Contemporary History

Whiston in Recent Times

The centre of Whiston has not changed greatly over recent times with the layout of the village still being recognisable from photographs of Whiston taken in the early 20th century and many of the houses featuring in early C.20 postcards can still be located to this day. Nonetheless, many new homes have appeared in the last 30 years; with modern properties constructed at Bartholomew Close in 1997 (on land that was sold off by Whiston Worrygoose J&I School); opposite Abdy Farm - to create a new road called 'Whiston Green'; and next to Rose Cottage to create a complex of, mostly, single-storied bungalows on Sorrelsykes Close. These were followed by a row of contemporary properties on Hungerhill Lane in 2003; and a new large detached family home on the site of the old watercress beds, off of Well Lane (next door to the Parish Hall), built between September 2016 and Summer 2020.

Other changes to have taken place: – 1988 saw the reopening of the Manorial Barn, 1994 the reordering and upgrade of the Parish Church interior, the neighbouring Church Institute sold off in 1993 and converted into Lychgate Hall ( a private property) in 1994. After the turn of the millennium, the Post Office; that had been located in a centuries old cottage on Turner Lane; closed in 2003 and the building was converted back into a private dwelling. Then Lonsdale Working Men's Club on Pleasley Road was pulled down in October 2005 and replaced by a block of contemporary apartments the following year. Later in 2006, Lane End House (off of Spinneyfield) was demolished and two new roads - Garden Close and Garden Walk were built in its place. The following year Finally, later that same year, work began on a major reconstruction of West Bawtry Road between Whiston Crossroads and the Rotherway roundabout to widen this section of road into a dual carriageway; works which involved a large amount of excavation to lower the level of the road (for smoother traffic flow) and ultimately took 12 months to complete.

Lonsdale WMC
Lonsdale WMC in December 2004 prior to demolition
Lonsdale WMC
Lonsdale WMC in October 2005 whilst mid-demolition
Lonsdale Flats
The Lonsdale Flats in 2007 upon completion

Over the years many village activities have come and gone. These include the Scout Group (the 39th Rotherham Beavers, Cubs and Scouts); which started in 1977 and closed in 2007 when the last leaders retired. This was for many years a large group with, on one occasion, a membership of 139 - making it the largest in Rotherham (no Scout Group in the region approaches this number anymore). Next, the Entertainments Committee for years put on events for the OAPs and discos for the youngsters – also now gone. Furthermore the Junior Film Club, with regular showings in the Parish Hall, is likewise gone. The Village Gala with its procession of floats round the village and loads of fun on the school field reached its height in the late 1980s and ealry 1990s but ceased operations after that. The annual Village Quiz; the scene of many a close fought contest in the Manorial Barn until the late-2000s no longer takes place; likewise the Village Bonfire; an immensely popular event held on Cowrakes Lane playing fields in the 1980s and early 1990s; and then on the field next to the Parish Church Cricket Club every November; was killed off by 2003 due to health and safety regulations plus a lack of Parish Council public liability insurance. Although since then the Cricket Club have been able to hold their own (privately funded) fireworks display in the same field from the late 2010s onwards; drawing similarly large crowds and invoking much of the same spirit as the original public bonfires.

Luckily some new things have appeared more recently. Most notable is the Whiston Festival; held throughout the first week of July every year since 2013. Originally launched as a 'Festival of Brass' concert; this event now encompasses a variety of fun actitivies and events over the course of the whole week; and which by late 2010s was attracting good-sized crowds into the village. Sadly the Whiston Brass Band; for years a mainstay of the village; left Whiston in early 2010s and do not take part in this event. Next the Christmas celebrations continue to be held every year: with Santa, carols and lots of fun for young and old alike, the Christmas Lights Switch-on has grown into an ever-larger event which each passing year; and continues to centre around the village crib, which is placed on the lawn close to the Village Sign every December without fail. Lastly the only other large-scale event of note was the 'Tour of Britain' Cycle Race; which passed through Whiston as part of Stage 4 (Rother Valley to Bradford) on 13th September 2007; although this appears to have been a one off, as the Tour has not returned to the Rotherham area since then.

Finally, the Heritage Society has tried hard to make the village a tourist attraction – producing a walk round the village pamphlet which is still available and by erecting a number of plaques starting in 2007 with one to mark the site of the Parish Pound, later plaques have marked the site of the Old Water Mill, the Blacking Factory, the Toll House and most recently the recently restored Waterloo Well. No doubt further plaques will appear in the future. The Society has also published five booklets on aspects of village life some of which are still available for sale.

