Background to Warrington – A Look at the 1851 Town Plan

Warrington’s South-east Quarter

From Roman times to the thirteenth century, the North/South crossing point of the river was on the south bank at Latchford. The flood plain of Howley Meadows, unsuitable for building, ran up as far as modern-day Parr Street, and the Anglo-Saxon parish church and Norman castle, and subsequent medieval town of Warrington, were built on the higher ground just above it, pretty much in a straight line from the ford. When the bridge across the Mersey replaced the ancient ford crossing, around the middle of the century, the town, which had previously been little more than a single street, extended westwards along to meet it, and then ballooned out to form a new, late-medieval town, centred on the area between the East/West Buttermarket Street and the North/South Newgate, later Bridge Street.

The 1851 Town Plan shows the town still pretty much in its medieval form, but on the very cusp of change. Four streets run along the compass points, dividing the town into quarters and meeting at the broad opening of Market Gate. From the parish church, now at the far east of the town, to Buttermarket Street, a single row of buildings lines the south side of Church Street on burgage plots, which run back to gardens and orchards, and then open countryside. A school for Clergy Daughters has taken the place of the castle and a National School, built in 1833, sits next to the seventeenth-century Marquis of Granby Inn. On the higher ground to the North, additional small streets thread the gardens and orchards behind the buildings along the road, and the Grammar School, founded 1526, is still going strong over three hundred years later.

These streets show lines of larger, more regular shapes, indicating more recent housing amongst the older buildings, possibly for workers in the small wire works on the site of the current Sainsbury’s supermarket. Victoria Street, named for the Queen, would appear to indicate development only within the last fourteen years, and Eldon Street and William Street show definite signs of purpose-built housing. A lamp post is marked at Church Place.

The area to the South-east between Buttermarket Street and Bridge Street, the ‘Bridge Street Quarter’ of the Masterplan Framework, is the heart of the late-medieval town, with densely packed buildings indicated by very small squares or narrow burgage plot rectangles running backwards from the street. Hotels and numerous sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century inns on Bridge Street, or in courts off Bridge Street, are accessed through archways, (and sometimes archways through archways!) and serve the travellers on the many mail- and stage-coaches (between 60-70 a day at their peak) that, by 1851, have nearly all been phased out. It must have looked very much like York does today.

This medieval town appears to run as far east as Upper Bank Street, after which there are signs of later in-fill behind Buttermarket Street, in the form of larger-shaped buildings, a Cloth Hall and Quaker (1720) and Methodist (1785) Non-Conformist chapels. When the Warrington Academy moved from Bridge Foot in 1762, to larger premises off the south side of Buttermarket Street, it created an eighteenth-century enclave around Buttermarket Street’s lower end which linked the early- and late-medieval sites.

The entrance to the Academy is modern-day Academy Street, and the larger part of its associated buildings long gone, but a number of the eighteenth-century houses survive as listed buildings, now mostly offices. One of these is shown on the map as the home of the Dispensary, having moved from the Market Place in 1818. An eighteenth-century workhouse (there is a Warrington page on Peter Higginbotham’s excellent and informative website) with infirmary behind, next to the seventeenth-century Bull’s Head Inn at the bottom of Church Street, connects old with new, and a replacement Bridewell, built in 1820, stands on a small triangle of land on Irlam Street.

The Town Plan shows the area behind the Academy as gardens and orchards that run down to Mersey Street. The open space between Lower Bank Street and Irlam Street, presumably, previously all gardens, is being filled in with large industrial buildings in the form of a gas works, (there is a claim in 1825 that the town was lit by gas as early as 1821, but I am currently unable to confirm this) the Running Pump Tannery and Allen’s Cotton Factory. The beginnings of purpose built streets for the ‘hands’, as industrial workers were known, can be seen in the line of symmetrical shapes that make up Gas Street, with tiny squares in the attached yards indicating a modern outside loo in each. Or perhaps just a coal shed.

Warrington’s South west Quarter