This is the third 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 have been artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors 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
The town, which is pleasantly situated on the river Mersey, consists of four principal streets diverging from the centre, and intersected by several smaller ; they are in general narrow and inconvenient, but are undergoing considerable improvement, under the superintendence of commissioners appointed by an Act of Parliament obtained in 1813 ; the houses are for the greater part, of indifferent appearance, but interspersed with numerous respectable modern edifices, which form a striking contrast. It is well paved, under the provisions of the Act ; lighted with gas by a company incorporated in 1822, [Warrington was the first place outside London to be lighted by gas] whose works, on a very extensive scale in Mersey-street, were erected at an expense of £15,000 [£13,020,000], advanced on shares of £20 each [£17,360] ; and amply supplied with water by public works. The public subscription library was established in 1760 and is well supported. [This became the first public library in Britain in 1848.]
A Floral and Horticultural Society are now united, the former of which originated in 1817, and in 1824 was extended, to embrace the objects of the latter ; a Mechanic’s Institution was established in 1825 ; a neat and well arranged theatre is opened occasionally ; and a handsome suite of assembly-rooms has been recently erected, which are well fitted up for the purpose. About seventy stage coaches pass daily through the town, serving to give it every appearance of bustle and animation.
Warrington retained its medieval housing and street layout well into the 1850s and the ‘modern edifices’ approved of by Lewis are the Georgian and Regency buildings of which Warrington once had a considerable stock (mostly now demolished, from the 1970s onwards).
(For those interested in the cost of historical projects compared to today, or want the figures in American or Australian dollars, data was taken from Measuring Worth using the labour costs index.)
I believe that the Mechanic’s Institution was based in one of the buildings of the Warrington Academy off Buttermarket Street (now mostly demolished for road schemes).
Warrington went on to support four theatres until the mid twentieth century and now has none; three have been demolished and one is now a night club.
Warrington’s last remaining coaching inn, the eighteenth century Lion on Bridge Street, currently a night club, is on the periphery of the Bridge Street Quarter development and threatened with possible alteration or at least partial demolition.
Suggestions for events/tourist activities.
An annual Flower Show could be held in Victoria Park, just outside the town centre. Although I can’t find a mention of the continued existence of Warrington Horticultural Society today, there are plenty of smaller groups in the surrounding parishes who might support this. Held around the same time as RHS Tatton Flower Show it could draw hotel visitors into the town to attend both.
A festival highlighting Warrington’s early role at the forefront of canal and railway transport could also include stage coaches. Events could take place throughout the town at Sankey Bridges, Bank Quay, Winwick Street and in pubs on the main posting roads. The Red Lion could be restored to its eighteenth century origins and host historical events.
Transport by Canal, Rail and River
Warrington’s Markets and Fairs
Schools and Charities