– Sandra Lindsey
As it wends its way around the North-West from Bolton to Liverpool, the torch will pass through, amongst other places, the town of St Helens.
If you have heard of it, it’s probably for either its rugby or its glass.
Rugby-wise, they’re predominantly a League (as opposed to Union) town – or as my husband terms it “the wrong sort of rugby.” Personally, as long as there’s well-muscled men wearing shorts and getting muddy whilst wrestling each other for a ball, I’m not too fussed which rules they play by! The town’s team is known as ‘The Saints’, and don’t worry, here’s a picture for you:
What about the town’s other claim to fame? I don’t know if you’ve heard of Pilkington Glass, or the float glass technique, but I’ve no doubt you’ll have benefited from Pilkington’s development of the technique to make it suitable for mass production. Known locally as “Pilks”, the company headquarters remain in the town although it became a subsidiary of Nippon Sheet Glass in the mid-2000s.
I can hear you thinking though – hang on, isn’t this the same person who was warbling on the other day about living in Mid Wales? What on earth is she doing now, yattering about a town in the North-West?
Simple answer is: it’s where my dad’s side of the family comes from. He moved away from the town, but we made frequent trips to visit my grandparents who lived by Taylor Park, just round the corner from the house with a giant redwood in the garden.
No, I kid you not. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of it, and it was removed in the early 1990s due to its having caused havoc by growing roots through drains and all sorts of other problems, but from my earliest memories of trying to recognise when we were nearly at Grandma & Grandad’s, it was the stupendously tall tree that really stuck out.
The owners of the house were as remarkable as their front garden: Dr Price was a chemist and, I’ve always been told, “head of the research department at Pilks when they developed float glass,” though I’ve never seen him credited anywhere with involvement in its development so I assume either he had more of a supervisory role or he played a role later, perhaps in refining it. Mrs Price had (I’ve been told) been a concert pianist before her marriage – she certainly was an excellent musician and would accompany us on her baby grand piano while we warbled our way through favourite tunes on the recorder, violin, or clarinet (whichever instrument school were teaching us at the time). As a young couple, in the ’20s and ’30s, Dr and Mrs Price had driven all over Europe so when we young ‘uns started learning French and German at school Mrs Price would share with us her memories and love of the continent, particularly Germany which I’m sure she felt was underrated in Britain.
Finally, before leaving you with another rugby picture, I’d like to share a story my Grandad told me (as close to verbatim as memory allows) which demonstrates how manners and suchlike have changed over the last century in the UK. Surprisingly for my grandad, there’s not a limerick in sight, but then Dr Price always was rather more seriously minded than any of my family…
“Mr Lindsey,” Dr Price asked, “we’ve known each other a little while now.” – At this point [they]’d known each for twenty years or so – “Would you mind if I addressed you by your Christian name?”
N.B. As my grandad still lives in St Helens (though not in the same house) I have, out of politeness, changed his name to match my pen-name. Dr and Mrs Price, however, died in the 1990s, and I hope would smile at being remembered still by someone they knew only as a little girl so I feel it right to use their correct names.