The Suicide Squad: Memories of Risley Munitions

DURING World War 2, many local women were sent to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Risley to fill and prime bombs that were needed for the war effort. There were 16 such sites around the country and Risley was known as Filling Factory No. 6. It was dangerous work for all concerned. One lady who was sent there was Mabel Dutton of Atherton. Here, in a chapter taken from his superb autobiography The Thirty-Bob Kid, her son Dave Dutton gives an insight into what life was like there.

A old map of Risley’s Royal Ordnance Factory which has been overlaid on a recent satellite image (Courtesy of Paul Oakes).

Originally, Mam was supposed to work at a local engineering factory but when she went to the local Labour Exchange, she was told she was being sent to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Risley, near Warrington which was 11 miles away. That was heartstoppingly bad news.

Under the tuition of experts from Woolwich Arsenal, hundreds of thousands of bombs and mines were made there, mainly by young women conscripted from surrounding towns who packed the bomb cases with explosives.

It was a massive countryside site covering around 1,000 acres which had taken 18 months to build and was chosen because it was on Risley Moss and often covered in mist: thus providing cover from the German bombers who amazingly never managed to find it during the whole course of the war.

Mabel Dutton with her son Dave.

At the tender age of 19 she was thus forced by law under threat of imprisonment to work at this virtual hellhole of a place and, even worse, was allocated Group One which was nicknamed the Suicide Squad on account of the many poor unfortunate girls and women who had been blown up, killed; maimed or blinded in that department. She didn’t realise that she had been sent to the worst place possible in Risley.

There, she was given the task of working with highly volatile explosives making detonators. She noted that the woman who accompanied her as a guide on the first day only had one hand and a finger missing off the other one!

On young Mabel’s first afternoon there, she was put in the Experimental Shop where she had to test the powder by weighing it on brass scales and sealing detonators one at a time, wearing only goggles and leather gauntlets for protection. Think of that for a moment.

A teenage girl, miles away from home is given a job that could blast her to bits at any moment with only gloves and goggles to keep her “safe”. Health and Safety then? Forget it.

She was just a kid who, like many others at the time, was forced by the Government to work in munitions because had she refused, she would indeed have been thrown in jail. She told me she often fretted if the bombs she had worked on had killed innocent women and children, which they probably had.

One day she was given a mysterious red box to carry while one person walked in front of her and one behind waving red flags to warn people to keep their distance. She revealed: “I didn’t know what I was carrying. There was a massive explosion from an adjoining room. I dropped the box in shock and was horrified to see a young woman thrown through a window with her stomach hanging out. I was sickened. Luckily, for some reason, the box, which contained detonators, did not explode or we would have had our legs blown off’

When she got home that evening, she told her sisters Alice and Phyllis she was never going back to Risley. They laughed sardonically because they knew she had no choice.

Sometimes, German planes flew over Risley speculatively dropping incendiary bombs and flares to light up the sky for the bomber planes. Mam had the job of banging furiously on a big metal triangle to warn everyone to hurry into the shelter, then follow them all in afterwards. The last person in.

The pressure proved too much for some of the young conscripts. One poor girl went mad and put detonators under her fellow workers’ lavatory seats. Luckily, Mam said they had been told to lift the board up with their feet for hygiene reasons and in this way a terrible fate was avoided.

Strange things happened there in the dark and mist. There was a resident ghost of a lady called Madam Weatherby, who had been murdered centuries before, which was seen on many occasions. She also told me of two Irish girls who ran in one night very upset claiming they had seen two banshees wailing on top of a workshop. These were spirits which presaged a disaster. Sure enough, shortly afterwards, that building had been blown up with the loss of the life of a young man from Mam’s home town and many others were injured.

Some of the Suicide Squad – Mabel, second left, with some of her Risley Munitions workmates.

The Risley women wore smart functional uniforms consisting of white trousers and a coat with a mandarin collar and buttoned down front. In the canteen, they had lunchtime concerts to relieve the stress and some of the bosses joined in.

Once as a treat, some Max Factor makeup artists came over from Hollywood demonstrating the latest lipstick and pancake makeup and gave free samples to the very grateful young ladies. But these lighter moments could have hardly compensated for the constant threat of death and injury.

If there was an explosion in the magazine or workshops, they had to go immediately to the canteen for a cup of tea and two cigarettes while clearing up operations took place. The other girls begged Mabel for her fags as, up to then, she didn’t smoke.

One day, a young girl came into Mam’s workshop to sharpen a pencil. She had just gone out when there was a loud explosion. Everyone except Mabel rushed out to see what had happened. The girl had just walked in through the door of the other workshop when the explosion happened and to steady herself, she put her hands on the wall. One hand dropped off, along with the fingers of the other hand. She was also blinded. As they wheeled her past on a stretcher, Mabel saw the young girl’s curly auburn hair had turned straight and white. Seeing how shocked Mabel was, a group nurse lit a cigarette and told her to smoke it to calm her nerves. She did the same the following day after another explosion. It was the start of a lifelong habit.

