This is the second in a series of posts attempting to redress the balance against perceptions that Warrington, a town with Roman origins that was already a flourishing settlement by Anglo-Saxon times, came into being in the 1960s following its designation as a New Town.
Warrington has a long history of national and international firsts; its inhabitants and short-term residents artists, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs whose inquiry and energy drove change and prosperity, for the nation as well as the town, until the decline of its industries in the aftermath of the Second World War. Since then, Warrington appears to have turned its back on both its past history and its past achievements, adopting a Year Zero approach to its 1970s status as a New Town.
By transcribing descriptions of Warrington from earlier times I hope to remind people of what our town once was, with some added suggestions as to what it could be again.
In 1831 Samuel Lewis published the first edition of his popular, and many times revised in that rapidly changing period, ‘A Topographical Dictionary of England comprising 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’.
The entry for Warrington in Lewis’s Dictionary describes a town 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.
I’ve 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 them in order.
Warrington in 1831
WARRINGTON, a parish in the hundred of WEST DERBY, county palatine of LANCASTER, comprising the market town of Warrington, the chapelry of Burtonwood, and the townships of Poulton with Fearnhead, Rixton, and Woolston with Martinscroft, and containing 16,698 inhabitants, of which number, 13,570 are in the town of Warrington, 52 miles (S. by E.) from Lancaster, and 188, (N. W. by N.) from London.
A Brief History 79-1812
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This place, which is unquestionably of very great antiquity, is by some writers supposed to have been originally a British town, and on the invasion of the Romans under Agricola, in the year 79, to have been converted into a Roman station. This opinion rests chiefly on the circumstance of three Roman roads leading respectively from the stations of Condate, Coccium, and Mancunium, to a ford here over the river Mersey ; the vestiges of a castrum and fosse, which are still discernible ; and in the discovery of some Roman relics, consisting of coins found on both sides of the river near the ancient ford, [this is the site of the Black Bear Bridge, at Latchford]and other antiquities, which have been subsequently dug up. On its occupation by the Saxons, it obtained the name of Weringtun, from the Saxon Waring, a fortification and tun, a town, from which its present appellation is derived. It was at that time of sufficient importance to give name to a wapentake, which afterwards merged into the hundred of West Derby, and formed part of the demesne of Edward the Confessor ; it had been previously the head of a deanery, of which the jurisdiction still remains. In Domesday-book it is noticed under the name of Wallintun ; and in the reign of Edward I., it was in the possession of William le Boteler, who obtained for it the grant of a market and other privileges.
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From the earliest period, the river Mersey at this place was passed only by the ancient ford, till the close of the fifteenth century, when Thomas, first Earl of Derby, in compliment to Henry VII., on his visit to Latham and Knowsley, in 1496, erected the first bridge of stone, soon after which, the passage of the river by the ford ceased. In the reign of Henry VIII., Leland, speaking of Warrington says, “it is a pavid towne of a pretty bignes, the paroche church is at the tayle of the towne ; it is a better market than Manchestre.” Nothing of importance is recorded of it from this period till the commencement of the parliamentary war, when the inhabitants openly declared in favour of the royal cause, and the town was garrisoned for the king.
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In 1643, a detachment of the parliamentary forces, stationed at Manchester, laid siege to it, on which occasion the royalists under Col. Norris, the governer, took refuge in the church, and, fortifying that edifice against the assailants, obstinately resisted their attack for five days ; but the enemy having erected a battery, which they brought to bear upon it, the royalists were compelled to surrender. Their number was one thousand six hundred, of whom three hundred were taken prisoners, and ten pieces of ordnance, with a large quantity of arms and ammunition, fell into the hands of the enemy. The royalists seem, however, to have soon regained possession of the town, for in less than three months it was again attacked by the parliamentarians, who carried it by storm, when the former lost six thousand men and eight pieces of cannon. In 1648, a numerous body of Scottish troops, under the command of the Duke of Hamilton, on their retreat after the battle of Ribbledale, rallied at Warrington ; and, after an obstinate but unsuccessful encounter with the parliamentarian forces under General Lambert, in which one thousand men were slain, the remainder, consisting of two thousand, surrendered themselves prisoners of war. The same general, in 1651, encountered the Scottish army, under the command of the young king, near this town, and repulsed them with considerable loss.
Towards the close of the Interregnum, Sir George Booth, Knight of the shire, who had been a strenuous supporter of the parliament, being dissatisfied with the conduct of public affairs, and anxious for the re-establishment of a free parliament under a legitimate head, raised a considerable force, in 1658 ; but after a severe engagement with the forces under General Lambert, at Winnington bridge, near Delamere Forest, he was defeated, and part of his army retreated to Warrington, the men were arrested in their flight by the parliamentary cannon stationed in that town : the services of Sir George, on this occasion, procured for him, after the Restoration, the title of Baron Delamere of Dunham Massey.
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Since the erection of the bridge over the Mersey, Warrington, as a military station, was regarded as commanding the entrance into the county of Lancaster ; and, in 1745, on the approach of the army under Prince Charles, Edward, the young pretender, who was advancing from Manchester, the central arches were demolished by the Liverpool Blues, who, having thus intercepted their progress, captured part of the rebel army, whom they sent prisoners to Chester castle. The bridge was repaired in 1747, but afterwards becoming much dilapidated, it was taken down, and a wooden bridge on stone piers was erected, in 1812, at the joint expense of the counties of Chester and Lancaster.
Suggestions for events/tourist activities rising out of this.
There’s scope here for an annual medieval festival marking the granting of the market charter
There’s also scope for an annual festival over several days, similar to York’s Viking Festival, but commemorating Warrington’s part in the English Civil War. The Sealed Knot are a historical military company that re-enact battles from the period and could be asked to prepare ideas for this.
Transport by Canal, Rail and River
Warrington’s Markets and Fairs
Schools and Charities