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Bristol Chronicles 1970s | by brizzle born and bred
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Bristol Chronicles 1970s

1970 - On April 12, more than 100,000 people line the banks of the River Avon to watch the ss Great Britain being towed home on the last leg of her journey from the Falkland Islands.


Black Monday


Do you remember “Black Monday?” the start of a week of power cuts due to a ban on overtime and a work to rule by electricity workers in 1970. At the start of December factories, hospitals, offices, ambulance services and homes were all affected. People made do with candles – Woolworth’s ran out of stock – and parafin lamps. Thousands of people struggled to work in the dark and chaos ensued as traffic lights ceased to function.


And up at The Chesterfield in Clifton, Bristol’s private hospital, a consultant said that the cuts were affecting patient care. And, under cover of darkness, raiders made away with £8,000 from Stapleton Road post office. The local electricity board, SWEB, appealed to people to cut back on their use of power, but, eager to attract Christmas trade many shops continued to blaze with light.


What was it all about?


Having rejected a “final” bosses offer of £2 a week (10 per cent) electricity supply workers were now demanding pay rises of almost £6.00 (25-30%) on basic rates. Average earnings for the 125,000 power workers, represented by four unions, were about £24.00 a week. Although the power disruptions dominated the front pages there was other news.


Royal Portbury Dock


The future of Bristol’s West Dock (Royal Portbury) was still in the balance in 1970 as pressure mounted from a strong South Wales lobby which saw their trade being threatened. Nevertheless the Port of Bristol Authority, whose responsibility it was, were still hoping for a 20% grant from the government, the maximum payable under port modernisation grants.


But this was looking increasingly unlikely.


Bristol Airport


The prosperity of Bristol’s airport was also under threat as the government looked into the possibility of building an international airport – in effect a third London terminal – on reclaimed alongside the Severn estuary.


Slim of Burma


Some sad news was the death of Bristol born Field Marshall Viscount Slim (“Uncle Bill”) at the age of 79. During the hellish Burma Campaign of 1942/45 thousands of Slim’s men, the 14th Army, died fighting the Japanese. Although Bristol has no statue (there is one in Whitehall) there is a plaque outside his house in Bishopston, some sheltered housing named after him in St Jude’s and a pictorial bronze memorial on a stone plinth near the city’s war memorial.


In 1953 Slim was appointed Governor-General of Australia and in 1960, when he was elevated to the peerage, he choose the title Viscount Slim of Yarralumla AND Bishopston. Finally, the first electronic self service petrol station in the area opened at Churchill Bridge in Bath.


By the time the motorist had finished filling his tank, said the Post, the “date, pump number, gallons delivered and cash due” had been automatically printed out in the cashier’s control console. In addition the pumping units were covered by a large all weather canopy. The whole modern day miracle had been engineered by Esso and the Chippenham based Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company.


Bristol's Flower Show


Making the front pages of the Post 1970 this week was the 26th Bristol Flower Show.


After a very successful quarter century, the show was now under new management and seeking to beat a national trend towards falling attendances and financial losses.


To add to the organiser's woes, this was the first wet weather opening to the show, held on the Downs near the top of Blackboy Hill, for six years.


"This is a first-class show, on a first-class site in a city of gardeners," said an upbeat show chairman, Councillor Bob Wall.


"Whatever the weather, people will be dry inside the tents."


Cllr Wall said that he was determined that the three-day show would remain a horticultural one and not adopt side attractions – such as show jumping and donkey rides – as others had.


Non-gardeners were catered for by classes for home-made cakes, wines and honey.


The flower show – now unfortunately defunct – attracted 120 trade exhibits and 2,000 from the public, making it one of the top eight in the country.


But for the first time since 1952 the show was no longer under the personal supervision of top city gardener John Abrams, who many people will no doubt remember seeing giving out his tips on HTV.


