Aquarius Chesterfield: National Lottery Heritage Fund project will ensure legendary nightclub is never lost
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It outlasted the majority of its peers, but all that now remains are memories after bulldozers moved in to clear all that remained of Chesterfield’s legendary Aquarius earlier this year. However, the legacy of the cabaret club – unlike that of rivals like Batley Variety Club and the Fiesta in Sheffield – is being preserved thanks to a £70,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund project.
The Dirty Stop Outs have been busy over the past few months recording the memories of everyone from the stars that performed to people that worked there or enjoyed nights at the once-revered Sheffield Road venue.
Robin Colvill of the hit comedy troupe, the Grumbleweeds, says the venue played a key role in their success: “We used to do a lot of gigs at the Aquarius – we’d perform three to four weeks every year. We were very popular – it was always heaving. Because of the Aquarius, we did a BBC Radio show and that led to a TV show.”
Central to the Aquarius project has been the restoration and digitisation of hundreds of photos from the 1970s and 1980s that were taken by the club’s in-house photographer, David Miller.
The Aquarius, which first opened in 1972, attracted some of the biggest stars in light entertainment in a career that lasted nearly a quarter of a century. The venue even hosted the very first headlining show of Cannon & Ball.
The Aquarius was an instant hit. Overnight it became the focal point for works outings, hen nights, stag nights, Christmas parties – everything happened at the venue.
The region’s own Bernie Clifton was one of its early comperes. Sheffield’s own Marti Caine was also a regular.
It survived the miner’s strike – apparently, the house band were asked to turn their hand to decorating the club to help save money – and the Winter of Discontent.
The early 1970s was a boomtime for the UK’s cabaret scene. The craze for a more glitzy and sophisticated night out started in early the mid-sixties and by the end of the decade there were scores of venues up and down the country.
The cabaret scene was hugely popular in the north of England and was famed for its ability to persuade some of the biggest starts in the world to visit the far flung reaches of the UK – a forerunner of the scene was Greasbrough Social Club, just outside Rotherham.
Neil Anderson of the Dirty Stop Outs said: “The Aquarius shaped the lives of generations of local people in the Chesterfield area over many years, and it has been a privilege to capture their incredible memories as part of this project. The venue outlasted the majority of the UK's cabaret clubs and was a firm favourite amongst the stars of the era.”
The coming months are set to see the publication of a new book, the launch of a website, an exhibition, and events to celebrate the legacy of the Aquarius.
A book – ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1980s Chesterfield – Aquarius Edition’ – helped inspire the project. You can check it out here: https://dirtystopouts.com/products/dirty-stop-outs-guide-to-1980s-chesterfield-aquarius-edition