The Carlton Ballroom

The 1930’s was a decade of change in the United Kingdom and Rochdale was no exception. Cinema attendance was booming and dancing was all the rage with dances at the Pioneers Ballroom, occasionally at the Town Hall and many others in many church halls and school rooms. In August 1935 there was a dance at the Ambulance Drill Hall featuring Tee Varnum and his band (admission 2/-), at the Kings Hall in Littleborough or at the Lakeside Pavilion at Hollingworth Lake. It was a decade of widening cultural expectations and the town contributed to this by opening, in 1934, one of the best dance halls in the North West – the Carlton on Great George Street, just off Drake Street, the Observer noting at the time that ‘Rochdale will possess a ballroom the modernity .. unsurpassed by any other dance hall in the provinces.’

The building, which previously had been an old wool scouring mill belonging to Kelsall & Kemp, was redesigned by J E Stott of Todmorden, the architects who also developed the Riviera complex in Norden.  The front of the mill was pulled down and a façade and entrance re-designed in a minimal Art Deco style typical of the 1930’s.

Embassy Amusements Limited took on the management and refurnished the Carlton in the latest style. From the entrance there was a box office, cloakrooms and a café with an ‘up-to-date Milk Bar’ open to the public all day. On the upper floor on three sides there was a balcony which accommodated 250 to 300 people at small tables whilst below there was a dance floor (120 feet by 50 feet) of rubber-cushioned maple at the head of which was a stage, the curved back of which was decorated with gold leaf and edged by huge grey curtains. On the day of the opening, these were pulled back by uniformed page boys (white gloves and little pill-box hats) to reveal a band playing for the first dance.

Though whist drives and private functions took place there, dancing was the main thing with  bands such as Roy Fox and Joe Loss came up from London in the mid 1940’s to appear at the Carlton’s ‘Saturday Night at the Palais,’ appearing on-stage at 11.00pm and playing (air raids permitted) until 2.00am. Local bands were popular too with the George Roberts Band, Bob Sharples, Geoff Love and the famous Freddie Platt Band.

After World War II dancing fell somewhat from favour, replaced to some extent in the 1950’s by the popularity of television although when Mecca bought the Carlton in 1956 they tried to keep the dancing tradition going. By the 1960’s however, it had a dual use as a dance and Bingo hall, eventually by the 1970’s only being used for the latter. In 1989 the Carlton closed following a fire and after some years of neglect it looked like the end. However, in 1995 there was a revival with The New Carlton Ballroom, later the place becoming the ‘Liquid Rock’ nightclub but the place was eventually closed following an alleged shooting incident, a sad end to a great Rochdale institution.

In 2007 the Carlton was demolished and is now a car park.