A night on the town

HAROLD Laycock’s memories of Dewsbury in the 1940s and 50s, which we published the other week, have created a great deal of local interest, especially among his contemporaries.

Friday, 5th August 2011, 10:23 am

Over the weekend I attended an event with people who were teenagers at that time and Harold’s memories were the topic of conversation.

This week we have the pleasure of publishing more, including his memories of the many cinemas and public houses which once abounded in Dewsbury.

The following are Harold’s recollections of a once lively and vibrant Dewsbury town centre, which we all remember well:

“There were five cinemas in Dewsbury – the Playhouse, in Crackenedge Lane, on the site now occupied by Wilkinsons; the Tudor, down the side of the Railway Public House (now Tapps), by the smelly beck on the site of the present ring road; the Rex, in front of the viaduct, to the right of the road leading to Halifax Road (now the Ring Road); the Pioneers, situated upstairs in the Pioneer building, now empty and undergoing refurbishment; the Regal, later renamed the Essoldo, in the building in Market Place, now empty near Thomas Cook’s travel agent and HSBC Bank.

“Both the Playhouse and Regal cinemas had resident organists who occasionally played during the interval, and from time to time they also had talent contests.

“The Pioneer cinema was a favourite with couples due to the provision of double seats in the balcony with no dividing arms.

“The programme for each cinema featured the main feature film, a second shorter (B) film, a travelogue or cartoon and Pathe News, all programmes were continuous from afternoon into the evening.

“There were generally long queues for popular films and the cinemas were often full.

“It may appear strange to young people today but it was common practice to enter the cinema part way through a film and then watch the rest of the programme until it came to the part you’d already seen, thus seeing the end of the film before the beginning.

“Dewsbury Empire was a live theatre located on the site presently occupied by a box-like monstrosity of an office block, Empire House.

“Top entertainers appeared at the Empire, including the young Morecambe and Wise, and Anthony Newley and Lana Morris who appeared in repertory theatre each summer season.

“There were also the occasional big band shows such as the Ted Heath Big Band and talent contests.

“Although there were many pubs in Dewsbury, there were three of major interest – the Scarborough Hotel, opposite the Town Hall on the site of the present Carphone Warehouse/Bright-House furniture store, known as a commercial traveller’s pub.

“It had panelled walls and sold Ramsden’s beers.

“When Bill and Doris Ingham took over the Little Saddle Public House, now HeadHunters Hairdressing salon, it became the local meeting place.

“A great deal of time was spent there, occasionally on weekday evenings, and regularly at the weekend.

“It was usual to start a night out at the Little Saddle before going on to other pubs or to the Town Hall dance.

“Bill always opened early on Saturday teatime to welcome the local sporting fraternity as they returned from their matches.

“The Shoulder of Mutton, Batley Carr, was very popular on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights when a very talented blind pianist played there.

“WEEKDAY nights in winter were taken up with night school or football training. In summer it was cricket nets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, or occasionally Batley Gaiety on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

“With little else to do there was snooker at the Ben Riley Hall in Union Street or in the room above the Bon Bon Cafe situated in what used to be the old Bus Station where the Princess of Wales Precinct now stands, opposite the Yorkshire Building Society in Church Street.

“If there was no sport on Saturday afternoons it usually meant going to town to pass the time, Bickers Cafe being a popular meeting place.

“Bickers department store was in the building which now faces the Ring Road between Bradford Road and Halifax Road. The building now holds a variety of shops and a Muslim Study Centre.

“Whilst it wasn’t compulsory to be a member of the Labour Party, Sunday evening entertainment was provided by the Labour movement in the Ben Riley Hall with short sketches and dancing.

“Betty Boothroyd, now Baroness Boothroyd, the retired Speaker of the House of Commons, was a member at that time.

“There was also dancing and table tennis in the Eastborough Schoolroom.

“Although I did not go to Wheelwright Grammar School, I played football for many happy years with their Old Boys’ Team.

“They were a great crowd and a few of us still keep in touch. I also attend their ten or five yearly football reunion dinners.

“I also played cricket for Ruddlesdon’s, a paintng and decorating company based down by the Tudor Cinema. We played on Sands Lane before transferring to Chickenley Old Boy’s Team.”