A look back in time to the summer of 1984 via an unearthed Chester Chronicle.
The headlines concern the death of a lecturer and a young teacher killed in a car crash. The Old Vaults (Bridge street) hosted a yard of ale drinking event to raise funds for the papers Laser Appeal – aiming to raise £29,000 for a surgical laser machine, described as “space age” for the city’s Royal Infirmary hospital
Page 2 contains the Chronicle comment and columnist David Parry Jones. Sadly the contemporary paper lacks either a local columnist or a comment section, with even the letters page largely surpassed by online comments. The comment page details the successful campaign to save the Gateway theatre and retain Arts council funding. “If Chester is to maintain and improve its position as a tourist centre, the theatre plays a vital role as one of the main attractions” proclaims the comment, echoing across the years as a reminder of the 10 year cultural dessert after the Gateway finally folded and the current role of Storyhouse.
Columnist David is on hand with some witty and sarcastic observations and would be the first piece of the paper I’d turn to, if I was a time traveller. Dave attacks an out of date tourist info line which was advertising events 3 weeks in the past with the retort “Useful that?” He also points the finger at Cherry Green bowling club for defying the house pipe ban and admires the “cheek” of some German tourists using the Cross as a picnic table. How the modern paper misses an independent angry voice like this. Meanwhile Stephen Mole from the Chester SDP on the letters page, reflects on the 20th week of the miners strike saying: “An extremist right wing government is being opposed by an extremist left wing union leadership” How times have changed!
1984 was a historic year for local infrastructure with the launch of the Park and Ride service. “Avoid the crush and take the bus” suggested Chester city council. “The aim is to relieve the burden on the city centre car parks which have always proved inadequate in peak season”… No change there in 34 years. A group of adult women labelled as “girls” were on hand to promote the launch of the service which was initially aimed at shoppers before being extended to commuters. The fare was 30p.
On the same page local “Peace women” (protesters of nuclear weapons being stationed at RAF Greenham Common) packed the magistrates court to hear how one Hoole woman was ready to go to prison for non payment of fines. The EEC secret butter store was another topical article with the paper stating that “somewhere in Cheshire” 3 million packets of butter were lying in cold storage.
A state of the art 22″ colour TV would have set you back £199 from Colourvision on Saltney high street.
Turning to more local political matters. Upton councillors were pressing ahead with plans to publish their own newsletter despite the Labour party attacking the idea. Funded via the parish council, Labour felt it would be party political although Cllr Jill Houlbrook assured them that “the whole idea of the newsletter is that it should be non political” Jill is still in office today, and the parish council newsletter is still being published as well.
A “dramatic fall” in user numbers for the Northgate arena‘s Sauna and Solarium concerns the paper on page 5. The hot summer led to a 50% fall over a 3 month period. “I do find the numbers disturbing but all we can do is push the facilities” said the arena manager Henry Gibbs. The creeping privatisation of public services causes concern with the council warned that “life on the buses will be totally unpredictable”. Labour warned of a “shattered transport industry” but the Conservatives said the change would lead to savings of £5.7 million a year.
Page 6 sees the juxtaposition of images of children enjoying the summer break in the Lache with a “glamourous grandmother 1984” heat winner from Blacon and “Crush horror” of a Blacon woman crushed to death by a fork lift truck.
The combination of death and “glamour” continues 2 pages later. Alongside “Mystery of death blaze” – a missing fire guard and a woman killed in Boughton, the paper showcases “local beauty” Mary Workman, photographer and model. Mary is pictured scantily clad holding her camera with readers assured that they can see more of Mary in a forthcoming edition of “Woman’s World”.
“Rowdy vagrant wants job as motorbike cop” says the Chron on page 10, predating Brass Eye by 15 years. The “middle aged down and out” threw blackcurrant juice at the landlord of the Boat house pub before throwing a stone at a woman’s leg. When apprehended by police he asked “How’s my application to become a motorcycle cop doing then?” He was fined £21.
In another theme that feels very current, a central government clamp down on council spending threatened to hit several areas of the city. Environment Secretary Pat Jenkin advised all local authorities to freeze all capital expenditure.
The Chester Summer music festival features on page 13 with the paper seemingly less than impressed with some of the cultural offerings. Richard Rodney Bennett’s symphony based on French poetry had moments of “haunting beauty” but the meaning of the poems “sometimes went missing”. Other parts of the programme were dismissed as “clever but not very listenable”. The most egregious section of the paper is a review of a Korean dance group. David Parry Jones lashes out with cultural sensitivity that must have been alright in the 1980. “The lady with the unpronounceable name …the kindest thing I can say ..was that the clothes looked decorative.. The saving grace was that many of the audience looked Korean”
The highlight of the summer of 1984(probably) must have been the tug of war on the river Dee. Presumably dropped due to health and safety legislation and insurance costs, the event saw teams either side of the river attempting to pull the other into the Dee. In a surreal twist one of the teams was dressed as babies, with the well known Town crier ringing his bell wearing a cloth cap and a nappy. The event raised £200 for the Laser charity.
Page 20 leads with “Five in Title bid” as “one lucky girl” aimed for the ultimate accolade of winning Miss Chester FC. The prize was £100 and a fur coat. In other news a baby sea lion sadly passed away at Chester Zoo and a heroin addict stole a food mixer from Boots.
Amidst the obituaries one news nugget tucked away reveals that several Wrexham road businesses including the Grosvenor Garden leisure centre were due before magistrates to answer charges of “failing to close a shop on a Sunday”. They were all charge under the 1950 Shop Act. As a child of the 1980s I can remember how endless and boring Sundays seemed to be, and here the city council who brought the charges indicate how times have changed, for better or worse, where going to garden centre on a Sunday is now a standard activity.
The back page sport section boasts of booming season ticket sales for Chester City FC, in this time period in the old Football League Fourth Division with expectations high for the new season. Under manager John McGrath the club actually finished 16th out of 24 teams.