St Helens 50 years ago this week

This week’s many stories include the hooligans in St Peter’s churchyard, the Reginald Road householders who burnt their rates demands, the Mormons’ plans to build a chapel in Four Acre, there’s a temporary reprieve for town centre parking charges and a claim that Shakespeare performed at Bold Hall.

We begin on the 30th at a Town Council meeting when the councillors approved plans for a Ministry of Transport Driving Test Centre off Lord Street.

The two storey premises would house a driving vehicle along with offices for examiners and cost about £20,000, with the scheme expected to be completed within two years.

Fifty residents from the Reginald Road area were in attendance at the meeting and at its conclusion lobbied councillors about the so-called “gipsy camp” on their doorstep.

After unsuccessfully attempting to persuade council officials to take back their rates demands, the householders returned to their homes and burned them.

Most of the fifty to sixty caravans on the site had been there since last September and local residents had regularly complained about the travellers’ behaviour.

However the council had now found a permanent site for the gipsies, which they hoped would resolve the long-running wrangle but for the time being were keeping its location secret.

The Guardian reported on the 31st that 40 pieces of glassware representing techniques spanning more than 2,500 years of glass manufacture had been added to the Pilkington Glass Museum in Prescot Road.

A few days ago St Helens Corporation’s Water Engineer E. K. Astin had told the Liverpool Echo that the hosepipe ban in the town would remain until the end of August.

That had been introduced because of a massive water leak caused by the collapse of a road in Ashton that carried the Rivington Aqueduct.

The St Helens Reporter said the burst of the aqueduct had created for the Corporation’s Water Department “one of its gravest crises for many years”.
However from midnight on the 30th the water ban was unexpectedly lifted as water levels in the reservoirs had risen far faster than anticipated.

Although much of the shortage had initially been exacerbated by the hot weather, the start of the school holidays had led to many families going away on holiday leading to a reduction in consumption.

In the Haydock area, for example, people holidaying had contributed to a 20% drop in water usage during the past week.

Businesses and the St Helens public were also said to have responded well to the “save our water” plea that the council had made.

The St Helens Reporter was published on August 1st and revealed that motorists would have a temporary reprieve from paying car parking charges in the town.

St Helens was one of only a few Lancashire towns that offered free parking on the Corporation-owned car parks in Birchley Street, Water Street and on the Ring Road.

However that would not continue for long as proposals had been drawn up to introduce fees, with the scale of charges starting at one shilling for a 2-hour stay.

The scheme was due to take effect in September but at a council meeting this week the plans were temporarily withdrawn.

This was because some members said they had not received a copy of a report into the charges but there was also criticism of a concession scheme.
Liberal councillor Bill Shepherd slammed the plan saying they were creating first and second-class citizens – those motorists given concessionary parking rates and those having to pay the full amount.

There was also criticism of a private firm being commissioned to run the scheme rather than the Corporation.

In another story the Vicar of St Peter’s in Parr told the Reporter how his churchyard had been invaded by hooligans who had been using it as a playground and even as a campsite.

Fences and walls had been pulled down within hours of being erected and a stone statue worth over £250 (about £4,000 in today’s money) had been wrenched off its pedestal and smashed to pieces.

Rev. Thorne told the paper that on one occasion vandals had set light to the grass and charred many of the graves’ headstones.

Youths had also been found camping in the cemetery having pitched their tents over the headstones and then slept on the graves.

The vicar added that every morning local factory workers took a short cut through the churchyard and used the graves as stepping-stones.

Rev. Thorne had recently appealed to parishioners to help clear the 3 ft. high grass in his graveyard but had met with a very poor response.

“We haven’t the money to pay to have the grass cut”, he said. “It would take at least 25 men. I make a constant appeal for people to come along three times a year and cut the grass. But everyone is apparently too keen on their TV and bingo to be bothered about it.”

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

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