50th anniversary of Chesterfield's Aquarius nightclub opening celebrated with new calendar

Revellers are reminded of good times at Chesterfield’s legendary Aquarius nightclub in a new calendar which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the venue’s opening.

By Gay Bolton
Friday, 10th December 2021, 3:25 pm
Updated Friday, 10th December 2021, 3:27 pm
The Aquarius nightclub on Sheffield Road, Chesterfield, opened in November 1972 and ran for 27 years.

The club on Sheffield Road was the in-place to be in its heyday, attracting busloads of people from far and wide to watch big-name entertainers and tuck into chicken in a basket as they sat at lamplit copper-topped tables.

It was a place where girls danced around their handbags and where broken hearts were healed as new dates were made.

John Cuttriss, who has a vast knowledge of Chesterfield’s nightlife of yesteryear, has created a calendar for 2022 which highlights the revellers, entertainers and key events that the Aquarius hosted over its 27 years.

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John Cuttriss took this photo of his mother-in-law Edna Stanyard, far left, with work colleagues enjoying a Christmas get-together at the Aquarius in 1972. The photo appears as the March illustration inJohn's calendar for 2022.

He said: “A lot of people remember the Aquarius for getting drunk, not for going to watch the cabaret. I’m offering another angle on what the Aquarius was about. The calendar is a souvenir that people can keep for years, look at and think ‘I can remember that’.

Research for a book about the Aquarius, which John published last year, spurred him into creating the calendar when he realised that 2022 would be the golden anniversary of its launch.

John’s calendar is as varied as the entertainment for which the Aquarius is remembered.

Photos of club regulars are surrounded by smaller images of the stars who performed there, including Sir Ken Dodd, Barron Knights, Bob Monkhouse, Showaddywaddy and Freddie Starr. Celebrities such as Marti Caine, Duncan Norvelle, Bernie Clifton and Colin ‘Fingers’ Henry also feature in the calendar.

Pianist Colin 'Fingers' Henry who performed at the Aquarius penned the foreword for John Cuttriss's book on the Chesterfield nightspot.

A picture of Suzi Quatro, who played at the Aquarius on May 21, 1978, is superimposed against the backdrop of the Aquarius, thanks to John’s artistic skills. John, 83, said: “I didn’t go to the concert but we could hear it on Ludham Close, nearly half a mile away!”

Images of sporting heroes such as football legend Bob Wilson, who judged a beauty contest at the Aquarius, and world darts champion John Lowe, who helped to bring an international tournament to the club, are also featured.

The calendar honours Aquarius compere Tommy Tuft, who went on to play dance music aboard the Oriana cruise ship.

Loyal worker Margaret Hollingworth, who started work as a cleaner and moved into the role of receptionist when the incumbent fell sick, is pictured receiving a gold medal for her many years of service. Margaret worked firstly for the club’s founder Jack Williamson and then for his son John.

Viv Miller, pictured left, on a night out at the Aquarius.

A souvenir programme and admission ticket for the nightspot’s opening on November 6, 1972, are included among the calendar’s images.

The hacienda-style Aquarius was the brainchild of Jack Williamson, who was part of the management team of Punch Bowl, and at one time had run the Derbyshire Miners Holiday Camp in Skegness. During a works meal in London, Jack found himself sitting beside an architect and mentioned that he wanted to open a big club in the Midlands and had his eye on buying a warehouse in Chesterfield. Plans for the Aquarius were sketched out on a paper napkin during that meal.

John Cuttriss discovered how the club came into being when he interviewed John Williamson for the book that he began researching in 2008.

The author, who is a jazz fan, said that a concert by Sid Lawrence and his orchestra was one of the highlights of his dozen visits to the Aquarius.

The Miss Chesterfield pageant, organised by the Derbyshire Times, was an annual fixture in the Aquarius calendar.

Nearly two decades after the nightclub closed, John was on holiday on the cruise ship Oriana when he found out that pianist Colin ‘Fingers’ Henry was among the onboard entertainers. With the help of a concierge, John orchestrated his first meeting with the entertainer who later penned the foreword for his book on the Aquarius.

John has also written a book about the Carlton Club which was on Whittington Moor.

His first encounter with the stars was during National Service in the RAF in Germany. John said: “I met Susan Maughan and Ronnie Carroll when they came to entertain us and got Susan’s autograph - two weeks after, both of them appeared at the Carlton Club!”

The prolific writer has also published books about 100 years of schoolboy football in Chesterfield and National Service.

John said: “When my wife, Pat, died 11 years ago, I had to fill my life with something. Researching and writing books is what has kept me going.”

Copies of the Aquarius calendar cost £19.99, including postage and packing. To order, call John on 01246 275110.