One night, a very tired Mabel was desperately trying not to nod off and was spotted by a fellow worker.
“Here luv. Take one of these” she hissed – slyly slipping Mam a tablet.
“What is it?”
“Get it swallowed. It’ll help you keep awake”.
It was an amphetamine wakey-wakey pill which RAF bomber pilots took on missions to keep them alert.
She said it kept her awake for days afterwards and as far as I know, that’s the last time she ever “dabbled”.

Abridged, from ‘The Thirty Bob Kid’ by Dave Dutton.

Construction began on ROF Risley in August 1939. It was 18 months before the site was fully operational but bombs were produced there from September 1940. After WW2, the site allegedly (according to Wikipedia) became the design offices and laboratories for the UK’s fledgling nuclear weapons and nuclear power programmes. Birchwood Forest Park now stands where much of ROF Risley stood. 


The Thirty Bob Kid by Dave Dutton is available now from Amazon. Born to Mabel, a single mum who worked in a Lancashire cotton mill and lived in a two up two down in a cobbled street, the book takes us on a journey through the many phases of Dave’s career from journalist to Ken Dodd’s chief joke writer to writing songs for some of the North West’s biggest folk acts and appearing in some of the UK’s biggest soaps and television shows, including Coronation Street and Emmerdale. It is humorous, touching and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Click on the logo to hear Dave Dutton talk more about Risley Munitions, his years spent working with Ken Dodd and his hugely popular ‘Lanky Spoken Here’ book and LP (audio courtesy of Radio Warrington 1332AM).

‘This Warrington’ video

A short video that pays tribute to Warrington’s rich industrial past whilst looking forward to a bright, positive future has been produced by a group of Warrington based actors and creatives. The video, entitled ‘This Warrington’ (viewable below),  features the words of Warrington History Society’s Chairman Andy Green and is performed by members of Ludovico Studio’s ‘Class of 2018’.

So how did the project come about?

Said Andy: I was inspired to write the piece after chatting to Darren Jeffries of Ludovico. Darren’s been running acting classes at the Pyramid since 2018. He wanted to produce a collaborative piece with his students that summed up the feeling of positivity he feels is running through the town. He knew that I too was a proud Warringtonian who’d done some writing in the past and wondered if I had anything that would be suitable.”

Andy said he went home that night and wrote ‘This Warrington’ in around two hours.

“I’m a little older than Darren and have witnessed some significant changes in the town, some of which haven’t necessarily been for the best. That said, I believe Warrington is in a very good place; new buildings are going up, there’s a renewed focus on the town’s arts and culture scene, opinions are being sought and people appear to be being listened to.

“However, I think it’s really important when looking to the future that we respect our past. As someone who is very interested in local history I know Warrington wouldn’t be the place it is today without the hard work of those that have gone before. I wanted to ensure my words acknowledged this.”

Andy said he started thinking about how different generations react to change.

“When the heavy industries of the 19th century that helped shape Warrington disappeared a lot of people wondered what was in store for them. But as time progressed people adapted and new opportunities presented themselves.

“As well as looking to the future, I wanted the piece to reference the enterprise, education and innovation that has occurred in the town. As Warrington History Society members will know, Warrington is a town that has consistently punched above its weight and long may that continue.”

Click on the logo to listen to Andy Green and Darren Jeffries discuss the story behind Ludovico Studio’s ‘This Warrington’ project (audio courtesy of Radio Warrington 1332AM).

 

Andy, foreground, pictured with Darren Jeffries, back row right, and other members of Ludovico Studio’s Class of 2018. (Picture courtesy of the Warrington Guardian).

The Fairfield Motorcycle

Alfred Forster on one of his Warrington made Fairfield motorcycles.

 

OVER the years Warrington has earned its reputation as “the town of many industries” with history books often quoting glass making, beer brewing, soap boiling, wire weaving, tanning and even ship-building as significant local industries.

But thanks to Warrington History Society another trade can now be added to the list – motorcycle-making!

Granted, it only occurred on a small scale, but as the images on this page testify, it produced some very impressive specimens.

The trade was unearthed following an email to our Chairman Andy Green from a Yorkshire based auction house. The email, from auctioneer Andrew Spicer, read: “I’ve been asked to sell an early motorcycle that was made in Warrington and wonder if you have any records of the firm or the man who made it?”

Enclosing some photographs, Andrew went on to say the machine in question was a 1914 ‘Fairfield’ made by Alfred Forster of 41 Mersey Street and that he believed production ended in 1915 possibly due to the outbreak of war.

Warrington History Society took to its archives and Facebook to see if any additional light could be thrown on the man or the machine. A day or so later relative Lynda Bushell got in touch.

Said Lynda: “The name Alfred Forster rang a bell from my family tree which I researched a few years back. I’m related to Alf through my dad’s Uncle and I’ve actually got some pictures of Alf and his son on two separate Fairfield motorcycles.”

Another lady Elizabeth Cartledge contacted us from Australia to say she too was related to Alf through her husband. Both Lynda and Elizabeth had an old press-cutting that threw more light on the Warrington-born Inventor.

