Heated council debate about the dance ban

Last Dance: Dewsbury Town Hall where the controversial meeting was held in 1958 which would ban rock 'n' roll from any dances held there.
Last Dance: Dewsbury Town Hall where the controversial meeting was held in 1958 which would ban rock 'n' roll from any dances held there.

MANY decisions were made and many bye-laws enacted in the building pictured at the top of this page – the historic Dewsbury Town Hall.

It was the place where anything of importance relevant to the residents of Dewsbury was discussed and debated in detail.

The building of new schools, police stations, hospitals, sewage works, post offices, swimming baths, libraries, new roads, were all discussed here.

The town hall was regarded as Dewsbury’s jewel in the crown and therefore was always the perfect choice for any important events held in the town.

It played host to many high ranking people including kings and queens and prime ministers from all sides of the political spectrum.

It was also the chosen venue for countless festivals, exhibitions and concerts, including several by the renowned Halle Orchestra.

All these visits had to be discussed in detail by the committees arranging them, and whatever decision they arrived at they reported back to the full council meeting for further discussion.

I was privileged as a young reporter to attend these council meetings, but I didn’t think so at the time because I found them very boring.

That was until 1958 when the council had to debate a very important matter relating to a new dancing craze called rock ’n’ roll.

I found nothing boring about these debates because as a young teenager I had myself just taken up this new dancing craze from America.

But local councillors didn’t like the idea of so-called teddy boys attending their Saturday town hall dances and decided to ban it.

Fortunately, this dancing was welcomed in the Ben Riley Hall in Dewsbury, which I regularly attended, and also at the Gaeity Dance Hall in Batley, but the venerable building above was having none of it.

Indeed, some of the most heated council debates to take place in the Dewsbury Council Chamber revolved around this new rock ’n’ roll revolution.

They felt that teddy boys in their drape coats, drainpipe trousers and beetle-crusher shoes, didn’t fit in with those more sedate dancers attending town hall dances.

Although there hadn’t been any real trouble, apart from one or two skirmishes with those doing the fox trot and waltzes, councillors were not prepared to take any risks.

Their decision to ban it incensed local youngsters who had had no say in the matter because being under 21 were too young to vote.

They complained bitterly to their local councillors and some wrote letters to the Reporter, but it was to no avail, the council had made their decision.

Councillor Joe Walsh, a family man, was completely against the ban and asked if there could be a compromise – a session for rock ’n’ roll and one for ballroom dancing.

Councillor Kenneth Howe said it wouldn’t work because rock and rollers would do their type of dancing no matter which kind of music was played.

He said: “If you played hymns in the town hall they’d rock and roll to them.

“These are not the type of people we want in the town hall.”

Councillor Alf Ramsden hoped people wouldn’t accuse him of being a “square” because he wasn’t – on the contrary he liked jive.

But he felt the pleasure of those who wanted to jive, be-bop and rock ’n’ roll was spoiling the pleasure of other dancers.

The council decided that a notice would be posted in the dance hall stating that if people jived they would be turned out and their money would not be refunded.

Councillor Hopkinson was on the side of the rock ’n’ rollers stating they had a right to some entertainment, and the council ought to be more lenient with them.

Councillor Mrs Violet Ferrari asked who had been complaining to the council about rock ’n’ roll, the dancers or the organisers of the dances in question?

Councillor Ramsden said the complaint was from dancers who were staying away from town hall dances because of jitterbugging and rock and rolling.

He said the dance organisers had been instructed to see that the new regulations were fully carried out.

They had been warned that if these regulations were not adhered to, it might jeopardise any future applications they made for Saturday night dances.

Alderman Sugden said there was another section of people who attended the dances and caused trouble – those who had had a “skin full” of beer before coming into the dance hall.

Many of the young teddy boys banned from those dances would later do their National Service and some would lose their lives fighting for their country.

The motto here could well have been – never judge a book by its cover – and perhaps we could all learn a lesson from this.

For it was many years before Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” record would be played in Dewsbury Town Hall.

If you have memories or pictures of those days please contact tresham3@gmail.com