To celebrate Heritage Open Day’s theme of ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ this year, we are exploring Woking’s musical past. From the Atalanta Ballroom to The Jam, Woking has had a rich and creative musical history.

With the opening of the Public Hall in 1896 and the Atalanta Ballroom in 1935 came opportunities for people, particularly the young, to play, listen to and dance to contemporary music in Woking. Many bands played at the Atalanta Ballroom, including The Rolling Stones in 1963. Entertainment in Woking centred on the Public Hall, situated on Commercial Road, it had 700 seats. It also showed films and although it was remodelled in 1910, it drifted into becoming a rather run-down cinema and closed in the 1930s.
Local talent emerged in many towns after World War II, and Woking was no exception. Among the many bands that formed were The Jam with Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, Style Council, formed by Paul Weller when The Jam broke up, and Status Quo which Rick Parfitt joined in 1969. Les Reed, born in Woking,was best known for his musical arrangements and for composing ‘Delilah’ and ‘It’s Not Unusual’ for Tom Jones.

The Spice Girls were formed as a result of an advertisement in ‘The Stage’ by Bob Herbert seeking auditions for a new British girl band to fill a gap in the musical market. The band’s official line-up (Mel B, Mel C, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, and Victoria Beckham) began rehearsals at Trinity Studios, Knaphill in 1994.

The growing town from the 1890s attracted amateur performers singing or playing for pleasure. The Woking Musical Society was founded in 1896, and after some changes evolved into Woking Choral Society and Woking Symphony Orchestra, which still flourish today along with many other choirs and musical groups.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the town gained its first purpose-built theatre in the Centre Halls complex - and named it after the pioneering Councillor, Rhoda McGaw, a member of the Pears soap family, the first lady chair of Woking Urban District Council and an active member of Woking Drama Association. When the complex was rebuilt as part of the Peacocks in 1992 by the Ambassador Group, the Rhoda McGaw retained its original function and was joined by the large New Victoria Theatre for pantomime, opera, musicals and plays.

Free entry

Find the display in Woking's Story on the first floor of The Lightbox

Banner image credit: Atalanta Ballroom and Christ Church, Commercial Road, c.1960. Courtesy of Woking History Society