St Helens 50 years ago this week

This week’s stories include the Sutton Parish Church Holiday Club ‘69, a strange washing machine theft in Haydock, criticisms of St Helens’ doctors, an historic wedding in Crank, condemnation of the St Helens Show’s beer prices, a donkey is wanted for the Theatre Royal and why a Marks and Spencer Evening at a church hall in Billinge led to a visit from the weights and measures.

We begin on the 26th when an explosion took place in the viscose department of the British Sidac plant in Sutton Oak.

However there were no injuries and damage at the cellulose wrappings manufacturer’s works was slight.

Sidac had been in Sutton since 1934 and was now employing around 1,500 people. As they employed volatile chemicals, the risk of fire was never far away.

Despite Sidac’s severe pollution of Sutton Brook, the firm was far less controversial than the sulphuric acid works of Leathers (Hays) Chemicals that had just starting operating on a neighbouring site in Lancots Lane.

It was announced on the 26th that Ribble Motor Services planned to apply to the North-West Traffic Commissioners for permission to increase many of their bus fares.

The service from Ormskirk to St Helens would rise by threepence to 2s 5d (single) and by sixpence to 4s 7d (return).

That would mean that you only saved threepence on a return ticket, which is not much of an incentive – especially if you lost your ticket!

The invitation that children received to Sutton Parish Church’s Holiday Club ‘69 said: “Come and make a boat, build an ark, be ship-wrecked or swallowed by a whale”.

It was a week-long series of morning activities at the parish hall in New Street that attracted 100 children aged between six and ten to each session.

The boys and girls could paint, play games, make models and participate in plays. The materials used included egg cartons, cereal packets, washing-up liquid, containers, newspapers, clay and 26lb of paint. I think somebody had been watching Blue Peter!

The Rev. Derek Bailey said: “There was very little noise or mess. We hope the club was a means of getting into contact with children who have previously not been connected with us.

“Also, we hope it increases the children’s understanding of the Christian faith. The plays they enacted were a means of putting the message across. That was really the idea. It was not just a child-minding service.”

The parents were invited to an open evening in the parish hall to view the models and work done by their children.

The Town Council’s Year Book was published this week and revealed that the Corporation was £25.5 million in the red.

The estimated population of St Helens in June 1968 was 102,470, down slightly on the previous year, with 69,196 electors. Such places as Haydock, Rainford and Newton were then outside the borough boundaries and so excluded from these stats.

Ambulancemen in St Helens and Liverpool went on strike on the 27th because of a dispute over union recognition – although emergency cases were still dealt with.

On the first day of the industrial action, St Helens’s twenty-two ambulance staff responded to fifteen urgent calls.

On the 28th wage packets containing £931 (about £15,000 in today’s money) were stolen from the boot of a Vauxhall Cresta parked outside Bold Colliery. Just who the pay had been for was not stated in the reports.

Also on that day the first wedding took place at the Alder Lane Mission in Crank. The tiny church had opened in 1857 as a Methodist Mission and in 1952 it became non-denominational.

It was David Fishwick’s great-great-great grandfather who had founded the church and so it was an appropriate venue for his wedding to Margaret Drake.
The small seating capacity for the forty guests was a problem, however, with some forced to stand at the back.

So-called “Marks and Spencer Evenings” were very popular events during the late 1960s, as the Reporter described:
“All over South West Lancashire, Marks and Spencer parties have become almost daily affairs in homes and church halls. But the guests have found the goods unbranded and not what they were led to believe.”

M&S was also unhappy about the parties as the goods had nothing to do with them and all they got out of the evenings was what a spokesman called a “fistful of complaints”.

Also displeased was the Rev. Derrick Harris of St Aidan’s Church in Billinge after he’d held such an evening in his church hall.

The vicar had subsequently received a visit from a weights and measures inspector who told him that the organisers of such events faced prosecution.

“I was hopping mad”, he said, “to think that these people had led us along and knowingly taken part in a deception.”


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


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