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:
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.