Nostalgic memories of music and dancing at YMCA Hartington Hall

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I WONDER if there is anyone around that can remember or even attended the regular Thursday night dances that were held during the early 1950s at the YMCA in Bolton Road, Eastbourne.

The dances were organised by George Turner and myself and run every Thursday evening from, I believe, 7.30pm to 10.30pm.

Being not long after the war, it was still a period of some austerity and the shops such as they were at the time did not exactly bulge with the wherewithal to acquire the necessary audio equipment.

Being a student of electrical engineering at the time, I built a suitable amplifier from scratch, using parts sourced mainly from ex-government equipment obtained via George Turner at Jackson Electrical Co in Terminus Place (how many can remember them?).

Four large glass valves running at high voltage and glowing with an unearthly blue light and getting quite amazingly hot.

Coupled with two ex-government speaker cabinets mounted above the stage and we were in business.

It is hard to imagine that the transistor had yet to be invented. Needless to say the records were 10-inch 78 rpm shellac and played on a single turntable with a crystal pick-up. The turntable was electric, we didn’t have to wind it up!

As a final touch we obtained an ex-RAF geared motor with a slow speed spindle. A colour wheel was fashioned from a large circle of hardboard with cut out segments all round, the segments then covered with stage lighting colour media scrounged from a good friend who was the stage electrician at the Pier Theatre.

With the disc mounted on the motor spindle and a suitable floodlamp mounted behind the colour wheel, the whole lot was mounted on the hall ceiling and operated from the control room.

Turning off the fluorescent lighting and switching on the motor caused a swirl of coloured lights to rotate around the hall. Were we the first Eastbourne disco?

Every Thursday the hall was invariably filled to capacity. I don’t think admission was charged, probably not.

Bouncers, I don’t think the word had yet entered into our vocabulary. Fags and the odd aspirin tablet were about the limit of drugs, whilst the bar, yes there was a bar, dispensed only soft drinks. Even Coke had yet to make its mark. Records, which were from the private collections of George Turner and myself, were almost exclusively big band stuff.

Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Eric Winstone, Glen Miller, Joe Loss et al. Additions to the library were mostly purchased from Hermitage Hall in Terminus Road (now Superdrug). Who can remember them?

With the hall filled to capacity, the fluorescent lighting off and the colour wheel casting its patterns over the dancers, it was a great atmosphere only destroyed when the hall secretary, one Miss Pole, descended from her office on the first floor.

Finding the fluorescent lighting off and some dancers very close coupled, she would immediately turn it back on flooding the hall with light and ruining the ambience at a stroke. Needless to say, after she had returned to her eyrie upstairs, we would switch them back off again and normal service would be resumed!

Come 10.30pm, the last number of the evening was played. Not exactly a last waltz but always the Glenn Miller arrangement of Adios, after which it was a race to clear up and rush to the station for the last buses which left on the dot of 11pm.

The YMCA is now long gone, the building currently occupied by Zizzi’s, which my wife and I sometimes visit on our journeys into Eastbourne. At such times during a period of quiet, if I listen carefully, I can still hear whispering around the walls the faint strains of Glenn Miller’s Adios.

At the age of 82 my mind is thankfully quite sharp but if some of the facts I have recounted are not quite right please feel free to correct me.

As far as I am aware no photographs were ever taken of these events.


Rattle Road, Westham.