IN September 1963, Irene Hodgson was out shopping, pushing her pram in front of her as she crossed the top of Darlington's Tubwell Row - and a photographer caught in action.

The Northern Echo: A busy street scene in Tubwell Row in September 1963. That lady is pushing a pram that must have come from Thornleys in Northgate

“It was a sage cream Silver Cross with a cream interior that we bought from Thornleys in Northgate,” says her husband, George, who spotted Irene on the cover of Memories 538. “At the time, I was quite surprised how much prams were. I think it was about £34.”

Irene and George had met at the Palais de Danse in Grange Road on the super-sprung dancefloor, courted at the Baths Hall in Gladstone Street to the sound of Johnny Dankworth and Sid Phillips, and married at the Louisa Street Methodist church.

Clive, their first born who is now a stockbroker in Glasgow, would have been nine months old when Irene was captured crossing Tubwell Row on a shopping trip. The pram then did service for their daughter, Carol, who was born in 1969.

The Northern Echo: Irene Hodgson in Doggarts, from the Evening Despatch's "Pretty Girls At Work2 series

This is not the first time that Irene, who died in 2017, has appeared in the papers. Shortly before she and George married, she was photographed by the Echo’s former sister newspaper, the Evening Despatch, behind the counter at Doggarts, in Northgate, where she was a shop assistant. The picture was printed in the Despatch as part of its “Pretty Girls At Work” series (above). How times change.

The Northern Echo: Grange Road in 1973 with La Bamba on the right - as the Palais de Danse, it had the best dancefloor in the North East

Grange Road in 1973 with La Bamba on the right - as the Palais de Danse, it had the best dancefloor in the North East

“She really enjoys her dancing,” said the short write-up alongside the picture, and the Palais de Danse really was a legendary venue. It had been JJ Hobson’s furniture showroom until, in the 1920s, the premises was bought by Tommy Alton, a garage proprietor who came to own most of the street. He installed the famous dancefloor: some versions of the story say it was thousands of tennis balls sandwiched between two pieces of wood to create the springy floor, but we believe it really was hundreds of springs in the sandwich, so it was like dancing on a very firm mattress.

“The only other floor like it in the North East was at the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle,” says George. “When I worked as a joiner, I repaired the floor. I had to put new hard wood pieces into it because it had got badly worn by the ladies’ high heel shoes.”

In the early days of the first floor Palais, dancing was to the sound of the Harry Windale Orchestra; in later years it was to Les Bean and the Palais Band.

In 1963, the dancehall was converted into Darlington’s first nightclub, La Bamba. It was here, on June 15, 1965, that singer Gerry Dorsey ditched his name because it wasn’t getting him anywhere and was reborn as Engelburt Humperdink, which was more memorable, if nothing else.

In the cellar beneath the dancefloor there was a secret gambling den, but one night in August 1968, a fire broke out down there and gutted the building – this must have been the end of the floor of a thousand springs, although La Bamba reopened and had people dancing into the 1970s.

This scene of revelry is now offices named Alton House after Tommy, who died in 1956 and boasted that such was his love of the nightlife in his dancehall that he never went to bed on the same day on which he got up.



The Northern Echo: La Bamba sign in Grange Road, Darlington

La Bamba sign in Grange Road, Darlington