Don't feel like dancing: 20 years on from historic ruling which banned dancing in Wakefield city centre

Do you remember when dancing was banned in Wakefield city centre on Sunday nights? We take a look back at the controversial rule, 20 years after it was lifted.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 5:20 pm
Updated Friday, 11th June 2021, 9:46 am

If you've spent any time in Wakefield you've no doubt heard of some of its many claims to pub-related fame.

Whether you had a go at the famous Westgate Run, or like to remind your friends that the city was historically home to more pubs per head than any other, there's no end to the stories to share.

But do you remember the controversial ruling that banned dancing in the city on Sunday nights?

Do you remember when dancing was banned in Wakefield city centre on Sunday nights? We take a look back at the controversial rule, 20 years after it was lifted. Pictured are the former Mustang Sally's bar, Wakefield city centre and a newspaper article about the lifting of the ban.

The policy was first introduced in 1983, and it is believed that the decision stemmed from a 1780 law known as the Sunday Observances Act, which banned dancing on the Christian Holy Days.

Under the rules, a blanket ban on public dancing on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day was introduced in the city.

Though this was not unusual at the time, by 2001, Wakefield was one of only five councils in the country to have such a ruling in place.

And local business owners had had enough.

For John McLaughlin, who managed popular city centre venues Club Ikon and Mustang Sally's, the council's decision to reject his application to allow Sunday dancing was the final straw.

For John McLaughlin, who managed popular city centre venues Club Ikon and Mustang Sally's, the council's decision to reject his application to allow Sunday dancing was the final straw.

Early in 2001, he had applied to the licensing authority for permission to allow dancing at his clubs on Sunday evenings, a plan which had been rejected.

But not to be discouraged, Mr McLaughlin challenged the decision, and took the council to court.

In a trial at Wakefield Magistrates' Court, he alleged that the council had judged his application not on its own merits, but rather against the terms of its own policy.

Magistrates upheld his claim, and ruled the Council's decision unlawful and reasonable.

They further criticised the councillors who had made the decision, noting that one of the councillors involved "admitted that he would have voted against retaining the policy but felt obliged to apply it. This must cast doubt over his ability to act in a judicial way."

In a later ruling, Wakefield Council was also ordered to pay Mr McLoughlin's £6,500 legal fees, as well as their own £3,000 costs.

Speaking at the time, Mr McLoughlin said: “I don’t want to gloat, but I’m just pleased that they have seen sense.

“Everyone else in the country was allowed to dance on Sundays and we were not.”

The ruling was widely celebrated as a victory for local businesses, and the Council soon agreed to abandon the blanket policy, in exchange for assessing each application for public dancing on its own merits.

These rules remain in place today.

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