In the area to the South-west, between Bridge Street and Sankey Street, the medieval town extends west across Bridge Street as far as modern-day Barbauld Street, before giving way to orchards and gardens and then open countryside. A distillery, tucked away in a courtyard near the Eagle and Child Inn, is the original site of the renowned Warrington gin, the basis of the famous Greenall‘s brewing empire.
The bottom corner towards Bridge Foot, the site of the Austin (Augustinian) Friary, founded around 1280 and a later casualty of Henry VIII’s Reformation, is now punctuated with small-scale industrial works: Jolley’s File Manufactory, Friar’s Green Cotton Manufactory, Friar’s Green Old Tannery and Friar’s Green Saw Mills. To the left of these are signs of eighteenth-century development, including the lovely houses of Stanley Street, designed by the famous Warrington painter and engraver, Hamlet Winstanley. A rented building on Friar’s Green is the earlier home of the Warrington Library, started by the Presbyterian minister Dr John Seddon, later founder of the Warrington Academy, in 1760. It was amalgamated with the Natural History Society’s Museum in 1848, the same year it was taken over by the newly-fledged Warrington Corporation to become the first municipal library in Britain.
Along Sankey Street, the medieval buildings show signs of eighteenth-century in-fill as far west as Bold Street, most notably in the form of Holy Trinity church, (rebuilt in 1760) after which the eighteenth century predominates. Springfield House, a grand residence in large gardens off Sankey Street, marks the edge of town: from then on it is open countryside until Bank Quay Bridge. Bank Cottage, a small house with what look like outbuildings and a garden behind – possibly, previously a farm – stands in the middle of the fields, on the west corner of Sankey Street and Slutcher’s Lane (now Arpley Street).
Behind Sankey Street, between Springfield House and modern-day Barbauld Street, the medieval garden plots are being filled in with new development. Early nineteenth-century ‘des. res.’ streets, on a grid plan, are indicated: Bold Street; Cairo Street; Egypt Street; Suez Street; despite the existence of a small foundry and marble works, this is to be the genteel end of town. The chapel at the top of Cairo Street was built as a Presbyterian place of worship in 1702, but became Unitarian around the same time it was rebuilt in 1745. It was the focus of the town’s intellectual life during the later eighteenth century; many of those involved with the Warrington Academy being either Presbyterian or Unitarian. (The chapel is still there today, but the delightful little Presbyterian school, marked on the Town Plan next to it, appears to be undergoing some sort of development, with the really lovely brick wall in front of it largely removed.)
Bank Quay Bridge, at the western edge of town, crosses not a river, but a railway line, and the earlier incarnations of Bank Quay Station and the Patten Arms Hotel, complete with large bowling green, face each other at the top of modern-day Parker Street. The station, earlier at Bewsey Street to the north, was built here around 1835, after the takeover of the Warrington and Newton Railway Company by the Grand Junction Railway Company. Its line, through Crewe to Warrington and the North, opened in 1837 and was apparently the first trunk railway to be completed in England (and possibly the world’s first long-distance steam railway. If I can find a link to a railway buff’s site I will add it later. There is a rather good one, though, on Bank Quay Station after it moved to the other end of Parker Street in 1868). By 1851 the company had already become the London and North Western Railway Company and a branch line between Warrington and Chester had been added the previous year.
Behind the station, on the other side of the railway lines, Bank Quay Cotton Mill and Bank Quay Glassworks, (the latter there since 1757) handy for rail and river transport, form the nucleus of what will soon be one of the town’s key industrial areas. In 1825 the river traffic between Liverpool and Manchester was already described as ‘incessant’; a string of wharves will soon line this section of the river for the use of the multiplying factories and the river will become filthy and polluted. By 1825 too, the value of the river as a fishery, once so prolific that a clause in apprentices’ contracts commonly forbade the serving of salmon more than twice a week, was also gone. The 1851 Town Plan shows this end of Warrington as still balanced between the old and the new, though soon to tip over.
Sankey Street is still the loveliest approach to the town for the visitor. I would recommend those arriving at Bank Quay Railway Station, (relocated, along with the hotel, to the bottom of Parker Street in the late 1860s) to turn left at the exit, and, hurrying past the giant soapworks (an olfactory treat for visitors at this end of town since 1815) and yet more of the surface car parks in which Warrington abounds, follow the road up to the bridge and turn right, into the town.
The only modern development immediately visible, Bank Quay House, an (early Sixties?) office block, is skirted with trees, and actually sits quite well with the rest of the street. It also now contains an art gallery which is a nice touch.