The Sandiacre Screw Company (11)

Let’s recap this sad, sad, tale. And I’ve also found out one or two important new facts, and I’ve found a good number of new details. So don’t just dismiss it. Take a walk 80 years back into the past…..

Ivan Keith Doncaster was born on October 17th 1923. His mother was Evelyn Mary Fell before she got married. His father was Raymond Doncaster, an engineer. Ray’s father was Sir Robert Doncaster, the founder and owner of the Sandiacre Screw Company, a huge firm, the enormous size of whose premises on Sandiacre’s Bradley Street reflected perfectly the size of the business:

Sir Robert arrived in Sandiacre, a small town of some 9,000 inhabitants, around the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1899 he was living at “The Grange” on Derby Road and by 1912, he was living at “The Chestnuts” on the same road. (Or, he had just changed the name of his house.)

Ray and Evelyn Doncaster, Keith’s parents, lived at “Shenstone” in Longmoor Lane which is just one section of an extremely long road which runs north to south,  across the middle of the town. It begins as Ilkeston Road, then Lenton Street, then Longmoor Lane as it passes under Brian Clough Way and then finally Petersham Road.  In the 1930s, houses in Longmoor Lane were so infrequent that house numbers were not necessary. The address given to the High School for young Keith, in 1933, therefore, did not include a house number. Just “Shenstone” would suffice. The house was actually the modern No 108, to the south of Brian Clough Way, almost on the brow of the hill as you travel southwards. And this detached house, set back from the road, is absolutely enormous. It was originally built for the founder of the family firm, Sir Robert Doncaster, and was set in its own grounds, with mature trees and lots of space in every direction. It is currently pebble dashed completely white and must contain many very large and lovely rooms. One quite fascinating detail that I found out was that the house’s garage has its own minor place in history. Protected by hundreds of sandbags, it operated as one of the ARP centres for nearby Sandiacre. The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) was set up in 1937 as an organisation to protect the civil population from the worst effects of the inevitable terror bombing by the Luftwaffe. This is the house:

Ray Doncaster, Keith’s father, served in the army during the First World War. When he returned home in 1919, Ray became Assistant Works Manager of his father’s company. In due course, he was promoted to Works Manager, eventually replacing his father as Managing Director. He retired during the 1960s. It does not take a fortune teller to work out that, had he lived, Ray Doncaster’s only son, Ivan Keith Doncaster, would himself eventually have succeeded to that position. Instead, Keith did not come back from his war and the company eventually just disappeared. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs were lost when young Sergeant Doncaster’s Lancaster was shot down? Today, the area which was occupied by the Sandiacre Screw Company is easily traceable. It is the brownish area on this modern map, with Longmoor Lane to the west and the railway tracks to the right. The Orange Arrow marks the spot:

Nowadays, this area is home to an almost uncountable number of modern industrial units, small workshops,  places where a large lorry can be loaded, places where a large lorry can be unloaded,  places to have a broken windscreen replaced, places to rent storage space, places where they carry out autorepairs, distribution centres and supermarkets. But it’s a dead place:

Just here and there, occasionally, a vehicle drives past, a car drives into one of the unit’s car parks. A van sets off to deliver car parts to Bingham. A fork lift truck driver shouts a greeting across to his friend in a lorry. It is a huge area but it certainly does not support anywhere near the huge number of people that used to work for the Doncaster family:

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Here and there a few red brick buildings remain. And the occasional red brick wall:

They are all that is left of the Sandiacre Screw Company nowadays. Just one German bullet had such a huge effect. Initially on one 20 year old mid-upper gunner. And then the ripples spread wider, and affected a whole family. Then they touched on a whole factory and its workforce of so many hundreds of workers in a distant English town. And thirty years or so after that Lancaster plunged to earth, the workforce found they had no work, and ultimately, they had no factory.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham

20 responses to “The Sandiacre Screw Company (11)

  1. Misfortune ripples far and wide and, perhaps, never dies out.

    • That view is a very pessimistic one, but I suspect that you may well be right. It’s certainly true that nothing has replaced the enormous factory owned by the Doncaster family, and as far as I know, there is now no major employer in Sandiacre, just lots of small service companies.

