Various events over the last few years have led to me becoming more knowledgeable than I really want to be about planning law and the role of local government. (If I had my time again I’d have done Law, not English and then History, and then maybe I’d be getting paid for all this.) And it was whilst checking the facts for yet another dubious assertion in yet another planning application that I discovered that one of our recent MPs had stated to a Parliamentary committee that Warrington was a New Town. It is at this point that you realise things have come to a pretty pass. How can a town that was already a flourishing settlement in Anglo-Saxon times consistently be referenced only in terms of the last 45 years?
As my Antipodean readership will know, this is something that really annoys me. I care deeply about my town: I am proud of its heritage and achievements, am greatly saddened by what it has become and believe passionately in what it could be. And to have this constant misinterpretation of the facts about Warrington’s beginnings; this wholesale dismissal of its once great past, and the people who created that past, is galling. Warrington is not Milton Keynes.
There are numerous expansion strategies being floated at the moment, by town planners and developers alike, outlining their vision of Warrington’s future. An increasing number of protests by local groups, such as the fight to save community green space at Peel Hall, seem to indicate that other people are finding the current situation equally galling in a different way.
Their determination to fight against a perception of their area that has been projected onto them, and that they don’t share, is inspiring. So I’ve decided to stage my own small fight, in turn, to protest against the perception of Year Zero that was the designation of Warrington as a New Town.
With this in mind I’ve decided to seek out and post accounts of Warrington’s past glories from those living as near to the period as possible, with some added suggestions as to how we could draw on these to re-invigorate our own times.
My previous discovery of Freeling’s Grand Junction Railway Companion to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham Guide, published in 1838, provided an overview of Warrington from the first rail travellers’ perspective and resulted in an enjoyable discussion and a more detailed analysis of railways at the period by Noel at The Traveller.
My latest discovery is Samuel Lewis’s A Topographical Dictionary of England published in 1831. Like Freeling he delights in extensive subtitling: his Dictionary comprises ‘the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions ; Illustrations by Map of the Different Counties and Islands ; a Map of England … and a Plan of London and its Environs …: in Four Volumes’
This immense project was taken up enthusiastically by subscribers and contributers alike and led to several revised editions in those rapidly changing times. (The background to Lewis’s project is outlined at the Debrett Ancestry Research site.) There are claims that the 1831 first edition contains inaccuracies and omissions but I have checked Warrington’s entry against the revised edition of 1835 and the information remains the same, apart from a mention of the town’s recently incorporated status.
For those interested in looking up their own bit of England there are several scanned volumes at Google Books and a transcribed four volume set of the 1848 edition at British History Online. I have broken Lewis’s comments on Warrington into sections for ease of reference but there are links at the top and bottom of each post if you prefer to read consecutively.
The 1831 entry in Lewis’s Dictionary describes a Warrington balanced between the Georgian period of its cultural flowering and the Victorian period it was to embrace so eagerly; at a point when, despite industrial advances and soon to be very rapid expansion, it was still owned and governed by a Lord of the Manor and a Manorial Court. Fascinating stuff.
Transport by Canal, Rail and River
Warrington’s Markets and Fairs
Schools and Charities