The 1980s – The 9th Decade

At the start of the decade, the country was in the grip of a deep recession which resulted in many of the traditional manufacturing industries disappearing forever. This led to a period of mass unemployment, and social unrest. The Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher raised taxes and cut government spending, and even reduced benefits paid to the families of people who were on strike.

By 1981 around 3 million people were out of work, and manufacturing capacity had fallen by one fifth. One in eight people were without employment, and 32 people were chasing every job vacancy. It was the worst recession since the 1930s. The level of unemployment was almost the highest in Europe. There were urban riots, and more than 750,000 people were classed as long term unemployed.

An advert from the mid 1980s.

The recession had a great impact on local industry. Casualties included Star Aluminium in September 1981, and E.C.C. in September 1985. E.C.C. had been one of the largest local employers, with a workforce of around 2,300. By the time of closure the workforce had been reduced to around 800. 

In November 1985 the national unemployment figure peaked at 19.8%. As a direct result, around 25% of families in Wolverhampton were on some kind of income support. The worst areas affected locally were Heath Town, Blakenhall, and Willenhall, where 28.3% of the workforce was unemployed.

In 1984 and 1985 during the miners’ strike, local sympathisers formed support groups and organised displays in Dudley Street.

The unrest spread to the Express & Star when members of the National Graphical Association refused to work, following the introduction of single keying. The dispute lasted for several months.

In 1980 a long-familiar landmark in Queen Square disappeared when the old Queens Ballroom was demolished to make way for the extension to Lloyds Bank. In the same year the falling demand for secondary education places led to the closure of Wards Bridge School in Wednesfield. On 12th July the last local children’s cinema matinee was held at the Odeon in Skinner Street.

Also in 1980 St. James Square bus terminus and Victoria Square Bus Station were closed. As a replacement, West Midland Passenger Transport Executive built a new bus station alongside Railway Drive and Pipers Row.

1980 became a difficult year for the Grand Theatre, when it was forced to close because of declining audiences. After the closure a public meeting was held to discuss ways of saving the theatre. This resulted in the formation of the "Save the Grand Action Group" which worked in co-operation with the council to try and rescue the theatre.

A grant was obtained from the Department of the Environment, and work soon began to restore the building to its former glory, and increase the seating capacity to 1,200. When the theatre re-opened in 1982 it was one of the best-equipped theatres in the country, and would soon go from strength to strength.

An advert from the 1980s.

Famous personalities starred in some of the many productions at the theatre in the 1980s, including the following:
4th to 9th June 1984. The TyneWear Theatre Company’s production of ‘Strippers’ starring
Bill Maynard, Pamela Blackwood, Judi Lamb, and Lyn Douglas.
11th to 16th June 1984 ‘Children, Children’ starring Rita Tushingham.
17th June 1984. Little and Large.
22nd June 1984. D-Day Celebration Concert with Anne Shelton.
24th June 1984. ‘Emu’s World’ starring Rod Hull and Emu.
12th to 14th July 1984. The Danny La Rue Show.
15th July 1984. Freddie Starr.
25th to 30th Nov. 1985. ‘An evening with Paul Daniels’.
20th Dec. 1985 onwards. ‘Dick Whittington’ starring Little and Large.
22nd to 27th Sept. 1986. The stage version of the television comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo staring Gorden Kaye and Carmen Silvera.
29th Sept. to 4th Oct. 1986. ‘Leave Him to Heaven’ starring Jess Conrad.
19th Oct. 1986. Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, and George Melly.
22nd Oct. 1986. Danny La Rue.
23rd Oct. 1986. Billy Connolly.
25th Oct. 1986. Marti Webb.
26th Oct. 1986. The Barron Knights.
23rd Dec. 1986 onwards. 'Aladdin' starring Jimmy Cricket, John Inman, and Jessica Martin.
23rd March 1989. The Northern Ballet Theatre presents ‘Danse Classique’.
3rd to 8th April 1989. ‘Blithe Spirit’ starring Peggy Mount, Gerald Flood, Neil Stacey, and
Deborah Grant.

An advert from 1986.

