An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 32 (of 92 parts) - Leisure & Entertainment in Sutton

Early Closing and 'Moral And Social Improvement'

Historically, leisure and entertainment in Sutton, like most of the rest of the country, was centred around feast days and holy days, the latter, of course, being the derivation of 'holiday'. There were between twenty and thirty such days per year and they were enthusiastically embraced by all. Long working hours meant that there was not much time for fun and many spent what little leisure time they had down the pub. Many workers were even paid in their local, as opposed to their place of work, and by 1871, the year Bank Holidays were introduced, Sutton had 20 public houses and 19 beerhouses.

Liverpool Mercury report on early closing in St.Helens in 1855
Liverpool Mercury article from November 23rd 1855
Most St.Helens workers in the middle of the nineteenth century, laboured from around 6am to 6pm and so did have some leisure time each evening. Most miners ended their shift by mid-afternoon, although shop staff were a different kettle of fish. Their employment wasn't as demanding and dangerous as many others, but they earned their low pay through very long hours. They were expected to attend to the needs of customers whenever their employer wanted their shop open and on weekdays worked from 7am until 9 or 10pm. On Saturdays, shop assistants regularly laboured until midnight or even later, as that was the day when workers were paid and so had money to burn. If the hours of the many shop assistants could be reduced by curtailing opening hours, then they would be able to indulge themselves in more leisure activities. So an early closing campaign began in 1855, led by Rev. Edward Carr, the vicar of St.Helens and supported by Sutton's Rev. Henry Vallancey.

A public meeting was held in the Town Hall on November 21st, in which reference was made to other movements to improve the 'social, moral, intellectual, and religious well-being' of St.Helens people. Rev. Carr chaired the meeting and proposed the closing of shops at 7 or 8pm on weekdays, with 10pm the limit on Saturday night, saying that incessant labour made men 'bilious and ill-tempered'. Countering criticism that closing early would give young men more time to drink and gamble, Rev. Carr argued that they would instead indulge in healthy pursuits:
 The shopman, released from the toils of business, would not seek artificial stimulants, but those of a wholesome kind, such as taking a walk in the country, and similar healthful recreation. 
Rev. Carr also called for the creation of places where young men could meet for "mental improvement and moral cultivation" and for the end of the practice of paying wages in public houses, so that more cash could go into the "pockets of the wife". At the same meeting Rev. Vallancey predicted that the current campaign would be the "commencement of a great improvement in St.Helens". Sutton's first cleric was proven right, although it took until January 1884 before significant improvement in shop working hours were made with the adoption of early closing on Thursdays at 1pm. Even this was only initially agreed by a limited number of St.Helens traders, such as drapers, tailors, bootmakers and pawnbrokers.

However the 1855 Town Hall meeting which didn't itself end until 11:30pm, set the tone for the rest of the century and beyond. There was now a consensus that more had to be done by the church and the St.Helens community to reduce working hours, combat excessive drinking and create meeting places for young men. Presumably gentile women were expected to take care of themselves! The powers-that-be in the town wanted to stimulate leisure activities and more edifying pursuits like listening to music and lectures; or as one speaker put it at the meeting, create "moral and social improvement".

The Sutton Church Lads Brigade pictured in 1911 - behind the drum and to the right is Rev. W. E. Colegrove

Sutton Church Lads Brigade in 1911, probably outside Sutton Vicarage

Sutton Church Lads Brigade in 1911

Most community activities in the latter part of the nineteenth century, within the newly created St.Helens borough, centred around the church or the pub. The growth in alcohol sales had mirrored the remarkable expansion of the town's population and gave rise to increased drunkenness as well as a temperance movement. The aforementioned Rev. Carr was a prime mover in the latter and in 1855 he called for St.Helens to become "remarkable for its hatred of all intoxicating liquors" (see Sutton Pubs page).

Church youth activities were strongly encouraged with groups such as the Church Life Brigade, Catholic Lads Brigade, Jewish Lads Brigade and the Band of Hope. Their ethos was to instil 'obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that lends towards a true Christian manliness'. The photograph above from 1911 shows the Sutton Church Lads Brigade founded in 1891 as the Anglican version of the Boys Brigade and attached to Sutton Parish. Sitting behind the drum and to its right is Reverend W. E Colegrove, Vicar of Sutton. A curate, probably the Reverend T. Holme is also pictured, along with Alfred Emblem.
However, the community organisations largely ignored females during the Victorian years. It took the founding of the Scouting movement, in the early years of the 20th century, before girls' needs were met. Sutton National School had its own Girl Guides troop with what became the 33rd St Helens Guides beginning at St Nicholas Church in 1955.

The Rise Of The Sutton Excursionist

As well as promoting wholesome leisure activities within Sutton and St.Helens, the church, community organisations and the works' bosses, also organised day-trips with travellers referred to as 'excursionists'. The advent and expansion of the railway during the 19th century led to a big increase in day-tripping with the annual visit to Newton Race Week the highlight for many. Race Friday was particularly popular with a special train put on from St.Helens that stopped to collect Sutton passengers at Peasley Cross, Sutton Oak and St.Helens Junction stations. Rev. Thomas Pigot, the vicar of St.Helens Church, warned against the "sad excesses" of Newton Races in a letter to the Liverpool Mercury (13/2/1835) saying that many poor sinners:
 ...have confessed to me on their death beds that they commenced their wicked career at Newton Races. 
From the 1850s, works trips became annual events with 'excursionists' conveyed by trains or horse-driven charabancs. New Brighton, Southport and Rhyl were popular destinations and during the 1860s, the London & NW Railway advertised 'cheap trips to North Wales' in Liverpool newspapers during the height of summer. These began at Lime Street station and stopped at St.Helens Junction. The North Wales Chronicle of August 19th 1876 reported that 1500 excursionists from St.Helens had arrived at Rhyl on the previous Saturday. However, the Bangor-based newspaper also reported how Peter Phillips of Sutton did not have an enjoyable day as his right leg had to be amputated after attempting to jump into a moving carriage at Rhyl station. Ironically, the train that crushed his leg was only backing into a siding in preparation for departure and wasn't yet leaving the station as Phillips had thought.

