June the 12th, 2012
In 1952 Rotherham was a thriving town, recovering from the depredations of the Second World War, but with full employment and clear ideas about how to improve housing, health, the environment and transport.
When Her Majesty the Queen first visited Rotherham hi 1954 she was visiting a County Borough of 82,000 people surrounded by six Urban and Rural District Councils separately administered by the West Riding County Council.
The Town Council, as it was known, held its meetings in the Town Hall. Committees, like Parks and Gardens and Baths and Markets met regularly to ensure the smooth delivery of services within the Borough. At that time Urban District Councils ran the affairs of the villages and towns away from the centre, with some services like education being provided by the West Riding County Council.
For many years Rotherham people had benefitted from cheap electricity from the Prince of Wales Power Station on Rawmarsh Road but the creation of the National Grid in 1947 had led to an increase in prices. The two huge cooling towers for the power station were to remain a feature of town centre photographs until their demolition in the early 1980s. Did anyone discover who 'Ivan' was?
As well as losing control of the Power Station, the Borough Council Gas Plant was also nationalised. It still, however, administered a wide range of services amongst which were included Rotherham Corporation Transport, with its distinctive blue and cream motor buses and trolley buses, and its own Police Constabulary, and joint Fire and Ambulance Service.
The massive expansion of local industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had left its mark on the town with the stonework of many of its most prized assets such as the Parish Church and the Chapel on the Bridge being smoke blackened.
On this first visit the Queen could not have failed to notice how close to the Town Hall on Howard Street lay the terraced streets of houses built to house the workers in these expanding industries. Possibly she would also be struck by how close the massive Prince of Wales Power Station, the Water Works, Gas Works, and South Yorkshire Chemical Works were to the town centre.
By the time of her second visit in 1975 the town had been transformed. The Clean Air Act of 1956 had resulted not only in limiting air pollution from domestic fires but also in multi million pound investments being made by the local steelworks and Power Station in pollution control measures.
Many of the smoke blackened buildings such as the Parish Church and the Chapel on the Bridge had their stonework cleaned two years before the visit. A new ring road had been constructed to the north of the town centre which not only relieved traffic congestion but also changed the perception of the town with its broad grass verges and areas of tree planting.
Whilst by 1975 the town had lost control of its own bus services, and Police, Fire, Ambulance, and Water services, it had made significant progress investing heavily in a new market hall, new leisure centre, large new council housing estates, old people's homes, and sheltered housing complexes.
The previous year the Council had been merged with the surrounding urban and rural district councils to form a much larger authority of 250,000 people resulting in the need for the erection of a new Civic Centre at Walker Place. A new organisation, the South Yorkshire County Council was created to rule the roost over Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Doncaster. Although the SYCC didn't last much more than a decade it was followed by a number of attempts by central government to interfere in local affairs through the imposition of various sub regional and regional groupings run by civil servants or a combination of public and private representatives appointed by Whitehall.
For much of the first half of Her Majesty The Queen's reign there was an energy, vibrancy and determination to 'create a better tomorrow' and make the sacrifices of so many in the Second World War seem worthwhile. Not all that happened was perfect and certainly in many big cities close knit communities were swept away to be replaced by poorly designed and maintained tower blocks of flats. By and large Rotherham avoided this pitfall and focussed upon developing low density housing in areas such as Broom Valley and Kimberworth Park, and had the ability to ensure that alongside the houses were built schools, libraries, shops etc. This was achieved by a relatively simple process of getting the Government Minister's approval to the project, and applying to the Public Works Loan Board to borrow the money to fund the project.
This feeling of optimism and the future being very much in local hands was probably reflected in the private sector. Major expansion took place at steel rnaking firms such as Steel Peech and Tozer and Parkgate Iron and Steel, at Habershon's, at Beatson Clark, and KP Nuts for instance. From the sixties onwards merger mania hit the UK and many familiar names were swallowed up in huge new conglomerates. Some survived, but familiar names like Bentley's and Mappin's Breweries, and their employees, ended up on the scrap heap.
Probably the real 'game changer was at the near mid-point of the Queen's reign around 1979 and 1980. The economic recession, industrial closures, and the movement of many companies overseas devastated the country. With the widespread adoption of computers the terms automation and economies of scale entered the lexicon as did the fixation by central government with money supply management, the control of inflation etc. Less money and hard times meant more central control and micro management of policy by the Government through target setting, indicators etc. This didn't just apply to local government but also to the mining and steelrnaking industries now owned by the public sector.
This change to bigger, more remote organisations in industry and government was matched in retailing, which at the outset of the Queen's reign was dominated in Rotherham by small independent retailers and the local Co-operative Society, supplemented by F.W.Woolworth and Marks and Spencer.