There were also productions by local companies such as the South Staffs Operatic Society which appeared at the theatre on many occasions. On 14th to 19th October, 1985 they performed ‘My Fair Lady’, on 13th to 18th October, 1986 they performed ‘Camelot’, and on 12th October to 17th October, 1987 they performed ‘Gigi’. The Wolverhampton Comedy Group also appeared there. In 1987 they performed ‘Half a Sixpence’.

Concerts were also given at the Art Gallery as part of the council’s ‘Music in May’ events in 1988, including ‘A Tribute to Maggie Teyte’ with Angela Beale, Michael Jones, Barbara Smith, and Robert Smith. Another concert featured Ingrid Culliford, and Nigel Hill playing Bach’s Suite in C Minor.

As usual there were many concerts at the Civic Hall. Frequent visitors included the Hallé Orchestra, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Other concerts were given by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Virtuosi Orchestra, The Berlin Symphony Orchestra, The London Mozart Players, and the English Sinfonia.

In February 1981, Wolverhampton’s best known building after St. Peter’s Church, situated at 19 Victoria Street, and known locally as Lindy Lou’s, was reopened after being completely renovated by the local authority.

1982 saw the official opening of another important building, Compton Hospice, which carries out a vital role, caring for people near the end of their life. The hospice is located in Compton Hall, which had been empty for several years when the plans for the conversion to a hospice were drawn up in 1976. The hospice was officially opened by the Patron, the Duchess of Kent on 9th November, 1982.

An advert from 1985.

An advert from 1985.

In January, 1984 Radio West Midlands opened a studio in Queen Street, a few doors down from the Express & Star. This was Wolverhampton’s first BBC radio studio.

Another local radio milestone was reached on 2nd June, 1989 when Wolverhampton Community Radio Association broadcast for the first time from the town show in West Park, using a three-day special event licence issued by the I.B.A. and the Home Office. The event was broadcast from a caravan in West Park on 1530kHz on the Medium Wave Band.

One other form of radio, which shouldn’t be forgotten is hospital radio. In 1983 Radio Wulfrun began entertaining patients at New Cross Hospital, and later at the Royal Hospital.

The radio station is a voluntary service, funded by local charities and fund raising events. In the 1980s the station manager was Alan Price.

Several important events took place in 1985 when Wolverhampton celebrated its millennium. The council produced a millennium magazine, which contained the story of Wolverhampton, as told by the late Keith Farley.

The events began on the 29th April with the opening of an exhibition about Wolverhampton Wanderers, held at the Central Library, Snow Hill.

The Millennium Street Parade on 8th June was Wolverhampton’s largest carnival procession. It included floats sponsored by local companies, bands, dancers, and a horse-drawn carriage carrying the mayor and mayoress.

Other events were as follows:

The Millennium magazine.

4th to 6th May Millenary Boat Show at Wolverhampton Boat Club, Barnhurst Lane.
6th May. Wolverhampton Model Railway Club exhibition at Pendeford High School.
6th May. English Shooting Championship at Aldersley Stadium Shooting Range.
6th May. First of six special millennium 10 mile runs from Aldersley Stadium.
9th May. Primary school festival concert at the Civic Hall.
12th May. It’s A Knock Out, by the Wolverhampton Association of Swimming Clubs, at Bilston Leisure Centre.
16th May. Second primary school festival concert at the Civic Hall.
19th May. Opening of the 'Saxon Wolverhampton Exhibition' at the Central Library.
24th May. MENSA Superbrain National Final, in the Civic Centre Council Chamber.
25th May.

Railway exhibition in the Mander Centre.

