IN 1968 an American businessman controversially bought London Bridge and transported it brick-by-brick to Arizona where its 10,000 tons of masonry was reassembled.

A few years later two similar sales were undertaken in St Helens, although they proved far less controversial.

The Corporation sold off a redundant gasworks to Brazil and exported a number of its double-decker buses to Canada to impress American tourists!

The gasworks in Warrington Road had been capable of producing six million cubic feet of gas each day when it opened in 1967. But just five years later the plant was closed when St Helens switched its supply to North Sea gas. It looked like being a dreadful waste of ratepayers' cash.

READ > The story behind St Helens' new Coat of Arms

But fifty years ago this month, the council announced that they'd pulled a rabbit from the hat. The Corporation had struck a deal to sell their unwanted gasworks to Brazil.

By then the plant was already in the process of being dismantled and would soon take a 7,000-mile trip to Sao Paulo. There the 200-ton plant would be re-erected to produce town gas for its inhabitants. The Brazilians were reported to have paid around £150,000 for the gasworks.

That's roughly £3 million in today's money and so it was a good bit of business for the town.

A Manchester firm called West's had won the contract to disassemble and transport the plant and their spokesman said at the time: "We will be dismantling, cleaning and overhauling the equipment before sending it to Liverpool for shipment.

But this is not a case of rich magnates buying a piece of England to set up elsewhere. These gasworks are still in good condition and will continue to operate."

Three other Lancashire gasworks were also set to journey to Sao Paulo where they would form a new gas complex with the St Helens works. A year earlier St Helens Corporation had gone into the bus export business when a Canadian company called Tweed Line Tourists had bought four double-deckers.

They were acquired to add a touch of English novelty to their sightseeing tours in Victoria, where many Americans went on vacation. The company's president Jerry Conrod and its secretary Wayne McArthur visited St Helens in April 1972 to negotiate the deal on the advice of Harry Williams, a former local man who worked for their firm.

Speaking while in St Helens, Mr McArthur said: "We looked at London Transport buses first but there is no comparison. They retire their buses after about twenty years, whereas here it is twelve."

Asked by a journalist whether the St Helens Transport red and cream livery would be retained, he replied: "We will definitely be leaving the colours on, I think they're terrific. If we have the money we hope to buy about nine more next year. From St. Helens, of course!"

St Helens Star: Part of the article in the St Helens Reporter of November 23, 1973Part of the article in the St Helens Reporter of November 23, 1973 (Image: Submitted)

But it was not just the St Helens Transport colours that were kept.

In November 1973, Arthur H. Smith – a former Salvation Army Officer who'd been born in Croppers Hill but had retired to Victoria – had a letter published in the St Helens Reporter in which he revealed that the original bus destination blinds were still being used.

Mr Smith wrote: "Daily moving along the streets of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, especially during the tourist season, are three double-decker buses, which bear the coat of arms of St Helens, as well as names of St Helens bus route destinations.

These buses, as you are doubtless aware, were purchased last year from St. Helens Corporation by Victoria businessmen. Observing the buses from time to time has enhanced personal nostalgia because I have the honour of being a native son of St. Helens."

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop and the World of Glass. Also online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.