The cutting, dated 1962, revealed Mr Forster had worked in the motor trade for around 50 years and that during this time he had brought out “the well known Fairfield motorcycle which sold for 25 pounds.”

Our additional research revealed that the Fairfield was produced for a total of two years (1914-1915). All models were fitted with a 269CC Villiers two-stroke engine with Druid forks. Purchasers could opt for either direct belt drive or an Armstrong three-speed hub.

It appears Alfred, who was born in Warrington in 1885, also made three-wheel cars for the article quotes him as saying: “When I bought out my first three-wheeler car people wanted to back me but I wouldn’t have any of it. I decided going into production on a large scale wasn’t for me. I believed the car industry was going to be plagued with money and labour troubles and I’ve been proved right.”

Alf’s son on another Fairfield motorcycle.

Instead of accepting investment and the possibility of big bucks, the “sprightly inventor” carried on making his Fairfield motorcycle – possibly called Fairfield because of his workshop’s Mersey Street location in Howley & Fairfield – before later switching to selling and repairing cycles until his retirement in 1949.

Although originally employed as a wire galvaniser’s labourer in Warrington, it seems Alfred perfected his engineering skills working on the first UK-manufactured Model T Ford which was assembled at Trafford Park, Manchester in 1911/12. Indeed, in later life, aged 77, Alfred was given a VIP tour around Ford’s new Halewood Plant as a thank you for his contribution.

The article concluded by saying that even though Alfred’s eyesight was failing he was now working on a special kind of tin opener that he was hoping to patent!

“That was apparently Alf all over,” said Lynda. “A relative told me he was always tinkering about with something.”

Alfred died in 1970 aged 85. It is not known how many Fairfield motorcycles he made but at least one unrestored version is still in existence. It was owned by Alf until 1950 when he sold it to a gentleman in Grappenhall. This is the machine that will be auctioned by Andrew Spicer of Dee, Atkinson & Harrison on 3 November 2018.

Andrew has kindly offered to bring the motorcycle to a future Warrington History Society meeting for local history and/or motorcycle enthusiasts to look at before it is auctioned. If we manage to organise this it will be an opportunity to see a rare and once forgotten piece of Warrington’s history in the town in which it was made.

The Fairfield that is being auctioned later this year.

ABOUT WARRINGTON HISTORY SOCIETY
Established in 1964, Warrington History Society’s aim is to encourage an interest in all aspects of local history with particular reference to Warrington and its surrounding areas. Our 2018/19 lecture programme can be found here.

Warrington in the 1980s

With all of the development work currently taking place in the town centre, we thought it might be a good time to look back at what certain parts of Warrington looked like in the 1980s. This was another period of significant change which was thankfully caught on camera by keen photographer and Warrington History Society member Alan Spiers. We hope you enjoy Alan’s pictures.

Golden Square

Making way for Golden Square – Market Gate and Horsemarket Street looking towards Sankey Street. Although Holy Trinity Church still stands, the water tower is now gone.

Golborne Street

Before the new bus station was built: Golborne Street looking towards New Town House. Notice the C&A sign on the top right of the relatively new Golden Square shopping complex.

Tetley Walkers' brewery

Work on the Winwick Road/Lythgoes Lane junction brings a new view of  Tetley Walkers Brewery to pedestrians on Orford Lane. You can also make out the edge of the old Co-op Hall building  on the right. Both buildings have now gone.

Mersey Street

Looking North from Mersey Street/Bridge Foot. The old Times Square car park is on the right. Taken from the site of the old Weighbridge.

River Mersey/Warrington Bridge

Warrington Bridge looking towards Chester Road and Gartons. The River Mersey is a lot cleaner today!

Warrington Roller Rink

A view of Warrington’s old Roller Rink building from Winmarleigh Street.

Dial Street

Taken from Dial Street – Buttermarket Street shops (just down from St Marys Church). How many people had a chippy tea or lunch from Harry’s Fish Bar? They did magic Burgers there.

Battersby Lane/Fennel Street

Battersby Lane and Fennel Street road widening from Cockhedge.

Winwick Road

Shops on Winwick Road across the road and a little further down from Central Station. Did anyone else play Space Invaders in the Amusement Arcade on the right?

Dallam Lane

Before Tesco. This picture was taken from Dallam Lane. The building with the clock was part of the old Tetley Walker brewery complex.

WARRINGTON HISTORY SOCIETY
Established in 1964, Warrington History Society’s aim is to encourage an interest in all aspects of local history with particular reference to Warrington and its surrounding areas. Our 2018/19 lecture programme can be viewed here.

Can you add any more information to the images shown above? If so please email it to warringtonhistorysociety@gmail.com

There Was A Prisoner

What follows is a true story.  It was told in a Sermon given in Florida, USA, on Christmas Eve 1998 but relates to an incident that took place many Christmases earlier at St Mary’s RC Church in Warrington…

st-marys-xmas

St Mary’s RC Church, Buttermarket Street, Warrington.