Two postcards posted in 1920 from St.Helens to Blackpool! - the one on the left satirises overcrowding in St.Helens

Two postcards that were posted in 1920 from St.Helens to Blackpool!

Postcards that were posted in 1920 from St.Helens to Blackpool!

Organised outings were initiated by church groups, social clubs and political parties as well as employers. Whit was a popular time for an excursion often leaving the streets of St.Helens deserted. The St.Helens Reporter of June 15th 1889 stated that nearly 8,000 residents had left the town on Whit Monday of that year, which had made the railway station a ‘scene of liveliness which it has seldom before presented’. Sutton Road Wesleyan Methodists took 800 persons to Morecambe and the Sutton Conservatives took 850 to Southport. The latter’s train arrived at the resort at 8:45am, departing at around 9pm, after a delay caused by 300 St.Helens Liberals hijacking their train! On June 4th 1895 the Liverpool Mercury reported that on the Saturday of the Whitsuntide holiday weekend, 'large numbers of persons' had left St.Helens for Liverpool, Manchester, Southport and 'other places of interest'.

St.Josephs at Mill Brow
Article in the Liverpool Mercury of June 4th 1895
Then on the Whit Monday, two thousand five hundred 'pleasure-seekers' had risen early to depart by train on the 'guaranteed excursions' that were separately organised by St.Helens Liberal Association and the Primitive Methodist Sunday Schools. These trains journeyed to Blackpool and Southport, although Conway was also a popular destination for those excursionists who preferred to make their own way, with special cheap day returns available. For those who remained at home, a number of festivals and field days took place, including one in a field at Mill Brow, Sutton. This was organised by St. Joseph's school of Peasley Cross where 'prizes were awarded for old English sports'. A Flower Queen was also crowned and Maypole dancing took place. As well as Whit, August Bank Holiday was another popular time for organised excursions, then held on the first Monday of the month.

Towards the end of the 19th century cycling became increasingly popular, although the early 'boneshakers' were expensive to own. The members of St. Helens Cycling Club, formed in 1876 by
(Sir) Joseph Beecham and W. J Ashton, must have been quite well off with early machines costing £20 - about £1000 in today's money. However excursionists could hire a machine for a few hours recreation, although this could lead to inexperienced riders on poor quality bikes being a menace to pedestrians.

On Whit Monday 1896, engine driver
John Smith from St.Helens Junction was knocked down by Robert Cutler from Blackburn whilst crossing Southport promenade and later died from his injuries. Cutler was riding a hired tricycle for the first time and said that it had a defective bell. At Smith's inquest held on June 1st at Sutton's Wheatsheaf Hotel, which was then in Lionel Street, the coroner Sam Brighouse declared that: "All the old 'crocks', with the worst bells are hired out in the place". The Chief Constable of Southport was said to be taking 'energetic steps to put down furious riding', however the Sutton inquest jury felt that much more needed to be done and they called for Southport Corporation to licence and control bicycle hirers.

Sutton Vicar Rev. Colegrove with parishioners in the 1930s on a church excursion (contributed by James Lamb)

Sutton Vicar Rev. Colegrove with parishioners in the 1930s

Sutton parishioners on church excursion

During the 20th century, more organised excursions took place in motor-driven charabancs and coaches. In St.Helens these were nicknamed 'Highfields', because passengers were high up on the seats and could see fields as they journeyed through the countryside. Over the years, Sutton's fields and parks were venues for all kinds of leisure activities as clerics and educators continued their mission to create healthy minds and bodies and moral and social improvement.

The Parks Of Sutton

St.Helens Reporter account of gala in Sherdley Park, 1895
St.Helens Reporter of August 13th 1895
Sherdley Park has for many years been the venue for all types of gatherings, especially organised sporting and entertainment events. These activities were often combined, such as the well-attended annual summer gala or field day organised by Sutton Parish Church. The St.Helens Reporter of August 13th 1895 reported that over 1400 people had assembled at Sutton National School in Ellamsbridge Road on the previous Saturday, before forming a procession to Sherdley Park:
 The procession, which was rendered gay with banners and bannerettes, and presented a most pleasing spectacle, was headed by the fine double poled banner of the school and the Roughdales Brass Band...The procession wended its way to the handsome and wall-wooded grounds at Sherdley Hall, by way of Ellamsbridge-road, Pecker's-hill, Robin's lane and Marshall's Cross-road. En route were large numbers of spectators, all of whom expressed their delight at the pleasing appearance of the processionists. 
The children who were mainly dressed in white, enjoyed tea in the park along with the adults and then indulged in a programme of games, dancing and sports. Of the latter, seventeen athletic events took place but only three were open for the many girls present to participate in. As well as the 100 and 120 yards' sprints, the boys ran a three-legged race, potato and spoon race, high and long jumps, obstacle race plus wheelbarrow and sack races.

The girls had to content themselves with a skipping competition for the under 12s, 100 yards flat race for under 14s and a potato and spoon race for the over 14s. Running and jumping was presumably not considered very ladylike for the young females! Prizes for the winners were donated by Michael Hughes of Sherdley Hall and his Sherdley estate manager Henry Campbell. On July 18th 1930, the St.Helens Reporter claimed that the 1,300 participants who processed to Sherdley Park for that year's Sutton Parish gala or fête was a record. However it was actually one hundred less than the number who took part in 1895. The newspaper's correspondent described Ellamsbridge Road as having been turned into 'a fairyland' by the colourful spectacle and in the park itself, country dances and the usual sports were performed by Sutton National schoolchildren.

As well as annual parish and school events, Sherdley Park also hosted special events, such as the Sutton Coronation Bazaar Fête on July 8th 1911 and a Red Cross Fête and Gala on 5th, 6th, 7th & 9th September 1918. The former was to commemorate King George V's coronation at Westminster Abbey a fortnight earlier. A field in the park known as 'The Annexe' was often used for events.

