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riverpark ballroom
The Riverpark Ballroom, Union Street

An old inn by the name of The King's Arms Tavern stood at 2 Union Street, opposite the end of Love Street. In 1840 its licencee was John Griffith, in 1850 James Dunn and in 1880 Edward Bennion. On 11th October 1884, the licence was transferred to Mrs Sarah Bennion from her late husband. Sarah was still there in 1914.

Reader Jane Hastings sent us the following sorry report in the Cheshire Observer, 21st May 1881 regarding Mr Bennion, her great great grandfather..

"Another Licencee Fined. Edward Bennion, of Union Street, was charged with being drunk in his own licenced premises. Inspector Farrell said he visited the King's Arms, Union Street, on Saturday night, the 7th inst., shortly after ten o'clock and found the defendant drunk in the kitchen. A man named Edward Thomas, who has since died, was also drunk in the same room. The defendant denied being drunk, but Detective Sergeant Murphy, who was with Inspector Farrell at the time, said he was drunk, and the magistrates being of the same opinion, fined him 10s and costs, or in default, seven days imprisonment with hard labour."

Union Street used to be called Barker's Lane. There was a pub on Barker's Lane called The King's Arms, the same as the King's Arms on Union Steet, mentioned above, run by the Bennion family. In 1828 it changed it's name to The Union Arms before reverting back to The King's Arms in 1850. This Union Arms is mentioned in Pigot's Directory for 1828/9 when the licencee was James Fitzgerald.

After closing, the inn was extensively enlarged towards the rear and became the Grosvenor Skating Rink. It later became The Broadway Dancing Academy Ballroom, nicknamed 'The Ack', a favourite haunt of American servicemen stationed around Chester during WW2. (Their main camps were at Vicar's Cross- the site of the present rugby club, the house and grounds of Hoole Bank House, now the Hammond School and at Burtonwood Air Base). Then followed the dance bands of the late forties, the rock 'n’ roll of the Fifties and finally the Mersey Sound of the Beatles era.

In the 1950s, the Ack was renamed The Riverpark Ballroom. The Beatles played here on four consecutive Thursdays in 1962: 16th, 23rd 30th August and 13th September. The first show was memorable: their original, but freshly-sacked, drummer Pete Best was supposed to play his final gig that night, but, not surprisingly, he didn't bother turning up, and had to be hastily replaced with Johnny Hutchinson. (The first Beatles concert with Ringo behind the drum kit, at Hulme Hall in Birkenhead, took place two nights later).
The second show was also John Lennon's wedding night. He had married Cynthia Powell earlier in the day at the Mount Pleasant Registry Office in Liverpool, but remarkably, fulfilled this booking rather than spend the evening with his new bride. The support act on this occasion were The Remo Four. Lennon was reportedly furious when they performed some songs that The Beatles also had in their set, and marched on to the stage demanding to know if they were planning to play any more. Harry Prytherch, the Remo Four's drummer recalled,
"The ballroom was long and thin and the dressing room was to the right of the stage. Halfway through our set, mid song, John Lennon jumped up on the stage and yelled at us: "How many of our f***ing numbers are you going to play?"
I was very annoyed and jumped up from my drumming seat, I was the nearest to him. Luckily Dave Williams calmed me down. We were not some up and coming group we were very experienced, and you just don’t do that to fellow artists. In those days, if you lived in a rough area you could always look after yourself and I just reacted instinctively.
After Dave calmed me down we just carried on playing. After all, at the time they were just another group, yes they were popular but so was Rory Storm, Faron, Blue Genes, Kingsize and Gerry. And everyone covered the popular numbers, our own and each other's.
We found out when we came off stage that John had got married that day. Brian Epstein was best man and wanted to keep the wedding hush hush as he felt it would mar the Beatles' image with the fans when they found out. Paul and George were also at the wedding as witnesses. John’s Aunt Mimi had boycotted the wedding because she strongly disapproved. Brian treated the party to a wedding breakfast at Reece's Cafeteria in Liverpool. It was also revealed later that Cynthia was pregnant.
So bearing all this in mind we forgave him, it must have been a very demanding day for him".

