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Dance Halls: Towards an Architectural and Spatial History, c. 1918–65

  • James Nott
Abstract

The dance hall was a symbol of social, cultural and political change. From the mid-1920s until the mid-1960s, the dance hall occupied a pivotal place in the culture of working- and lower-middle-class communities in Britain. Its emergence and popularity following the First World War reflected improvements in the social and economic well-being of the working and lower middle classes. The architecture of dance halls reflected these modernising trends, as well as a democratisation of pleasure. The very name adopted by the modern dance hall, ‘palais de danse’, emphasises this ambition. Affordable luxury was a key part of their attraction. This article examines how the architecture of dance halls represented moments of optimism, escapism and ‘modernity’ in British history in the period 1918–65. It provides the first overview of dance halls from an architectural and spatial history perspective.

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NOTES

1 Dundee Evening Telegraph, 7 January 1919, p. 7.

2 Cheltenham Chronicle, 18 December 1920, p. 8.

3 Paul Holt, Daily Express, 16 November 1938, p. 16, and Economist, 14 February 1953, p. 401.

4 For a full discussion of the dance-hall industry, see Nott, James, Going to the Palais: A Social and Cultural History of Dancing and Dance Halls in Britain, 1918–1960 (Oxford, 2015), chapters 1–3.

5 Liverpool Record Office, 347/JUS/1/5, ‘Register of Licenses for Music, Singing and Dancing 1919–26’, and Newcastle, Tyne and Wear Archives [hereafter TWA], Newcastle Magistrates Court Collection, MG.Nc 7/4, ‘Licensing Minutes 1917–35’.

6 City of Birmingham Archives, PS/B 4/1/1/4, Nineteenth Annual Report of the Public Entertainments Committee of Justices (1936), and Glasgow City Archives [hereafter GCA], E 7/4/1, ‘Registers of Music Halls etc, 1934–52’.

7 We should be careful to exclude from this definition dancing schools and other places where the main purpose was to teach dancing, with public dances put on as a secondary attraction. Dance halls are also distinct from ballrooms, which were dance floors within buildings with other purposes and often not open to the general public — for example, ballrooms in country houses.

8 Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm and Lavers, George, English Life and Leisure: A Social Study (London, 1951), p. 279, and Daily Mail, 17 October 1956, p. 8.

9 See Nott, Going to the Palais.

10 Peter, Bruce, Form Follows Fun: Modernism and Modernity in British Pleasure Architecture 1925–1940 (London, 2007).

11 See Atwell, David, Cathedrals of the Movies (London, 1981); Eyles, Allen, ABC: The First Name in Entertainment (London, 1993); Gaumont British Cinemas (London, 1996); The Granada Theatres (London, 1998); Odeon Cinemas 1 (London, 2002); Gray, Richard, Cinemas in Britain: One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture (London, 2011); Harwood, Elain, Picture Palaces (London, 1999).

12 French, Hilary, ‘Glamorous Spaces: Public Ballrooms and Dance Halls, 1890–1950’, Interiors, 6.1 (2015), pp. 4145.

13 Readers are invited to email the author at with details of any buildings remaining.

14 Richardson, Philip, A History of English Ballroom Dancing (1910–1945): The Story of the Development of the Modern English Style (London, 1945), pp. 1021.

15 See Godbolt, Jim, A History of Jazz in Britain, 1919–50 (London, 2005).

16 See Walton, John K., ‘The Re-making of a Popular Resort: Blackpool Tower and the Boom of the 1890s’, Local Historian, 24 (1994), pp. 199204.

17 Rose Blincoe, Rochdale, Lancashire, 1991 (personal communication). Rose was a female entrepreneur, who in partnership with her husband established and ran the Calton Dance Hall in Rochdale from the mid-1930s.

18 The expression ‘palais de danse’ was introduced by the owners to add an air of French ‘sophistication’ and subsequently came into common usage in Britain.