'Long Wall' in 1950 in Marshalls Cross Road - Sutton Academy now occupies the field - Contributed by Jim Lamb

Part of the ’Long Wall' in 1950 in Marshalls Cross Road

'Long Wall' in Marshalls Cross Road

Before it came into municipal ownership after the Second World War, the public were only allowed to walk around Sherdley Park using the 'Score' footpath and, on special occasions, visit it during the day. It was privately owned by the Hughes family with an extensive perimeter wall. Frank Bamber, who was born at 64 Edgeworth Street in 1910, described the leisure walks on Sundays around 'long wall' in his 1987 memoirs:
 When the Sunday evenings darkened the "Long Wall" was the habitual meeting place for the teenagers from the surrounding districts to "Parade" groups of boys and groups of girls walking continually up and down the path alongside the wall and usually there was a friendly policeman slowly walking up and down to prevent these groups from joining up and causing an obstruction on the path, it was all done in a cheerful way and the police were given the respect to which was their due, so different from the present day. The older boys and girls who wanted to dally made their way around the 'Score' where all was quiet, and there, no one interfered, it was a favourite place for courting couples. 
From 1906 the public were also able to enjoy themselves in Sutton Park after Captain Michael Hughes had sold some of his land to St.Helens Corporation for £2600. A campaign for a public park in Sutton had begun some nine years earlier when a ratepayers' meeting was held. This took place on June 28th 1897 and was called to protest against the lack of municipal 'privileges' that were available elsewhere in St.Helens. The Vicar of Sutton Rev. Binney chaired the meeting and said that parks, baths and music had been provided for the opposite ends of the town. However Sutton and Parr only had two branch libraries, an infectious diseases hospital and a 'graceful sewage destructor'! Then in July of 1897, Rev. Binney wrote to Col. Richard Pilkington, the Mayor of St.Helens, asking that the Council provide a band to play in Sutton once or twice a week during the summer, as happened in other parts of the borough. However having no park or bandstand in Sutton that could accommodate musicians was a considerable handicap for such an arrangement.

On October 27th 1897,
John Willis - the prospective Liberal candidate for East Sutton ward in the forthcoming council elections - complained about the lack of a park at three open air meetings. These took place in Rolling Mill Lane, Baxters Lane and near Sutton Oak station. Willis said that if ratepayers wanted to visit their nearest park, they had a journey of four miles to make. He claimed that the district had been neglected by the Corporation and promised to fight for a public park in Sutton if elected. Five days later Willis won the election by 77 votes and became one of East Sutton’s council representatives.

Illustrations of the Sutton Park gates which were removed during the second world war

Illustration of Sutton Park gates which were removed during World War 2

Illustration of the Sutton Park gates

Willis's fellow councillor Dr. Baker Bates brought the matter of a park before the council three years later. Under pressure from both councillors and clergy, St.Helens Corporation’s Town Council finally elected to make some leisure provision for the people of Sutton. At first the late Alderman Sinclair's residence at Waterdale was considered as the site of a new park, before plumping instead for twenty acres of land in between Robins Lane and Marshalls Cross Road. This was purchased from Michael Hughes on May 9th 1903 for £2628, who insisted on a clause in the agreement that stipulated the type of entrance gates that had to be constructed for the new park. These needed to be of 'a handsome type with pillars of stone of a massive character and be maintained as such forever.' So plans were submitted for stone pillars and 14 foot 3½ inch wide cast iron entrance gates costing £52 10 shillings.

A partial image of the gates and stone pillars at the entrance to Sutton Park with Robins Lane on the left

A partial image of the gates and stone pillars at the entrance to Sutton Park

Gates and pillars at the Sutton Park entrance with Robins Lane on the left

The imposing pillars still remain to this day, but the gates and railings are believed to have been removed during the Second World War. This was part of the morale-boosting nationwide campaign that was intended to provide material for munitions. It was also important to Michael Hughes, who was renowned for his old fashioned values, that the character of the area would not be affected by certain park activities. So he also insisted that a restrictive covenant should be inserted into the sale agreement barring the use of 'steam-driven merry-go rounds and whistles'. This may have been in response to the many noisy barrel organs and other musical entertainments that were often performed by travelling show folk in parts of Sutton. These often kept residents awake at night and generated some complaints.

An undated aerial photograph of Sutton Park but it was probably taken during the 1930s

Undated aerial photograph of Sutton Park, probably taken during the 1930s

An aerial photograph of Sutton Park

On October 7th 1903 plans were approved for the laying out of the new park. This took quite some time to organise and at a St.Helens Town Council meeting of January 4th 1905, Cllr. Peet called for the Parks Committee to "push on” with it. He said the making of Sutton Park would give badly-needed employment to out-of-work men. In December 1905 the council’s Parliamentary Committee gave the go-ahead for the laying out of roads and paths, ready for the park to be opened to the public during the following year.

Henry Martin, Mayor of St.Helens
Henry Martin & Charles Bishop
The official opening ceremony took place during the afternoon of August 2nd 1906, conducted by Henry Martin, the Mayor of St.Helens, along with many councillors and officials. A special tramcar conveyed the dignitaries from the Town Hall to the park, where a large number of Sutton residents had assembled, with some displaying bunting on their houses to add to the celebrations. It was revealed that the full cost of creating Sutton Park had been £5691, including its purchase price, laying out, fencing, gates and diversion of the brook. The Mayor proudly announced that the new park was the seventh that St.Helens Corporation had provided for the town, which in total covered 164 acres. Councillor Martin was presented with a rose bowl as a memento of his opening of the park and Sutton Road Prize Band joined in the celebrations. During the evening there was a large attendance as the brass band continued to perform, with the park staying open until 9pm.