“THERE was a prisoner-of-war camp near the town of Warrington, England, during World War II. Like all English towns during the war years, Warrington was blacked out at night to avert possible enemy air attacks. When Christmas approached, no coloured lights lit up trees and windows. And so, as the Catholics of Warrington trudged through the streets on Christmas Eve to Midnight Mass, no Christmas lights lit their way.

Father Martin Rochford

Fr. Martin Rochford, St Mary’s Parish Priest from 1942-1953.

“By 11:30 the church was filled up except for the front three rows on each side. Promptly at 11:50, a group of German and Italian prisoners of war filed into Church, flanked by armed guards, and filled the empty rows. At 11:55 Father Martin Rochford, the parish priest, appeared and announced to the congregation that he had bad news. The Mass would have to be celebrated without music. The Parish’s only organist had taken ill. A groan rose up from the congregation. At this point a German prisoner turned to a guard and said something. The guard went up and spoke to Fr. Rochford. The Priest nodded his head in agreement. Then the prisoner went over to the organ and sat down.

“Slowly and reverently he began to play in a way that brought tears to the eyes of everyone in the church. That night, despite the darkened streets and windows, the spirit of Christmas lit up the town of Warrington in a way that the people would never forget. That night in Warrington, people – friends and enemies – saw each other as God intended them to be: a symbol of one family.

“That night in Warrington, the light of a great star, the spirit of Jesus, lit up the dark countryside. That night in Warrington, the words of the prophet Isaiah, from the first reading of the Midnight Mass, came alive for the people of Warrington in a beautiful way.

“Isiah wrote: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone’. {Isaiah 9:1}”

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

The above Sermon was given by Father Joseph W. Nealin at Holy Redeemer RC Church, Palm City, Florida, USA on Christmas Eve 1998. Bill Wilson, a former Staff Sergeant at Burtonwood Airbase, was present at the service. Recalled Bill: “I was a Staff Sergeant when I served at Burtonwood in 1952-53. I was at Site 4, Headquarters Squadron. I must say that when the sermon was given, I was completely surprised at its content. After Mass I went to the Priest who had just given it and he was delighted that he met someone who was stationed at the Base in Warrington. He gladly gave me a copy and it has become one of my Burtonwood Treasures”.  

Warrington History Society believes the Priest’s story is a memory we all should treasure, whatever our religious (or non-religious) inclinations. Happy Christmas to one and all.

Inside St Mary's RC Church (now known as St Mary's Shrine), Buttermarket Street, Warrington.

Inside St Mary’s RC Church (today known as St Mary’s Shrine), Buttermarket Street, Warrington (from Wikipedia).

Warrington History Society was established in 1964. Our aim is to encourage an interest in aspects of local history. Our 2018/19 lecture programme includes talks on Warrington’s gas industry, the Rylands family and William Beamont. For further information and joining details visit warringtonhistorysociety.uk

With thanks/acknowledgements to Aldon Ferguson of the RAF Burtonwood Association, Bill Wilson (former S/Sgt USAF), Andrea Kelly and Father de Malleray, current Rector at St Mary’s Shrine.

Another view of the church, taken on Maundy Thursday, 2018.

 

Sankey Canal

Sankey Canal, also known as the Sankey Brook Navigation and St Helens Canal, was opened in 1757 primarily to transport coal from Haydock and Parr to the expanding chemical industries of Liverpool. Widely regarded as England’s first true canal having opened some time before the nearby Bridgewater Canal, a substantial section of it runs through Warrington. One section, known as ‘The Hotties’, has even been known to include tropical fish! Here, with the help of SCARS (the Sankey Canal Restoration Society), is a brief history of the canal followed by a short essay on the impact the canal had on the childhood of one of our members, Tom Ireland. 

A HISTORY OF SANKEY CANAL

Stephenson's Viaduct. Courtesy of SCARS.

Stephenson’s nine-arch viaduct at Collins Green, Burtonwood. Its construction in 1830 saw England’s first canal crossed by its first scheduled passenger railway. Courtesy of SCARS.

The Sankey Brook Navigation was the first English Canal of the industrial revolution. It was authorised by parliament in 1755 and open for traffic in 1757, some years before the Bridgewater Canal which is often mistakenly described as England’s first canal. It was however never a navigation since the channel of the Sankey Brook was never improved. Instead an artificial channel was constructed alongside the brook but independent from it.

The Canal was engineered by Henry Berry, from Parr, St Helens, who was a Liverpool Dock Engineer under Thomas Steers. It was the Councilors and merchants of that city, many also involved with the Cheshire salt trade who promoted the canal in order to secure cheap supplies of coal for the industrial and domestic hearths.

The old double locks. Courtesy of SCARS.

The old double locks. Courtesy of SCARS.

The first double or staircase locks in England became known as the Old Double Locks to distinguish them from a similar pair on a later branch. Together with the eight single locks these raised the waterway by eighty feet on the original line.

