A Potted History of Frodsham Folk Club (The Poacher)
From an interview with Grace Woods with additional information provided by Carol and Alton Alexander
Frodsham Folk Club started on the 12th January 1968 at the Manor, subsequently called the Panorama, in Halton. The Panorama is now demolished but it was on the road that leads up to the Castle Pub. It was started by Grace and Ian Woods and Pam and Dave Bebbington from Wallasey. The Manor only had a food licence so for your two shillings and six pence you got folk music and chips and pie or pasty etc in the interval. You had to pay for the beer though, Younger’s Tartan Keg, oh what joy! The room itself was in the cellar and at the foot of the cellar steps there was a table where Grace Woods and Pam Bebbington took the money. The folk club would hold about 40 to 50 people but that didn’t stop upwards of ninety people trying to squash in and as the numbers increased Grace and Pam found themselves up the steps and eventually by the front door and were no longer able hear any singing.
By the summer time of ’68 the folk club had more members than the room could accommodate and the club moved to the Red Lion in Frodsham. At the back of the Red Lion was a Bowling Pavilion which became the next home to the folk club. There was a bar inside the Bowling Pavilion which some folk clubs didn’t like because of the noise a bar generates. But not at this bar! The elderly barmaid Alice would serve while people were singing but would not ring money in the till until the song had finished. The Bowling Pavilion was full every week and seated about 60 plus. It was during this period that the club changed from being a singers’ club to a club that booked guests. Memory fades a little but rumour has it that Barry Skinner from Birmingham area was probably the first guest to be booked followed by a host of semi-professionals. There were very few full time singers around at the time. The club stayed at the Red Lion for about 18 months or so and then there was a change of Landlord. Alice the brilliant and sympathetic bar maid left, (mind you she was getting on for eighty!) and then you had to get your drinks from the pub. The new Landlord didn’t like glasses being taken from the Pub across the open yard to the Pavilion so another move was coming
Grace and Ian went to see Peter Brown the Landlord of the Queens Head across the road. He showed and offered them the Stables and the move was on. However, before the Stables could be used quite a few centuries of rubbish and rubble had to be cleared out, and this happened during September 1969 so during a period of three or four weeks the club moved temporarily to the Clarendon in Runcorn. Rose Hardman was a guest on the first night there The Stables were cleared out by John Goodier, Dennis Rogers, Harry Leather, and Grace and Ian Woods. The pews that were used for seating and made into tables came from the Camden Methodist Church, Lowlands Road, in Runcorn in Trevor Simcock’s lorry. The pews and tables had to be fitted into each horse stall as the floor sloped towards the drains and were all different. This was painstakingly done by Dennis Rogers. The floor has been described as a large chocolate block made of granite (see stables photo) with surface dish drains to drain away the horse pee. Dennis also painted the three foot by five foot picture of the poacher which hung behind the singers. Ian and Dave always started the club by singing the Lincolnshire Poacher and thus the club became known as The Poacher Folk Club the evening would always be concluded with the singing of the Irish song The Parting Glass. The heating inside the club at first was a small paraffin heater but when this was knocked over it was thought to be too dangerous so it was replaced by an industrial gas heater which roared away in the intervals and was turned down to a quiet tick over while singers were on. The heater resembled a large dustbin with a flat top and short legs. The lighting consisted of two storm lanterns that had been converted to electricity, one at the front and one at the entrance. On the tables at first there were candles in bottles, but these were later up dated to tiny paraffin lamps which had to be refilled each week (another job for Grace).
When the club started at the Queens Head it went from a charge of 2 shillings and six pence to 3 shillings. When Ian started doing more bookings and couldn’t be there on Fridays, the club was run by Tom Brown from Liverpool and John Kelly. They ran it for about 1 year or so, and then the baton passed on to Dave Boardman who was one of the residents at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport. Dave ran the club for 2 years plus until it was decided that it should be run by a committee with a different committee member hosting it each week. This lasted for just over a year. It was at this time that a new electricity cable was installed from the pub to the stables so that oil filled radiators could be installed. This job was done by Jim Cartledge and Alton Alexander. The ceiling was clad with fibre board to replace the old tie dyed bedspreads that were nailed up. This job was thanks to Dave Hayman and myself. After the committee ran the club, Carol and Alton Alexander took over and ran it until January 2008. I took over as club organiser doing the bookings and the nights were run by a group of residents from the club. That is how the club runs up until the present day.
There have been a few Landlords of the Queens Head while the Folk Club was at the stables. I’ll list them in chronological order:
- Peter Brown 1969-1975
- Harold Janion 1975-1990
- George Harrison 1990-1993
- Andrew Casey 1993-2003
After Andrew left the pub in December 2003 the pub was run by temporary Licensees until it closed down for refurbishment in February 2005. When the Queens Head opened up again the new people in charge no longer thought that the Folk Club was of any use to their business plan. I assure you the feeling was mutual.
I would like to thank all the Landlords and Landladies who helped and supported the club at the Queens Head but a special thanks goes to Pat and Harold Janion who worked with us over a period of 15 years, and Andrew Casey who supported us for 10 years. In January 2005, I asked Mike and Debbie at the Aston Arms if we could move into the Pub lounge on a Friday night as a temporary measure and they were kind enough to oblige us. Without Mike and Debbie’s help at that time the club was in real danger of closing down, and the club remains eternally grateful to both Mike and Debbie. We ran at the Aston Arms as a singers club because the room was too small to book guests as it seated a maximum of 30 people. We moved to our present location in the Frodsham Conservative Club 14th October 2005, where we are again able to have singers and guest nights. January 12th 2018 will see the clubs 50th Birthday
I can’t swear to the total accuracy of this account but it’s as near as I can get at the moment.
Geoff Speed – Radio Merseyside Folkscene