Initially Sutton’s ratepayers had little to see for their money. At the time of the opening, the park was little more than a recreation ground, with the paths not being fully laid out and only a few small shrubs planted. However 3000 trees and shrubs were to be planted during the Autumn and a bowling green and bowls house were scheduled to be ready for the start of the next season. However preparing the green took longer than expected and its official opening took place on September 4th 1907. The Mayor of St.Helens was now
Charles Bishop who in performing the opening, revealed that he’d been born some 400 yards from the park. The chairman of the Parks Committee, Councillor Peet, presented the Mayor with a commemorative set of bowls and jack and commented how the green would, in a year or two, equal any in Lancashire. The bowls house - which the St.Helens Newspaper said was ‘a very neat one’ - was erected by builders Godel Waizbom and Son of St.Helens.

A drinking fountain and bandstand were also incorporated soon after Sutton Park opened, with an additional bowling green created in 1914 and tennis courts added in 1924, adjacent to the greens. Large numbers of Suttoners embraced their new park enthusiastically. This was especially so on some Sundays and summer evenings when band concerts took place. St.Helens Council began organising these in 1914 and at first just three concerts were held over the summer at a cost of £2 15 shillings each. Later band and dancing performances took place on weekday nights. In
Charles Forman's book 'Industrial Town - Self Portrait of St Helens in the 1920s', an interviewee born in 1895 described dancing in Sutton Park on Tuesdays. The unnamed woman said "There'd be a big band there, and in the park the children came from everywhere". The St.Helens Reporter of 22nd July 1930 described a performance in Sutton Park by St. Peter's from Parr:
 If weather permits, a band performance and short marching display will be given by the band and a detachment of St.Peter's Church Girls Brigade in the Sutton Park on Thursday evening, when a collection will be taken by members of the Sutton Park Bowling Club in aid of the treat to be organised by the club for the old folks of Sutton. As St.Peter's girls have not as yet, been seen in Sutton, there is every likelihood of their [sic] being a great attraction. It is understood that they will march to the Park, arriving there at about 7.30pm. 

The Friends of Sutton Park organised veterans' outings such as this party in 1950

The Friends of Sutton Park organised veterans' outings, such as this from 1950

The Friends of Sutton Park organised veterans' outings like this from 1950

The Sutton Park annual trip to Southport began in 1930 and was meant to benefit war veterans aged over 65. The St.Helens Reporter described how in August 1939, 130 men had travelled to Southport and in Victoria Park, the ‘old uns’ had challenged the ‘young uns’ to a game of bowls. The evening was spent at the bandstand in Lord Street and some of the day-trippers made a tour of the Pleasure Beach. Before returning home to Sutton, each man was presented with tobacco and sweets.

Youngsters, of course, didn't require an actual park to play in. Anywhere would do, especially if there was open space. The Ellen Street field was a popular venue for kids who enjoyed playing cricket, football, rugby, piggy, 'chucky', 'duck off' and hop, skip and jump. These days the site is occupied by East Sutton Labour Club and Ellen Gardens. Another popular playing field was on the corner of Ellamsbridge Road (originally this was Gerards Lane) and Robins Lane and was given the nickname of 'Joe Doffs', although the origins of the name have not been established.

Joan Heyes lived in Ellen Street from 1919 and recalls her childhood fun in Joe Doffs. Writing to this website through daughter Brenda, 94-years-old Joan said:
 There was a mound in the field and the kids used to climb up it and then run down it again. Mum vividly remembers the solar eclipse of June 29th, 1927 when she was 11. Everyone had been advised not to look directly at the sun, so they found some glass and held it in the fire to smoke it, then went to Joe Doffs to watch the event. 

Sutton's Show Field and The 'Injun Village

'The 'Show Field' or 'Show Back' was a rectangular piece of grassless ground, 100 yards long by 50 yards wide, sandwiched between the rears of Edgeworth Street, Peckershill Road and Robins Lane and, at its opposite end, by Fisher Street and Taylor Street. At various times of the year, the Show Field was inhabited by travelling show folk of all kinds, who put on circuses, animal shows, fairgrounds and boxing bouts. However, the animal or 'wild beast' shows led to complaints from Robins Lane residents who didn't like the noisy lions and tigers disturbing their sleep! So from around 1920 these were stopped.

In Frank Bamber's 'Clog Clatters in Old Sutton' and in his contribution to a 'Whalley's World' article in the St.Helens Star
(5/11/1998), he describes the children's wide-eyed excitement when the merry-go-rounds, swinging boats, Wild West shows and coconut shies were crammed onto the Show Field.

Frank also relates how on one morning about 1916, his two older brothers hurried him through the front door of their home at 64 Edgeworth Street to witness an elephant, led by its trainer, walking through the streets of Sutton. From time to time it stopped to accept crusts of bread and cabbage leaves from the crowd of onlookers that thronged the pavement:
 It made its way down the street followed by a good number of people, turn[ed] left at the bottom into Ellamsbridge Road and then up the 'brow' which led to the Infants School and then down to the 'School Brook' to sink its trunk in to quench its thirst to the great enjoyment of all those who watched. 
Texas Bill Shufflebottom and wife Rosina
Texas Bill Shufflebottom and Rosina
The 1901 census lists the remarkable Yorkshire showman William Shufflebottom (c.1862 - 1916) as temporary occupier of the 'FairGround Fisher Street' along with wife Rosina, three young daughters and three assistants. The 39-year-old's stage name was 'Texas' Bill Shufflebottom and from the 1880s until the 1960s, his family's Wild West shows were popular fairground attractions. Inspired by the exploits of his hero Buffalo Bill Cody, Shufflebottom's shows included sharp shooting and trick riding and Rosina contributed knife throwing and snake charming! In the early days of moving pictures Shufflebottom combined short films with a Wild West show and his occupation in the census is recorded as 'Exhibitor of Cinematograph'.

In those days a powerful team of horses was required to haul the fairground rides, side-shows and circus marquees to their destinations and the show people had a dilemma as to where to keep them until it was time to move on. Once Sutton's shows were set up, the horses were led down Junction Lane and under the railway bridge into Helena Road and Bold Road and finally into an open farm field at the end of Hills Moss Road. There tents were erected for the minders to watch over the grazing horses, which led to Sutton folk giving it the nickname of "th' Injun Village".