Mods & Rockers


Things were not quite so cosy, however, in Weston-super-Mare, where traders were counting the cost of bank holiday battles between so-called "bovver boys."


Running fights by groups of teenagers and charges by groups of howling youngsters, hundreds strong, had terrified holiday-makers in the town.


About two hundred "skinheads" had thrown bottles, dustbin lids and clods of earth during a running battle with police. Most of the youths, said the Post, were from Bristol. Twenty were arrested and 12 detained.


Radio Bristol


It was a great day for Radio Bristol, then being officially opened by Frank Gillard, a former BBC regional controller.


Gillard – dubbed the "Father of local radio" – told the Post: "We have some excellent local papers in our area and this station wants to work alongside them, complementing but not competing."


Sonic Boom


Although Concorde was on her 38th flight – her fastest ever at 1,100mph – people throughout the South West and Wales were still experiencing her sonic boom – a double bang.


But the chief test pilot, Brian Trubshaw, said that he had to shut one engine down due to overheating and land with just three engines.


There were no reports of damage and the softness of the supersonic bang came as a surprise to the thousands of people who had waited patiently to catch a glimpse of the plane at 43,000 feet.


Cows under special observation by the Ministry of Technology were reported to have not even raised their heads as the plane flew overhead.


Long Hair


Finally, barbers' shops said that they were struggling – some were even closing – because men were wearing their hair longer.


Brian Neville, manager of a Southmead barber's shop told the Post: "Men used to have a trim every two or three weeks – now its about every five to six weeks."


"We used to have a staff of six – now we have just three."




And if you fancied seeing yourself on TV then HTV West were staging a Go-Go dancing competition at the Raquel Club at the New Bristol Centre in Frogmore Street.


You were invited to come along with your partner (or find one there).


Selected couples, said HTV, would appear in a new, weekly, late night TV show called "Fill This Space."


Janis Joplin


October 1970 - This was the autumn week in 1970 that Texas born singer Janis Joplin was found dead in her Hollywood apartment.


The 27 year old, said the press, had taken a drugs overdose.


In September, they reminded us, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix had died in London in similar circumstances.


Joplin had risen to fame as a member of the San Francisco based band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.


She had wowed the crowds at Monterey Pop and then, later, at Woodstock, with her passionate, raunchy, delivery.


“I’d rather not sing than sing quiet” she once said.


So much for the US – what was happening in Bristol?


Making the front pages of the Post all this October week was industrial unrest.


This time round it was 5,000 plus council workers who had gone on strike demanding more money.


They wanted a pay rise of £2.75 to take their wages up to a minimum of £16.50 a week.


In those days an all out strike meant that vital public workers – everyone from social workers to dustmen – were absent from their duties.


The vital services – firemen and ambulancemen – said that they were “working to rule.”


As the dispute spread to pumping station staff so it looked as if raw, untreated, sewage would find its way into the River Avon.


After a few days Bristol’s 2000 busmen decided to join in, calling a mass meeting to decide what to do over an unresolved pay claim.


As a strike moved ever closer Bristol Omnibus management told the Post that the dispute had to be resolved at a national level.


Despite pleas from the busman they refused to enter into any local negotiations.


On a happier note soccer fans were taking advantage of a “free stand” on the Stapleton Road to watch Rovers play a Saturday match against Chesterfield.


The “stand” – which gave an almost complete view of the pitch – had recently been a row of shops and houses by Napier Road.


As forty or so people drifted in and out of the gap, Roy Miller, an ardent City fan, told the Post “ I would’nt pay to watch this lot.”


A Rovers supporter said, “ It’s a good shop window for Bert Tann.”


Finally, the ss Great Britain – now back safely back in the dock where she had been built – desperately needed money for restoration.


Industrialists were being asked to rally round and help preserve what in those days was pretty much a big rusting hulk.


Bob Holder, from the CBI, said “ I feel industrialists will want to support the restoration fund – and supporting the appeal could have great advertising value for them.”


