Rare photos of Chesterfield's Aquarius club to be preserved in £70,000 National Lottery-funded project

Hundreds of rare photographs of Chesterfield’s legendary Aquarius nightspot are to be restored and preserved in a project which has attracted £70,000 from the National Lottery.

By Gay Bolton
Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 3:40 pm

The Aquarius, which opened as a cabaret club in the 1970s, gave Cannon and Ball their first headline show and welcomed many stars including Marti Caine and Bob Monkhouse.

Photographer David Miller was on hand to capture the fun-filled nights of revellers and celebrities during the club’s 25-year run.

Now David’s vast collection of photographs are to be digitised and be made accessible to the public online for the first time, thanks to the grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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A hen party lets its hair down at the Aquarius.

As part of the project volunteers will be trained up in the conservation process and a book will be published.

The funding was secured by Dirty Stop Outs Ltd on the back of a successful publication about the Aquarius. Neil Anderson, who runs Dirty Stop Outs Ltd, said: “Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1980s Chesterfield – Aquarius Edition came out in summer 2020 in the height of lockdown. There were no bookshops open and everything had to be sold via www.dirtystopouts.com and amazon.co.uk. It has still gone on to sell hundreds of copies and was our most successful book that year. It just shows the power of the venue!

"David Miller gave me permission to use a few of the photos in the book and it was from there I started to realise the enormity and importance of the collection that had never seen the light of day. I’ve done a lot of projects backed by the Heritage Fund in recent years and this seemed perfect.

"We’re thrilled that we’ve received this support thanks to National Lottery players. The Aquarius was the hub of Chesterfield’s social scene for a quarter of a century and to be able to preserve this amazing photo archive will ensure its legacy lives on for future generations.”

Crowds flocked to The Aquarius on Sheffield Road, Chesterfield which was a popular cabaret club and nightspot for a quarter of a century.

Run in partnership with Derbyshire Records Office, the archive will eventually be made available to the public through www.picturethepast.org.uk

Neil, 55 said: “I can’t wait to see the look on people’s faces when they recognise friends and family in the photos. There are hundreds of photos that have never seen the light of day and they capture a unique part of Chesterfield’s history. These are the days before mobile phones when few people had cameras. They had to rely on in-house photographers like David Miller that would capture these treasured moments. It’s a privilege to help make this happen.”

One of Neil’s favourite stories about the Aquarius is the part that the club played in the career of Crackerjack legend Bernie Clifton, who lives in Barlow. Neil said: “Bernie was the compere and he remembers giving Cannon and Ball their first headline show. They were quaking in their boots apparently. The rest is history – the Aquarius helped them become two of the biggest names in light entertainment.

"From the day the Aquarius opened in 1972, it became the social hub for a generation. It was one of a new breed of cabaret clubs that swept the county in that period. It was the Chesterfield version of places like Sheffield’s Fiesta and Batley Variety Club. But it outlasted them all and managed to harness the power of disco. Its nightclub attracted coachloads throughout the 80s and early 90s.”

Marti Caine, a regular performer at the Aquarius.

Recalling his first visit to the Aquarius, Neil said: “I was 18, a milkman and it was the venue for the staff Christmas party. I got home at 3am and I remember the alarm going off at 4.17am for work. I didn’t last very long in that particular career.

Neil is currently organising his fourth Aquarius reunion event which will take place at Real Time Live, Chesterfield, on May 14, 2022. Tickets cost £9.90 (including booking fee) and are available from bit.ly/Aquarius70s-80sChesterfieldMay2022.

Bob Monkhouse and Aquarius staff.
A beauty contest at the Aquarius in the 1980s.