The Show Field was a magnet for Sutton village folk and even those living farther afield in Parr, Burtonwood, Clock Face and Sutton Manor. However its entertainment was irregular and noisy, unlike the silent films in Sutton's picture palace, the Sutton Empire or 'Bug'.
Texas Bill Shufflebottom & Rosina

Sutton Bug - Sutton's Picture Palace

In 1913 a new form of entertainment came to Sutton, the picture palace or cinema. However, most of Sutton's citizens would already have been familiar with moving pictures, having seen them at fairs on Sutton's 'Showfield' or at special events. For example a short cinematograph exhibition of silent films was part of the programme for a concert in Sutton National School on February 13th 1900. Alternatively many will have ventured into St.Helens and visited the Hippodrome in Corporation Street, which began exhibiting from 1903. Films were also shown on the top floor of the Co-op building in Baldwin Street from 1907 and there was also the Town Hall and YMCA which both regularly screened the 'flicks' from around 1910. The first purpose-built cinema in St.Helens was the Electric Theatre (or Scala as it became) in Ormskirk Street which began in September 1911.

The Sutton 'Bug' Saturday matinee gang outside the cinema with Fireman Tommy Waring

The Sutton 'Bug' Saturday matinee gang with fireman Tommy Waring

Sutton 'Bug' Saturday matinee gang with fireman Tommy Waring

But to have their own cinema in Junction Lane was something that Sutton locals were particularly proud of. It was named the Sutton Empire but was known locally as 'Sutton Bug'. In the early years of the cinema, its management regularly found themselves in court charged with a variety of offences. On June 2nd 1916 the Sutton Picturedrome, as it was also known, was fined 20 shillings for screening a film after 10:30pm. The company said there had been a breakdown of the projector and to pacify the customers they’d had to run the film through by hand, which led to a delay. Then on November 9th 1916, manager Edward Westhead was prosecuted for non-payment of entertainments duty. After an undercover visit by an Excise officer, a scam had been uncovered in which purchased tickets were not being torn by cinema attendants as required by law. Instead the Sutton Bug was recycling them to other customers. The duty was being paid via stamps attached to each ticket and the scam meant that the cinema was purchasing fewer stamps than they should have. Westhead denied the offence but was fined £5.

Then on September 24th 1917 the proprietors of the cinema were prosecuted for not having a fireman in uniform at every performance. The police had paid a visit to the Empire and found the regular fireman away and his place taken by a man in civilian clothing. After the police drew this to the attention of managing director
Nathan Rothwell, he instructed the man to put on his fireman’s cap, which appeared to be the only uniform that they had. The Chairman of the Bench said the people connected with the theatre seemed to think that they could do what they liked and they must be made to know that they could not. The proprietors were fined £10 and Rothwell was also fined £10 for aiding and abetting. Three weeks later the Sutton Empire was fined 5 shillings for allowing the sale of postcards on its premises by an artiste called Christinia Van Earle after 8pm.

Peter Bates was, for many years, the manager of the cinema and the formidable Miss Bates ran the box-office in her all-black outfit. Tommy Waring was one of the cinema's firemen, who was renowned as quite a character. The pianist Audrey Barton played mood music for the feature films and sat inside a protective cage, safe from any missiles that might be thrown when a film broke down. Sutton Bug closed in 1957 with the last owner Cliff Withenshaw. Incidentally it wasn't the only licensed picture house within the boundaries of Sutton. On September 12th 1921, the Rainhill County Asylum - as it was then known - was granted a cinema licence for showing films to 'inmates'.

Left: St.Helens Reporter 16/9/1930; Middle: Ticket Contributed by Bob Taylor; Right: St Helens Newspaper 2/1/1951

Left: St.Helens Reporter 1930; Middle: Ticket; Right: St Helens Newspaper 1951

Two Sutton Bug adverts and ticket

The owner of this website interviewed a number of former Sutton Bug cinema-goers and film operators in 1993 for a documentary video and here are some choice extracts from the interviewees' reminiscences:

Vera Bryant lived in Sutton during her childhood and regularly visited the Sutton 'Bug' picture house:
 It was so easy going and such a happy place in Sutton Empire. Mr Bates {the manager} was a very pleasant man but he liked going in the Prince of Wales for a drink. We didn't see much of him only when we were coming in and going out. But we had a fireman and his name was Mr. Waring and he used to have the uniform of a fireman and a big belt and in it he used to have an axe hanging down, presumably to chip a door down if we had to get out in a hurry. Now and again he'd come round with disinfectant and spray it over everywhere which smelt very pleasant. It was a nice, very nice place. All the seats were red but there was about three rows at the back which were blue. They were twopence, you see, at the back and a penny at the front. If you felt you could spare twopence instead of a penny you went in the front door and the seats had arms on and you thought that you were somebody because you went in first. I had a sister, older than me and she wanted to go in the Sutton Empire pictures at night and there was a lady who lived in the next street. And in those days everybody was friendly with one another and you could trust everybody. And so she said "Mrs. Malkin can I come in with you because Mr. Bates won't let me in" as it was an A Certificate. And so she lifted up her very full black skirt of her frock, put it over my sister's head and they both walked in and our Edna was underneath the skirt walking in front of her!  
Eric Coffey worked at St.Helens Junction station during WW2 and often was often given the responsibility of delivering films to Sutton Empire on his push bike:
 I'd meet the train at quarter past two and rush it down to the Empire cinema in Junction Lane, that lovingly we called the 'Bug'. They would queue up outside the Empire and as soon as they caught sight of me peddling like fury up Junction Lane, I'd wave to them and they'd let out a cheer that they were going to see a film that afternoon.