      • It is a pessimistic view, but the loss of a major or only employer of significance reverberates economically and socially throughout a community. Businesses close and family plans for the future go by the wayside.

  2. Excellent research as ever. Fascinating for me because I once worked in Sandiacre, at the Council offices in Mark street.

  3. A good piece of writing, John

  4. You are very kind, Derrick, I am glad that I may have done justice to the only son of a rich man I have ever heard of who went away to war when he could perhaps have been bought out of the conflict by his father or grandfather.
    Keith was himself the 14 year old prototype of a future great poet when he wrote:

    “Along the silvery beach we run,
    Gathering coloured shells.
    We think that gathering shells is fun.
    Along the silvery beach we run.
    And as we go beneath the sun,
    We hear the distant bells.
    Along the silvery beach we run,
    Gathering coloured shells.”

  5. GP

    That truly is a very sad story. When the young heir dies, so goes the world he used to live in, piece by piece.

    • Yes, I’m afraid you are so very right, and I can only begin to think about what cthe parents must feel at such a dreadful time.
      Some heirs, of course, just refuse to do what their parents wish, and turn down the chance to own a power tool empire or a medium sized shipping line. I wonder how those parents feel. More anger than grief, I would suppose

  6. How tragic! Do you know why the family did not sell the business or pass it on to another member of the family or senior non-family member of the company?

    • No, I’m sorry to say, I don’t know. They may not have had any other members of the family to pass it on to, or perhaps, they just thought the firm had become irrelevant if their son was not there to run it.

  7. Very interesting and thought provoking John. When we look at these statistics, not only do we forget the family grief and loss that each one brings, but the ripple effect of each loss is often also forgotten. Sadly the great phoenix does not seem to have been anywhere near Sandiacre and the loss of the factory has not only been long lasting, but also permanent. Wet sad indeed.

    • Funnily enough, I just watched a documentary about the Battle of the Somme and the host used exactly that same idea. He stood in the cemetery at Thiepval and made the point that the 300 dead soldiers buried there are a sad enough statistic, but that every single one of them had a family, every single one had friends, and hobbies and all those things that make up a life.
      And saddest of all, I suppose, is the negative effect that a casualty’s death can have by never doing what he would have done, such as run a factory employing thousands.

  8. Completely fascinating, John. You opened my eyes to another perspective regarding how one death of one soldier in the long run affected so many and how his death changed history for his hometown. How sad. Such a great loss. You really changed my way of thinking today for not ever again will I not “think” what could have been if a soldier had lived. Incredible story and I thank you for taking the time to do so much research.

    • My pleasure Amy. I feel that this is the great tragedy of war. Men fire guns indiscriminately and other men are quickly killed, but nobody ever seems to realise that with the ripples that we all have around us, a single bullet may affect not just the man it kills but his children who now have no father to help them with their schoolwork, or their mother who has nobody to climb up and mend the barn door. The soldier’s aging parents have nobody now to mow their lawn or to fetch their medication.
      And, depending on the age and life of that soldier, his children will stay unborn, unloved tiny eggs in the womb of a woman who will never have another child. And for what? So that a little boy can put his hand up in class and say “Sir, did we fight a war against Argentina last century? Sir, why were we fighting the Japanese?”
      How about a new slogan “People before politics” ?

      • Wow, John, you just keep getting better and better. Your heart is shining through so strongly not only on your posts of late but even in your comments. Your passion for what you do and why you do it, you have my utmost respect for. War needs to cease so that all on earth may live in peace, the way God had intended us to live. This post had me really thinking and then putting the light of this very subject onto my husband who fought as I’ve told you, in Vietnam. How different would my life be if he had been killed? Where would I be today and what would I be doing? How about our family? They surely wouldn’t exist. Profound deeply moving words from you and for this I know the Universe will bless you abundantly. The more you share your passion and your perceptions on war, the more will be given unto you to again share with us. Bless you!!

  9. I spoke to a Jewish gentleman once who said that he had been imprisoned in Auschwitz during WW2 and that he always told people about the evil that had brought about such a place. He told me that I was a teacher and that I too should make an effort to tell everyone what evil is abroad in our beautiful world.
    War, of course, is just one of many, but far too many people think that once an armistice is signed that’s the end of it. It isn’t. In fact, for many people, in many different ways, that is only the beginning of their own war.

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