19 Dancing Times, October 1931, p. 87.

20 The Builder, 5 June 1931, p. 1026.

21 See Walton, ‘Blackpool Tower’, pp. 199–204.

22 Morton, Francis Junior, and Co, Sprung Floors for Dancing (London, c. 1925), p. 2.

23 The Builder, 14 November 1924, p. 799.

24 Duncan, Andrew, ‘Hammersmith's Palaces of Pleasure’, Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group Newsletter, 12 (Spring 2005), p. 4.

25 Interview with Rose Blincoe.

26 Architectural Journal, 26 February 1930, pp. 347–50, and University of Sussex, Mass Observation Archive [hereafter MOA], Music Dancing and Jazz [hereafter MDJ] 3/A, ‘C.L. Heimann’ (1938).

27 TWA, DT.Tur/4/AG1833/d, ‘Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle — Stage’ (1961).

28 Allen, Carl, London Gig Venues (Stroud, 2016), pp. 8889.

29 Crewe Chronicle, 11 November 1961, p. 6.

30 The Rivoli, Brockley, and the Ritz, Manchester, are both recognised for their special interest as listed buildings.

31 Blackburn Times, 20 February 1959, p. 3.

32 See MOA, MDJ, 3/A, ‘C.L. Heimann’ (1938).

33 Liverpool dance-hall owner Malcolm Munro suggests that the first palais de danse in Britain was opened in Liverpool in 1913. However, this was a temporary structure, not a permanent dance hall. Munro, Malcolm, Dancing Mad: An Autobiographical Dancing Diary (Liverpool, n.d.), p. 181. London, The National Archives, BT 31/24605/155007, ‘Hammersmith Palais de Danse’ (1919–32).

34 Kimber, Jane, ‘“Danse” to the Music of Time’, Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group Newsletter, 19 (Autumn 2008), p. 7.

35 Duncan, ‘Hammersmith's Palaces of Pleasure’, p. 4.

36 Dancing World (August–September 1921), p. iv.

37 The Globe, 20 October 1920, p. 7.

38 Parsonage, Catherine, The Evolution of Jazz in Britain, 1880–1935 (Aldershot, Hampshire, 2005), p. 130.

39 Dancing Times, March 1928, pp. 843–45.

40 Modern Dance and Dancer (March 1938), p. 13, and Munro, Dancing Mad.

41 The Builder, 15 May 1959, p. 896.

42 The Builder, 8 March 1929, pp. 470–71.

43 The Builder, 25 October 1935, p. 740.

44 Architectural Journal, 26 February 1930, pp. 347–50.

45 Dancing Times (September 1929), p. 551.

46 The Builder, 4 April 1924, p. 535.

47 The Builder, 28 January 1927, p. 160.

48 Daily Mirror, 12 February 1960, p. 23.

49 Daily Mail, 2 January 1962, p. 3.

50 Lawrence, David, Always a Welcome: The Glove Compartment History of the Motorway Service Area (London, 1999), pp. 4142, 108. See also Harwood, Elain, Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture, 1945–1975 (London, 2015), p. 317.

51 Details provided by Museum Services, Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

52 Nottingham Evening Post, 10 September 1924, p. 5.

53 The Builder, 14 November 1924, p. 759.

54 Brodie, Antonia, ed., Directory of British Architects 1834–1914, 2 vols (2001), II, p. 809, and Nottingham Civic Society, Draft List of Local Heritage Assets of the City of Nottingham, 9 December 2013.

55 Nottingham Evening Post, 25 April 1925, p. 5.

56 The Builder, 14 November 1924, pp. 759–62.

57 For a full discussion of the ‘moral panic’ associated with dance halls, based on allegations of ‘immorality’, misbehaviour from youths and concerns about race, see Nott, Going to the Palais, passim.

58 See photographs of the interior at picturethepast.org.uk (accessed on 31 May 2018).

59 The Builder, 14 November 1924, pp. 759–62.

60 Nottingham Evening Post, 9 February 1929, p. 5.

61 Nottingham Evening Post, 9 November 1929, p. 6.

62 The Builder, 22 January 1932, p. 186.

63 The Builder, 24 September 1937, p. 544. See also Ward, Colin and Hardy, Dennis, Goodnight campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp (London, 1986).

