ALL THAT remains of Park Hall Ballroom today is a burnt-out husk, languishing on an unkempt piece of land in Wormelow – it gives no hint of its former glorious self. Yet, in its heyday, it was THE venue, welcoming hundreds and thousands of revellers to functions from across the region. This was the era of big bands, Come Dancing, ladies in tulle and net dresses, the foxtrot, chicken in a basket, organ duos and a revolving stage!
"Absolutely everyone in Herefordshire knew about Park Hall. Everyone," said Eileen Isaac, who worked there for over 20 years from the early 1970s. We're sat in her kitchen in Cross Ash and it seems a good opportunity to reminisce as plans to redevelop the site for housing have been submitted. She is sifting through a mountain of Park Hall memorabilia she has collected, stretching from the 70's right through to its closure in the 1990s. "It was a fabulous place, it really was."
Park Hall was the ambition of Mr Amos Peel and his wife. Originally from Halifax, they moved to the Wormelow site to farm in 1944. In what started as fundraising dances for a new village hall, soon grew in scale to the gala opening of the 30ft wide Park Hall on January 3rd 1956.
By the end of the Peel's era, Park Hall had expanded to a Ball room, that could accommodate up to 880 dancers, a dining room for 350 diners at one sitting, a steak room upstairs, and other smaller function rooms. The revolving stage – once used in a West End Show – would glide seamlessly between big bands, including the legendary Joe Loss and Victor Sylvester, to the John Williams Organ Duo. Parking was for up to 1000 vehicles, with coaches travelling from as far afield as Birmingham, Chester, Liverpool and Swansea. "Everyone dressed up," remembers Eileen. "The men in their collars and ties and the ladies in their dresses." There were occasions too, "when they were climbing in through the windows and we'd have to go upstairs and get the bouncers."
Never forgetting his roots, Mr Peel returned to Halifax in 1970 to bid for the ornamental fountain that would sit proudly outside Park Hall for many years. It would later become the focus for many a wedding photo, including that of one of Eileen's daughter's.
Often, on a Saturday, there were up to three weddings a day, and hundreds of firms, companies and organisations held functions there. Some of these are still going, but many are now defunct: Bulmers' bottling department annual dinner and dance, the Merry Millers dinner and dance, bodybuilding contests, roller skating (in the ballroom) and many hundreds more. And there was the SAS. Security was tight and it was the one and only time that Eileen was frisked before going to work behind the bar. That particular evening she worked right through, finishing at 7am as the party-goers settled down for breakfast. "We worked all night and they danced all night to the band and then Mr and Mrs Peel organised breakfast."
Many a star of the day took to the revolving stage, including most of the Radio 1 DJs: DLT, Bruno Brookes, Kid Jensen, then groups such as Hot Chocolate, Edwin Starr and Bad Manners and Lenny Henry and Tony Christie.
For most of her time there, Eileen worked behind the bars, when Babycham and Pony were the drinks of choice. "It was hard work but if you worked well you were treated well. It was like family really. Mr and Mrs Peel were absolutely fantastic to work for. He was a very honest and down to earth man. If you were cheeky to him or didn't work he wouldn't sack you. He just wouldn't ask you to work the next Saturday. Very straightforward like that." Mrs Peel did most of the cooking – a fabulous cook by all accounts – and her hot turkey rolls, no matter what time of year it was, became her 'signature dish'.
As sporting upsets go, few have matched Hereford United knocking Newcastle out of football's FA Cup 30 years ago. It was to the Park Hall Ballroom they came to celebrate, and was one of many memorable evenings for Eileen. "As they came up the stairs the staff were all standing in a row and we were clapping them all the way through to the dining room."
"We all loved working there," she remembers. "Absolutely loved it. I couldn't wait for the next time to go in because you met so many people and got to see all the stars." Sadly, Mr Peel died and, after his daughter continued for a while, it was taken over by new owners. It's heyday was over and within a few short years the venue closed, eventually catching fire marking the end of an era.
"I was very sad to leave and I was quite upset for a while. But even now, even though it is 22 years since I worked there, I still bump into people and reminisce about the Park Hall Days. It was a magical time."
Does anyone out there have their own memories of the Park Hall Ballroom? Please contact the Gazette.