The Rise and Fall of Mercury

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By Helen Morgan

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First Published 25/5/2021
Last Updated 17/1/2022

 

How a vibrant new youth club opened and closed in four short years.

There was a population boom in the 1960’s in our village. An influx of people arrived who chose to commute into Manchester rather than live there. The Ratepayers estimated that there were around 1500 young people living in Heald Green, of which less than 20% were involved in any sort of club tailored to their needs.

Our councillors sent a detailed request for the need of a permanent location for a youth club. They were keen to point out that the County Council had reacted favourably to their request and set aside £35,000 to build a centre and have a paid youth leader. The actual site was the only sticking point. However other areas were also keen to have the centre sited in their district and with only so much money to go around there were going to be problems ahead. With the
Urban District Council behind the plan for a Heald Green site to be on the corner of Outwood Road and Wilmslow Road, the councillors were optimistic. They were keen to point out that the money for this came from national government and would not affect homeowners rates   .

 

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In December of 1963, anti-social behaviour was being noted in the village. There had been complaints to the councillors regarding behaviour and language of loitering youths around Outwood Road recreational ground and elsewhere at night and the police had been informed  .
 

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By March 1964 the cost for building a centre had gone up to £40,000 and was now likely to be situated on the Handforth border. The need was stressed for a Heald Green youth club to actually be in the village   .
 

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With all this uncertainty surrounding the needs of our youth, our local churches stepped up to help, whilst waiting upon a Council decision for a permanent base. On Wednesday, February 5th, 1964 the Mercury Club opened in the Church Room at St. Catherines. The opening was so well received that only the first 150 could join as members, with the rest going onto a waiting list. A local Heald Green band called “The Troyes” played and as a special treat a dance troupe from Cheadle Hulme called “The Clippers” arrived in the interval. The coffee bar was brisk and although the Coca-Cola supplies arrived late, the evening was a great success. The club leader, Mr Trotter, welcomed everyone and gave details of plans for this new club. There was a similar youth club in Cheadle Hulme that had been running for 12 months. They were branching out into sporting activities, as well as socialising, and the Mercury Club was keen to emulate their success. It was decided that bands would appear fortnightly or at least monthly and there would be dancing to records on the other evenings. Holding dances on other nights was to be considered too. Initial outlay for this new club had been costly but it was expected to be able to pay its way with subscriptions. Donations were asked for and sent to the Treasurer Mr T W Chick   .  
 

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Fig. 1 The Troyes pictured in 1966
© ManchesterBeat
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Fig. 2 The Troyes pictured in 1966
© ManchesterBeat
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In June 1964 a permanent youth centre had been proposed for the Handforth area and an expected nightly attendance was expected to be 230. The cost had gone up again and was now £44,275. The building work was expected in 1965/66  .

By now the Mercury Club had had a successful three months and a committee of teenagers had been selected to help run it and to eventually take over the running altogether. Events planned included hikes, ice skating and an April Fool’s Dance. It had also been decided to hold dances on days other than the scheduled Wednesday meetings. Football and table tennis teams were being formed ready for the new season  .
 

The club was closed over the summer and the leaders took stock of what had been achieved already. Word was spreading and the committee reported that the youth club was listed at the Citizens Advice Bureau. There had been a trip to Blackpool and a tennis tournament. Two football teams were entered into a league ready for September and there was discussion about having “more serious indoor activities such as drama and discussion groups”  .
 

The first Annual General Meeting was held on 12th October 1964 and the club was now affiliated to the National Association of Youth Clubs. The membership stood at 200 and every Wednesday was well attended. Sporting activities continued to grow with 2 football teams, a table tennis team, a netball team and a swimming team all in competitive leagues. On a Monday evening transport was arranged to Chorlton Baths. An appeal was put out for more table tennis and billiard tables. At the Christmas dance “The Big Three” group and “Pete and the Mohawks” would be the entertainment. The new club leader was Mr A. J. Rumins   .

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“...the Mercury Club had booked Wayne Fontana and the Mind Benders.  Well, a week before they were due to appear, they had a hit record with a song called 'Um Um Um Oh Yeah' and beacuse of this they doubled their fee and the club couldn't afford them, we make to make do with a band called 'The Big Three' from Liverpool. They were brilliant.

Anyway, a few years ago we were on a rock-and-roll-themed cruise and Wayne Fontana was one of the artists. After the show, Wayne was sat at the bar with a cup of tea, so I went over and expressed my displeasure at their failure to appear at the Mercury Club fifty odd years ago (we had a good laugh)."

