The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson – remembering Monty Mitchell

Cleaning up: Three of the Mitchell brothers when they started their first window cleaning company in Dewsbury over a hundred years ago. Monty Mitchell, who brought rock 'n' roll to Dewsbury was their nephew.
Cleaning up: Three of the Mitchell brothers when they started their first window cleaning company in Dewsbury over a hundred years ago. Monty Mitchell, who brought rock 'n' roll to Dewsbury was their nephew.

LAST week, I wrote about the time when rock ’n’ roll was banned from the Saturday night dances at Dewsbury Town Hall.

I also mentioned that the Ben Riley Hall nearby played nothing else but rock ’n’ roll, so in the end all tastes were catered for.

But, I wonder how many people will remember the man who actually brought rock ’n’ roll to Dewsbury?

He was Monty Mitchell, owner of the Sample Shoe and Drapery store in Daisy Hill, a member of the locally famous Mitchell family, who had a window cleaning business in town.

I don’t have a photograph of Monty but the picture above shows three of his uncles who owned the Dewsbury and District Window Cleaning Company.

Monty didn’t clean windows, but he opened the first teenage dance hall in Dewsbury and supplied youngsters like me with the cheapest shoes in town.

He called it the Ben Riley Hall because it had once been the headquarters of the local Labour Party and had been opened by Dewsbury’s first Labour MP – Ben Riley.

It was situated in Union Street next door to what used to be the Labour Exchange, just round the corner from Monty’s shop.

Although Monty was no Peter Stringfellow, he was a shrewd businessman, who always kept his eye on changing fashions, and it paid off.

The Ben Riley opened in the mid-1950s at a time when youngsters were demanding something different to the usual youth clubs.

Monty was the first businessman in Dewsbury to recognise this.

The war was over, so was rationing, the word teenager had just been invented, and youngsters had more money in their pockets than ever before.

They were the best days of our lives, an era we’ll never forget, so you could say we were living the life of Riley, which we were.

I doubt if Monty made loads of money from the dance hall because admission was only two shilling, and we never bought more than a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps from the little cafe upstairs.

The Ben Riley soon became a magnet for hundreds of youngsters from miles around, and Monty always made an appearance to keep an eye on things.

No alcohol was allowed on the premises, but dancers could go out to a local pub, provided they had a “pass-out” mark stamped on their hand which allowed them to get back in.

There was always a police officer on duty at the door and if a fight broke out, with the help of the DJ, he’d just grab the culprits and hurl them down the steps into the street outside.

Some of my happiest memories are of the nights spent at the Ben Riley bopping to the sounds of Bill Haley and the Comets, Gerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

All this happened 60 years ago but it’s as though it was yesterday, especially when I hear one of the old rock ’n’ roll records on the radio.

No matter what I’m doing, peeling potatoes or mopping the floor, I just have to break off and start dancing round the kitchen.

It’s impossible to sit still when you hear “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, unless, of course you’re nursing a hip replacement.

We got good value for our two shillings, and many young girls I knew also got a good husband there as well.

There are others who will remember Monty for his connections with the Mitchell family who set up a window cleaning dynasty in Dewsbury over a hundred years go.

Monty’s dad, Cecil, was one of six brothers, Wilfred, Tommy, Jim, Beaumont and Seth, who worked together in the window cleaning business.

They also set up other businesses on their own.

Many readers may remember Wilfred, who lived in Fall Lane and had a large warehouse at the back of his house where he sold nothing but shoes.

His daughter Shirley once told me how hard her father worked to give them a good life and what happy memories she had of those days.

She said: “He had nine children to bring up, but I never remember us being short of anything.

“I remember going into the warehouse as a child and seeing all these piles and piles of shoes and boots which all looked alike.

“People would knock on our door and say they’d come for some shoes and dad would take them round to the warehouse to try them on.

Shirley remembered the Mitchell brothers always working together.

She said: “They would try their hands at anything. They had a demolition business in Batley, Uncle Seth had a sweet shop near Dewsbury Park and some of them owned houses.”

A reader asked recently if anyone knew the name of the milliner’s shop in Daisy Hill before Gayle’s took over. An email from Anthony Mitchell confirmed it was called Malins, and he’d washed their window for years.

I wonder if Anthony was related to Monty?

What a nice co-incidence it would be if he was.

Do you have memories and pictures of those rock ’n’ roll days?

Please email to share your stories.