The story of how it all began
In 1969 the embryo of a Huddersfield success story was conceived when local brothers Johnny and Joe Marsden needed a bigger office for a taxi firm. No-one could have imagined then what the next three decades would lead to for the pair.
The story starts in October, 1969, when Johnny Marsden wanted a larger office for his taxi firm. And being in the right place at the right time, luck and a sense of adventure played as big a part as sound business sense in creating the Marsden empire, which grew to fill the island of property at Beast Market.
Initially Johnny took the Old Bull’s Head pub, which had been derelict for years. But there was far more space than needed. Joe, 16, was at college in Huddersfield at the time and left to join his 25-year-old brother in turning the building into a disco. The Bulls head was at first rented from the old Huddersfield Borough Council, until the brothers bought the building a few years later. Licensing laws were more stringent then and they had to wait a year for a 10.30 pm license and another six months for an 11.30 licence. Finally they were granted a 2am licence.
A couple of things secured the future of Johnny’s Nightclub in the 1970’s. In 1976 Britain was sweltering in what was the hottest summer on record at that time. Joe said: “All other discos were sweat boxes that year. We had a beer garden where 200 people could easily fit until 2am. We gained a lot of customers that summer and kept them.” The following year Saturday Night Fever hit the cinema and disco fever took hold. “Disco at that time was starting to fade. People were going to cabaret clubs like Batley Variety Club. With disco fever the club just took off, “said Joe.
The Boy and Barrel pub was offered to the brothers when the landlady decided to retire. They didn’t really want a pub but knew that if someone else took it they could have a competitor. “But from the word go we were pleased we had taken it on. It is more like a local than a town pub,” said Joe. In the late 1970’s Britain had its first cod war with Iceland – not something you might expect to affect an entertainment business. But it did.
Part of the property that was to become the Marsden empire was Gibson’s fish and chip shop, which was forced out of business due to the Cod War with Iceland. The brothers knew they had to buy it because it was next door.
They reopened this as Johnny's Fish Bar until 2am – an unusual move – which caught clubbers’ trade as they left Johnny’s nightspot. Later the brothers turned it into a wine bar and restaurant. From 10pm a connecting door opened into the nightclub.“The only wine bars were in London and discos didn’t sell wine. It was an amazing success, "said Joe.
Then the pet food shop at the bottom of Kirkgate came up for sale. The brothers bought it and knocked through into the club to create a quick service diner serving burgers,steaks and other bar snacks.
Iona Dry Goods Warehouse was also bought, but by now the brothers found they didn’t need any more club space. “We thought what could we do with it?” Joe said.In another adventurous step they opened No 1 Rosemary Lane Bistro, taking the name from the original deeds. At that time the only English restaurants were very formal or in hotels. The bistro opened until midnight when most restaurants closed at 10pm, added Joe. “It complemented the club so we connected it. People could go straight in to the club, “said Joe. It is used for many functions, from football clubs’ end of season parties to leaving do's and celebrations by groups of women who did not want to walk across town late at night to get from their eating venue to somewhere to dance.
In the 1980’s the beer garden, which had been such a key to the club’s success, was covered. Half of it was used to extend the dance floor and the other was given a roof but left open to keep the beer garden feel. And it is ever-changing. Eighteen months ago there was an £80,000 refurbishment of the heart of Johnny’s club with the creation of a marble floor and new lighting. Regulars have their favourite spots in the nightclub, where Friday and Saturday nights see crowds reach the building’s limit of 1,175. Joe says some of them have never even been on the dance floor.
The owner of Darwent’s French polishers, also on the block, retired in 1983. “The club was big enough. The restaurant was doing fine. What could we do with this?” said Joe. They took advice from the Tourist Board. They decided on some kind of accommodation. By 1984 they had decided and the Huddersfield Hotel was opened by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Its launch got much more publicity than either Johnny or Joe could ever have expected. As the miners’ strike was on the nation’s media were following close behind anyone who might comment. As well as all the local press, national news-papers and television cameras were on hand to see the hotel open.
Since then the brothers have bought a dress shop, the office of BSM and the property above, which housed other tenants. The first and second floor becomes 10 more bedrooms for the hotel, bringing the total to 46.The ground floor was converted into the Palace Bar. It also allowed more bedroom space in the living accommodation upstairs. In 1986 the Marsdens bought a piece of national nostalgia – a traditional red phone box. After asking customers for their ideas they opened it as the world’s smallest licensed bar and it took its place in the Guinness Book Of Records.
By 1990 there was still a piece of the block which the Marsdens owned but had not used. They took another launch into the unknown when they opened the all-day brasserie. It added a facility for late breakfasts for hotel guests and, Joe said, offered somewhere which was more than a café but not quite a pub for people who would be uncomfortable walking into a bar. Lunchtimes and teatimes are busy and in the evening the atmosphere is changed with the music and lighting, he added. The brasserie opens from 10am to 10pm. Later on, with its 2am licence, it can be used for functions.
The entertainment empire now has 11 bars, two dance floors, a karaoke bar and, in contrast, a coal fire, pool table and traditional beers along with bistro, brasserie and hotel. There was still one piece of the island plot that the Marsdens did not own – the toilets at the junction of Southgate and Kirkgate. They just had to be bought! And what did they become? The men’s toilet was refurbished – as a men’s toilet. And the women’s was turned into a walk- in Freezer. The final acquisition was land across the road. Buildings which had been Taylor Brothers and Beaumont engineering and Malbraad Saab garage were flattened to create a car park for 50 cars.
Now the whole island belongs to the Marsdens, serviced by the off-site parking. Joe said “We’ve had a lot of advice and support over the years. Every week has been different. Nothing boring – always something new. “We’ve seen lots of changes in fashions in drinks, designer beers, licensing laws, all day pubs, music, tastes and clothes.” The pair and their business are very much a part of the town, past and present.
But that is not the end of the Marsden story. The next step is to create a modern £1/4m motel.
It will provide low-cost, overnight stays and will bring back to life the empty Central Lodge building. It will have 22 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms- still in the Beast Market area. Plans also include a £70,000 ground-floor conservatory to be used as a lounge and dining area.
And so the story goes on – securing the Marsden empire a place in Huddersfield’s future.