GENERATIONS of Jarrovians used to dance at a building in the town, popularly known as “The Max.”
That was the local nickname for the Mechanics’ Institute, in Ellison Street, Jarrow, which once boasted reading rooms and an extensive library.
The building was given to the people of Jarrow by town shipbuilder Charles Mark Palmer and it provided a source of education and relaxation for working men.
By the 20th century, the Mechanics’ Institute was better known as a dance hall, where hundreds of local romances blossomed to the sound of the big bands.
Dance nights on Mondays and Fridays proved very popular during and after the Second World War, before the building was taken over by the old Jarrow Borough Council in the early 1950s, when it became available for weddings and other functions.
But in the last 10 years, doubt hung over the future of what was renamed Jarrow Civic Hall and there was talk of the historic building being bulldozed.
Into the picture stepped local businessman John Knowles, who bought the building from South Tyneside Council in April 2011 and decided to ensure the future of the hall by investing £600,000.
Although renovation proved a mammoth task, Sir Charlie’s Restaurant – named after the famous shipbuilder – was opened by December 2011.
Mr Knowles also invested heavily in the restoration of the building’s famous ballroom and other parts of the complex.
Around a year later, Martino’s took over the restaurant and the venue became popular for wedding receptions and other family celebrations.
To mark the building’s 150th birthday, a concert featuring The Customsukes, an 18-piece ukulele band, will be held at Jarrow Civic Hall on Friday, August 29, from 7pm, with proceeds for St Bede’s RC Church, Jarrow.
Mr Knowles said: “I am delighted and humbled to be the most recent owner of Jarrow Civic Hall. Growing up in the town, I’ve attended everything from gala dinners to sports talks there, and better still, I’ve been able to bring the same type of events to a whole new generation of Jarrovians.
“It was always my intention to provide an entertainment hub for the community of Jarrow, reminding the locality of the historic venue in its heyday.”
The autumn season at Jarrow Civic Hall will include music events and Latin, ballroom and sequence dancing, plus more wedding receptions, some in collaboration with Martino’s restaurant.
But Mr Knowles also wants to expand the base of Jarrow Civic Hall, adding: “I want to widen the venue out for social enterprise, such as getting more pensioners and widows into the venue.
“We have been applying for grants to install a lift, which will cost £25,000, to improve access for disabled people.
“Reopening Jarrow Civic Hall was never all about profit, but about opening the venue out to the wider community.”
Tickets for the 150th celebration cost £5.
For more details, call 406 9711 or visit www.jarrowcivic.co.uk