest, but sadly they were eclipsed by a couple from Sheffield. As society changed over the following years the new Palais management brought in plans to replace the youngsters’ Tuesday night jiving sessions with Bingo, moving the jiving nights to Mondays, and in 1963 more than 500 teenagers signed a petition objecting to the new plans as hardly any of them could go on Monday nights. In 1965, after four previously unsuccessful applications, Mecca Dancing was finally granted a licence to sell ‘intoxicants’ on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which were the ‘older age’ nights.
Slowly but surely, as pop music became the rage, discotheques took over from dance halls and dancing changed completely. In 1979 The Palais finally lost the original dance hall look and became Cinderellas Rockerfellers disco, usually referred to as just Rockerfellas. It operated successfully until 1987, then after a short period of closure and another revamp it became Ritzy; unfortunately a fire in 1990 caused a substantial amount of internal damage but after months of refurbishment the club reopened in 1991 and continued as Ritzy until 1996. The club then operated for a while as Central Park with a smaller venue, Jumpin’ Jacks, in the basement, then another change saw it renamed Ikon with Jaxx in the basement, and it remained successful for a number of years until a drastic downturn in trade finally forced its closure in January 2012.
Since then the building has been up for sale twice with various plans, including a 300-seat world buffet restaurant, being put forward, but after suffering a suspected arson attack in 2014 it was left empty and unloved. It was finally purchased by the owners of the nearby Market Place Shopping Centre and enjoyed a brief revival in 2016, reopening in its former dance hall glory, and with a live band, for one night only as part of the BBC2 series You Make Me Feel Like Dancing. But in spite of a long-running petition signed by many locals who wanted the building restored and reopened properly its fate was sealed – demolition started on the inside several weeks ago and the outer shell finally gave up the ghost a few days ago.
Strangely, even in my later clubbing days, I never went in that particular nightclub until 1991 when Ritzy reopened after months of major refurbishment following the fire the previous year – and that’s why the place holds particular memories for me. The 14th of September that year was the first time I appeared on tv as one of the dancers on the late night ITV club/dance music show The Hitman And Her, with Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan, although the programme had been recorded two days previously. It was actually broadcast between 2am and 4am and my parents, at the age of just over 70 bless them, stayed up all night to watch it.
Quite coincidentally, while I was searching for the details to write this post, I came across a recently posted Youtube clip of the first half of that programme – it’s almost an hour long but if anyone fancies having a look you can find me here. I’m wearing black cycling shorts with a fluorescent yellow stripe down the sides and a crop top, fluorescent yellow with a white front and ‘Body Power’ in black writing. There are several brief shots of me throughout the programme but the best ones are between 24mins 38sec and 27min 26secs (the people they got up singing were excrutiatingly bad but that’s when you see more of me) then at 31mins 28secs where I’m directly behind Pete and Michaela, 38mins 39secs where I’m picked out in the ’10 out of 10′ section, and 53mins 59secs and 54mins 20secs where you see me on one of the podiums. It was a brilliant night, the first of many, and though The Palais is now just a heap of rubble I still have my memories.
**None of the above photos are mine by the way – certainly not the first one as I wasn’t even around then! – so I’ve sourced them from various online articles originally published in the local evening paper.