Published: 06:00, 13 February 2021
From a £100 Led Zeppelin gig to its legendary 'grab-a-granny' nights, few places had quite the hedonistic reputation as Bridge Country Club between the 60s and 90s.
The historic mansion on the outskirts of Canterbury was the most popular rock and roll and disco venue in the county, embracing the music of the era.
Among the bands who performed there were the Moody Blues, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Manfred Mann, as well as jazz legends Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball.
And when disco became all the rage, the country club was the place to be, with its legendary over-25s nightclub in the steamy basement of the building where couples would meet, marriages were made, and even some divorces instigated.
It was owned by Peter Malkin, who bought the then run-down 17th century Bridge Place mansion in 1967 for a paltry £13,000 - still only about £200,000 in today's money.
From building sites to dance halls
A former hod-carrier from Bromley, Peter had made some money restoring old houses and began hiring the dance hall at the Bromley Court Hotel to put on bands with some success.
He then decided to open his own venue and began looking for a suitable property in Canterbury.
"The first place I saw wasn't up to much but the same estate agent had Bridge Place on his books and suggested I take a look - I fell in love with the place," he said.
After a substantial investment, Peter went on to create one of Kent's premier entertainment venues and made it his home for more than 50 years.
"I remember we had jazz man Acker Bilk on the opening night and there were people queued out into the road trying to get in," he said
"Back then, there was a reluctance to grant late-night licences in Canterbury, which was believed to be due to the influence of the Church and Cathedral.
"But perhaps because we were well away from the city centre, we eventually managed to persuade the council to grant us one until 2am."
Rock legends take to the stage
In its early days, Bridge Place welcomed some of the UK's biggest bands before they hit the lofty heights of national - and even global - acclaim.
Peter says he recalls paying Led Zeppelin £100 for a gig in 1968.
"It wasn't really my kind of thing because I love jazz, but we supported all kinds of music," he said.
Writing on the Led Zeppelin.com webpage, Richard Addison recalls how he was unintentionally among the small crowd who enjoyed the band's Bridge Place concert.
"Having never managed to catch the Yardbirds in their Clapton or Beck days, I was excited when Bridge advertised a gig of theirs in December 1968," he said.
"The Country Club wasn't your typical venue, with everything focused on the music.
"The band played in one of several rooms - quite small, probably about King Tut's sized. It wasn't full, far from it, maybe only about 30 of us.
"The only number I recall clearly, over that 49 plus years, is Communication Breakdown.
"The band got a very low-key reaction and when, at the end, Robert Plant said, 'Thank you and good night from Led Zeppelin', I thought it was a reference to the unenthusiastic audience - remember, I thought I was watching the Yardbirds".
Finding love and falling out
Away from live music, Bridge became the place to disco-dance your troubles away in its basement nightclub.
At its height, the over-25s venue was open six nights a week, attracting all walks of life and setting the scene for many a romance.
Peter said: "Only recently I bumped into two couples who told me they had both met at the country club decades ago.
"Mind you, it wasn't always a bed of roses. I remember one night there was a bit of a bust-up when two couples who were having affairs bumped into each other with their other partners.
"It could also get a bit lively when the Aylesham boys and miners decided to go on a bit of a bender."
Those hedonistic nights have been recalled with relish on the Canterbury Remembering As It Was Facebook page.
Among them is someone who knew the venue better than most having been the resident DJ for seven years in the 70s and 80s - Theo Loyla.
"Back then, there was nothing like it in the area because all the pubs had to shut at 11pm and so everyone headed for Bridge," he recalled.
Now 70 and still banging out the tunes - this time leading country and western for line-dancing classes - Theo says the club had a special vibe which embraced all kinds of music, from rock and soul to disco and jazz.
"We were going six nights a week at the height of its popularity and were always packed," Theo recalls.
"I remember the day Elvis died in 1977; it came up on a newsflash on the television in the lounge upstairs and I announced it but no one would believe me. I still played one of his records, of course.
"I was sponsored by the banana importer Fyffes and my outfit was called The Banana Power Travelling Disco.
"One night, I made an attempt on the Guinness world banana eating record in which I failed miserably. But I still polished off 5lbs in five minutes."
Among others recalling nights out was Len Banks, who wrote: "One of my favourite haunts in the Sixties. Got snowed in one winter night and slept on the sofa with Peter Malkin's dogs. Fantastic place - I took a lot of girlfriends there - it was the 'in' place to go."
Michael Fuller added: "I remember getting the bus out there, having a really good night and walking home.
"The Wurzels played there and I had my 21st there as well. Don't remember getting home but woke up in the afternoon on my mum's couch. The DJ apparently took me home."
Karen Isaac used to go every weekend in the late 70s and early 80s.
"My boyfriend at the time and I had many Iranian pals; we got on so well with them all and they were great dancers," she said.
"It was when disco and Saturday Night Fever was the rage.
'I remember it began being called 'grab-a-granny night'. That's when as I got older I decided never to go back again and make a fool of myself...'
"The dance floor would flood when it rained and you ended up dancing in a small pond! It was well before health and safety.
"I remember it began being called 'grab-a-granny night'. That's when as I got older I decided never to go back again and make a fool of myself."
Peggy Minter remembers walking home after many a Friday night at Bridge before working all day Saturday at Barnet Fair hairdressers, and then returning to Bridge that evening for a second night out.
"We would often pop into the Bridge Bakery early hours and try and cadge a lift back to Canterbury from one of the bakers finishing their shift," she said.
Bryan Cutting recalls: "Great memories of the place - Peter and his dogs by the door when you went in, sticky carpet, Thursday night rock disco, stag parties, slugging it out on the dance floor, loads of girls to try and dance with or chat up.
"That embarrassing walk back to your mates when you were turned down.Those were the days."
Barry Andrews was among several former club-goers who found love at the venue.
"I went in the late 70s and met my wife there in 1979 and got married the following year. Still married to her - fantastic memories."
A grand venue throughout the ages
The magnificent Jacobean country home, built around 1638, had long-been a great society attraction, where the good and great were entertained with fine food and wine.
Now beautifully restored and extended to become one of the luxury Pig Hotels, it was originally built for Sir Arnold Braems, the first manager of Dover Harbour and a member of the Restoration Parliament.
He seems to have known everybody who was anybody in society and government, entertaining Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and counting the diarist Samuel Pepys - who mentions him four times in his diary - as an eating and drinking companion.
But the cost of maintaining the property, as well as the lavish entertainment, appears to have proved too much for Sir Arnold's heirs, who sold the property and gardens in 1704 to neighbouring estate owner John Taylor.
For reasons that are unclear, perhaps economically or because of fire damage, he pulled down the greater part of the building, leaving only one wing standing.
Through the next two centuries the house remained home to the local great and good, and would have been well-known to authors Joseph Conrad, who lived just down the road in Bishopsbourne, and Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond novel ‘You Only Live Twice’ at the Duck Inn in the neighbouring village of Pett Bottom,
Suffering the gradual neglect common to country houses in the war and post-war years, the house was eventually saved and restored by Peter, who created its legendary status as a music venue.
But while it remained his home until 2018, its days as a music venue were over as Peter's attentions were diverted away to new restoration projects in Devon.
And he has just acquired the Abbot's Fireside at Elham which he is refurbishing and plans to reopen when Covid restrictions allow.
Bridge Place now has a new chapter in its long, colouorful history as The Pig hotel at Bridge although the owners say it still embraces its rock and roll vibe.
"They've done a grand job of it and I'm glad there's still a nod to its past, " said Peter.
"It was a huge part of my life and I will always have fond memories of the place and those times."