WHERE were you when Bradford's original Mecca burned down?

Hilda Riches was racing past firefighters in her bare feet, desperate to salvage what was left of her dance school...

Still dancing at 85, Hilda recalled her premises at Textile Hall, Westgate, ravaged by a blaze in the summer of 1981. As soon as she heard about the fire, Hilda went straight to the building to rescue her dance certificates, costumes and whatever else she could. “I wasn’t even dressed, I was barefoot,” she told us. “The firemen were hosing the place down. They said, ‘You can’t go in there, Madam.’ I said, ‘Do you want a bet?’”

That was the night the place known as Bradford’s original Mecca burned down. A T&A report from August 24, 1981 said a “fierce blaze” ripped through, gutting the entire top floor, “just weeks after an anonymous caller told police the place would be burned down”.

In another report that week, T&A writer Stanley Pearson recalled the halcyon days of the Textile Hall which, “for thousands of Bradford and District dancers of the 1940s and 50s, was the Mecca”.

He went on: “Every night of the week there seemed to be some sort of dancing activity going on there. The biggest single attraction at arguably Bradford’s best known dancehall of those eras was the band, fronted each night by the affable Les Garratt. Over the years, Les, who lived in Great Horton Road until his death in 1976, turned out to be head of the musicians’ nursery which provided the country with fine players and singers.

“Textile dancers over the years have seen a host of young players move onto bigger showbiz spotlights, such as Nat Gonella, Barney Gilbraith and Yorkshire TV musical director Bob Hartle.

“On the beautiful maple dance floor, I saw people of all walks of life dancing at the Textile. Les would front the band, leading it through number after number until a sly glance at the clock told him it was time for a break. There would be a nod to drummer Billy Hill, Les would tell him to do “a few Victors...” then glide off stage, heading for the bar down on the trade union floor. Les would sit like a King with his courtiers. Former Lord Mayor Derek Smith would look in for an odd noggin and so too would a passing police inspector on patrol. There was inevitably a journalist or two, for Les enjoyed their company as well as their product. The musicians played a couple of “Victors” until they were sure Les was deep in his first pint - then the gloves came off. The joint would really jump for an half an hour, until my emergence at the top of the steps was the signal that the maestro was on his way up to the ballroom. Back to the Garratt Band at its best, a swinging combination of some of the finest musicians who ever trod the West Riding stage.

“The fire just about extinguished the last memory for most of us 40 and 50-year-olds. With Les gone and the band split up, there was always the ‘Textile” to look up at when you passed. Now even that is gone...and with it something which survived the war years, skiffle, rock ‘n’ roll, jiving, bopping and just about every other fashion thrown in. Happy days.”