A foul-smelling, dirty, damp and cramped cellar beneath a fruit warehouse at 10 Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre had served as a World War II air-raid shelter, its steep flight of 18 slippery stone steps leading down to a set of fetid brick catacombs.
In January 1957 a young trainee Liverpool stockbroker called Alan Sytner opened it as a jazz club called The Cavern, taking the name from Paris jazz haunt Le Caveau.
Ray McFall was a 32-year-old accounts clerk with the firm handling the club’s finances, and when it became clear that Sytner was struggling to make the Cavern pay, McFall took over the lease for £2,750 in October 1959.
Although jazz acts attracted a sizeable audience, McFall realised that the club’s future lay in the beat boom and started booking beat groups, including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, (featuring Ringo Starr on drums) who made their Cavern debut in May 1960.
Tipped off by the club’s disc jockey, Bob Wooler, McFall booked The Beatles, who made their first appearance at a lunchtime session at the Cavern in February 1961.
They had recently returned from a residency in Hamburg and looked so scruffy in leather jackets and jeans that McFall felt obliged to point out to them that such outfits were taboo at his club, even among the punters.
Nor was McFall impressed by the foursome’s musicianship, their singing being rough and guitars out of tune. Nevertheless, they pulled in capacity crowds, mainly of screaming girls, and when Brian Epstein visited the Cavern in November 1961 he was immediately struck by the group’s potential.
Epstein signed them the next month, and they auditioned for Decca Records on New Year’s Day 1962, famously failing to make an impression.
Over the ensuing four years, McFall booked many other leading acts of the 1960s, including The Who and The Kinks. The Beatles appeared on 292 occasions until August 1963, earning 25 shillings (£1.25) for each performance.
When Beatlemania exploded in 1964, The Cavern became the focal point of unprecedented attention, even broadcasting its own weekly show on Radio Luxembourg.
But by then The Beatles had outgrown the venue. Attendance figures dropped and, faced with a £3,500 repair bill to update the drains, McFall was forced to declare bankruptcy, selling the club in 1966.
He later said he had made the mistake of not creating a limited company, which made him personally liable to the club’s creditors.
It reopened under new management, but it had a drinks licence, unlike the old Cavern, and drew an older crowd. The club was eventually demolished in 1973.
The Cavern moved across the road (to a venue that would later become famous in the punk era as Erics) but in late 1981 the original site was excavated, and the brickwork saved and used to re-build The Cavern to the original dimensions (if a little deeper).
Ray McFall died in January 2015, aged 88.