How it all began
Warrington’s famous Golden Gates
THE first Warringtonians lived in Bronze Age communities at Grappenhall, Winwick and Croft around 1000 BC. But the area was probably important even earlier – as a safe crossing point on the Mersey.
The Romans found Warrington to their liking and established a settlement known as Veratinum at Wilderspool around 100 AD. Over the next 300 years it became important as an industrial centre manufacturing metal products, glass and pottery, samples of which have been found as far away as Hadrian’s Wall.
By the 5th Century AD the Romans had gone and later the Saxons established a settlement near the site of the present parish church at Howley. Indeed, the Domesday Survey of 1086 suggests that it was the Saxons who built the original church, dedicated to St Elphin. Thelwall is the only local name to appear in a written record before Domesday referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 919. After the Norman Conquest, the town was placed under the management of Roger of Poictou, the Norman overloard of all lands between the Ribble and the Mersey.The Manor of Warrington was sublet to Paganus de Vilars, the town’s first baron, and later the Boteler Family who were to play a major role in the early development of the town. They encouraged the re-building of the old Saxon town by renting out plots for development by tradesmen. The town’s market was recognised by Royal Charter in 1277.
In 1495, the Earl of Derby provided a fine stone bridge over the Mersey which survived until the early 19th century. In 1586, Edward, the last of the Botelers, died virtually bankrupt.
Warrington played an important role in the Civil War in the 1640’s – largely through the strategic importance of the bridge. The Earl of Derby chose the town as his Lancashire headquarters during 1642. In April 1643 Parliamentarian troops led by Sir William Brereton attacked the town but suffered heavy losses in a battle at Stockton Heath and were forced to retreat when the Earl of Derby set fire to the town centre. However, the Royalists were eventually beaten when the town was beseiged by Parliamentarian forces led by Colonel Assheton and Sir George Booth. In 1648, Oliver Cromwell (pictured) himself stayed in the town, lodging in Church Street after routing a Scottish force at the Battle of Red Bank, near Winwick. In 1659 Warrington’s loyalties changed again when the new Lord of the Manor, another Sir George Booth, began an unsuccessful attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy by proclaiming Charles II King.
After the Civil War new industries came to the town, bringing wealth. Sail making, pin-making and copper smelting were established. In 1703, the Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel was established. When Daniel Defoe visited the town in the early 18th century he spoke of a “large and populous, old built town, rich and full of good country tradesmen.” The Mersey continued to make Warrington an important place and local industrialist Thomas Patten financed improvements to the river between Warrington and Liverpool to service his copper smelting works at Bank Quay. The Patten family prospered and in 1750 built the imposing Bank Hall which, more than a century later, was sold to the town by the family and became the Town Hall.
Warrington grew in importance as an industrial centre, helped by its position on the Mersey and the growing importance of canals. The Sankey Canal and the Bridgewater Canal ensured water communications remained dominant. Around the same time, the town took on an important role in the nation’s intellectual life through Warrington Academy, which attracted scholars of nationwide reputation, including Joseph Priestley, a noted philosopher and scientist.
Warrington celebrated the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 with the opening of a new bridge over the Mersey, named in her honour. Ten years later the town aquired the status of a municipal corporation and under the first Mayor, William Beamont, began planning the renewal of the town centre. In 1899 the town assumed the status of County Borough, prosperous and still growing as a result of its position on the new railway network and the Manchester Ship Canal.
In 1913, King George V unveiled the first section of the present Warrington Bridge, again emphasising the importance of the river crossing. The town suffered little during the two World Wars – although the day German fighters bombed a garden party at Thames Board Mills is still remembered as one of Warrington’s blackest days. The United States Army Air Force base at Burtonwood became home for thousands of American servicemen and, after the war played a leading role in the Berlin Airlift.
In 1968, Warrington was designated a New Town, clearing the way for massive developments in the Risley, Great Sankey, Burtonwood and Appleton areas which are still continuing. In 1974, local government reorganisation led to the enlargement of the borough to include surrounding rural areas including Stockton Heath, Appleton, Lymm and Culcheth. Warrington became known as the “crossover town” because of its position at the intersections of the M6, M56 and M62 motorways. This strategic position could be said to be the modern equivalent of the old river crossing at Warrington Bridge and has certainly played a major part in attracting new industry.
Warrington is now in a transitional stage, changing from the “cloth cap” factory town born out of the Industrial Revolution into a modern centre for high technology industry. The Borough Council’s designation as a unitary authority in 1998 is another step in the town’s progress and another reason why it has become one of the most prosperous towns in England.