A shopping expedition to Rotherham at this time was an event enjoyed by whole families. The bus station was in All Saints Square and along Effingham Street and Bridgegate. On market days were stalls either side of Corporation Street and on Main Street. The Market Hall was a busy bustling place; Suggs and Coopers catered for the needs of the young; the Whitehall Restaurant or Davy's Cafe provided an elegant lunch or afternoon tea; the swap shops on Wellgate gave the man of the house browsing time; Blaskey's reminded both adults that decorating time in Spring was not far away; Harper's on Corporation Street was an obligatory stop for a new Dean's Classic; Muntus was a department store where ladies could get lost all afternoon; Brooks enticed you in with the still novel aroma of roasting coffee beans.
Twice a year the fair came to town and worried parents tried to stop their daughters missing school to go to the fairground on the side of Main Street. The crowds came each evening, drawn by the smell of hot dogs and the sound of loud music. Cindered pathways, muddy puddles and excited shrieks were the backdrop, now forgotten under the South Yorkshire Police Station.
The opening of the Asda Queens Superstore at Eastwood in 1969, and the New World Discount Centre at Kimberworth in 1970, was probably the start of the transformation of shopping in the town. These new food outlets were quickly followed by retail warehouses such as Sankey Home Centres, Ultimate Electrical, and Texas DIY, each of which competed with town centre traders. By 1984 Morrisons and B&Q had arrived and in 1987 Britain's biggest retail park was opened at Parkgate.
Football in Rotherham peaked early in the new Queen's reign with Liverpool destroyed 6-0 as Rotherham United came close to playing in the top flight in 1955. The Pursehouses were roundly criticised for selling their best players to keep the club afloat; Anton Johnson glittered more than he gave; Syd Wood found it harder to run a football club than a coach company; then there was Ken Booth and a visit to Wembley to play Shrewsbury Town.
It would be remiss not to mention the huge advances in technology that have taken place during the Queen's reign. From, the amazing spectacle of seeing men walk on the Moon to the incredible life saving surgical operations performed in hospitals, technology has touched all our lives. The 'Space Race' of the late fifties/ early sixties played a key role in the introduction of transistors on the first step to miniaturisation and the micro chip. The massive growth of the supermarkets might not have been quite so fast without the introduction of bar codes and computerised logistics.
It is probably in the home and local community where the impact of technology has been most keenly felt. A vast array of domestic appliances has been created and marketed as 'labour saving' devices.
At the time of the Queen's Coronation on 2nd June 1953 the ownership or rental of a television set was rare. The figure for TV licences issued in the Rotherham Postal Area was 13,193 in July 1953. At this time the broadcasts were exclusively from the BBC and it would not be until May 1956 that ITV in the North was launched with broadcasts from the new Granada TV Studios in Manchester. TV screens were tiny and many needed a magnifier screen to be placed in front to see the picture properly. Likewise computer technology, other than in the military field of operations was unheard of. Mainframe computers were introduced into many Government departments and major local companies during the nineteen sixties but it was not until probably 1980, with the launch of Sinclair ZX80 that personal computers came into their own. This was the first home computer to be priced under £100 and was quickly followed by the Sinclair Spectrum. Clive Sinclair had first come to public attention when he launched the executive pocket calculator in 1972.
As televisions became more widely available and grew in popularity audiences at the local cinemas declined. At the beginning of Her Majesty's reign Rotherham had five cinemas in the town centre plus cinemas at Masbrough and Kimberworth Road. There were a further five located in the surrounding districts.
The year prior to Queen Elizabeth's accession to the Throne, on 5th February 1952, the Rotherham and District Annual noted that there were 73 fully licensed houses and 40 beer houses in the County Borough area. Compared to this figure of 113 it is estimated that there are now a maximum of 63 public houses, and possibly less, that are still open and trading. In 1951 there were also 21 Clubs with a total membership of 18,013 registered with the Clerk to the Justices.
In the 1950's the main alternative to pubs and clubs for obtaining alcohol was a small number of beer, wines and spirits off-licences. Now a wide range of alcohol is available in the supermarkets, local convenience stores and corner shops.
The continual process of modernisation and change during the Queen's reign has brought many benefits particularly in terms of environmental improvements but also a massive number of casualties in terms of unemployment, poor health, and social problems. There have also been examples of incredible waste. St Ann's Flats and Oakhill Flats, for example, lasted only 19 years and 25 years respectively. The huge continuous casting plant at Templeborough lasted barely 12 years before closure, and in many cases the huge investment in modern mining machinery throughout the Borough lasted even less before the industry was decimated. There have also been significant losses to the town's built heritage, the Peter Stubs Works at Holmes, the Munsbrough Hall farmhouse, and Herringthorpe Hall to name but three.
The Phoenix rising from the ashes is still, however, a potent symbol in the local area and the creation of the Magna Centre in Templeborough, the transformation of Boston Castle, a new football stadium and finally, a future for the Three Cranes Inn remind us all that the town is renewing itself again.