64 The Builder, 14 December 1934, p. 1035.

65 Cinema-going declined in the mid-1920s during the first wave of interest in dancing. For more detail see Nott, Going to the Palais, chapter 1.

66 Manchester, City Archives, M117/4/4/2, ‘Registers of Music, Dancing and Rooms 1902–37’.

67 See Roma Fairley, Come Dancing Miss World (London, 1966), and more generally Esher, Lionel, A Broken Wave: The Rebuilding of England 1940–1980 (London, 1981).

68 The Stage, 8 April 1965, p. 4.

69 Architect and Building News, 19 July 1961, pp. 99–103, and Architectural Review (June 1961), pp. 99–104.

70 Jeremy, and Gould, Caroline, Coventry: The Making of a Modern City 1939–73 (Swindon, 2016), pp. 3738.

71 Architect and Building News, 19 July 1961, pp. 99–103, and Architectural Review (June 1961), pp. 99–104.

72 Ibid. and The Builder, 9 September 1960, p. 471.

73 Bristol Archives, Planning Department, 62/00864/P_U, 1962.

74 Jones, Stephen G., Workers at Play: A Social and Economic History of Leisure 1918–1939 (London, 1986), p. 15.

75 Stone, Richard and Rowe, D.A., The Measurement of Consumers’ Expenditure and Behaviour in the United Kingdom, 1920–1938: Volume II (Cambridge, 1966).

76 Baxendale, John, ‘“… into another kind of life in which anything might happen …” Popular Music and Late Modernity, 1910–1930’, Popular Music, 14.2 (1995), pp. 137–54.

77 Smith, H. Llewellyn, ed., New Survey of London Life and Labour, vol. 9 (London, 1935), pp. 6465.

78 Carl Heimann cited in Anon., Stepping Out (London, 1940), p. 54.

79 Nottingham Evening Post, 11 April 1925, p. 3.

80 Marwick, Arthur, British Society Since 1945 (London, 1990), p. 114.

81 TWA, DT.Tur/4/AG1859, ‘Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle — Ticket Hall’ (1961).

82 TWA, DT.Tur/4/AG1838, ‘Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle — Dance Floor’ (1961).

83 TWA, DT.Tur/4/AG1833/c, ‘Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle — Powder Room’ (1961).

84 The Stage, 10 August 1961, p. 5, and Nathan, P., ed., CLH says … The Collected Observations, Instructions and Philosophies of C.L. Heimann, Joint Chairman, Mecca Ltd (London, 1963), p. 23.

85 Sandy Melville (b. 1934), personal communication, Dundee, 11 March 2011.

86 MOA, Worktown (WC), 48/C, ‘Shall We Dance?’, 1938, p. 3.

87 Richards, Jeffrey, The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930–1939 (London, 1984), pp. 1821.

88 See Horace Richards, ‘Dancing Throughout Britain’, a series of six reports printed in Popular Music and Dancing Weekly, 22 November to 29 December 1934.

89 Dancing Times (October 1931), pp. 79, 85.

90 Ilford Pictorial and Guardian, 10 December 1959, p. 17.

91 Yorkshire Evening Post, 21 July 1964, p. 7.

92 MOA, WC, 48/C, 1938, p. 1. Considerable sections of the rest of this article are also informed by interviews conducted by the author between June 2009 and September 2014 in Liverpool, Glasgow, Dundee and Crewe.

93 The Stage, 10 August 1961, p. 5.

94 MOA, WC, 60/D, ‘Dancing’, 1938, p. 8.

95 MOA, WC, 48/C, ‘Observations of Saturday Night’, 3 April 1937, pp. 2–3.

96 See Nott, J., ‘Contesting Popular Dancing and Dance Music During the 1920s’, Cultural and Social History, 10.3 (2013), pp. 439–56.

97 See Nott, ‘Contesting’, and MOA, MDJ: 5/F, ‘Alfred Clarke, Empress Hall, Bolton’, 1938, p. 8.

98 For further detail on the decline of dance halls, see Nott, Going to the Palais, pp. 92–98.

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Architectural History
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