St Helens 50 years ago this week

This week’s 20 stories include the closure of St Mary’s School, Coronation Street stars make personal appearances at Rothery Records, Saints propose summer rugby, the special agents at St Mark’s children’s mission, a table tennis marathon in Parr, a Sutton boy’s bravery is rewarded and a strange mechanical black stocking salesman called Little Joe is at the Savoy.
However we begin on the 24th when four girls from Merton Bank Junior School visited Ken Dodd in Knotty Ash to present him with a cheque.
Julia Cowell from Mowbray Avenue, Janet Johnson from Pendle Avenue, Lynn Welding from Peterlee Close and Gillian Cunliffe from Ashurst Drive handed the comic £20 for the British Heart Foundation.
The school’s connection with Doddy began when he visited the ward at Liverpool Children’s Hospital where one of their children was being treated for heart trouble.
Ken showed such an interest in the little girl and Merton Bank that he was invited to the school to present a savings shield.
The pupils were so thrilled by the visit that they asked headmaster James Hall if they could collect cash to help people with heart disease and present it to Ken Dodd.
The kids raised the money by holding dances during lunch hours, fancy dress competitions, lucky dips, spot the ball contests, a raffle, a Punch and Judy show and a treasure hunt.
The Liverpool Echo’s ‘Over The Mersey Wall’ column on the 24th described how staff at the city Automobile Association office couldn’t resist chuckling at a member’s “earnestly outraged” account of how his AA badge needed replacing.
The man wrote that his car had been stolen from St Helens and dumped at the gates of a nudist colony in what he described as a “stripped condition”!
On the 25th three Coronation Street stars and a Manchester band called ‘Money’ made personal appearances at Rothery Records in Ormskirk Street.
Anne Reid (Valerie Barlow), Reginald Marsh (Dave Smith) and Bill Kenwright (Gordon Clegg) were appearing at the Theatre Royal all this week in a play called ‘Come Laughing Home’.
To coincide with the performance of the play, the group Money had released a record of the same name and were making a series of appearances with the actors.
Bill Kenwright would, of course, become a noted theatre and film producer and for the last fifteen years has been the chairman of Everton.
With the popularity of James Bond and ‘The Man From Uncle’, St Mark’s Church in North Road decided that a Children’s Mission that was taking place this week should be brought up to date.
So all the youngsters attending the three Sunday schools in the parish were given yellow “special agent” cards complete with code.
Various events took place at the Children’s Hall in Windle Street throughout the week – including quiz games, a serial story, singing and competitions.
The mission was organised by the Church Army and Sister Moore said it had been going “wonderfully well” with attendances at the events “most encouraging”.
This week a 16-year-old schoolboy called Fred Gravener was handed a certificate of bravery from the Mayor, Tom Wilcock, on behalf of the Fire Services Committee.
The Grange Park pupil had been working in a Cecil Street garage when some petrol ignited and trapped one of his friends under a car.
Fred from Percy Street pulled clear John Hopkins from Watery Lane but suffered burns and had to spend several days in hospital.
Although it was in 1996 when rugby league began being played during the summer, the idea had not been a recent one.
On June 26th at the annual meeting of the Rugby Football League, Saints proposed switching from winter to summer.
Their proposal of a season lasting from March to November did have some supporters but the majority of club chairmen rejected the idea.
The Huddersfield chairman said rugby league was a winter game and playing in the summer would be “donkey work” for the players.
The Reporter on the 27th broke the “shock” news that St Mary’s Secondary School was to close through the introduction of comprehensive education in St Helens.
Schools were now required to offer a wide range of subjects, which St Mary’s could not provide.
This was because their pupil numbers had halved to under 200 during the last four years.
Consequently the number of teachers had reduced, which made specialist teaching impossible.
The Church of England had been considering building a new secondary school in Sutton but lack of financial support meant the plan had had to be shelved.
There would be a gradual run down of St Mary’s with its closure scheduled for the end of the 1970 summer term.

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

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