She may look great now but back in 1970 Brunel’s pioneering iron vessel needed all the friends she could find.


1972 - Theatre Royal and Coopers’ Hall restored and re-opened.


This was the week in 1972 when the Home Secretary Reginald Maudling resigned over his links with disgraced Yorkshire architect John Poulson.


At a bankruptcy hearing into Poulson's company, which specialised in shopping centres and town centre redevelopments, it became clear that the architect had been paying bribes to win lucrative contracts.


In 1974, after lengthy investigations by the Fraud Squad, he was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.


Although officially cleared of any wrongdoing, Maudling admitted having received "gifts" from the architect.


The Poulson Affair as it became known, was a major corruption scandal which involved many other well known businessmen and politicians.


In other news, the Post reported that 1,400 registered Port of Bristol dockers had walked out in protest against the arrest of five London shop stewards under the Industrial Relations Act.


In meant work stopping immediately on 20 ships already docked at Avonmouth.

The dispute, which soon spread to most of the major ports in the country, resulted in Tory PM Ted Heath calling an emergency Cabinet meeting.


With the building of the M5 bridge running at least year behind schedule a major concern in Bristol was the sheer amount of holiday traffic.


Such was the problem – queues often stretched for 50 miles right down to Taunton – that Weston-super-Mare MP Jerry Wiggin was calling for a temporary bailey bridge to be built across the River Avon.


A London firm, the Post said, was offering to build a suspension type bridge in eight weeks for a cool £1 million.


The motorway bridge finally opened in 1974.


Staying on the roads theme, there were hopes, said the council, that parts of Broadmead could be made traffic free by Christmas.


The delay, apparently, was due to the Department of the Environment dragging its heels over road closures.


Bristol architect Mike Jenner, a consultant for the Broadmead scheme, had suggested a rotunda at the Merchant Street intersection.


He had also suggested a glass roof for the shopping area – just as we now have over Cabot Circus.


It was the end of an era for Connaught Secondary Boys School when, after 38 years, they were amalgamating with Merrywood Grammar School for Boys and Knowle School to form Merrywood Boys School.


Finally, the stage was set for the final of the Post's Modern Miss 1972 contest at Bristol's Top Rank Centre.


The prize for the lucky winner? A fashion trip to New York.


1974 - It is 7.30 in the evening on Wednesday December 18, 1974 and Park Street is still busy with Christmas shoppers. Police receive a phone call from a man with an Irish accent telling them that a bomb will go off on Park Street in half an hour. A frantic search begins of shop doorways and litter bins, but before the Police have reached half-way, the windows of Dixons are blown out, shattering just about every other glass shopfront on the street in the process. Ten minutes later, another deafening roar splits the early evening silence. Altogether 15 people are injured but amazingly there are no fatalities.


1974 - Royce Creasey organises the first Ashton Court Festival, a series of four Sunday events at Ashton Court. Fred Wedlock plays one of the days, as does a band called Pussy Spasm.


Throughout the summer of 1974 was the row over the collapse of Court Line, the big holiday operator.


As well as numerous individuals who had lost out to the tune of hundreds of pounds Bristol airport claimed that they were owed £11,000 in landing fees.


And in a story familiar to us today unemployment both nationally and locally was escalating rapidly.


Nationally the figure stood at 691,000 (3%)- the biggest summer increase since records began in 1948.


Bucking the trend in Bristol was Robertson's jam factory at Brislington.


Despite making 750 workers redundant in other parts of the country the Bristol operation, said MD Neil Robertson, was to be increased making the jam factory in the city the largest in Europe.


That would mean, he said, taking on more staff.


In other news the first salvoes in what would, many years later, become the "Battle for Golden Hill" were being fired.


Bristol council were hoping to build houses on 26 acres of land at Henleaze which had been used as playing fields by Bristol Grammar School and Bristol Cathedral School.


But Avon County Council, as the new planning authority, were saying no to the planning application.