Relating their Sutton Bug Empire cinema anecdotes in interview in 1993: Jim Brunskill, Eric Coffey and Vera Bryant

Relating their cinema anecdotes: Jim Brunskill, Eric Coffey and Vera Bryant

Jim Brunskill, Eric Coffey & Vera Bryant

Jim Brunskill joined Sutton Empire in 1940 only to discover that all the other operators (projectionists) had left and he was on his own with a packed house:
 Just imagine a lad of 15 and a cinema full of people. I was a bit terrified. They had a fellow with the name of Jim Bates. He was only a doorman and he'd wandered up during the programmes in the past and he said "I've seen them do this... bring it around here". So I had to fathom it out. To cut a long story short, that was my baptism. I got the show over with two programmes that night. I'd hate to think what they was like because I didn't have a clue on cues, the four little dots that appear in the top right hand corner. Well I didn't know and I thought as soon as that film gets far enough down, I'll change over to the next projector. There must have been some jumping that night! ...Tommy Waring he was a character. 'Old Tom' - as he's fondly remembered - he liked his ale. There's lads who'll tell you that he'd let them in free on condition that they slipped up to the pub for a quart of ale and while the programme was on, he'd be in the cellar supping it up....Roy Rogers, he'd beat John Wayne hands down any day of the week. And dare I say it, Gracie Fields. I've seen near pandemonium in Junction Lane when we showed Gracie Fields' Shipyard Sally {1940}. And then the biggest one of all without a doubt, there were crowds and crowds in Junction Lane trying to get in for the last night of The Jolson Story {1947} with Larry Parks.
Also See Memories of Sutton articles: The Sutton Bug Crush by Bill Bate; Trekking from the Manor for the Sutton Bug Tuppenny Rush by George Houghton; St.Anne's, Neil's & Blood Curdling Monsters at Sutton Bug! by Alan McDermott

The Wireless, Television and Rediffusion

From the 1920s, a few Suttoners were able to purchase early radio receivers, although an outdoor long-wire antenna was required for good reception. An annual wireless licence was also needed to operate the radios, which during the '20s and '30s was ten shillings {50p}. These days there are sophisticated means to detect television licence evasion but during the wireless days of the 1930s, St.Helens post office investigators could simply drive round the town's streets looking for long aerials in back gardens and yards and compare these addresses with their licence records.

Offenders could be taken to court, such as James Ward of 10 Baxters Lane, Sutton. In an article entitled 'Wireless Pirates Beware', the St.Helens Reporter of February 27th, 1934 described how James had been charged with 'unlawfully working a wireless without a licence', which led to a £1 fine by the magistrates.

Red Rose and E. & R. A. Davies cycle and radio shops plus redundant Rediffusion man-hole cover in Robins Lane

Red Rose & E. & R. A. Davies cycle & radio shops & redundant man-hole cover

Red Rose and E. & R. A. Davies plus redundant Rediffusion man-hole cover

Due to the high price of mains receivers, and in some places lack of electricity, many wireless enthusiasts used heavy accumulators to power their wireless sets. These needed regular charging and so many local cycle shops diversified. Initially they acted as battery-charging depots and later they began selling radio receivers and accessories. Sutton shops that sold both wireless sets and cycles include The Red Rose at 72 Peckershill Road, which was owned by Tom Williams and E. & R. A. Davies of 47 Junction Lane. Within the town of St.Helens there was Rothery Radio and Frank Waring but the heavy and dangerous lead-acid accumulators gave an early advantage to the local Sutton stores in developing their business. Mention should also be made of Browns of 24 - 28 Junction Lane, who specialised in Burndept Radios.

From December 1949 when the BBC Midlands transmitter at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham was switched on for the first time, the possibility of television became available as an additional form of entertainment to rival the Empire cinema. Although some people purchased televisions and aerials from dealers, many Suttoners subscribed to Rediffusion to receive radio and television transmissions. In later twentieth century years, Rediffusion became associated with commercial television franchises and TV rental. However, it began its days as a pioneering cable company with a shop in Robins Lane, in between Peckershill Road and Edgeworth Street.

If you walk down Robins Lane, near to its junction with Ellen Street, and look down, you'll see a remnant of Sutton's past in a redundant Rediffusion man-hole cover. Rediffusion set up their wired networks in many towns during the 1940s and '50s, carrying interference-free services to subscribers. In 1995, Cable North West (now Virgin Media) dug up the streets of St.Helens to install cable television and radio channels in many homes, but Rediffusion had pioneered it years before.

Blinkhorn / Parish Rooms in Waterdale Crescent

You have to be quite observant these days to spot any traces of the Blinkhorn family, who as glass makers and benefactors were important Sutton citizens during the second half of the nineteenth century. There is an inscription to William I in Gerards Lane, although it's hidden away on the reverse side of Victoria Bridge. Plus dedications to three of the family (William II & first wife Emily Blanche & their daughter Emily Binney) are only visible to churchgoers who crane their heads as they enter the St.Nicholas lychgate entrance.

Left: Part of the lettering in the roof of the St.Nicholas lychgate entrance; Right: Section of the Blinkhorn stained glass window

Left: St.Nicholas lychgate; Right: Section of Blinkhorn stained glass window

St.Nicholas lychgate and a section of Blinkhorn stained glass window

Inside the church there is a beautiful 'Faith Hope & Charity' stained glass window that was designed by glass artist Henry Holliday. However, few are likely to notice the dedication to William Blinkhorn, by Sara his second wife, at the base of the window. A century ago there was a road called Blinkhorn Street in Sutton Oak that was named after the industrialist family, as well as the Blinkhorn Rooms at 74 Waterdale Crescent. These rooms were a part of a row of terraced houses that included the Crystal Palace pub which were donated to the parish in the late nineteenth century by Wm. Blinkhorn.

The rooms - which officially were known as the Parish Rooms - had many uses and were a venue for a variety of leisure and entertainment activities over the decades. Initially they were utilised as additional school rooms, then during the early years of the twentieth century the Blinkhorm Rooms were where the Women’s Fellowship met. Later they served as a gymnasium for local boys, then reading rooms and as a café and youth club.

