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 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 Continue reading
The search vagaries of Google have thrown up another happy discovery: I was sidetracked from the post I was writing into trying to find out what had happened to Warrington’s medieval fairs – and was presented with an extract from this early nineteenth century railway guide: Freeling’s Grand Junction Railway Companion to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham Guide.
This proved to be absolutely fascinating – and sidetracked me still further – containing as it does ‘a narrative of the Parliamentary history of the project ; and account of every thing worthy the attention of the traveller upon the line ; including a complete description of every part of the rail-road ; of the noblemen or gentlemen’s seats which may be seen from it ; and of the towns and villages of importance in the neighbourhood ; of the churches, their patrons, and endowments ; the markets, fairs, races and angling stations, to which the railway gives access.
The copy online is a second edition, published by Whittaker and Co London in 1838. The Preface to the First Edition is included, which rather engagingly states Continue reading
Non-Conformism, Townsend, John Blackburne and Orford Hall
North of Crown Street, larger, squarer shapes, along Winwick Street to Newton Street, suggest eighteenth-century buildings. Newton Street, quite broad and seemingly modern, runs up only a little way, its main purpose at present being to provide access to St Paul’s Infant School and the Education Society’s School opposite, though there is the impression that more development is planned.
On the other side of Newton Street, small houses creep towards a wall surrounding the the grounds of a large house, behind which lies fields all the way to Lythgoes Lane. There is a Pin Manufactory in the north corner of the grounds and there is something about the awkward layout of the garden that suggests that this is not the factory owner living next door to the shop but the encroachment of the new order.
Warrington Industries – Textiles, Files and Glass – and Parr’s Bank
Around Cockhedge Lane, behind the buildings on the lower end of Buttermarket Street, is Warrington’s main industrial area on what looks like a green field site. Even in 1825 Warrington was already considered ‘one of the earliest manufacturing towns in Lancashire’ and, the Town Plan depicts its first ‘industrial estate’, today completely covered by the Cockhedge Shopping Centre and New Town House.
On the corner of Scotland Road, behind the Britannia Inn, the Scotland Road Foundry, surrounded by workers’ housing, fills all the space between Cockhedge Lane and Orford Street, now completely taken up by the grey concrete mass of New Town House.
North of Cockhedge Lane, a file manufactory and vast glass works are joined by the Cockhedge Cotton Factory to the north-east, which is surrounded by purpose-built houses for the ‘hands’, and has a reservoir shown close by to the north. An infirmary, north of the reservoir on the east corner of Crown Street and Orford Street, suggests a previously isolated spot for infectious diseases, or an early example of employee welfare. Or possibly extremely detrimental working conditions for the ‘hands’.
Town Hill and Trafalgar Place
The first part of the area to the north-east, between Horsemarket Street and back once more to Buttermarket Street, shows two distinct characters on the 1851 Town Plan, divided by the westward curve of Scotland Road. This bisects Buttermarket Street just opposite the Academy enclave, then runs northwards to join Horsemarket Street at the point before it becomes Winwick Street.
The east side of Horsemarket Street, up to Scotland Road, faces the Market Place and is lined with rectangular shapes indicating buildings on burgage plots. Three inns, the White Bull Inn, the Griffin Inn and The Little Horse Shoe Inn, are grouped around Town Hill, just past Lime Street, which marks, as the name suggests, the highest point in the town.
Called Pig Hill for a while on later maps, this ancient route runs westward to Scotland Road, becomes Cockhedge Lane on the other side, runs in an L shape still westwards to Fennel Street (now part of the modern-day Circulatory Road around the town centre, becomes School Brow on the other side and then finally, just past the Grammar School, drops down to where Church Place becomes the Manchester Road. Even up to 1907 it was still a ‘narrow, crooked lane’ but road widening schemes in the 90s have obliterated the earlier character of School Brow and a modern housing development stands on the site of the Grammar School.
Warrington’s Railway, Bewsey Street and Early Industry
Just beyond the Market Place, north of Peter Street, there is a sudden shift. In 1465, the long gardens of the houses on the north side of the Market Place backed onto a ‘great heath’ with a windmill, that over two hundred years later was still there. By 1851 though, this large, open, unencumbered space had proved perfect for industrial development, and the Town Plan shows its lower end as home to the large ‘Market Street File and Tool Manufactory’ and the Corn Hill Wire Works. The different types of housing around Queen Street, at the very top of King Street, are presumably for the various grades of workers in the factories.
A big open space behind the houses of Queen Street is marked on later maps as ‘Fairground’. The lords of Warrington were given the right to hold an annual summer fair in 1255 and a second autumn fair in 1277. Originally held in the wide space of Church Street, the summer fair, at least, was still going strong until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was banned from Church Street for continually ending in a drunken riot, presumably being transferred here as a less controversial space. It was still in existence in 1907, but I’m not sure if it still is today or whether it survives in a different incarnation.
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.