26th May. Open air music festival in St. Peter’s Square.
27th, 28th, 29th, 30th May. Adventure playground fancy dress pageant days.
29th May. Beginning of 'Shop and Fun Week' featuring Rod Hull and Emu, and World Darts Champion, Eric Bristow.
29th May. Opening of the 'Old Wolverhampton Exhibition' at the Art Gallery.
30th May. 10th annual beer festival at the Wulfrun Hall.
1st and 2nd June. The 'Millennium Dog Show' in West Park.
1st June. Wolverhampton Amateur Radio Society, radio demonstration in the Mander Centre.
2nd June. Hot Air Balloon Rally, West Park.
4th June. A talk in the Wulfrun Hall called 'Wolverhampton Then and Now'.
5th June. A ramble exploring old railway sites.
5th June. 'National Pitcher of the Year Competition' in the retail market.
5th June. A Victorian council meeting in the Civic Centre Council Chamber.
6th June. Millennium Folk Concert at the Hollybush, Penn Road.
6th June. Antiques Roadshow TV programme at the Civic Hall.
8th June. Millennium Street Parade, with local companies, organisations, bands, and dancers.
9th June. A Cavalcade of vehicles built in Wolverhampton.
9th June. Medieval Leisure Day in West Park.
10th June. The great British fun run.
12th June. Railway film show.
19th June. Talk and slide show about railway history.
21st June. British Rail events at the High Level Station.
22nd June. International multicultural festival of youth at Compton Park Activities Centre.
23rd June. Millennium BMX Competition at Ashmore Park BMX track.
23rd June. Mid summer six mile race.
29th June. Don and Alan Bratt arrive in Wolverhampton during their 1,000 mile run.
30th June. Sunbeam Car Club Rally at Marston Road.
1st July. Opening of Wolverhampton’s Motor Industry Exhibition in the Central Library.
4th July. Millennium Town Swimming Championships at the Central Baths.
6th July. Millennium Charity Sports Day at Aldersley Stadium.
10th July. East Park Activities Day.
20th July. Scotlands Community Association Carnival at Moreton Playing Fields.
28th July. Penn Renault Cycle Races in the town centre.
1st August. Start of a lawn tennis knockout tournament.
3rd August. Bilston Caribbean Carnival.
7th August. First of four weekly 10 kilometre runs.
17th August. Millennium Play Schemes, Sports and Fun Day at Aldersley Stadium.

 18th August.

Wolverhampton 10 kilometre road race.
18th August. Start of a week of productions in St. Peter’s Square by the ZIP Theatre Company.
25th and 26th August. Old time street market in Wulfruna Street.
26th August. Wolverhampton Croquet Club open day at Bradmore Recreation Ground.
1st September. Start of the Millennium Open Bowls Competition.
7th September. The first of four weekly runs called 'Womans Only Run'.
7th September. Mercia Pedal Car Race Finals in East Park.

16th to 27th September.

Millennium Projects Exhibition by secondary schools.
28th and 29th September. National Pedal Car Championships at West Park.
1st October. Start of the Millennium Young People’s Playwriting Festival.
6th October. The first of four weekly mud runs across local countryside.
7th to 28th October. Exhibition about Colonel Thorneycroft at the Central Library.
20th October. Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club half marathon.
28th October. Primary and junior schools millennium exhibition at the Civic Centre.
2nd November. Millennium Firework Display and Fun Fair at West Park.
30th November. Millennium Civic Swimming Gala at Bilston Leisure Centre.
1st December. Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletic Club’s five mile turkey trot.
26th December. Millennium Jolly Holly Jog.
31st December. End of celebrations with a massive firework display in St. Peter’s Square.

An advert from 1985.

In 1985 the original bus station alongside Railway Drive and Pipers Row was closed and completely demolished, in order to make way for a larger bus station which opened on 26th October, 1986. At the same time the final section of the ring road was completed between Bilston Street and Stafford Street.

In 1987 a £4 million renovation of the Mander Centre was carried out. It included the addition of the barrel-arched conservatory roof, and improved lifts. In the same year Sainsbury’s supermarket opened in George’s Parade. It secured the future of the old St. George’s Church. On 11th July, 1987 the Co-op store in Lichfield Street closed for the last time.

An arson attack on the once important Union Mill resulted in its demolition in the summer of 1988. In the same year, closed circuit TV cameras were installed for the first time in the town centre.

In 1989 an Act of Parliament was passed to authorise the construction of the Midland Metro, which took place over the next few years. A refurbishment of Beatties store included the installation of escalators, and one of the best local ironmongers, Parrys in Lichfield Street, closed.

By the end of the decade, Wolverhampton was poised to become the main centre of night life in the West Midlands. A position which it held for several years, thanks in no small part to the many night clubs, and discos, such as ‘Eves’, that opened in the 1980s.

An advert from 1985 for one of Wolverhampton's most important printing companies.

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