Tour of Britain Cycle RaceTour of Britain Cycle Race
(here and above)  The 2007 Tour of Britain Cycle Race heads down Guilthwaite Hill before turning right onto High Street and then Moorhouse Lane. 13th September 2007
Whiston Festival of Brass
The Whiston Festival of Brass, held that year in the car park of The Sitwell Public House. 15th July 2013

COVID-19 and Whiston

The most significant event to happen in Whiston most recently has been the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the community. Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) was a deadly severe respiratory disease (SARS-CoV-2) that was discovered in China in late December 2019 and then spread to Europe - and around the world - over the next few weeks due to contagious passengers boarding international flights. By March 2020 it had been officially declared a pandemic and had grown into a major public health crisis. This led the UK Government to announce the first of three nationwide lockdowns on the evening of 23rd March 2020 - effective immediately; which then inflicted rapid and drastic changes to people's everyday lives. Restrictions were put in place in an attempt to reduce the spread of the contagious disease and thus minimise the number of cases.

Specifically, this led to the closure of the local schools; with staff and pupils forced to work from home and communicate with each other electronically. Pubs, places of worship and village amenities (e.g. hairdressers) also had to cease trading as only businesses deemed 'essential' i.e. those selling food or medicine were permitted to open: so only the local grocery stores, takeaways and the pharmacy on Turner Lane remained operational; albeit with restrictions in place as staff and customer had to wear a face mask when inside the premises. Moreover all clubs and societies had to stop their activities (including this Society - whose last meeting before lockdown was held on 2nd March 2020); as events were cancelled and facilities such as the Parish Hall and Manorial Barn closed their doors. So by July 2020, there was no annual Summer Festival in Whiston. All of this was due to the risk of spreading an airbourne disease transmitted through breathing, coughing, sneezing and speaking; or through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Nonetheless the lockdown appeared to work and Covid cases began to fall throughout the spring and summer; which permitted some facilities to reopen subject to restrictions. For example, places of worship were allowed to reopen from 19th July 2020 onwards; but worshippers had to wear facemasks when in internal spaces as well as singing and congregational mixing being banned. However Covid cases started to rise again from late August onwards (and at an increased rate compared to earlier in the year) as the virus mutated into different variants against which people had little to no immunity.

(above)  A deserted Hind Public House on the evening of 11th May 2020 during the first UK coronavirus lockdown.

The increase in cases led the Government to attempt a short second lockdown in Autumn 2020 inbetween a three-level 'tiered' system of localised restrictions in order to 'break' the virus' transmission. Unfortunately cases continued to rise so businesses and facilities remained closed and more events cancelled as Whiston experienced a so-called 'covid-christmas' of reduced social mixing and muted celebrations. Christmas lights and decorations did appear in the village; as in previous years; but there was no ceremonial public switch-on and associated Christmas Fayre.

The new year was welcomed in solemnly (nobody could go out to celebrate as there were no pubs open or events taking place at which to do so). By this point there were over 50,000 new cases of coronavirus and an average of 1,200 fatalies per day in the UK; leaving the Government with little option but to implement a third nationwide lockdown from 4th January 2021; with, if anything, even more severe limitations than the first. With the public being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, the effects of the lockdown continued. So more people carried on working from home or were only going into their workplaces sporadically (unless they had been furloughed or made redundant as the reduction in trade and activity across many industries made continued employment for many unviable). This was followed by the ongoing knock-on effects of eerily empty roads and reduced traffic levels; both locally and nationally; as far fewer people moved around for business or recreation than before. Plus severe restrictions, and at one point, complete suspension of international travel meant many people had less incentive to leave their local areas.

Whiston Crossroads
Whiston Crossroads: early evening on 3rd May 2020. It would normally be full of traffic.
Herringthorpe Valley Park
The nearby Herringthorpe Valley Park. The play area is closed to prevent virus transmission amongst children. 8th May 2020
Thank You NHS
A 'Thank You NHS' message drawn on to the pavement at Pleasley Road. 11th April 2020

This lockdown lasted for two months until restrictions began to be lifted in stages from 8th March 2021 onwards; when schools were permitted to reopen and staff and pupils could return to their classrooms. By this stage a nationwide substantial vaccination programme had been developed; with over 21 million Britons receiving a vaccine by this date; leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of cases and deaths.

Which the virus itself may have been grim and lockdown that came with it at best an inconvenience and at worst a major disruption; there was one silver lining to be found in the positive response of Whiston residents. A 'clap for cares' initiave was started once the first lockdown was in place which saw the great british public stand on their front doorsteps every Thursday evening for ten weeks to applaud the NHS staff who were going above and beyond the call of duty to care for the sudden influx of patients diagnosed with coronavirus. More and more local villagers took part in this week-on-week as healthcare workers emerged as the heroes of the pandemic; seemling held in higher regard than before by a majority of the public. Secondly a growing prevalence of 'Thank You NHS' messages (symbolised by rainbows) appeared in residents' windows; as physical signs on the roadsides; and hand-drawn onto pavements; as a public display of gratitude to those medical personnel on the front line of the disease.

At the time of writing (March 2021), the coronavirus is still with us as it continues to mutate and new variants continue to be found by the scientists and pharmaceutical experts despite the mass vaccination programme that is in place. There is a route out of lockdown to take place throughout spring and summer; but many events and activites remain cancelled or closed. It remains unclear when the pandemic will end and how long it will take before normal life will return.