The Canal was extended along the Mersey twice to take advantage of more favourable tides. The first extension from Sankey Bridges to Fiddlers Ferry opened in 1762 and the second, onwards to Widnes followed in 1830. When the St. Helens Railway was extended eastwards to Warrington in 1852/53 the course of the canal at Fiddlers Ferry was modified to eliminate its oblique approach to the lock.

Extensions at the St. Helens end took place in 1770 (to Blackbrook where the waters from the Canal reservoir at Carr Mill were taken in) and in 1772 (to Ravenhead, where copper works and later glass works were built to utilise coal from nearby mines).

From Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia.

The Canal was very profitable until the railways came along, reputedly paying an average annual dividend of 33%. Even when the St. Helens Railway Company amalgamated with the Canal Company in 1845 the latter was the more profitable with a surplus of £13,581 against the railway’s surplus of £5,686. The London & North Western Railway took over in 1864.

By the turn of the century the coal traffic had gone from the canal and abandonment commenced progressively from the northern terminus of the Canal. Canal Street was built over the Ravenhead spur in 1898 whilst the Sutton Branch shrank gradually. Inevitably the lack of traffic through to St. Helens and the rise of motor traffic led to the complete abandonment of the waterway to the north of Newton Common Lock in 1931 allowing fixed, low level road bridges to be built soon after.

In 1855, a century after the Canal was authorised; the Sankey Sugar Company had opened its works at Earlestown. The Company was attracted by the local coalfield and the availability of bulk transport for the raw sugar via the Mersey and the Canal. This traffic singled out the Sankey in 1942 when the current owners, the London Midland Scottish Railway Company refused to allow its closure despite a recommendation to this effect in a commissioned report. The carrying fleet of T.H. Burton & Sons was too old to be worth modernizing when improved road transport and bulk handling (as opposed to sacks) came along in 1959 so traffic finally ceased. The final Act of Abandonment was passed in 1963.

The canal at Widnes in 1933 (Courtesy of SCARS).

The canal at Widnes in 1933 (Courtesy of SCARS).

 

THE ESSENTIALITY OF PRAM WHEELS
…or the secret of uniting children with their surroundings – by Tom Ireland.

Tom Ireland, aged 11.

Tom Ireland, aged 11.

Apologies to those of sounder mind than mine: I tend to ramble. This is a study of how a youngster came to realise the existence of his historical environment.

I blame my father. A lovely man, a sea-going engineer, the first of his family’s firstborn males not to have been christened Thomas for two hundred years. Naturally, I expected to follow in his salty footsteps, hindered only by almost terminal short-sightedness, red/green colour blindness, and an inability to form any sort of bond with mathematics. Where was I?

The canal at Sankey Bridges

The canal at Sankey Bridges (Courtesy of SCARS).

The water I was using to immerse myself in was a pond. Ponds were great; they had limits, edges, places for immersion and exmersion. Then I discovered canals. Well, one very particular canal, one that I’m in love with even now. I blame my mother. It was her habit to go shopping in Warrington Market on Saturday. Every Saturday. We travelled by Crosville bus, possibly the H20 (?), from Widnes to Warrington. One day the bus was held up by an opened bridge at a place known as Sankey Bridges. I escaped from the bus and watched a boat crawling along a waterway.

The waterway was not a pond. It had a this side and a that side but no end in sight in either direction. I was intrigued. I wasn’t a greatly travelled child and hadn’t noticed much about the habits of rivers but I examined this canally object. It required exploration. The idea lurked while I swotted for the 11+. I recall an arithmetic test. I recall most of my answers which consisted of written notes much to the effect of ‘I would love to know how to solve this. Is it possible?’ The English paper included a small space to write a story about a star. I used the allocated space to explain that most navigation did not require a knowledge of astronomy but, because our creator had given us brains, one simply had to start off in the right direction and we would automatically end up in Manchester (where ever that was.) I walked home and waited for the letter allocating a place at the Grammar school.

Spike Island

Spike Island (Courtesy of SCARS).

To the surprise of all adults I was granted a place and started to plot. The traditional reward for passing the 11+ was a bicycle. I wanted a boat and a pair of pram wheels. The milk round lasted for weeks, a cart horse named Captain in charge, and, with tips, I raised four pounds. Mrs Haney, four doors away, donated a pram. News had travelled about my need for a boat, possibly because I talked about nothing else for a year. I eventually paid three pounds and ten shillings for a 10 foot long PBK canvas covered kayak, which I tied to the pram wheels and towed home behind my bike from Northwich. I paused on the bank of the Sankey Canal at Spike Island in West Bank, Widnes, where I launched my boat ‘PuP’ (because by now I needed a dog).  I fell in again, tried again, paddled a few yards and fell in love. I cycled soggily home, head full of places to go and sights to see and determined to find out why a canal should have been built there, exactly where I needed it to be.

Abandoned Mersey Flats, pictured here in 1961

Abandoned Mersey Flats, 1961 (Courtesy SCARS).

