Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Young, free and single... part 1?

I've written fairly frequently on here about my childhood and schooldays, but haven't really tended to mention anything about what I did by way of leisure activity.  Maybe it wasn't that interesting or I just don't remember it that clearly - either of which is a bit sad in a way, I suppose.  The other day, though, a random chance question suddenly reminded me of a key element of my transition to adulthood, which went by the name of the Dungeon Disco!  It was held on Saturday nights in the cellars of the Eathorpe Park Hotel, a Victorian-built establishment out in the countryside some seven miles or so from Leamington.  You needed a car to get there, and it was couples-only admission, which together effectively kept at bay the riff-raff and the weenyboppers: it was a smashing venue.

I first went one night in late 1970 or early 1971: my best mate at the time thoughtfully(?) fixed me up with an ex-girlfriend of his, and we all went as a foursome.  In fact his motive wasn't entirely altruistic, as I was providing the transport! You went in the hotel front door, and to the right I think was a little door which led down some stone steps into the "dungeon" - two parallel cellars, one of which accommodated the dancefloor with the DJ in the far corner, the other being the seating area.  A small bar ran across the end.  Not that it matters now, but I don't recollect where the loos were (maybe back upstairs?).  The dungeon theme was reinforced by white grilles and things painted on the ceiling, with bones and skeletons which glowed periodically under the UV lighting: I can't really do it justice with just a brief description.  The music was a mix of chart releases, disco classics and some oldies, with several "smooch-times" interspersed at intervals throughout the evening.  The DJ would do the occasional request dedication, and the whole thing went on till 1am, which was late by rural Warwickshire standards - at least in those days.

Needless to say the foursome wasn't a resounding success, but as luck would have it I soon acquired a partner of my own, and we went a number of times, singing along to such hits as Middle of the Road's "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" - dead corny now, but great fun doing the chorus as the DJ 'blanked' it out.  At Christmas 1972 it was an established favourite place of ours, and the one we chose for our wedding night - to the amazement of the DJ, as we asked for a special dedication to us newlyweds!  I'm sure he thought we were pulling his leg, but he duly obliged, and I shall treasure forever the happy memory of smooching to the Everly Brothers "Devoted to you", oblivious to everything except singing the words to each other.

We went again a couple of times the first year or so after we were married, but then I heard the Dungeon had shut, and sure enough, the next time we went, the little door to the steps was locked and it was all closed off.  We settled instead for a meal in the hotel restaurant, but although very nice, it couldn't re-create the special ambiance of the Dungeon, and we didn't go again.  This would've been around 1973 or possibly early 1974.  I lost track of what happened to the hotel after that, but I saw from a recent photo that although still standing, at some point it evidently closed altogether and was converted into private apartments.

I don't think I ever did discover what had led to the Dungeon's demise - or at least, if I did at the time, I've long since forgotten it now.  Maybe the hotel changed hands and the new owners didn't want to continue running it?  I suppose, looking back on it from the modern era of clubs and raves, discos in that format were possibly by then reaching the end of their 'shelf life'.  Who knows?  It was a great place while it lasted, though!   


SP3969 : Eathorpe Park by Andy F
Eathorpe Park
  © Copyright Andy F and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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