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The Former Raquels Night Club in Basildon, Essex (November 2019) | Other Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

The Former Raquels Night Club in Basildon, Essex (November 2019)


UrbexUnknown

28DL Member
28DL Member
The Biggest Explore Yet? Photos That Have Never Seen Before.

History of The Nightclub “Raquels” in Basildon:


Before 1958 Basildon town centre had not existed but with a rising population and the ongoing construction of new housing estates Basildon Development Corporation, established just nine years earlier and tasked with the job of building the new town, were by the mid 1950s submitting detailed plans to the Housing Ministry for the main town centre.

These were passed in 1956 and later the same year work on building the first shopping block began and in August 1958 the first shop opened in Market Square.

The development corporation were mindful of the need to create a balance of shops and social amenities and to this end prepared plans for a bowling alley, public house, cinema and a large 'function' hall.

At this time in the towns short history there were few places to enjoy indoor social events, these mainly being at the two pre-new town cinemas at Pitsea and Laindon, school halls and other halls of which the recently completed community centre at Aston Road, Laindon was the largest.

Of the four new amenities planned for the town centre the function hall was the first to be undertaken, and its location would be above the western end of the proposed South Walk shopping precinct.

Building work on the four-storey building was soon underway and by 1959 the first phase of Blenheim House, as it became officially known, was completed. The new shopping block of 4 units were subsequently numbered 1 - 4 South Walk and the as yet unnamed function hall given a Market Pavement address, this being No.23. The remainder of the South Walk shops in Phase II were then completed during 1960 and began opening around December the same year.

Interest in the function hall, which had become the responsibility of the Church Commissioners', was soon taken up by Mecca Dancing Limited who announced in January 1960 to have taken out a 99 year lease on the building. The entertainment group, who had established a large network of ballrooms throughout Britain, then pledged over £50,000 towards preparing the building for use. Along with the main dance floor and stage area were bars, a ground floor box office, ladies' bourdoirs and a gentlemen's stag room. The one major change externally was the installation of a brick built partially enclosed fire escape stairway with exit doors on each level.

The ballroom, which had been named Locarno in keeping with Mecca's other ballrooms, had its 'grand carnival opening dance' on Saturday March 25th, 1961. Admission for the event, which ran from 7:30pm - 11:30pm, was priced at 7s/6d (37½p). Don Darby & His Band and the Harvey Kelson Trio provided the evenings entertainment.

The ballroom soon proved very popular with the locals and with a standing capacity of 850 persons the venue was able to join Mecca's entertainment circuit in booking the popular artists and groups of the day.

As well as dance evenings and a Saturday morning disco for teenagers, a variety of other functions were held including bingo nights, dance lesson classes and presentation events. A popular dj during these times was Tony Calder who went on to co-found Immediate Records whose artists included Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner, Small Faces and briefly Fleetwood Mac.

It was during these early years that some of the country's leading bands were booked to appear and these included: The Dave Clark Five, who held down a long residency throughout 1963; The Who, who appeared three times between July 1965 and September 1966; The Kinks, Manfred Mann, The Animals, The Nashville Teens, The Move and the Jamaican reggae band The Upsetters in 1969. Also worth a mention were the Espresso Five who were the resident band prior to the Dave Clark Five taking over. Their members included Basildon resident Graham Bradly on guitar, who would later have a solo hit record as Graham Bonney in 1966 with the song "Super Girl" and later singer David Hamber who gave his name to the group David & the Embers, who also played at the Locarno and included Bradly having been formed following the break up of the Espresso Five.

In 1970 the first change of name occurred when Mecca dropped the Locarno branding and the ballroom was renamed Tiffanys through to early March 1974 when following another refurbishment, it reopened under the name Raquels on 6th April. Sadly its time as Tiffanys was marred in 1972 following an incident that resulted in a fatality and criminal proceedings.

Mecca Ltd. had remained a dominant force within the leisure industry and by 1977 were operating over 100 nightclubs nationally. Their Basildon venue continued to host live acts like Edwin Starr, The Equals, Ben E. King, The Platters and Jamaican star Desmond Dekker, though name artistes became less frequent as time went on as the emphasis was geared towards DJ run disco evenings and a popular Monday evening 'Teen Scene' for the under eighteens.

During the 1980s the nightclub went through another refurbishment and subtle name change to Raquels II The Discotheque, and things continued much as before. The change of name adorned a new white backed black lined illuminated sign in the shape of an upturned isosceles triangle positioned high on the west facing wall. During this period, musician, producer and Pinkees band manager Keith Bonsoir was recruited as the main dj. He would later go on in 1991 to found the Time discotheque in Time Square, Basildon. Other popular dj's who worked the venue during this period were Robbie Vincent, Essex Radio's Dave Gregory and local man Micky Laudat.

It was also in the early 1980s that Basildon's biggest act appeared at Raquels. Depeche Mode, who had formed in 1980, had released three singles and an album by the time they appeared for their second appearance at the nightclub in November 1981. Their main songwriter Vince Clarke left the group the following month but was back on the stage again for two shows the following August with Basildon singer Alison Moyet in the successful synthpop duo Yazoo. Another famous band from the 1980s Culture Club, fronted by the charismatic singer Boy George, also played one of their early gigs there in 1982.

It was in November 1995 though when the nightclub's fortunes changed following a national news story involving the death of an Essex teenage girl. The girl, Leah Betts from Latchingdon, had taken an ecstasy tablet at her 18th birthday party and collapsed before falling into a coma from which she didn't recover. The illegal Class A drug was purchased by a friend of a friend from a dealer operating at the nightclub. She had previously lived in Basildon and attended Nicholas School and was currently taking an A-level course at Basildon College. The huge level of publicity generated by the tragedy damaged the nightclub's reputation causing the management to react quickly and Raquels twenty one year run came to an abrupt end on Friday 29th December 1995.