One correspondent to 'Whalley's World' in the St.Helens Star said that in his day, there was a squad of dinner ladies who served up "plenty of porridge, toast, hot cocoa and lob-scouse".
Frank Ashton also described in his letter to the Star how:
 Anyone could go to the children's canteen there, for breakfast or for dinner. It looked just like a scene from Oliver Twist. But everyone was well fed. I remember all that porridge, toast and hot cocoa.
Allan Moore described how the Blinkhorn Rooms hosted country and folk dancing, occasional plays, ballroom dances and other church-related functions. Managed by the Sutton Parish Guild, it comprised one large room with a small stage at its far end with a separate kitchen and toilets. Quite a number a couples first met at the Blinkhorn Rooms, including Bill and Olwen Hawley who described in Whalley's World how the Blinkhorn Rooms were home to the so-called '8.15pm Club'.
 We attended after the evening service at All Saints Church, and it was run by George Myers. George organised football and rounders games. Table tennis and board games were played in the main room, which also housed a piano and drum set, played by Johnny Walker and Norman Andrews. Drinks and snacks were available in a small kitchen.
The rooms in Waterdale Crescent were demolished several decades ago and a vicarage was built on the land. If you have any photographs of the Blinkhorn Rooms, I would be delighted to receive them.

Sutton Social Clubs

It's quite astonishing that in the very early years of the 20th century when Sutton Harriers were achieving international success, they were having to use the most rudimentary of facilities in the Red Lion. However by this time club houses were appearing within the Sutton district, often affiliated to political parties. These would soon be greatly expanded as industries such as mining - as well as leisure and sports societies - constructed club rooms for their workers and members. They served as alternatives to the traditional use of snugs and back rooms in pubs as meeting places. Some of these social and sporting clubs and club houses are described on other pages of this website and the Blinkhorn Rooms is featured above. This article will concentrate on others of particular interest.

Left: Share certificate owned by Henry Bates - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates; Right: Conservative Club & Caretaker’s House c.1900

Share certificate and Sutton Conservative Club & Caretaker’s House c.1900

Left: Share certificate; Right: Sutton Conservative Club & Caretaker’s House

Although a working class district, the Conservative Party was very popular in Sutton. In 1886 Henry Martin - who in 1894 became Mayor of St.Helens – described East Sutton as a “Tory stronghold”. A Conservative Club was first created in Edgeworth Street during the 1880s and there was also the Primrose League - an organisation devoted to spreading Conservative principles - which had its own Sutton 'Habitation'. It was named after the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli and although only founded nationally in 1883, by 1890 it was attracting 500 people to its inaugural meeting in Sutton National School. Entertainment was a key part of their meetings, helping to boost attendance. The secretary of the Conservative Club by 1891 was Thomas Woods and an annual tea party and concert was held. However through limits on the numbers that the club could accommodate, once again the event had to take place at Sutton National School. So a larger club was built in 1900 at 4 Edgeworth Street, near to the Victoria Vaults / Little Pig pub, which was officially opened on May 2nd by Henry Seton-Karr, M.P. for St.Helens. He was presented with a special gold-mounted key by Colonel McTear in which to open its doors.

A limited company was created to pay for its funding and shares in the Sutton Conservative Club Company Limited were purchased by its supporters. In the Liverpool Mercury's report of the opening ceremony, they described how the ground floor of the building served as an assembly room and the upper floor included a 'large billiard saloon'. There was also a lounge and bar and a room for playing cards and dominoes. A well-kept bowling green was at the rear of the premises and the caretaker of the new club was "Sandy" McKinnon, whose house was next door (pictured right). As well as Colonel McTear, Conservative councillor Dr. Baker Bates was also heavily involved in getting the new club built.

Excursions to seaside resorts took place annually and many weddings and birthday parties were held on the ground floor of the Conservative Club, which was licensed for dancing and music. A Junior Conservative meeting was held on Friday nights, known as Sutton Junior Imps, which included music and dancing. This was very popular and it's said that many courtships began on these nights. As well as billiard and games rooms, the upper floor provided access to a steel constructed balcony that overlooked the bowling green. A steel staircase led down to the green and to a bowls house. The club was finally demolished in 1987. Another Conservative Club was built in Marshalls Cross Road in Peasley Cross in 1914.

There was also an
East Sutton Liberal Club in Junction Lane, which was formally opened by Arthur Sinclair on May 31st 1886. The speakers at the opening ceremony warned of the dangers of the new club degenerating into a “gambling saloon”, as Charles Walsh, who chaired the gathering, put it. The branch club had already attracted over 100 members by the time of the opening and membership quickly grew. On August 1st 1887 about 700 Liberals from the club travelled to the village of Hawarden in Wales to see their hero William Gladstone and present him with a mirror. This had been specially made by Parr Bros., which was owned by the sons of George Parr of Mill Lodge in Sutton, a vice president of the club. Unfortunately the ‘grand old man’ - as Gladstone was then known - was not at home when the party arrived. In November 1889 the owner of the club – who rented the premises to the Liberals for £23 8s. per year – put it up for auction. An advertisement stated that the area of the site, which included a shop and living quarters for a caretaker, measured 150 square yards.

Part of a Sutton Oak British Legion poster - they were renowned for their concerts - Contributed by Margaret Crosbie

Sutton Oak British Legion poster - they were renowned for their concerts

Sutton Oak British Legion poster

The small enclave of Sutton between Edgeworth Street, Fisher Street and Ellen Street used to host a number of clubs. A Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Club was briefly in Fisher Street until April 1923 when the club caught fire. The roof fell in and the building was gutted with damage estimated at £250, the equivalent of about £7,000 in today's money. The club had no insurance and so was unable to rise phoenix-like from its ashes (nb. a Clock Face branch of the club also existed in Gartons Lane closing in 1940). However, on September 19th 1936, the Sutton British Legion Club was opened by Dr. Donald Campbell on the old Showfield between Edgeworth Street and Peckers Hill Road. It was known for its concerts which were held every Sunday evening and their Good Friday concerts were especially popular.