- Mick Hankinson, 2021

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Fig. 3 The Big Three playing the Cavern in 1963
© Decca
Click on image to hear the single (Youtube)
Click here for the Beatles performing the same

 

The first year anniversary was celebrated with a dance and music by “The Soul Messengers” and “Pete and the Mohawks”. A “Miss Mercury” competition had been started and the winner was 17 year old Miss Susan Price. The judges included high ranking officials from the National Association of Youth Clubs. The runners up were Miss Anne Morewood and Miss Christine Wilson. They received gift tokens as prizes  . I wonder if these ladies are still in the village?

In September 1965 the club reopened after the summer to even more new members. The Army Youth Team were now involved and judo, .22 shooting, film shows and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme were added to the programme of events. Mr Massey had been appointed the football manager. Swimming on a Monday was as popular as ever. A drama group was being formed and modern and old tyme dancing lessons were to be added to the schedule    .

During the end of October the club had joined in with their first youth club week, holding fundraising activities and raising £90. In November a Police Sergeant gave a talk to the boys on the dangers of drugs. On the same night Max Factor demonstrated to the girls about how to apply makeup! So much social history right there. Plans were under way to perform at a variety show in Manchester and there were plans to hold their own at the club the following year    .

 

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“The Myaks” beat group played at the first dance in 1966 and 180 people attended. Another Miss Mercury was held and the winner now received a silver cup, sash. tiara and £3, so very like Miss World! The second anniversary on February 2nd was celebrated with a cake cut into 200 pieces for everyone to enjoy. The Army Youth Service were still involved and Cheshire Police continued to give talks. Even the old tyme dancing had taken off with lessons given by Mr and Mrs Short. Mr J Rumins was still the club leader    .

During Lent of 1966 the club night was altered to a Thursday and this had not gone down well with the membership and so reverted back to Wednesdays. A full programme of groups was announced “The Myaks”. “The Rejects” “The Richard Kent Style” and “Studio One” with the aim of re-establishing the attendance. A grant had been received from Chester and was to be used to start an archery section and expert tuition in judo. An appeal for men to help out was given so that other activities like fishing, tennis and photography could be added. Membership was 2/6d   .

 

Fig. 4 The Myaks pictured in 1966
© ManchesterBeat
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Fig. 5 The Myaks pictured in 1966
© ManchesterBeat
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By September 1966 the club was still going from strength to strength with weekly attendance increasing since school exams had finished. As an experiment the club had stayed open in August due to demand. The sad news was that the leader, Jim Rumins, was leaving to relocate down south. The archery and judo sessions were in big demand and it was hoped that swimming would restart. Mr A B Metcalfe would take over as leader.   .

Membership applications were slowing down by December 1966, but there was no concern as there was a far greater number of regular attendees. There had been a dance where “Kiki’s Condors” played. Football, judo, archery and table tennis continued to do well. The committee was still looking for more activities to add to the schedule   .

In October, 30 youth leaders met to discuss the Handforth Youth Centre and why it was of no use to the youth of Heald Green as it would be filled with the youth of Handforth. Councillor Crook advised that a recommendation had gone to Cheshire Education Committee to build a youth centre on Etchells Road   .

Youth clubs was a topic raised at the Ratepayers 39th Annual General Meeting held in February 1967. The Handforth Youth Centre was scheduled for 1968 and there was still optimism for a building in Heald Green. The main concern was a lack of helpers   .

By March 1967 the club was still expanding its sports programme. There were male and female table tennis teams playing in the League. Archery had been suspended, due to the weather, but it was hoped to resume shortly along with swimming and hiking. The committee was still looking for a judo instructor to replace an injured one. Mr DJ Tivey, a County Youth Organiser, had visited the club and leaders had aired their views to him about the need for better youth facilities within the village   .

The club continued to grow stronger. There had been successful dances with “Graham Robinson set” and the “In Set” playing to large crowds. The archery lessons now had a coach, Colin Pomphret. There had been a sponsored walk for Christian Aid from Tarvin to Outwood Road. The boy’s table tennis A team had won the League and brought home a trophy   .

In September 1967 the club reopened after the summer break. Everyone between the ages of 13 and 21 were invited. Swimmers and non swimmers were invited to attend as lessons were to recommence and transport was provided. Male helpers were still being asked for    . This is the first article where I sensed the feeling that all was not going to plan, that the club was beginning to wane.

By December 1967 the leader, Alan Metcalfe, was about to leave the area. The only male helper now was Tom Chick. Deputy leader and secretary, Mary Gannon, tried to drum up business by announcing a competition, free to all teenagers “Choose your ideal youth club”. Swimming was now at Levenshulme Baths on a Thursday and  open to all, not just Mercury Club members. The club was still on a Wednesday from 7.30pm to 10pm and open to all youth in the district   .

