The 1851 Town Plan – Warrington’s North-west Quarter (part one)

The Market Place and Bank Hall

The Town Plan of 1851 shows the area to the North-west, between Sankey Street and Horsemarket Street, as still densely medieval, in and around the Market Place, as far west as King Street and as far north as Peter Street. Beyond these points, early nineteenth-century development following eighteenth-century in-fill to the west and early nineteenth-century industry to the north is extending the town. This is the civic quarter, (as it still is today) where modern and medieval jostle; a large Town Hall in the Market Place, on the site of the erstwhile Manor Court, emphasises the emergence of a new regime, and an impressive looking, multi-roomed Cloth Hall next to it indicates mercantile prosperity and confidence. Around them are the tiniest and most irregular shaped of buildings, and the four hundred year old site is illuminated by a gas-lit lamp post.

A charter of 1277 had given the lord of the manor the right to hold a weekly market. Originally held at the crossing point of the four roads, Market Gate, by 1465 the market had moved to a large open space to the north-west, just before the start of the heath; and the town expanded further west with it. Prosperity followed rapidly. By 1535, Warrington was the first town in the county to be paved and ‘a better market than Manchester’; by 1673 it was a ‘very fine and large town’ with a ‘considerable market on Wednesdays’ and frequently attended from as far afield as Wales. In 1730 Daniel Defoe described it as a ‘large populous, old built town, but rich and full of good country tradesmen’ with ‘particularly a weekly market for linen.’ A directory of 1825 mentioned the Cloth Hall, a Market Hall with a ‘suite of assembly rooms’ above it, and a theatre, possibly the Old Coffee House Inn behind Horsemarket Street, all in the Market Place.

The 1851 Town Plan shows the town on the very brink of change. Warrington had become a parliamentary borough under the 1832 Reform Act, with the right to return one MP, and incorporated in 1847. In 1851 the new corporation had just bought the lordship of Warrington; three years later it would buy the manorial rights and market tolls, and get an Act passed to Improve the town.

At the moment, narrow winding lanes with curious names lead from the corners of Sankey Street and Horsemarket Street to the Market Place, one of which, Golden Square, has given the modern-day indoor shopping centre its name. Clustered around the medieval market place are a hotel on Sankey Street, and no fewer than 15 inns, just three of which still exist today. The truly splendid, sixteenth-century Barley Mow Inn, sits on the west corner of Market Street, (now an entrance to the shopping-centre) whose uncompromising ruler-straight width seems to bulldoze through the north side of the Market Place in a foreshadowing of things to come. On its west side a Police Office and Post Office are shown. It will remain the five-hundred year old site of the town’s market place until it is relocated for the shopping centre in the 1970s.

The Blue Bell Inn, shown as the second building down from the corner of Lime Street and Horsemarket Street, has in modern times expanded into the adjoining corner building.  A later incarnation of the Hop Pole Tavern, once an excellent example of the traditional British pub, but recently transformed into a cocktail bar, is still there on the same site; Peter Street, however, is now barricaded by the immense blank wall of the shopping centre.

A narrow lane, Mill Street, leads out of the Market Place, in 1851, west towards King Street. The area to the south is densely medieval, with some of the larger shaped buildings facing Sankey Street on burgage plot rectangles. North, is the Stepney Chapel (Independent), King Street Brewery and what looks like scattered, later housing, in a large curve to the right into Queen Street.

King Street itself, irregular in width, marks the westward extent of the medieval town: the next road, Golborne Street, is ruler-straight and obviously modern. Larger, more substantial buildings run along Sankey Street towards it; behind them a mix of different-sized shapes with remnants of gardens in the centre, indicate that this was once, perhaps, a single line of buildings. Golborne Street Brewery and King Street Pin Manufactory represent some of the town’s earliest industries. In 1807 Warrington was ‘noted for excellence of its malt’ and an 1825 directory told visitors ‘brewers still produce fine warrington ale from malt for which this place has long been celebrated’. The Lower Angel, on Buttermarket Street, is, as far as I know, the only town centre pub to keep up this tradition.

Golborne Street, Legh Street and another road, as yet un-named, lead off Sankey Street in succession to the west, with shorter roads, one above the other, connecting the first two. On the west side of Legh Street a large rectangle of ground has been cleared amongst the gardens that run behind it, and what look like five house sites laid out. Development follows the previous pattern: between Sankey Street and the first of the shorter roads, a mix of small and large irregular shapes behind a substantial house with front garden; above Regent Street: a block of modern terraces with an alley running behind the houses; more terraces laid out amongst the gardens and the Independent Salem Chapel.

Further west along Sankey Street, around Legh Street, gentlemen’s residences in varying sizes, with gardens behind running up into orchards and other gardens, culminate in the lodge guarding the corner east entrance to the extensive walled grounds of the eighteenth-century Bank Hall.  Grade 1 listed and acclaimed by Pevsner as ‘the finest house of its date in South Lancashire’ this magnificent country house is the last known building of James Gibbs, protege of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral. Built as the seat of the wealthy Patten family in 1750, the year after Gibbs completed the Radcliffe Camera for Oxford University, it is still in their possession at the time of the Town Plan and is shown facing the fields next to Springfield House. But the goods yard for the railway already nudges the west corner of the grounds and the industrial area at Bank Quay is growing; within the next twenty five years it will be bought by the new corporation, on the look out for a Town Hall more in keeping with their growing stature.

The west entrance to the town near Little Sankey Green – over Bank Quay Bridge and along Bank Quay Road – was apparently formerly marked by a white cross, but by 1851 this has disappeared. White Cross, White Cross House and White Cross Bank, with fields behind them, are marked on the Town Plan, grouped on the north corner of the road where it divides to circle the large village green, and give the modern-day political ward its name.