Rawtenstall Astoria Ballroom December 16th 1932 – 7th February 1966 – 34 yrs
The very popular old Rawtenstall Astoria was built originally in 1932 out of the motor car showrooms and workshops of John Myerscough & Co. The new venture was the brainchild of brothers John (snr) and Noel Myerscough. The Ballroom remained under the ownership of the Myerscough family up until its sad closure on Tuesday 7th February 1966.
The original site dates back to 1839 when it had been the site of the Holly Mount School, a school for the very young employees of the adjacent local Cotton Mill called the Fold Mill and owned by David Whitehead and Sons.
The Astoria was a very special and up market venue for its day being able to boast about the purpose made sprung dancefloor which measured approx 585 sq ft and covered in maplewood and was capable of holding a capacity of up to 800 dancers. And following on in 1959 this floor was yet again resprung with over six thousand pieces of Canadian Maple laid on steel springs – and yet again the Astoria was able to boast that it was one “of the finest sprung dance floors in England. The cost of this work in 1959 was £1000.
The Ballroom opened on December 16th 1932. The very first event held at the Astoria was the Annual Ball of the Rawtenstall British Legion, when on this occasion the then Mayor, the late Ald. John Hamer welcomed the Lancashire Cotton Queen, Miss Marjorie Knowles.Those early years supported dancing almost throughout the week with learners sessions, all Modern sessions, an Old Tyme Music Night, a 50/50 night and probably the favourite the “Popular” night which was on Saturdays. As time went this levelled out and the norm seem to settle down to a regular three nights a week activity.
The band in them early days was led by Henry Haworth with Ruth Raymond on vocals, this band was later succeeded by bandleader Alan Hargreaves, then in 1950 James Heyworth took charge and under his direction The Astorians gained national fame.
In the Late 40s and during the 50s it boomed with dancers, the Astoria hosted some of the biggest band names and star vocalist around at the time such as: Joe Loss Orchestra with vocalist Rose Brennan, Johnny Dankworth Orchestra with Cleo Laine, Eric Delaney Band, Ted Heath Orchestra, Dickie Valentine, Lita Roza, Dennis Lotis, Ray Ellington with Marion Ryan, Edmundo Ross, Ken Mackintosh, Ivy Benson and her all Girls Orchestra and the list went on…..
By 1959 John Myerscough (jnr) came to elm, and thankfully he had the foresight to prepare for what was to become the mighty beat boom which arrived in the early 60s. During the early 60s up to and sometimes more than 600 teenagers would come to the Saturday night beatnights which featured lots of headline groups of the day like: The Animals, Kinks, The Who (see poster above), Small Faces, Moody Blues, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Hollies, The Mojos, Yardbirds, The Spencer Davis Group (see poster thanks to Kieran Ridehalgh ), Maurauders, Honeycombs, Rocking Berries, Unit 4 plus 2, Sounds Incorporated, Rhythm & Blues Incorporated. Their was a cramped dressing room to the right hand side, just after coming through the main entrance where the groups would prepare themselves, before having to be escorted through the noisy crowds making their way to the stage. Cost of admission those days was anything between six shillings to 15 shillings and sixpence, levied in accordance to the status of the band playing on that evening. Besides the great headliners there was also two other groups supporting. These groups also where always of a fine quality handpicked by John Myerscough himself and would usually consist of the best bands around at the time from Lancashire including Manchester and Yorkshire - amongst them where: Wynder K. Frog, The Warriors, The Dappers, The Imps, The Swinging Hangmen, The Pagens, The Avalons, The Avengers. The Travellers (Rochdale). The star attraction groups during those explosive years of the 60s where booked into the Astoria by Lewis Buckley Entertainments of Southport.
And when John Myerscough finally closed the doors in 1966, and he actually moved to Southport and took over that very Agency (Lewis Buckley Entertainments) himself.
Click over newspaper cuttings to enlarge, and also thanks to James Heyworth for kindly supplying the photo of his dad, and the photo of the Decca Record and also the photo of the orchestra (click over photos to enlarge).....
Mail added 3rd February 2009, which was kindly received from Joyce Whelan (Nee Newton) with some notes about the Band especially about her dad who was the saxaphone player and whom had also been responsible for most of the musical arrangements of the band:-
I have just enjoyed looking at the Astoria ballroom newspaper cuttings, in particular the Jimmy Heyworth articles, I was just a child in those days but my father Mr Eric Newton was a saxaphone player in the Jimmy Heyworth band during the fifties and sixties, he also did a lot of the arrangements for the band and I have seen photos of the band winning the melody maker cup, also photos of my dad taken with John Dankworth, Ted Heath etc. It is even more nostalgic to me and my family as my father died on January 14th of this year (2009), after a short illness. He was 87yrs old when he died, but he remembered the happy days of the band at the Astoria and often talked about the people and the music. I do vaguely remember going to the Old Astoria as a child, but my memories are mainly with the new building, especially a couple of re unions the band did in the eighties for charity. My brothers and I have copies of the Decca record that the band won the championship with, of course this record is very precious to us, as my dad is mentioned for the arrangements.Thank you for printing the cuttings on your page, it has been a lovely trip down memory lane for myself and my family. Regards. Joyce Whelan (nee Newton).