Beecham’s Social Club was situated in Bentinck Street in Sutton. On September 2nd 1968 the pharmaceutical firm held their first gala, which they hoped would become an annual event. The opportunity was taken to officially open the club’s new indoor pool, which the company had paid £4,500 for and which measured 50 feet by 20 feet.

East Sutton Labour Club in Ellen Street is the only club that still remains within this part of Sutton. The present building is of relatively recent construction, although it did exist as a smaller, wooden building as far back as the 1920s, if not earlier. It has certainly lasted much longer than the Sutton Working Men's Club, which on February 9th 1906 was struck off the register of clubs for not having the required number of members. It had only been formed in 1900 and never had more than 28 enrolled members. By 1906 the club, which appears to have been situated in Junction Lane, only had 16 members, nine less than the minimum number of 25 that licensed clubs were required to have. The secretary of Sutton Working Men's Club was William Wilson of 89 Junction Lane, who told a licensing hearing that his members “kept falling off” and that he had only learnt over the past three months that the Licensing Act of 1902 required a minimum of 25 members.

Moving north down Marshalls Cross Road there was the
Peasley Cross Labour Club. Writing on the Sutton Beauty & Heritage Facebook page Sheila Rattigan wrote how Bob Grice had been the compere at the Labour Club for years. “He was a brilliant singer, he always sang ‘We wish you a last goodbye’ at the end of the night and he'd wave a white hanky. Happy days!”.

Industrial clubs were often linked to sport, such as the
London & N.W. Railway Recreation Club at St.Helens Junction, which also served as a pavilion for football, cricket and athletics games. Railway employees could become members for a subscription of a penny per week, with others able to join for 5 shillings a year. By 1889 the membership list had grown to 250 and the railway company decided to invest in larger premises. A new brick and stone building with pitchpine roof was built at a cost of £600 adjacent to St.Helens Junction station, with a 60 feet-long multi-purpose room. During the day it was used for dining and during the evening it served as a reading room and as a venue for evening classes and concerts.

Of the 20th century sports and social clubs within the Sutton district,
Sidac’s off Applecorn Close by Leach Lane is noteworthy. Built in 1961 by British Sidac, the Sutton Leach club was taken over by its former employees after the cellophane maker left Sutton. Their football section dates back to 1936 and is the oldest member of the St.Helens Football Combination League. The club, which was recently refurbished, is thriving and boasts two function rooms with many activities regularly held. The St.Helens Darts Academy - which has more than 50 five to eighteen-year-old members - relocated to Sidac in 2016 after the closure of Our Lady’s Club in Parr. Clock Face Miners’ Recreation Club has similarly survived the closure of its works and runs two adult football teams, an adult rugby team and eight junior rugby teams.

Mention should also be made of the
Rechabites of Sutton, whose tent (or lodge) was known as ‘Providence’ and centred on temperance. At a meeting of tents from the Liverpool district at Knowsley Park on August 10th 1889, more than half of the St.Helens contingent came from Sutton. The other two St.Helens tents, incidentally, were known as ‘Perseverance’ and ‘Great Heart’.

It’s also worth mentioning in this section the
New Street Community Centre, which opened in Autumn 1979 at a cost of £350,000. It incorporated a library that held up to 15,000 books as well as two large halls for drama and youth activities. The main hall when opened seated 250 to 300 people, with stage and changing rooms. There were also workshop and craft rooms, together with smaller spaces for general meetings and a coffee bar plus lounge. A warden’s flat was provided for the manager of the complex. The first one was Haydock-born Derek Atkinson, a former Captain with the Salvation Army. The centre still exists but the library has long closed.

The St.Helens / Sherdley Show (1968 - 2006)

Sherdley Park came under municipal ownership in the late 1940s and at over 300 acres, it was the obvious venue for hosting large-scale events. The biggest was the annual St.Helens Show which took place between 1968 and 2006. The origins of the 'Sherdley Show', as it was locally known, can be traced back to 1780 with the biennial St.Helens Fair in New Market Place. In later years the St.Helens Show was run by the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Society, although held very infrequently. In fact the 1901 show, which was held in Grange Park, was the first to be held in the town for 45 years! The organisers lost £333 on the event, due to the attendance being less than expected and the spending of a whopping £2264 on medals and prizes. This was because the show centred on the showing and competing of livestock classes and wasn’t centred on entertainment, like its later incarnation.

The modern-day St.Helens Show was initially a one-off Centenary Show to celebrate 100 years of the St.Helens borough. It was opened by the Mayor of St.Helens,
Councillor Tom Forshaw, who ended up being booked by the police! After opening the show, Cllr. Forshaw went up in a balloon, which had to make a forced landing to avoid storm clouds. Seconds after landing, close to the old Burtonwood airbase, two police officers were on the scene. They took the mayor's name and asked him "Didn't you see the notice saying Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted"?

The success of the show led to it being held on an annual basis and at its peak it attracted half a million visitors over three days. Billed as the largest free show in Europe, the event consisted of air and field displays, demonstrations and shows, arena entertainment, mother & baby and Miss St.Helens competitions, music performances and Silcock's Fair. It was always brought to a close by an impressive fireworks display on the final day. In 1993 it was estimated that 550,000 people attended the 'Sherdley Show', as locals often called it. However, with increasing competition from other forms of entertainment plus, as some people claimed, a tired, repetitive format, the numbers of attendees considerably decreased and the St.Helens Show ended in 2006. The following year it was replaced by the two day St.Helens Festival which for four years was held earlier in July and attracted about 20,000 visitors in total before its cancellation by St.Helens Council.

Cover of 1977 Show programme plus Mother & Baby competition; Top: St.Helens Reporter 1993; Right: Elephant at the Show

1977 Show programme, Mother & Baby competition, St.Helens Reporter 1993

1977 Show programme, Mother & Baby competition & St.Helens Reporter 1993

Next:  Part 33)  Sutton Celebrations!  |  Back To Top of Page
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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