That was the first of many voyagettes, mostly along the Sankey, avoiding the huge sugar-carrying Mersey Flats, intimidated by the soaring nine arches of Stevenson’s railway viaduct, squeezing PuP under low lying rail bridges. The romance lasted for a few years then faded for a while when clip-on motors for bicycles were invented. I sold my soul for a gold painted Mini-motor and whizzed away in a cloud of smoke. Trade on the canal ended in 1959 but by then I’d completed National Service, Teacher Training, discovered cars (I part-exchanged PuP for a BSA three-wheeler) and a girl who liked history and boats.

Time for another canoe, I think. The pram wheels probably no longer essential to the story.

THE HOTTIES – by Andy Green

The Hotties!

The Hotties in St Helens.

Although it falls outside the boundary of Warrington, no article on Sankey Canal would be complete without a reference to ‘The Hotties’. I recall being taken to St. Helens as a child to see the strange phenomenon of steam rising from the canal caused by the warm water pumped into it by Pilkington’s Glass Factory. So warm was the water it became home to a number of tropical fish, dumped there by youngsters who had become bored of keeping them in fish tanks. Tropical fish reported to have been seen in the Hotties, all allegedly confirmed, include Guppies, Liberty Mollies, Catfish and Tilapia Galilae. Reports of an alligator in the depths of the canal are unconfirmed but the possibility of one kept me from diving in back the early 80s!

About SCARS
The Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS) was formed in 1985 with the principal aim of achieving the full restoration of Sankey Canal. It is currently concentrating on a project which seeks to open up the lower sections of the canal between Fiddler’s Ferry and its river entrance at Spike Island. To find out more about SCARS and its work visit www.sankeycanal.co.uk. Warrington History Society would like to thank SCARS for their assistance in producing this article and for allowing us to illustrate it with their photographs.

About Warrington History Society
Established in 1964, Warrington History Society’s aim is to encourage an interest in all aspects of local history with particular reference to Warrington and its surrounding areas. Our 2017/18 lecture programme can be viewed here. If you would like to submit an article for possible inclusion in our ‘Fleeting Memories’ series please email it to warringtonhistorysociety@gmail.com

Lou Schmidt’s Diary

Louis F. Schmidt of Pennsylvania, USA, served at Burtonwood Airbase from November 1951 to March 1954. Lou, a member of the 3rd Air Force’s 59th Supply and Repair Squadron (USAF), kept a diary throughout his time in Warrington. Here, in the second of a series of articles brought to you in conjunction with the Burtonwood Assocation, are extracts from his diary. We’re sure you’ll agree it’s a fascinating read.

burtonwood-airfield

Easter Sunday 1952
The base is divided into six sites and a bus is used to go from one site to the other. When we first arrived at Burtonwood, we were placed in Site #3. I am now at Site #2 loading planes with supplies for Germany (kind of the last of the Berlin Airlift and I’ve been flying to Germany in C82s and C47s). I’m now headed for the PX {Post Exchange/Shop} which is between Site #5 and Site #6. I will ride over in the base bus. Last Friday night the Communists came on the base and caused half-million dollars of damage. They ran 20 trucks head-on into each other. APs {Air Police} caught two men and let them go again before finding out all the damage they had done. I put a pound ($2.80) on the Irish Sweepstakes for May 1st. Got my fingers crossed! Looks like good food again at the chow-hall for our Easter Dinner.

7 April 1952
Well today was a very busy day for we spent it with 700 British parachute troops playing “War Games.” They jumped on our base here early this morning. The alert went off and we went off. Frank and I took position together guarding a ditch through the field up to the base headquarters. After covering over 100 yards on our hands and stomachs, we spotted them coming up a road in jeeps putting up a smokescreen for a small troop of men following on foot. Frank and I hid by the side of the ditch letting the truck go by, for around the corner was one of our trucks with a .50 cal. machine-gun mounted on the roof. Frank shot one man and I moved up 25 yards and shot another one. We went back and reported seeing 30 men, jeeps and cycles to an officer who then put us in charge of a flight on men to go back and engage. On our way back the alert was called over. The Americans won this round and we wonder what the English will print in their paper this time. They made a big thing when they won the last time at our base in Southern England. This is all in fun!

10 April 1952
Ended up working long hours over Easter Sunday. Hope this rush won’t last much longer. I got my English friend a large Easter Egg for his kid again. He can’t get candy without giving up ration points. He gave me a folding razor as a “thank you.” Sending it home to dad. He works with me at Warehouse #100.

19 April 1952
Just came in after playing war games with the APs. The whole base was placed on alert all morning and after the horn blew, they gave us the rest of the day off. Today is Saturday and tomorrow being Sunday – we get another day of rest. You should see us running about with M1’s trying to stop APs from taking over Site #2. One stopped our CO’s {Commanding Officer} car and what a look I got. This June or July the RAF is going to drop troops on Burtonwood to see how much we are learning from days like today. School starts Monday morning to teach us about supply work. School will last for three weeks. The 3rd AF HQ sent word down that all passes to the US are on hold. I don’t much care as I’d rather stay over here for my remaining time.