Tickets to the 30th August, "non-stop twist & jive" cost three shillings, the night lasting from 7.30 to 11pm. Supporting the Beatles were Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the compere was the Cavern Club's DJ, Bob Wooler.

The Riverpark Ballroom closed the following year, 1963, and demolished. We're unsure why. Today the site is occupied by NatWest's nondescript office building.

riverpark ballroom

Speaking of the Beatles era, Peter Minshull recalled that “the River Park Ballroom.. was literally going down hill fast due to various establishments in and around the city that were in direct competition with it for likewise business. I suspect the introduction of early evening bingo sessions just about kept the cash flow positive. That was until the inevitable losing out by the mid 60s to the likes of Mecca and Rank’s nationwide chain of more customer-friendly mega prize bingo halls along with the rise of the ubiquitous discothèque.
For a mere unattached youth of some 16 going on 17 years of age the River Park Ballroom was not a place one went looking for casual opposite sex company by virtue of the fact that there were rarely any of the unaccompanied variety there. Put that together with a license to sell alcohol and an apparent harmless chat to a pretty face was not without its risks. Being that the odd flare-up of sporadic violence from time to time was not an uncommon occurrence between seemingly male virility offended parties.
Me, I was just there to hear what was coming out of those amplifiers and as long as I didn’t bring any unwelcome attention upon myself nobody seemed to bother if I was under-aged or not. Nevertheless, it was a relatively cheap night out- the bar takings somewhat making up for that not being taken on the door.
Although, long since demolished, the River Park Ballroom used to stand on the Grosvenor Park side of the junction of Union Street / Vicars Lane with Love Street. In appearance it was a rather weather beaten looking, stand-alone, medium sized and predominately wooden single storey structure that if my memory serves me correct was comfortable with about 250 to 300 patrons in attendance. Once inside, everything was on the one level with no steps to trip oneself up on.
The sound, especially the vocals, had a tendency to get progressively distorted the greater the volume and the faster the tempo. Acoustically, the room was better suited to slower tempo and less driving numbers. Between songs, when it was raining heavily, one could hear the rain bouncing off that part of the roof directly above the dance floor
I seem to remember things getting underway round about the 8 o’clock mark and winding up, after the bar closed come 10.30, at about 11. There were normally two groups on the bill doing approximately two 40 minute slots apiece. However, on the occasion of a late start the group playing opening support would usually be forced to reduce its playing time.
The Hignetts of Chester, of whom the then River Park Ballroom manager [Ken Hignett] was one, were a well-known family in and around the city for their various local business activities. Having by then long established a pair of very popular and well run Fish & Chip shops of the old fashioned, sit down to eat off a plate with a knife and fork, variety- no Chinese or McDonald / Burger King outlets in them days. I wish I had a pound for every time my father used to say, "I could just do with some fish, chips and peas, two rounds of bread 'n' butter and a sit down cup of tea at Hignetts" when he was feeling a bit hungry.
While I'm 99% certain that the Hignett family did not own the freehold of the River Park Ballroom being that it was situated on the very edge of Grosvenor Park and therefore City of Chester land, I strongly suspect that their names were somewhere on the leasehold agreement.
Re the appearance of Johnny Hutchinson with the Beatles on August 16th 1962. Although I was unaware at the time that Pete Best had been given the ‘push’, I was there that night because I can remember the presence of a seemingly out-of-place Big Three drummer (Johnny Hutchinson) on stage with the Beatles".

Here are some views of the Riverpark's dancefloor and stage:

riverpark ballroom interior

riverpark ballroom interior

riverpark ballroom interior

Do you have any more information about the Riverpark Ballroom?

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