Councillor Brian Richards, Bristol's planning chairman, told the Post,


"Let there be no doubt about it. We will be going ahead with an appeal" (to the Department of the Environment)


This was also the start of an unresolved war between Bristol and Avon councils who had overlapping responsibilities for planning in the city.


Avon County planners were also coming under increasing pressure to delete a major interchange at the Bath and Wells road junctions - part of the controversial Outer Circuit Road plans - from their highway agenda.


But in the event it was decided to push on with the scheme - a decision which would blight the Totterdown area until the plan was finally shelved in 1980.


On the sports front the Football Association were holding a fact finding inquiry into violent scenes following a recent game between Bristol City and Cardiff City.


FA Secretary Ted Croker had ordered one of his senior officials to visit Ashton Gate for top level talks with police and soccer reps. about the incident.


Football hooliganism was, in fact, a nationwide problem in the 1970s, with the Minister of Sport, Denis Howell, holding top level talks with his Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins and the chairman of British Rail, Richard Marsh, into possible solutions.


1975 - The Arnolfini moves from the Triangle to its current site, Bush House, a former tea warehouse on Narrow Quay, and becomes a catalyst for harbourside redevelopment.


This was the November week in 1975 when the IRA stopped using bombs in their mainland campaign and turned to bullets instead.


In London, the co founder of the Guinness Book of Records, Ross McWhirter, was murdered outside his home in what the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, described as an “utterley barbaric crime.”


Police, who were linking two young Irishmen with the crime, feared the killing would signal the start of an assassination campaign in the capital.


But what was happening in the West?


Well, for one thing there was much fear, as now, over unemployment.


Due to a lack of international orders for Concorde the 6,000 strong BAC workforce at Filton was to be cut by 1,195.


Only 16 planes in total were now being built.


And at Avonmouth 600 dockers – half the workforce in fact – were sent home because there was no work for them.


The port, said a spokesman, had been hit by a general slump in trade.


Only a handful of ships were loading and unloading.


In the greater Bristol area unemployment stood at nearly 15,000, more than 6,000 up on 1974.


Vacancies numbered 1,500.


The row over the late 1960s decision to close the Floating Harbour to commercial shipping was still rumbling on in 1975.


Charles Hill’s shipyard, which still had plenty of orders, was demanding compensation of £2,265,000 from the council.


And this was in addition to £925,000 involved in two interim payments.


Hill’s, which launched its last ship, the Miranda Guinness in 1976, closed down the following year.


In other news both commuters and haulage companies were getting increasingly concerned over a 15 month long closure of the Portway for repairs.


Much to the annoyance of the residents traffic had been using the Downs and Westbury village to reach the M5.


The Severn Beach railway and its future prospects never seems to be out of the news, even today.


Back in 1975 people were up in arms over British Rail’s plans to axe 14 trains a day to save money.


By contrast Bristol’s environmentalists were jumping for joy over a government veto on the demolition of a listed St Paul’s terrace.


Developers had applied for permission to bulldoze 2-16 St Paul Street and then build a replica of the facade with offices behind.


Conservationist Dorothy Brown told the Post, “ This was a vital test case and the result is very, very, important.


“ If this had been allowed developers in the city could virtually demolish anything so long as they said they were going to build a replica.”


Finally Don Cameron was returning triumphant from France after a successful attempt on the world hot air balloon endurance record.


Having taken off from near Yeovil Cameron and his crew had stayed aloft for nearly 19 hours before landing in Brittany.


The balloon had been made at Cameron’s workshop in Cotham and the wicker basket by the Bristol Workshops for the Blind.


The trio became the first hot air balloonists to cross the English Channel at night.


