WORK began this week to demolish a Darlington eyesore 56 years after it was built and the first complaints were lodged about its unattractiveness.

The building coming down is the Magnet Bowl, which some might know as Club Lucy’s nightclub and others might remember as a former Sports Direct.

The Northern Echo:

East Street in the late 1960s, before the ring road was built. The Magnet Bowl has just been built on the extreme left of the picture

It is in East Street, behind the library, on land that was last cleared in the early 1960s to allow the inner ring road to sweep through – part of the Peases’ woollen mill was on there originally.

It was built in 1966 and before it opened, there were complaints about the unattractiveness of the blank wall overlooking Lower Priestgate. Developers gave assurances that when it was completed, the wall would not be visible, but even to the building’s dying day, the blank wall is very visible, and very ugly.

The Northern Echo:

East Street with the Magnet Bowl in 1967

The Magnet Bowl opened on May 11, 1966, at the height of the tenpin bowling craze.

Man has rolled a ball at pins on the ground since time immemorial, but the first standard versions of the game in the 17th and 18th centuries involved nine pins arranged in a square.

The game crossed from Europe to America where it was hijacked by gamblers. In a moral panic in the 1830s, many US states banned it.

In 1841, Connecticut passed a law specifically banning the ownership of ninepin bowling alleys – but this meant that an alley with a different number of pins was not illegal. So someone bent the law by arranging ten pins in an equilateral triangle, and the perfectly legal tenpin bowling was created.

In fact, with an extra element of jeopardy if the bowler gets the angles wrong, tenpin became the game of choice in the US.

It didn’t catch on in Europe until after the Second World War, which suggests it was American troops that brought it over. The first World Tenpin Bowling Championships were held for men in Helsinki in Finland in 1954, and women joined them for the championships in Mexico City in 1963.

Tenpin bowling fitted in with the American rock-n-roll zeitgeist of the 1960s, and 160 alleys sprung up all over the country, many of them built by chains, like the Magnet Bowl.

The Northern Echo:

The Magnet Bowl in 1967

The Northern Echo even started a weekly bowling column, called Ten Pin Talk, with news from around the rinks. This included that on the Darlington alley’s first birthday it was going to host the “biggest single day, five-man tournament yet staged in Britain” with Vaux breweries putting up a staggering £200 first prize.

The Northern Echo: Magnet Bowl ten pin

The logo from the Echo's hot and happening Ten Pin Talk column

The Northern Echo:

The Darlington club was managed by Brian Graham (above, in the Magnet Bowl), an expert bowler, who set up a Pentecostal church in an old Co-op on Firthmoor and then emigrated with his wife, Ann, to Cincinnati, in the US, to become a full-time preacher.

The Northern Echo: Magnet Bowl team 1967

A Magnet Bowl team in 1967 - possibly the youngsters who won the national title

Darlington bowlers did well on a national level: in November 1967, a team of six 16-year-olds won the London Junior Invitational Tournament at the Ambassador Bowl in Hounslow with a pinfall of 5,644, and two female bowlers – Kay Metcalf and Ena Prattley – represented England at international level.

The Northern Echo: Magnet Bowl ten pin

The Tsukuri Agents, a team that was based at the Magnet Bowl. Their big grudge match was against the Club Fiesta bowlers from Stockton

Yet this craze was very short lived. The Magnet Bowl closed on February 20, 1970, at a time when nearly all of the region’s bowls were also shutting – they were tumbling like ninepins.

Since then, the East Street building has struggled to find a reason to exist, although its upstairs’ nightclub, Club Lucy’s, was a mainstay of the town’s nightlife until it closed around 2010.

The Northern Echo: Work is getting underway to demolish the former Sports Direct warehouse in East Street, Darlington Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Demolition begins at the old Magnet Bowl this week

OTHER North East tenpin bowling alleys: Brunswick Bowl, Billingham (1963-1970); Excel Bowl, Westgate Road, Newcastle (opened 1963 in an old theatre, and the only alley in our 1960s survey that is still going); Dogs Bowl, South Shields (1963-70: was it part of a leisure complex that included a greyhound stadium?); Excel Bowl, Sunderland (1964-2011); Redcar Bowl (1965-69, demolished 2014); Top Rank Bowl, Gateshead (1965-1970); Excel Bowl, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough (1965-about 1970). There must have been others. Please let us know about any other missed alleys, or if you can us any stories from Darlington's Magnet Bowl.