As part of a new column in the Lancashire Telegraph, Stephen Hughes of Blackburn and Darwen Pubs (Past and Present) Facebook group has delved through the archives to look back about pubs and nightclubs throughout the year. This week he writes about the Cavendish and Utopia,
The Cav, Romeos and Juliets, Peppermint Place, Peps, Utopia, Heaven and Hell – known by various official and unofficial names over its 39-year lifespan in Lord Square, Blackburn.
Originally opened as the Cavendish Club in June 1968 at a cost of around £150k and owned by the Bailey Organisation, the venue was reportedly one of the largest of its kind in Europe at the time, boasting a 2500 capacity (which was later reduced to 2000).
The club was opened by the Mayor of Blackburn, Florence Lewis, and a BBC celebrity Simon Dee and in its original guise featured a huge cabaret room, restaurant and discotheque.
This popular nightclub was located in a large space elevated above the top storey of the Blackburn Shopping Centre precinct (now the Mall) multi storey car park.
The route to the original entrance is probably described as not the most glamorous, reached by one of the car park stairwells, complete with the familiar white tiles.
Whilst queuing, the only indicator that patrons were getting closer to the club entrance was the little luxury of brass handrails on the steps on approaching the top level!
There was also a designated passenger lift from Lord Square, but at least from the late 1980’s onwards this was out of service. In the 1990’s, a rather more prominent entrance was built, accessed from the other side of the multi-storey car park and one that remains to this day, although disused.
The lowest point for the Cav, as it was generally known through its history, was on the 18th December 1972, when the building was destroyed by a fire that was believed to have originally started in a rubbish bin. The club’s night-watchman, Alan Tattersall from Accrington, bravely tried to fight the fire with extinguishers whilst waiting for the fire brigade to arrive. It later took 27 fire appliances, 105 firemen and 17 jets to extinguish it. Despite the best efforts of the fire brigade, the roof collapsed and the club had to be demolished, not reopening again until 1974.
The club’s manager at the time Sid Stewart stated that the cost of the rebuild and the loss of business would amount to a loss of £250,000 (the equivalent of around £3million today). Around 30 shops below the venue were also forced to temporarily close.
Nonetheless, even with this setback, the club was a major success story and really put Blackburn’s night-time economy on the map, with coaches bringing in clubbers from across the north west and further afield. In 1979, the club was renamed Romeos and Juliets and four years later in 1983 another name change took place and it became Peppermint Place, often shortened to “Peps” by clubbers.
This was the name the club went under for 12 years, with the two large rooms within the club being called Kaleidoscope and Reflections. The latter name perhaps related to the 1980’s and 1990’s love of fitting out nightclubs with a considerable number of mirrors! The slogan “Rammed and Rockin’, Atmosphere’s Shockin’” was used on publicity material, including white T-shirts that were thrown out onto the dancefloor by the DJ’s as part of free promotions.
The club boasted cutting edge lighting and sound systems, including large scanners and lasers and some big names played live, including Take That making an appearance for an AIDS charity fundraiser event in 1992. This was filmed by the former Blackburn cable TV channel, Cable 7, with footage still available of that legendary evening. Readers may also remember Shakin’ Stevens and Showaddywaddy appearing live.
In 1995, the club was renamed Utopia Discotheque, a name it held for 9 years. As Peppermint Place and Utopia, the club was owned by First Leisure, a Preston based entertainments group, before in August 2004 being sold to local Blackburn businessman and successful nightclub operator, Peter Clarke. It was then transformed by his team into Heaven and Hell after a £1m refurbishment, with Margo Grimshaw cutting the opening ribbon. The club survived the parent company going into administration in June 2006 during particularly challenging trading conditions in the sector.
Despite a relaunch, the final closure of the club sadly took place on the weekend of 14th and 15th April 2007, just under three months before the smoking ban came into effect across all licensed premises in England. This would have no doubt caused further operational challenges.
New licensing laws allowing pubs to stay open later were blamed for loss of trade at the club, in addition to the deteriorating state of the local night-time economy in Blackburn and the impact of the ongoing £60m major revamp of the shopping centre. This had left large sections around the club boarded up and surrounded by hoardings and rather desolate looking. Ironically, in the last few weeks of trading, the club had lost its Heaven and Hell name and been rebranded The Cav – the name it all began with and sadly the name it all finished with.
Whilst the space formally occupied by the club remains in the multi storey car park, and the main (1990’s built) entrance looks relatively untouched, the rest of the club is understood to be a stripped-out shell. In 2014, there were discussions between a local businessman/nightclub operator and the council regarding fitting out and reopening the venue, but it remains closed and its future is currently unknown.
n If you want to find out more about history of Blackburn pubs check out Closed Pubs of Blackburn and Blackburn and Darwen Pubs (Past and Present) on Facebook