Warrington is Not a New Town
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 Continue reading
There is, I understand, a blogging phenomenon known as ‘newsjacking’, in which you get a post out on the coat-tails of some topical event, thereby (hopefully) sending your views sky high. It is this sort of thing that convinces me I have no journalistic skills: in search of a subject for the New Year I’ve found several half-written posts that might have fitted into that category – if I’d only got round to finishing them at the time. This one is dusted off from November.
Lancashire Day is celebrated on 27th November: founded by the Friends of Real Lancashire (FORL) it was chosen as the date in 1295 when the ancient and honourable county of Lancaster sent its first representatives to the ‘model’ Parliament of King Edward I. It’s the day when we celebrate our county’s history and achievements as well as all those things that makes it both distinctive and individual. All over the historic county, towns and villages will be holding events that mark them out as firmly rooted in Lancashire – whatever local government officials may say.
The reason for this, and the foundation of FORL, is the result of local government re-organisations in the Seventies, which pretty much made a mess of the UK’s 92 historic counties. Continue reading
I originally intended this blog to be about buildings history – a particular interest of mine – more specifically, those that line the main streets in Warrington’s town centre; but it seems to be becoming more and more about the planning issues that affect those buildings and the regeneration projects that will impact upon them.
I recently started another spin-off blog, my take on the best places to live in Warrington for those looking to move to the area. It has got me thinking of how the town appears to the outsider, the things that are good and likely to appeal and the things that would definitely put people off.
Re-reading my overview of the town centre, it does seem as though there’s not much to attract at present and it so easily could be different. Warrington has the most marvellous history, (still) quite a lot of great buildings and those local people who are ‘old school’ are incredibly friendly, cheerful, down to earth, straightforward and decent, with a strong sense of community, who will go out of their way to help you.
With so much going for it, Warrington doesn’t seem to make the most of itself. One of the main things I’ve been thinking about, over the last couple of days, is the impression given to the visitor arriving in the town for the first time and at no point is it particularly prepossessing.
If you are travelling by bus, you will be taken straight ahead, through the lights and directly up Bridge Street, once the main shopping street for the town and once considered the most attractive street in Cheshire, after Chester’s Eastgate. Looking about you with eager interest at the large Victorian and Edwardian buildings, you see only metal shutters and a distinct lack of people. This is lower Bridge Street, whose preponderance of nightclubs, bars and takeaways not only makes it a no-go area at night, for the majority of those over 25, but has effectively closed the street down completely in the daytime.
Just before the bus sweeps to the right, you catch a glimpse further up the street, a dispiriting clutter of notices To Let’ amidst which the Warrington institution that is the 100 year old department store of Hancock and Wood stands out bravely. Within a few seconds the bus has pulled up and deposited you at the bus stop on Academy Way, a wide road cut through the right side of Bridge Street in the late 1980s, presumably to divert the traffic when they pedestrianised Market Gate at the heart of the town. If you’re quick enough as the bus turns, you can see how the buildings on the left have been sheared though.
Just past the Royal Oak Branch pub, the vista opens out as you slow down to cross the river. A single storey retail warehouse on the left, a single storey car hire office and associated car park on the right, form an unprepossessing ‘gateway’, with ahead a jumble of brown buildings, squatted over by the vast grey concrete bulk of the British Telecom offices and a large number of immensely, ridiculously, tall street lights.
There appear to be roads in all directions and clogged traffic everywhere, fighting to get into one of the four lanes ahead. To your right, a War Memorial appears incongruously sited, after a small road, running down to the river alongside, was enlarged to form a ‘Gyratory’ crossing point in the Nineties, to relieve traffic congestion at Bridge Foot. It doesn’t seem to have worked.
As you wait at the first set of traffic lights, just before the bridge, your second impression of the town is slightly better. The British Telecom building has sunk more into the background, and is balanced by a large, Art Deco cinema, now a nightclub, to the left, and the 18th century Warrington Academy, famous precursor of Oxford University’s Manchester Harris College, and now the newspaper offices of the Warrington Guardian, in the foreground.
I have disliked this building for many years, without really knowing why; it reminded me of a pink brick dolls house and always seemed somehow wrong. Continue reading