I am supposed to be working on an outline for the area of my book dealing with Warrington in the Fifties, but I am getting more and more drawn into trying to find out what has been happening with that section of the nation’s built heritage in Warrington’s care. It is taking a while to get to the bottom of this and the results of my investigations are deeply depressing.
Warrington has 87 statutory listed items in the town centre and an additional 14 in Church Street; the colossal road works of the 90s having turned the town’s original site into a sort of extra-parochial adjunct to the town itself. Listing identifies buildings that are of significant national, and sometimes even international, importance that must be preserved for the knowledge and enjoyment of future generations. Of those designated Grade II, a mere 5.5% are listed Grade II* and a tiny 2.5 % are listed Grade I.
Warrington’s town centre alone has six Grade II* and three Grade I listed items.
The majority of these are within one of the town centre’s seven statutory Conservation Areas: Bewsey Street, Bridge Street, Buttermarket Street, Palmyra Square, Town Hall and Winwick Street. It must be remembered that a listing may refer to a group of buildings or an entire terrace, so the number of individual buildings will be considerably higher.
Bewsey Street, Warrington’s most fashionable address in the eighteenth century, has nine listed items, all Grade II: four blocks of residential terraces: numbers 39-49, 51-61, 63-67 and 72-74; the St Albans RC Church; its Presbytery; number 14, Bewsey Chambers; number 93, and 1 Froghall Lane.
Originally leading from Bewsey Hall to the town centre, coming out just at the start of Winwick Street, slightly to the north end of the medieval market, the street was visually separated from the town in the late nineteenth-century by the Cheshire Lines railway viaduct, and further obscured by the Midland Way flyover in the 90s, creating a rather unappealing pedestrianised underpass.
Going up the street from the bottom, near the railway viaduct, on the right:
At 39-47 Bewsey Street, built c1776, the stone window arches with keystones and the stone windowsills have all been painted pillar-box red, as have the down-pipes, and the sash windows replaced with ones that open at the top. The rear has been replaced with a flat roof extension and the interior divided into flats. The last in the group, number 49, though still a house, has all its stone windowsills and arches painted jet black and its sash windows replaced with uPVC casements.
At 51-57 Bewsey Street, also built c1776, extensive ‘restoration’ has replaced the ground floor with faux-Georgian shop windows at 53-57 and a large half moon window with extremely white glazing bars, possibly uPVC, at 51. The brickwork has been refaced with what look like standard reclaimed bricks (which never seem to be the right shade for buildings in this locality) and the original Flemish Bond brickwork replaced with modern Stretcher Bond. The first and second floor windows are top hung, though the panes and recessing have the right balance, and the stonework is an inoffensive faded cream. 51 has an oriel window at the first floor, which sort of works. The interiors are now offices.
59-61 Bewsey Street, built in a darker red-er brick has crimson painted stonework which clashes with the brick. The top hung windows have heavy glazing bars and are possibly uPVC.
63-67 Bewsey Street had its brickwork cleaned and re-pointed in the early seventies and they appear to have made quite a good job of it, although 63 shows some lighter brickwork around the ground floor. The windows are top hung with square, rather than rectangular, panes, which always manages to look slightly wrong, and the stonework is, again, an inoffensive faded cream. 67 has no window arches to the ground and first floor and the brickwork looks as though it has been refaced in a lighter shade that looks a little modern. There is also an incongruous porthole window to the left of the door. The interiors are now flats and an office.
The very fine, early twentieth-century Liberal Club (unlisted) appears little altered externally and is now a business centre.
The Bowling Green has a boundary of hideous concrete fencing panels about which little seems to have been done.
The St Albans RC Church, completed 1823, has had later extensions up to the turn of the twentieth century but these are in keeping with the main structure.
Double-fronted 93 Bewsey Street, built c1830s in red brick with stone sills and bay windows on the ground floor, sits at the top of the street where it meets Tanners Lane. It forms a group with St Albans and the block of two, adjoining (unlisted) cottages of similar date. All three houses are now offices; the cottages have UPVC windows.
Looking up Bewsey Road, a low level office has replaced the early nineteenth-century detached house on the corner site of Tanners Lane, which previously had trees in its grounds. The visual space is now too open and exposed, and the eye is not led down the continuation of Bewsey Road. The street furniture at the junction is also extremely obtrusive.
Turning back towards the station, the opposite side of the street now on the right:
A mature tree in Dallam Lane is visible over the gap of the Bowling Green, and adds interest and seasonal colour.
The block of terraces at the start of the street, 70-74, includes 1 Froghall Lane and was built c1850s. 1 Froghall Lane is of dark brick with white stonework and appears well presented, apart from the large signage over the door. 74 has similar brickwork but different coloured stonework and the forecourt, in particular, looks a little run down. 72 and 70 are more orange-y red in colour, possibly the local Cheshire brick, and have different coloured stonework again. 70 also has disparate windows in each floor, different sized apertures at the second floor and its forecourt removed to make a parking space. The interiors are all offices.
A block of five, faux Georgian terraces, actually all flats, has detailing of insufficient proportions: the window recessing is not deep enough, the windows themselves have only four panes and the window arches are completely flat. The doorways, even if fake, are still too narrow and have plastic looking fanlights, the string course is weedy and the boundary, a Late Victorian style low wall in modern brick, using Stretcher Bond. The balance of the window spaces in the block, however, is quite good.
The Wycliffe Church, (unlisted) once considered the finest church in town after St Elphins, had a campanile style tower that was a local landmark and gave an interesting sense of visual closure to Bewsey Street. Mr H. Wells, a leading local historian who has documented the gradual loss of Warrington’s architectural heritage since the 1970s, has photographs of the tower prior to demolition in the 80s. (Scroll down for Bewsey Street.) The Memorial Hall behind it is locally listed and appears unaltered, though vacant.