St Helens 50 years ago this week

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 6th to 12th 1968.

This week’s many stories include the bored arsonist at Pilks, the “punter in a million” from Blackbrook, the end of steam trains in St Helens, another fire at Free’s in Jackson Street, a new Thatto Heath disco, a boxing club for Lea Green, Tommy Bishop rows with Saints and St Mark’s hire a 15-year-old choirmaster. However we begin with a film guide.

“The greatest comedy show ever”, modestly advertised the Capitol. “Parents – bring your children! Children – bring your parents!”. What do you think the film might have been?

Well it was ‘The Belles of St Trinians’, starring Alastair Sim, with the Cap showing it for 6 days throughout the week at 2pm and 6:50pm. Perhaps their hype was so people would forget that the film was 14-years-old.

Meanwhile at the ABC St Helens (or Savoy as I prefer to call it), Disney’s new fantasy drama ‘Blackbeard’s Ghost’ was being shown.

Eighty “old folk” from Blackbrook Workingmen’s Club went on their annual outing to Southport on the 6th in three coaches.

Each OAP was given £2 to spend at the seaside and the party then returned to their club in Sumner Street in Haydock where entertainment was laid on. I don’t think they’d get very far in Southport today with £2!

St Helens Juvenile Panel sat on the 6th and heard that boredom had driven a 16-year-old youth employed at Pilkington’s factory in Canal Street to commit arson. The unidentified labourer had initially denied the offence but then told the police:

“I got fed up. I had nothing to do. So I went to the cellar, got a cardboard box and a piece of paper. I then got some wood, put it over the cardboard and set fire to it. I am sorry. It will not happen again.”

Fortunately the Fire Brigade arrived at the scene before any serious damage could occur and the boy was placed on probation for a year, having already been sacked by Pilks.

A new discotheque club in Scholes Lane called ‘Tracks’ opened on the 8th with a performance by the T. Bunkum band.

The Thatto Heath club planned to open for dancing every Thursday from 7:30 to 11:30pm with admission 3/6d. Free membership for over 18s was being offered for the first night.

A new boxing gymnasium also opened on the 8th in Lea Green. The building had formerly been the medical centre for Lea Green Colliery and had been donated to boxing manager and trainer Peter Fletcher by Alf Sutton.

The haulage contractor in Elton Head Road had acquired the centre after the colliery’s closure in 1964. However Alf had now decided to give it away as he was keen for boxing to be revived in the area.

The boxing gym was the first in the St Helens district since Charlie Fox had run one in Bath Street. Six professionals were currently using it, including Victor Paul, Micky Agloo, Ray Henry and Tommy West.

A number of celebrities from the boxing world attended the opening. These included Dave Richards (Secretary of the British Boxing Board), Johnny Cooke (former British welterweight champion) and middleweight contender Harry Scott.

The Guardian described on the 9th how Saints’ scrum half Tommy Bishop was in dispute with the club and had broken off training.

They said the “mighty atom” wished to play in Australia but St Helens wanted the Great Britain international to remain at Knowsley Road.

Tommy’s troubles were a big front-page story in the St Helens Reporter on the 10th, although they felt the dispute centred on playing terms.

“There will be widespread sympathy for the club’s attitude”, predicted the Reporter. “The management stretches itself to the limit to keep top players with the club.”

Although the newspaper also had some sympathy with Bishop in an era when players were not paid particularly well and relied heavily on testimonials and transfers for financial compensation.

The scrum half had previously been at Blackpool and Barrow but had left both clubs before completing five years service. As a result he was not entitled to a percentage of either transfer fee.

The rules also meant that players had to be with a single club for ten years to be granted a testimonial and Bishop had only joined Saints in 1966.

Another big story for the Reporter was headlined: “Man Scoops £4,000 Prize”. It told how Ronald Pendleton from Link Avenue in Blackbrook considered himself a punter in a million because he rarely lost on the horses.

He also rarely gambled, as this had only been Ronald’s third bet with the bookies, with his previous two having won him £91.

Now he’d netted £4,178 19s (about £70,000 in today’s money) after placing a five shilling bet at the Hall Street Tote Office and naming all six winners at a meeting at Goodwood.

Ronald had almost won £16,000 on the pools four years earlier after correctly forecasting thirteen draws.

However his son Ken made a mistake when transferring the matches from their copy coupon to the one that was sent to the pools firm. I bet that made him popular with his Dad!

The paper also revealed that John Rotherham from Haresfinch Road had become the new organist and choirmaster at St Mark’s Church in North Road – at the tender age of 15!

A classical music enthusiast, John had been playing piano since the age of three and had served as a choirboy in Billinge and previously had stood in for the deputy organist at St Luke’s in Eccleston.

Music was John’s only hobby with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart being his favourite composers. “I’m not completely against pop music”, the schoolboy told the Reporter. “But while some of it is well produced, there is a lot of rubbish about.”

There was an advert from Gilsons Hair Artists of Bickerstaffe Street in the Reporter. The “upstairs salon”, run by Pat and Brendan was promoting: “The shorty wig for today’s girl. Curly hair for that modern look.”

Also on the 10th local South Lancashire Territorial Army soldiers left for their annual two-week camp in Ambleside in the Lake District.

Read more of “St Helens 50 Years Ago This Week”

‘St Helens 50 Years Ago This Week’ is written and researched by Stephen Wainwright.

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