Down memory lane with Peter Tuffrey - The birth of Pilkingtons

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Many industrial developments took place in Doncaster during the first quarter of the 20th century.

None was perhaps more noteworthy than the St Helens-based Pilkington Bros establishing a plate glass works and housing estate at Kirk Sandall in the early 1920s.

The company was founded in 1826 as a partnership between members of the Pilkington and Greenall families, based in St Helens, Lancashire.

The venture used the trading name of St Helens Crown Glass Company. On the departure from the partnership of the last Greenall in 1845, the firm became known as Pilkington Brothers.

In July 1894 the business was incorporated under the Companies Act 1862 as Pilkington Brothers Limited.

A snap-shot of Kirk Sandall’s earlier history is given in an anonymous article Kirk Sandall: A Review of its history and development. This appeared in the September-October, 1959, issue of Cullet, the house magazine of the Pilkington Group and said: ‘The old village – never more than a handful of cottages, a farm, and the big house – was known for several centuries as Sandall Parva.

‘It clusters round the parish church dedicated to St Oswald...The building is partly Norman and may have Saxon foundations.’

Reporting on events leading up to the transformation of Kirk Sandall, the Doncaster Chronicle of August 8, 1919, stated that the Doncaster Borough Council was selling 38 acres in the Barnby Dun area to Messrs Pilkingtons, as part of a big scheme.

The newspaper also understood that George F Milnthorpe, JP, of Barnby Dun, had been approached to sell land.

The person acting on behalf of Pilkington Bros was architect and surveyor T H Johnson, of Priory Place, Doncaster.

The prospect of Pilkingtons establishing a works in the Doncaster area aroused great attention and interest.

Kirk Sandall was an ideal situation. Its excellent waterway and railway facilities were conveniently sited, especially since the Great Central Railway Company had doubled its line in the area.

The Doncaster Gazette of January 8, 1920 mentioned that the West Riding Magistrates at the Quarter Sessions in Leeds had favourably considered an application for the closure of certain roads as a preliminary to Pilkington’s scheme.

The factory was to have a frontage to the river and plans and designs for it had been prepared by the company’s own engineer.

It was expected that in due course a small town of hutments would appear at Kirk Sandall, for the accommodation of several hundred men expected to be employed in erecting the new factory.

The Doncaster Gazette of April 8, 1920, released news that a start was imminent on the first portion of the new Kirk Sandall village.

The contract for this section was placed with Doncaster’s, H Arnold & Son Ltd. This was for a number of steel-framed houses of the Dorman Long type.

Johnson & Moore, of Balby, secured the contract for the erection of the first section of brick houses and Arnold & Son were also to erect a number of houses of the Boulton and Paul type.

These houses were to be situated near the vicarage and along Brecks Lane.

The establishment of the works necessitated the closing of approximately two miles of highways and footpaths.

The whole of the land over which these roads and footpaths ran was to be absorbed in the area of the works.

The Doncaster Chronicle of May 28, 1920, painted a romantic picture of the work in progress at the Kirk Sandall factory and new housing estate.

‘In the early evening, when the workmen lay down their tools, the roads are alive with the sons of toil returning to their homes and their lodgings, and the same scene is witnessed in the early mornings as they set out for the work of the day, concentrating on Kirk Sandall from many points of the compass.’

The same newspaper on March 25, 1921, predicted that by the end of the year there would be around 400 houses ready for occupation in the area.

Consequently, Pilkington Bros wrote to the Sanitary Committee of the Doncaster Rural District Council stressing the urgent need for the authority to press forward with the scheme for sewerage and sewage disposal in the parishes of Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun.

The company also gave satisfactory guarantees to the West Riding County Council Education Committee with regard to school accommodation.

Pilkingtons agreed to make a substantial contribution toward the cost of a new school in place of the old Free School.

During May 1921 the Doncaster Rural District Council made an application for the amalgamation of the parishes of Barnby Dun and Kirk Sandall, with the object of simplifying and equalising the rating of the two area.

The amalgamation, it was contended, would convert the two villages into one parish.

The works started production in August 1921.

The names of many of the streets and squares are a reminder of the close family ties with St Helens: Windle Square, St Helens Square, Sutton Road, Dentons Green Lane and Cowley Place.