1968 started on an optimistic note as Mary announced a substantial increase in both members and helpers. A meeting had been held with members to discuss the way forward. The boys requested a 5-a-side football team. The swimming had stopped due to poor response and the booking of the swimming baths could only go ahead if the club amalgamated with another club. Once the weather got better it was hoped that archery would resume. Miss Mercury 1968 took place with music by “The Time Sellers” who were about to branch out into cabaret. She finished the article by once again setting out the member’s ages, dates and times of the club. Annual subscriptions remained at 2/6d with weekly subscriptions of 1s for members and 1s6d for visitors   .

By June 1968 there was a very brief article stating “the last three months have been almost uneventful”. Swimming had still not restarted and there was little interest in the archery. The table tennis teams had had some success in the League and there had been another Christian Aid Walk   .

In October 1968 Mary announced that after Whitsun the club had closed. A full schedule of events from September’s reopening  were highlighted and details again given in full for new members   .

In December 1968 a statement announced the closure of the club as the opening night in September had been so poorly attended. The committee had not been satisfied that the club in the near future “had any hope of success   .

In the Contact magazine of Spring 1969 the Editor made the following points. There were 1000 people aged between 13 and 20 in the village of which about 350 were members of organisations like Boys Brigade and Girl Guides. What did they want? At present the vast majority were free to “roam the streets and cause nuisance”. What could parents do to help? The Mercury Club had closed through lack of support   .

I will end this article with a letter sent to the Editor of the Contact magazine in Winter 1969 from a Mr I K Lawther. His points are thought provoking. There were other youth clubs in Cheadle Hulme and Handforth but why none no longer in Heald Green? Mercury had closed due to lack of support. A disco at the Public Hall was either too pricey to listen to records or the wrong night. Brown Lane’s youth club on a Friday had closed due to vandalism. The need was there. Many Heald Green youths were attending The Parish Youth Centre in Cheadle Hulme but had to leave early to catch a bus home. Parents and helpers would be needed to get a new venture off the ground. He appealed to them and was willing to give advice as an experienced youth leader. He ended very poignantly with “the youth of today are the citizens of tomorrow   .

Such a sad and rather quick end to what was a huge youth club in the village. At its height the church hall must have been bursting at the seams, attracting both local bands and more well known acts of the time. The Big Three group had been signed up by Brian Epstein and there they were playing in our church hall! I doubt that the age group of  13-21 would work with the youth of today but obviously did back then. The lack of helpers would have contributed to the decline. However the loss of well liked respected group leaders, to pastures new, may have been the final straw and the fate of the Mercury Club was sealed.

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Bibliography

  1. The Editor,February 1963, Accent of Youth, Contact Magazine, 1(2), pp. 25.

  2. The Editor,December 1963, Heald Green Jottings, Contact Magazine, 1(5), pp. 19.

  3. The Editor,March 1964, Another Year Of Progress In Heald Green, Contact Magazine, 2(1), pp. 3.

  4. The Editor,March 1964, Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, 2(1), pp. 8.

  5. The Editor,June 1964, Proposed County Youth Centre, Handforth Area, Contact Magazine, 2(2), pp. 11.

  6. The Editor,June 1964, Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, pp. 28.

  7. The Editor,September 1964, Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, 2(3),pp. 27.

  8. The Editor,December 1964, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 2(4),pp. 23.

  9. The Editor,March 1965, Mercury Club, Contact Magazine,3(1), pp. 26.

  10. Rumins,A.J. (Leader),September 1965, The Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 3(3),pp. 10.

  11. Rumins,J. (Leader),December 1965, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 3(4),pp. 17.

  12. Rumins, J. (Leader),March 1966, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 4(1), pp. 24.

  13. Rumins, J. (Leader),June 1966, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 4(2), pp. 22.

  14. Metcalfe,A.B.,September 1966, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 4(3), pp. 21.

  15. The Editor,December 1966, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 4(4), pp. 20.

  16. The Editor,December 1966, Youth Leaders’ Meeting, Contact Magazine, 4(4),  pp. 3.

  17. The Editor, February 1967, Youth Clubs, 39th Annual General Meeting, pp. 3.

  18. The Editor,March 1967, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine,5(1),  pp. 10.

  19. The Editor,June 1967, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 5(2), pp. 21.

  20. The Editor,September 1967, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine,5(3), pp. 22.

  21. Gannon, J.Mary, December 1967, Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, 5(4), pp. 22.

  22. Gannon, Mary, March 1968, The Mercury Youth Club, Contact Magazine, pp.2o

  23. The Editor, June 1968, The Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, pp.23

  24. Gannon, J.Mary, October 1968, The Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, pp.24

  25. The Editor, December 1968, Mercury Club, Contact Magazine, pp.20

  26. The Editor, Spring 1969, The Youth Of Heald Green, Contact Magazine, pp.15-16

  27. Lawther, I.K., Winter 1969, Letters to Editor, Contact Magazine, Page 8

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