Northwich Memorial Hall’s walls once echoed with the sounds of pop music royalty and their screaming, swooning fans.
Now the beat is to the noise of demolition workers making way for a brand new £13.7m leisure complex to be completed before the end of 2014.
There to see the end of an era and the start of an exciting new future for the site was Gwili Lewis, 92, who managed the hall during its 60s and 70s hay day welcoming, The Beatles, several times – performing for £15 for the night – The Hollies, Animals, Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Ben E King, Jimmy Ruffin and a glorious list of stars.
Gwili admitted to feelings of personal sadness about the demolition but expressed hope that the new leisure complex with its swimming pool, dance studio, gym and cultural facilities would give pleasure to the Northwich community for many years to come.
And after posing with senior councillors for an historic picture marking the start of demolition, Gwili asked for – and received – a brick from the hall to add to the memorabilia of his time in charge of the hall.
The Memorial Court complex will provide a swimming pool, learner pool, flume, spa, 80-station gym and dance studio – creating the premier cultural venue in the east of the borough and transforming an area of tired derelict appearance to an important link to the riverside.
A commemorative garden to the dead of two world wars and public space is included in the plan to respect the history of the Memorial Hall.
Councillor Stuart Parker, Executive Member for Recreation and Culture, commented: “Memorial Court will be a wonderful asset for the town and is an important part of the transformation of Northwich over the next few years. The leisure complex will enhance the riverside site and help create a vital link with the traditional town centre and the Barons Quay development.
“It was completely fitting that Gwili Lewis was able to be with us to mark a changing point in the town’s history. Many people will have fond memories of the Memorial Hall, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, including couples who met and fell in love at the Saturday night dances and concerts.
“But Northwich needs something very different for now and into the future and the Memorial Court has been designed taking into account detailed consultation with members of the public.”
Local Councillor, Julia Tickridge, said: “The start of demolition was a poignant moment. The Memorial Hall was built by public subscription for the people of Northwich and had a very special place in their hearts.
“We now look forward to a new era and the next phase in the regeneration of the town.”
Councillor Mike Jones, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “I’m sure Northwich residents were excited when the Memorial Hall was built and just listening to Gwili’s fantastic stories underlines how much pleasure it must have given people not long after the post war austerity.
“The new Memorial Court complex will play a similar significant role in the improving fortunes of Northwich, adding wonderful leisure and lifestyle facilities along the riverside, to complement the cinema, shops, cafes planned for Barons Quay, the Hayhurst Marina, Waitrose store and Lion Salt Works heritage visitor attraction and museum.
“It is great to see things are really starting to move in Northwich as we build an exciting new future for the town.
Former Northwich Memorial Hall manager Gwili Lewis, 92, takes a break on the brush, helped by Councillor Julia Tickridge, as Cllr Mike Jones, and Executive Member for Culture and Recreation, Cllr Stuart Parker, mark the start of demolition, watched by Cllrs Tony Lawrenson and Gaynor Sinar, Wates Construction site manager John Cassidy and CWaC’s Andrew Collins (senior project officer).