24 April 1952
This whole system of work they have at our Warehouse #100 is in a big mess. We are working from 8 AM to 9 PM; many nights and on Sundays. When we do get off, we are still able for call any hour. Problem is that us men were schooled in another work field other than Supply. I am going to Supply School to help make up for this error. I gave the Easter egg you sent to an English family for they still have problems getting candy – sweets as they say. Man works on base with me.

centralwarry1952

Central Warrington, circa 1952

30 April 1952
The UK is having its May Day soon, but because of the 40,000 Communists over here among 50 million people, all Airmen have to wear civilian clothes to town on that day. Our Warehouse #100 just had a big fire. A lot of equipment went up in smoke and no one knows if the Commies were in on it or not – or how it started?? Have to work till 9 tonight as a few more supply trucks came in to the base. It was payday today and I wanted to go into town tonight – looks like I’ll save my money. We had very heavy rain today and very sharp lightening with loud thunder. Not normal!

20 May 1952
One of my new hut buddies left for the ZI {States} today. His father was unable to keep up the work on their farm in Alabama so they let him go home. Big AF inspection this Sat. They are checking on AF clothes to see if we have all our own required full issued “material counts.” It only cost us 5 cents to go to Warrington by bus from Site #2. $1.40 for a taxi – split 4 ways comes to only 35 cents each. I’m getting to like these “beans on toast” for 4 cents, cup of tea for 6 cents at the tea breaks – 10:45 AM and 2:45 PM. On the radio today it said that bread; sugar; tea; butter and eggs were getting harder to get on the English market. These 5 items have been rationed for many years and now almost unable to get in great amounts. The average Englishman makes about $25 to $30 a week, where the lowest paid Yank makes $47 with no house bills

7 June 1952
About the English money: The most commonly used notes are the Pound and Ten Shilling notes. Pound is 20 Shillings or $2.80 10 Shillings is $1.40. Each Shilling is worth 34 cents also called “Bob.”) and is the size of our 25 cent coin. It took a little time to get use to the price of things on the English market. I was to have taken a Supply Plane (C-47) over to Germany but it was delayed because of heavy fog. A small Navy plane came in for a landing, missed the big runway, blew a tire, crashed head-on into one of our C47s which was taking off. Nothing much left of both planes and 7 Airmen were killed and over 11 wounded. I went to see 6 in the base hospital and they were burnt up hands and face. Others found in the wreckage were burnt to dust. Remains were placed in canvas bags with “Dog Tags” placed around the bag top opening, to mark the remains. First crash that took place around here for some time now. Some of these guys were to be sent home next week as their time of “overseas” duty was up. I’m due to fly out of here by C47 within the next week with supplies for Wiesbaden.

30 July 1952
The USO {United Service Organisations} put on a show last night at the base gym on Site #2. I work on Gyros, Flux-gate Master Compass for Jets. I put them through electrical tests. I give them the final test before being placed in the plane. I am very surprised that the AF takes my word and trust me with such an instrument even if it is a simple job for me to do. I always try my best, as you know.

28 Aug 1952
Burtonwood is now the base for those two helicopters that made history crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I see them flying around now and then.

20 Sept 1952
I am now a Charter Member of the Burtonwood Cycle Club. It just came under the power of the Base CO. Now, anyone belonging to this club can bring their cycle on the base. We must do our riding by their rules or back off base we go. We all think it is a great idea. Last Thursday I was CQ {Chief Clerk} for our Squadron in the Orderly Room. I had a .45 cal. handgun about like the super .38 cal. gun on a .45 frame like back home. Most of the phone calls that came in were from English girls – calling for the guys.

moscow-molly

Moscow Molly was an English speaking Soviet propaganda radio broadcaster

26 Sept 1952
I keep my Triumph cycle in a barn near work as we can’t ride on base with them just yet. My rent money for the barn is 35 (was 25) cents a week. I give the farmer $1.40 a month ahead (10 shillings in his money) I cruise at 50 mph with no problem The AP jeeps are almost wide open at that speed. I can hit over 100 mph when I kick into 4th gear. Law allows this speed when riding out of any town. Tomorrow (Saturday 27th) we have another “alert.” Well, after hearing “Moscow Molly” on the radio again last night, I think we are cruel fighting men until I go downtown and see our boys giving away candy to the kids. Moscow Molly comes on the radio now and then and what she says about America sure makes us laugh. I’m sure the English don’t think all of us are as bad as she says.

7 Oct 1952
Today is the day that motorcycles are allowed on the base for the first time before, we had to park outside the base gate and now I park it just outside my hut. I still have the use of the farmer’s barn – should I need it.

2 Nov 1952
Yesterday I went to the motorcycle race at Dunlap some 30 miles from the base. Motorcycles were all over the place. Races were held on top of a hill we had to climb 500 feet to reach the top. It was an all dirt track – lots of spills. Our cycle club held a “Halloween” Party at the club house last Friday night. Lots of fun. The chow-hall gave us all the food we could eat for the party.

5 Nov 1952
Well, my first time at voting was a success! “Ike” voted president and I won a $5 bet here at the base! My first vote. Tonight the whole base is restricted and no one can go into town because it’s “Guy Fawkes Day.” An English celebration.