1976 - Sun dried up our lakes and rivers during the heatwave of 1976. With the sunny weather here at last, We turn back the clock to the now legendary summer of 1976 - a year when the heat was really on Rationed: With water supplies running dry, many families had to rely on standpipes Heatwave: During the long, dry summer of 1976, even the mighty Chew Valley Reservoir virtually dried up AFTER basking in the sun for the last couple of weeks, let's hope we can look forward, with the help of a little global warming, to some long, hot summer days.


We're certainly due them after a dismal winter and cold spring. But how many readers, I wonder, recall the record-breaking long, hot summer of 1976, now an unbelievable 30 years ago? If you do, you'll have memories of what a summer should really be like, with day after day of unbroken sunshine and temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Weathermen said that it was the hottest year overall since 1826, though it was just a little cooler in the West. But Bristol certainly had the hottest June on record. Readers of the Post were asked to 'cool it' as ice cream was rationed, kids stripped off and jumped into the pool in front of the Council House and tempers became frayed. The outdoor swimming pools, like Portishead and the old Clifton Lido, came into their own and shops reported shortages of suntan oil and sunglasses.


Wildlife had a field day, with a plague of ladybirds descending on the seafronts at Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare. The local authorities started spreading sand on the roads to stop the tar from melting (which didn't work) and the water authorities became so stretched that they considered bringing in extra supplies to Avonmouth from Norway. Pupils at Winterbourne school were forced to attend lessons as the temperature topped 37.8 degrees in the classroom. But in more sensible Somerset, some children started school at 8am and finished at 1pm - missing at least some of the heat of the day. Despite constant warnings, youngsters just couldn't be stopped from diving into the area's many rivers and watercourses to cool off. More dangerously, many Bristol people started jumping into the icy, deep waters of the docks.


By the end of June it was official - Bristol was England's hottest spot, with a temperature of 91F (33C). By this time many people had had enough of the heat - but amazingly it just went on and on, right throughout July and August. With temperatures at night remaining very high (63 degrees) people found that they couldn't sleep. In fact, you could still feel the heat wafting off the pavements at midnight. The weathermen tell us that it did rain, but amounts were very small, and soon drought conditions set in.


Then, after over a month without rain, the brewery draymen went on strike - so we soon had beer rationing as well as water rationing to add to our misery. A hosepipe ban was implemented and the washing of cars was outlawed. There was much goverment advice on water-use, including the suggestion that only five inches of water was to be used in a bath, and that baths, it was daringly suggested, should be shared). A minister for drought, Denis Howell, was appointed. Just to prove he meant business a hastily conceived Drought Bill, implemented on July 14, allowed for fines of up to £400 for water misuse.


On June 28, the record for the hottest June day was broken when 32.8C (91F) was recorded. August was a record month with an amazing 264 hours of sunshine - more than eight hours a day. But not everyone lapped up the sun. There were casualties. In July, a local woman died from hyperpyrexia - caused by not drinking enough water or having enough salt in hot weather. It was something usually restricted to countries with very hot climates. Wildlife suffered, too.


Thousands of salmon and trout died in the region's rivers as the water became starved of oxygen. Many trees, especially those which had just started to recover from Dutch elm disease - started to wilt and die. Dust clouds covered the land as firemen strugled to cope with up to 20 grass-fires a day. In the Cotswolds, so-called dust-devils were reported.


These were small whirlwinds which only occur on fine, hot days. Brooks and springs which had never been known to dry up, even in the hottest weather, did just that and bowling greens and golf courses closed their doors to members as their 'greens' turned to 'browns'. Water was being lost by evaporation from the Mendip reservoirs at an alarming rate - nearly six million litres a day throughout August. The level in the vast Chew Valley reservoir fell so low that visitors could actually walk on the exposed baked earth and make out the old road bridges and skeletal remains of long-since drowned farms.


As temperatures stayed in the 90s, many country areas came to rely on standpipes and buckets of water. Some, with very limited supply, or even none at all, had water delivered by tanker. Finally, on August 28, the worst drought since 1921 came to an end with violent storms and flooding. Strangely, many people stood at their back doors and welcomed the rain back with open arms.