The nightclub's last major event was held a week earlier on Friday 22nd when recently retired two-weight world boxing champion Nigel Benn was the special guest dj.

Interestingly, at the time of closure, the management were in the process of applying to the council to extend its current 2am licence to 4am and change the nightclub's name to Gold.

After an appropriate break of nearly a year the venue was relaunched as Uropa and reopened on 5th December, 1996.

Unfortunately its time as Club Uropa proved short lived and after less than 18 months owners European Leisure closed it down in January 1998, seemingly for good.

Strings:

Although this brief history is concerned with the nightclub, it wasn't the only social amenity within the building. An annexe to the dance floor known as Strings - The Piano Bar was opened in the late 1980s. The area was capable of holding around 250 people and featured a small stage on which stood a white grand piano. It closed in early 1994 to be replaced by the Buzz Bar.

The Buzz Bar:

By 1994 Strings was experiencing a noticeable drop in custom so the area was completely refurbished and the American themed Buzz Bar opened.

Foyer Bar:

The Foyer Bar was opened during the dance hall's final months as Uropa.

Rileys:

Rileys bar American pool and snooker club, which had its entrance in South Walk, was opened in 1999. Run by a company called Cue Division, it had ten American pool tables, four English pool tables and four snooker tables, located upstairs in the former dining area on the top floor. There was also a giant screen TV, £250 jackpot slot machines and a 'darts zone' with multiple boards. It operated as a members only club and open for up to 12 hours a day 7 days a week from midday.

The Future:

Following the closure of Rileys in December 2014 both upper floors are now empty and awaiting some future use. As for its use as a nightclub, it's now approaching twenty two years since Club Uropa closed and there seems little likelihood of another nightclub or entertainment concern opening anytime soon. We'll just have to wait and see.

Since it opened, the buildings outwood appearance has changed very little over the years. Sometime after 1984 the four small windows on the second floor wall overlooking the market approach road were bricked up. This may have occurred during the conversion to Strings. On the same wall the original Locarno lettering, removed around 1970, can still be made out as can the former illuminated Mecca Dancing letters, removed in the early 1980s. To the front of the building the short canopy on which the Locarno name was displayed was taken down sometime during the 1970s. All trace of the Club Uropa signage has long since been removed and the dark pink and blue paintwork and other fixtures are now in a bad state of neglect.

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Bit more History of Raquels:
Raquels was well known for its links with The 'Essex boys' that once controlled the flow of drugs in the club.

The Essex boys were all over national news when 3 of the lads were found shot dead down a farm track on the outskirts of Chelmsford in Dec 1995 (the rettendon range rover murders)
There are lots of unanswered questions around there deaths some people believe it was a revenge attack for the death of Leah Betts.
If you have seen any of the many Essex boys films there are lots of reference to this club.
Have heard lots of rumors about rival dealers being thrown out of windows if caught selling drugs in the club but not sure how true that is. But for certain the Bouncers on the doors recovered many Weapons from Knuckle Dusters to Big Knifes, there was Fights the majority of the time but the Nightclub has people waiting everywhere.

The Explore:
After meeting up with an Good, Old School Pal who’s been Exploring for many Years, having the same interests we decided to check this place out. Upon arriving on site we spotted access but it was very busy, lots of people about, near by pubs, people just generally wondering about, after this we then decided to come back at first light the following morning, excitement had taken over we was buzzing. The Following Morning, nice and early we headed off, once at the site after a short journey, no one around we then started our Explore, access was very risky, very risky climb but we managed itto get in via the pigeon entrance.

Inside Raquels:
This place is sadly just falling apart, rotten in some places, the smell of mould and rot and must say it’s absolutely covered in pigeon shit in some areas.
We went right from the main entrance up, so after walking up the stairs we noticed The main hall had been sectioned off from the rest of the building with Plasterboard/Drywall at this point we thought it was bad news, obviously this would have been when it got converted into Rileys we guess but after walking in and out of rooms, and many photos we noticed we could easily access the whole building via one of the fire escape staircases spirits then lifted and the explore continued.
We got to The other parts of the building that again have been left, still loads of original features from the days, months and years that have gone by.
Like many having an interest in The Essex Boys and Raquels and being a local but so young we never got to experience this place as it was well before our time but I must say it was well worth a gander, after being local for many years and all the history involved just couldn’t resist.
Once we finished our Explore we both sat back and spent a few minutes to imagine what it was like back in the day and when it was at it’s peak, people everywhere the dreams and ambitions from what people wanted, just thought of everything and I must say it proper takes you away and in a way it’s creepy. Won’t ever forget this explore be hard to beat this.

We easily Spent a couple hours inside no problems, took hundreds and hundreds of photos.

Pictures are not the best as some rooms was almost total darkness inside and some had daylight but either way if your into this big of history I’m sure you’ll enjoy either way.........

Explored with @Thatsnotme91

Enjoy the Photos I’ve attached. _____________________________________________________

Original Staircase and Carpet.
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Music Speakers
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Raquels II Bar
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Raquels II Beer Choice.
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Glass left on the Bar just as if someone was coming back for it
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Raquels Cloak Room
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Raquels Staircases to Upper Floors and Exit
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Raquels II Main Entrance & Reception
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Main Dance Floor Bar
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Raquels II Dance Floor
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Raquels II Main Building & Entrance
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Upper Floor from in The Main Venue
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Main Room Bar.
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Staircase down to Main Reception and Exit
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The Original Stairs and Carpet leading up from The Main Entrance
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Inside the Cloak Room
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PaulJCharles

28DL Member
28DL Member
Thanks for this. My dad, Dave Charles. Was a doorman/bouncer on and off from the early 60’s until the late 70’s
 

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