End of the land of Pilks and honey

In Kirk Sandall, 'Pilks' is not just the slang name for one of the world's most famous glass makers.

It's a name that goes right to the heart of the community.

It's the very bedrock of the small South Yorkshire village, a revered, much-loved and respected institution.

It's not hard to see why.

In 1919, Pilkington Glass bought land from local farmer George Milnthorpe and Doncaster Council to build its massive works and an entire village to house its employees.

The result – a little like Bournville built by Cadbury in Birmingham, or Port Sunlight in Merseyside – was Kirk Sandall, a model village otherwise known as 'The Garden Village', complete with workers' houses, a bowling club, fire brigade, playing fields, a boys' club and village hall.

There was also a free workers' dentistry service, a doctor's surgery, shops, an amateur dramatic organisation and a gardening scheme where workers were paid extra for keeping their gardens tidy. There was nothing Pilkington didn't provide – they even built a hotel.

It's not surprising then that a special church service was held last month to mark the sad closure of Kirk Sandall's Doncaster factory after 90 years.

But the event was as much a celebration as it was a requiem. Despite its closure, the institution remains dear to the hearts of the local community.

One of the many legacies left by Pilkington is the bowling club.

There, looking at an old picture of the bowling green's rose garden, planted and maintained by Pilkington, is Norman Clowes, aged 66, a retired former joiner who trained at the glassworks.

He said: "You would never find a better employer. They provided a lot for families in Kirk Sandall. Pilkington's built all the houses on Brecks Lane, Dunton's Green Lane and Queen Mary Crescent and named all the roads after places in St Helens."

It wasn't just the road names Kirk Sandall took from St Helens.

Dozens of St Helens families moved to the village when the factory opened, in addition to families from Lancashire, Norman's included, hailing from Wigan.

Ian Ward's father moved to Kirk Sandall in 1920 and lived in one of the Pilkington houses on Brecks Lane.

"When I was growing up Kirk Sandall had everything – it was a great place to be a boy. There was Breck's Wood, playing fields and a cricket pitch," says Ian, who now lives in Arksey and runs the bowling club.

The Boys' Club was ran by Cyril Needham, now an 82-year-old, who worked at Pilkington Glass for more than 40 years.

He said: "We're still benefitting from Pilkington's now. There's a pensioners' day centre and club."

In addition to working as a joiner for the company, Cyril took control of the factory's entry in the national Pilkington gala, for which, once every three years, each of the company's factories would travel to St Helens with a float.

The grandfather-of-five has an album of old photographs, including one of a float comprising mechanised puppets that moved across the van and a 'Flintstones'-themed float, on which a company typist chiselled notes on to a huge stone slab.

Towards the back of the album are real gems, including the 1937 'Glass Train', a custom-made train built and designed by Pilkington staff, in which the interior is entirely made of glass. Sitting at the glass bar was a beautiful young woman, Irene Poskitt – now 88-year-old grandmother Irene Moore.

She said: "My mum made that dress. I wore it on the Glass Train and we travelled from the factory to Doncaster - it was on the news all over the country."

Irene still lives in a Pilkington-built house on Lancaster Avenue.

'Pilks' still takes care of its former workers, employing a welfare officer, Angela Shepherd, from Bentley, who visits pensioners to make sure they have what they need.

"I call them 'my pensioners' and my eldest is 98," she says. "Some of my pensioners have no family but the Pilkington Trust helps them. We take them on holiday, provide a cleaning service, a gardening service and a caring service – so the ex- employees are looked after. That's why the trust was set up."

Vicar Mary Gregory, who led the church service last month, said: "Pilkington Glass were very much of the philanthropic era, they were very forward-thinking, and encouraged education among workers and even paid them to look after their gardens.

"The factory is part of the identity of the village and many of its residents.

"There were families in the village in which generations had been employees at the glass factory – the expectation was the children would eventually work there.

"The closure and redundancies before that have had a strong emotional impact on the village."

Brian Keefe, from Edenthorpe, said: "You could go to night school and take your receipt in and they would pay for it. They paid me on a full-time basis to go to Sheffield University to study glass technology and paid for my digs."

But Kirk Sandall's community spirit still thrives. Its streets and gardens are immaculate, former workers are cared for, and its residents are friendly.

Pilks may have closed, but its legacy lives on.

'Pilkington's have always looked after us – it was like a family'

"MY dad bought one of the old Pilks houses in the late 1960s, when I was a teenager.

"Lots of people came over from St Helens to work at the factory and we all grew up together. There was a real community spirit - you knew all the families. Everybody knows everybody."

Margaret Roden, aged 56, a grandmother-of-four who works in advertising

"I'VE lived here all my life and my uncle worked at the glass works until two or three years ago.

"It's always felt like the glass works was a part of the village. It's sad that it has closed.

"It was really good growing up here - and had it not closed I would have considered working at the factory myself."

Jonathan Knapp, aged 22, a shop worker

"PILKINGTON set up everything for its workers – they even had their own police service. My mother worked at the factory during the war as a glass breaker and I worked there from 1965 until 1999.

"But the fact it's closing is more of a historical event really, as there are not many in the village who work there any more."

Charles Wootton, aged 65, a grandfather-of-eight

"I WAS a warehouse operator at Pilkington Glass and it was very good.

"I miss the camaraderie of the place. Pilkington's have done well for me.

"I wish more companies would treat their staff the way Pilks did - they really looked after you.

"The company used to be like a family."

Tony Blanchard, aged 63, grandfather-of-five

"I CAN'T imagine what Kirk Sandall would have been like without Pilkington's.

"I worked there as a quality control worker, checking for faults.

"Kirk Sandall was a nice place to live - my husband worked at the glass factory as well."

Doreen Hazelhurst, aged 74, a former Kirk Sandall resident who now lives in Barnby Dun

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