Batley Variety Club

By Lindsey Kemp, Batley Girls' High School

When the word history is mentioned, what comes to mind is usually a person. An individual with a story to be told, a life well lived, and lessons stemming from the importance of their actions whether they contributed positivity to the people and world around them, or whether that be a negative impact, full of chaos and disruption. What people often forget is the significance of the place that shaped these people, the area that they were born in, the place they grew up in, and the four walls encompassing their life story and achievements. The surroundings of our ancestors that made the great things they did possible.

Today, I hope to shed light on the importance of the Batley Variety Club, an iconic venue that not only entertained the reams of factory workers in 20th century Britain, but also played a pivotal role in the communal identity of the region. Batley, a small town, in the heart of Yorkshire that often goes forgotten. Surrounded by notable names, it is a place normally swept under the rug, a place where not even its inhabitants know enough about its history to appreciate it. This is something that needs to change.

Picture this. In the mid-20th century, amidst the industrial hum of Batley, a beacon of entertainment emerged—the Batley Variety Club. Established in 1967 by James and Betty Corrigan, this club was more than just a venue; it was a cultural phenomenon. A modest town amid industrialisation transformed into a hub of glamour and excitement, drawing visitors from all walks of life to a place locally crowned as the Las Vegas of the North, during a time of economic despair, providing for a community of people with a bleak outlook on life.

The Batley Variety Club was not merely a place for performances; it was a testament to the resilience and creativity of the people in the face of industrial decline. As traditional industries waned, Batley needed something to lift its spirit, and the Variety Club did just that. It was a place where the working-class could escape the hardships of daily life and revel in the magic of entertainment, a place that fed life back into a town on the verge of giving up, where every waking moment was consumed by work and exhaustion.

But why does this matter in the grand tapestry of history? Batley Variety Club exemplifies the power of culture in shaping a community's identity. It wasn't just about the glitz and glamour; it was about fostering a sense of belonging, a shared experience that transcended social and economic divides. In an era of change and uncertainty, the Batley Variety Club provided a stable anchor, a place where people could come together and celebrate life. It was a place of sanctuary, loved by many, providing a beacon of hope against despair, a lifeline for all those who made frequent use of it.

Moreover, it was a launchpad for many artists who went on to become household names. Legends like Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, and Roy Orbison graced the stage, leaving an indelible mark on the history not only of Batley but of British entertainment. The Batley Variety Club was a breeding ground for talent, a testament to the town's ability to nurture and showcase excellence. The club even went on to host Katharine, Duchess of Kent for a charity event in 1977, as part of a campaign for the Queen’s silver jubilee appeal, showcasing just how important it is for us to remember these small forgotten aspects of our town, and on the whole how important forgotten locations of our country can be.

In 1978, the club closed when Betty and James Corrigan separated, but this did not end the life and legacy of the Batley Variety Club. The club continued to close and reopen under different names, initially by Betty Corrigan and her son, which exemplifies the importance and necessity of the club as a quintessential part of the communal history of Batley, representing the lasting love people held for it and the way it shaped the community of Batley and its people. The club, no matter what name it operated under, was a communal hub for the people of the town and served as a shelter from the hardships the community of dedicated labourers faced, stimulating friendships, love, and everlasting memories.

As we reflect on this historical gem, preserving the importance of these buildings and the rich history which runs thick through their walls, it is essential to recognize the importance of preserving such cultural landmarks. They are not just buildings; they are living monuments that connect us to our past, shape our present, and influence our future. The Batley Variety Club is a reminder that, even in the face of economic challenges, a community can rise above adversity through creativity, unity, and a commitment to the arts.

In conclusion, the Batley Variety Club stands as a symbol of resilience, community spirit, and the transformative power of culture. It is not just a part of Batley's history; it is a part of the broader narrative of how communities can thrive in the face of change, alongside bringing people from unlikely walks of life together. Let us remember and cherish the Batley Variety Club, not only for its glittering performances but for the profound impact it had on the identity and spirit of the town, and the powerful message this exemplary piece of history exudes as we are reminded that community and a sense of sanctuary and belonging is the most important aspect of history.

Photograph: Batley Variety Club sign (Credit: Bookmakerwiki, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

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