In this, St Helens 150th year, we take a look back at 1968, when St Helens celebrated the 100th anniversary of its formation. Read what was happening at that time, from the 9th to 15th April 1968.
This week’s many St Helens’ stories include a daring robbery outside the Midland Bank, a father saves his son from Carr Mill Dam, the record crime rate in the town, Talent Club Night at the Plaza and at Rainford Junction a train has a miraculous escape.
However we begin with a BBC broadcast at 7:30pm on the 9th. It was a concert performance by the St Helens Childrens’ choir along with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, which was transmitted on BBC Radio 4.
The programme was part of the long running series ‘Music To Remember’ and had been recorded before an invited audience at the Town Hall.
At 10:30am on the 10th a daring robbery took place outside the Midland Bank in Ormskirk Street. Richard Hulme had just collected the weekly wages for the staff at Providence Hospital, when a man suddenly snatched his leather bag containing £755.
The thief then leapt onto the back of a motorbike driven by an accomplice. However the laundry maintenance engineer from Vincent Street bravely tried to stop the robbers.
The 41-year-old grabbed the back of one of their coats and was dragged along the road for about 20 feet before being forced to let go.
The two men then sped off with their loot in the direction of Duke Street and the bike was later found abandoned in Phythian Street in Haydock. Fortunately Mr Hulme’s ordeal only left him shaken with slight injuries.
Later that day bricklayer Peter Lenahan plunged fully clothed into Carr Mill Dam to rescue his 15-month-old son.
Unknown to his parents, little Joseph had been playing at the waterside with his brothers – just 25 yards away from their home at Fishing Cottage Lodge.
The toddler suddenly wandered off into the water and one of his brothers ran home for help.
Peter Lenahan immediately dashed to the spot and dived into the icy water still wearing his Wellington boots and heavy jacket and swam out 15 yards to save his son.
“It was sheer luck that I was at home”, he said. “Another ten minutes and I would have been on my way to collect swill for my pigs”.
At the Haydock Highways Committee meeting on the 10th, Cllr. David Abbott threatened to sue Lancashire County Council.
The councillor said he would take civil action unless the Richard Evans school site in Wagon Lane and Legh Road was tied up. “The site is absolutely disgusting”, Cllr. Abbott complained.
On the 10th the Stage newspaper reported that a special Talent Club evening had been held in St Helens at the Plaza in Duke Street.
There were six acts performing, including the Greenwoods Trio “the best act never to have been on TV”, comic Dave Barron (who would later appear on ITV’s ‘The Comedians’) and Billy “Uke” Scott, who promoted the show.
Uke had been one of the biggest variety stars in Britain in the 1940s and 1950s and after he became a theatrical agent, is credited with discovering comic Tom O’Connor and helping the early careers of Mike Yarwood and Jimmy Tarbuck.
Thirty passengers on a train travelling from Bradford to Liverpool had a miraculous escape during the evening of the 12th. The two-coach diesel hurtling at 60 – 70mph struck a sleeper at Rainford Junction that hooligans had placed on the line.
The crash wrecked the train’s front wheels but it managed to stay upright and the passengers escaped with just bumps and bruises.
A railway official told the Daily Mirror (who placed the story on its front page): “It’s amazing the train wasn’t derailed. It’s odds on it should have been, and that could have led to a disaster.”
Talking of criminal acts the St Helens Chief Constable, Archibald Atherton, released his annual report this week, which contained some pretty depressing news.
In 1967 the crime rate in the borough had soared to an all-time record, having been 16% higher than in the previous year.
In total 3,103 crimes had been reported, with much of the increase down to a huge rise in the number of thefts from motor vehicles.
There were now about 19,000 locally registered vehicles, double the number from 10 years ago. Every year there were 4,000 more local registrations – which was four times the 1957 rate.
However the detection rate was only 47.5%, down from 53.8% in 1966. This did not go down well with the St Helens Reporter who said: “The criminal fraternity really had a field day.”
Of the crimes for which arrests had been made, 40.5% were committed by persons under the age of 17.
There was some good news, however, with acts of personal violence defying the national trend and declining by 17%.
Although for the third year in succession the number of sexual offences had risen. There’d been a dozen rapes committed in 1967 (compared to two in 1966) and complaints of indecent assault in St Helens had reached a new high of 48.
Although large-scale town centre redevelopment was in the pipeline, the Chief Constable expressed concern in his report for the present difficulty in maintaining a reasonable balance between traffic and trade:
“In some of our narrow main streets, goods vehicles are loading or unloading for the best part of the working days… it is becoming increasingly difficult for the police to reconcile the interests of traders with the necessity of preventing obstruction and maintaining a steady flow of traffic.”
Read more of “St Helens 50 Years Ago This Week”
‘St Helens 50 Years Ago This Week’ is written and researched by Stephen Wainwright.