1977 - Royal Portbury Dock opens at Avonmouth.


Dominating the front pages this week of September 1977 was a story about an explosion and fire which had ripped through the Raj Indian restaurant in Eastville’s Stapleton Road.


Five people - three males and two females - living in flats above the three storey building had lost their lives in the inferno.


The restaurant belonged to businessman Nazir Muhammad who also owned the Bristol Knitwear Centre opposite, which suffered damage to its windows.


The blast, which threw rubble and glass over a 50 yard area, was heard up to four miles away, and witnesses said flames shot 30 to 40 feet into the air. A spokesman told the Post that when the fire brigade arrived on the scene they found the whole building ablaze from top to bottom.


A few days later 28 year old Mohammed Arshad, the manager of the restaurant, was charged with destroying the building.


This was the third major explosion in the city in just nine months - the other two being in Park Street and Bishopsworth.


Concorde was also making the front pages with the workers at BAC being devastated to hear that no more aircraft would be produced at Filton.


Government losses on the programme of 16 planes were estimated at some £200 million.


Then Sir Archibald Russell, the world renowned aircraft designer, upset them even more by announcing, “ There will never be a Mark II Concorde.”


The former Chairman of BAC Filton said that the expense was so great that no one would undertake the development without a firm commitment from the airlines to buy.


In other news Iain Patterson, the city’s deputy planning officer, told Bristol councillors that “one more winter of neglect” would be enough to finish off Brunswick Chapel, in Brunswick Square.


And admirers of full time model and beauty queen, 24 year old Gaye Hopkins from Yate, were pleased to see her come third in the Miss Great Britain Contest held in Morecombe.


Gaye’s success meant a cash prize and a fortnight’s holiday abroad.


Lastly City FC fans were looking forward to seeing Manchester City striker Joe Royle playing at Ashton Gate later in the season when transfer negotiations had been completed.


1978 - Bristol Industrial Museum opens.


1978 - Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby is born on July 25 to Lesley and John Brown of Hassell Drive, Easton.


1979 - This was the July week in 1979 – the first few days of the school holidays – when the rains came down after five weeks of fine weather.


Some areas had as much as two inches which pleased the farmers, if not the holiday makers.


In Bristol civil servants, teachers and trade unionists were getting angry over £8 million cuts proposed by Avon County Council.


With £4 million alone due to be sliced off the education budget a placard-waving lobby – Save our Services – greeted the councillors as they met at Avon House to debate where the axe would fall.


"It is criminal that education, social services, highways and the fire service should be pruned," a union spokesman told the Post.


Also in angry mood were West Country cider makers – this time over plans to increase the tax on their potent brew.


Government proposals, they said, would mean cider being taxed at £3 a gallon so increasing the price of a pint at the farmhouse door to 50p.


Somerset cider maker Julian Temperley said: "This tax could mean the end of the traditional industry."


There was better news concerning commercial radio as the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, announced that Bristol was on the Government's short list for a licence.


But it would be the early 1980s, he said, before the 15 towns and cities in the running would know who had been chosen to compete with BBC's Radio Bristol.


A consortium calling itself Radio Avonside was ready, the Post said, to take up the challenge in two years time.


In other news Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, was celebrating her first birthday.


Her parents, John and Lesley, said: "We are trying not to make too much fuss about it.


"Some of the family will be coming round and we'll be having a little party.


"Louise is everything we prayed for – she is our little miracle."


Speedway fans were disappointed to hear that Bristol Stadium had lost a High Court battle against the council allowing them to adapt the track for the sport.


Having started out as a Queen's Jubilee celebration in the summer of 1977, Clifton Village Fair, which attracted 20,000 people, was being hailed a great success by the organisers.


And out at Clevedon it was announced that Walton Castle – a ruinous 17th-century hunting lodge – would be rebuilt as a family home.


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Taken on October 17, 2009