Mail added 18th February 2009 kindly received from James Heyworth:
I am James Heyworth son of Jimmy Heyworth and Margaret ( nee Myerscough)
I just wanted to send you a note to say how appreciative I am for your feature of the blog on the Astoria which I discovered on the internet. Dad died in 1994 and Mum died in 2006. Her brother John Myerscough is still alive and lives in Ainsdale Southport. I have many fond childhood memories of the old Astoria and your blog enabled me to show my children nephews and nieces what the old Astoria was like. I am currently researching the Myerscough Family tree and have got back to the 17th Century. They hail from Kirkham and were blacksmiths, John Robert arrived in the Rossendale valley as a blacksmith journey man and as you probably know set up one of the first motor car sale rooms in the country selling Chryslers. The show room was converted to the Ball room. Thank you very much for your photographs
James Heyworth Mail added: 18th March 2009 from John Myerscough: Dear bee jay,
I much appreciated your article about the Old Astoria in Rawtenstall. I have been passing some of my memories on to James Heyworth (son of the famous band leader) and he is planning to send some of it on to you.
I am John Roy Myerscough, son of John Myerscough and grandson of John Robert Myerscough, the blacksmith who became a motor dealer in quite a big way. I was running the ballroom for quite a time, and booking the groups who appeared. I now live in Ainsdale. Anyone who would like to contact me can do so at email@example.com.
Keep up the good work, and I may try to add more info later.
(Here we have four photos below kindly given by Dave Haworth (Goodshawlad) which shows the great floods of the early 60s, and just shows the Astoria with their billboard advertising the Mojo's..- please click over photo to enlarge. John Myerscough "remembers that day well. A Saturday, heavy rain, and water overflowed from the river and poured down the road at the side of the Astoria called The Fold. It started to come into the basement, where the boiler room and the gents cloakroom and toilets were. It came in through a manhole, which must have originally been for the delivery of coke, and in later times was used for delivery of heating oil. It must have got to 12 or 18 inches deep in the basement during that afternoon. Eventually it subsided, and we tackled the clean-up operation to be ready for the dance in the evening. Amazingly, a member of the public came downstairs and offered to help us with the clean up. I can't now recall who else was there helping. Anyway, we were able to open for the dance - I see from the poster outside that it was The Mojos appearing, though I would have said Unit 4 + 2, but my memory must be wrong".
Here we have a very old photo (Click over photo to enlarge) kindly sent in by John Myerscough via James Heyworth showing when it was the Myerscough Garage before it was converted to the Astoria. And below this we have two further photos of when it was a garage together we even more photos kindly sent in by Peter Fisher (thank you Peter).
Below we have the following replica "Astoria flyers" which I have been so kindly given by Kieron Ridehalgh. Please note that the one with the Clayton Squares headlining was the final dance held at the Astoria before its sad closure a few days later...
Click over flyers to enlarge.....
All gone now! and this below is a more recent photo showing the Old Fold Garden on the actual Astoria Ballroom site and also a plaque to commemorate.......
Joyce Whelan (Nee Newton - 3rd February 2009) I have just enjoyed looking at the Astoria ballroom newspaper cuttings, in particular the Jimmy Heyworth articles, ...... Thank you for printing the cuttings on your page, it has been a lovely trip down memory lane for myself and my family. Regards. Joyce Whelan (nee Newton).
James Heyworth (18th February 2009) Dear Bryan, I am James Heyworth son of Jimmy Heyworth and Margaret (nee Myerscough)I just wanted to send you a note to say how appreciative I am for your feature of the blog on the Astoria which I discovered on the internet.
John Myerscough (18th March 2009) Dear bee jay, I much appreciated your article about the Old Astoria in Rawtenstall. Keep up the good work, and I may try to add more info later. Regards, John Myerscough.
Dave Haworth (24th April 2009)
Hi Bryan, Just had a look at your Ben Barnes Blog Part 2. It is a credit too you finding out all this information and sharing it with everybody .What cracking photographs the barnes family have let you use. There is some cracking information to go with it too. The old photographs of the wagons are grand ones and are a credit too the barnes history. At least now with all the hard work you have put in people will be able too see and read about B.Barnes Transport. Keep up the good work Bryan. Regards. Dave.
Paul Anderson 9th June 2009
Your blog about Barnes is really good have spoke to a few drivers who said it is very interesting, well done. Regards Paul
Andy Clegg 2nd August 2009
Bryan, after looking at your blog of b barnes I was pleased to see my late father on the pictures as he worked there for approx 14yrs from coming from Scotland to his death in 1982, I worked there briefly after leaving school and found the article very interesting, also if you wanted anymore photos I have a few with my father and some old vehicles…