Welcome to Warrington (part three)

Part Two

If you are travelling by bus, you will be taken straight ahead, through the lights and directly up Bridge Street, once the main shopping street for the town and once considered the most attractive street in Cheshire, after Chester’s Eastgate. Looking about you with eager interest at the large Victorian and Edwardian buildings, you see only metal shutters and a distinct lack of people. This is lower Bridge Street, whose preponderance of nightclubs, bars and takeaways not only makes it a no-go area at night, for the majority of those over 25, but has effectively closed the street down completely in the daytime.

Just before the bus sweeps to the right, you catch a glimpse further up the street, a dispiriting clutter of notices To Let’ amidst which the Warrington institution that is the 100 year old department store of Hancock and Wood stands out bravely. Within a few seconds the bus has pulled up and deposited you at the bus stop on Academy Way, a wide road cut through the right side of Bridge Street in the late 1980s, presumably to divert the traffic when they pedestrianised Market Gate at the heart of the town. If you’re quick enough as the bus turns, you can see how the buildings on the left have been sheared though.

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Welcome to Warrington (part two)

Part One

Just past the Royal Oak Branch pub, the vista opens out as you slow down to cross the river. A single storey retail warehouse on the left, a single storey car hire office and associated car park on the right, form an unprepossessing ‘gateway’, with ahead a jumble of brown buildings, squatted over by the vast grey concrete bulk of the British Telecom offices and a large number of immensely, ridiculously, tall street lights.

There appear to be roads in all directions and clogged traffic everywhere, fighting to get into one of the four lanes ahead. To your right, a War Memorial appears incongruously sited, after a small road, running down to the river alongside, was enlarged to form a ‘Gyratory’ crossing point in the Nineties, to relieve traffic congestion at Bridge Foot. It doesn’t seem to have worked.

As you wait at the first set of traffic lights, just before the bridge, your second impression of the town is slightly better. The British Telecom building has sunk more into the background, and is balanced by a large, Art Deco cinema, now a nightclub, to the left, and the 18th century Warrington Academy, famous precursor of Oxford University’s Manchester Harris College, and now the newspaper offices of the Warrington Guardian, in the foreground.

I have disliked this building for many years, without really knowing why; it reminded me of a pink brick dolls house and always seemed somehow wrong. Continue reading

Welcome to Warrington (part one)

Stuck in traffic on a recent shopping trip to Warrington, I was reflecting on the changes to the area since I used to live here.

Coming from the perspective of one who was born and brought up here and then moved away, returning only through the nineties onwards for sporadic visits, my view on things is that of both insider and outsider. I am, as an article I once came across put it, ‘ethnographically embedded’ in a community in which I now walk as an almost stranger.

So. How does the town appear to the visitor, approaching as I was, from the South?

Firstly, having left behind the Cheshire villages of Lymm, Thelwall, Grappenhall and Latchford, and driven over the steep Black Bear Bridge, you follow a wide main road towards the town. To my mind this seems rather a lost opportunity. The bridge forms a natural punctuation point to say ‘from here you are approaching Warrington’; the road should be a gradual transition between the semi-rural suburbs and the town.

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