8 Dec 1952
Boy, I received 20 Christmas cards and 5 packages so far for this Christmas. When I receive food I pass it out to the boys in my hut. Don’t last long! Those shortbread and cookies were made here in Liverpool, only 22 miles from me. Export only – the English have trouble buying them – if they can at all.

snow

The fog makes way for snow outside one of the base’s Nissen huts

Dec 1952
Well the fog came in thick and right into the hut where we sleep and you can’t see very good from one end of the hut to the other. Took Freda out to dinner over the moors and it cost 75 cents each. The old Morris is still running great for a 1934 car. Taking Freda to the NCO club Christmas Eve and going to eat Christmas Dinner at the Site #5 Chow-hall which has a section set aside just to take your guest. Hope the fog keeps away!

10 Jan 1953
Spent New Year’s Eve up in Chadderton, at a party with Freda, and left at 1 AM in my “1934 Morris” car as I had to pull duty first thing in the morning. Never saw such fog like what I ran into when I came into Manchester. It took me 3 and a half hours to go the 20 miles from Manchester to Burtonwood. Should have been lot less than an hour to my hut on Site #5. I knew that Sgt. Lewis (over me) would find out if I reported late for work that morning, so I never did get to sleep that night. I never did see the APs on the gate into site #6 and they only heard my car going past them.

24 March 1953
Took the Triumph Cycle to London on Sat. to see one of the first 3-D movie shows. This movie was the first full 3-D show ever put out. Very good show and everyone had to look through a ‘”viewer” (like sunglasses) to see the show. Great!

6 May 1953
I’m here at Brize Norton {US airbase in Oxford}. Been here for sometime now but I am expected to be shipped back to Burtonwood soon. While here I was sent over to the Colonel’s house to fix his washing machine. His wife had water all over her kitchen and the Colonel himself turned the pump hose pointing at his uniform body. This I did not know when I pushed the on button. The hose went off shooting wash-water all over him. I think maybe this is why I am being sent back so soon to Burtonwood. Maybe I should not have laughed!

9 May 1953
When I came back from Brize Norton, I found 4 of my friends here at RAF Burtonwood married to English girls. I heard that an average of 75 English girls are marring Yanks every month??? I don’t know how true this number is – sounds like far too many for me to believe!

hopalong

The USAF’s ‘Hop-a-Long’ helicopter

9 June 1953
Today is Tuesday and we just had another march-in-review for another General on his way back home to the States. A Helicopter that was taking pictures flew quite close to us. This helicopter was one of the first to fly across the ocean. It is called “Hop-a-long.” The AF {Air Force} made such a fuss and a lot of talk about it doing so. I believe our cycle club has 80 bikes now and still growing each year. Loth and I took our gals last Sunday to “Crime Lake” which is about 30 miles east of the base. Ended up in rowboats out on the lake below the pub. Lots of fun!

17 July 1953
The boys keep bringing me their motorcycles to fix. I help all I can when I can. Had a 500cc apart last night and will have to work all day putting it all back together for it’s Saturday tomorrow and we have all day off after morning inspection. Got to shine my shoes etc. to be ready for tomorrow morning. The 3rd AF just came out with an order that all motorcycle riders must have crash helmets on their heads or they can’t ride their cycle. We have 115 club riders now and all have white helmets making us look like we belong to an “AF Ground Force” when riding together wearing our uniforms.

4 Aug 1953
Bob Desjardins took me up in a two-seated “Maggie”, an open cockpit job with one wing. Not like the “Tiger Moth” which is a two winger. More like the Basic Trainer DHC-1 “Chipmunk” we also flew in. Des is a great pilot. Last week, Freda and I took the motorcycle to an amusement park just outside of Manchester. It is called “Bell View Park.” Bought Freda a crash helmet, goggles and a pair of men’s “Levi” pants (bet she’s the first/only girl in England with such pants!)

16 Oct 1953
I miss not having my motorcycle, but Freda likes my car for dates. Last night one of my old club motorcycle friends got killed when he ran into a big truck outside the gate. The Red Cross truck passed me on the way to pick him up. I saw his motorcycle and it was a mess. He was all broken up and the other fellow riding on the back with him is in a very bad way and may not live. It was the truck’s fault, but what good is that? The fog is back very heavy and I lost my way to the Site #5 chow-hall this morning. Still, I got there in time for the fresh eggs! The 3rd Air Force still has my papers necessary to get married. Freda and I wanted to get married in Feb. Will let you know more later on. This month I have been overseas for two years – one more year or less to go before I see you again.

13 Nov 1953
Don’t send any electric gadgets for my English friends as their electric is 220 AC over here and not 110 DC like back home. The base has its very own electric system and we can and do use 110 DC. Well the rain season started again and we started to call England “Umbrella Land.” Cost $10 to join the base gun club which gives me 100 rounds to shoot trap. The club has 6 guns but because of all this rain, I don’t think I will join for it’s too hard to shoot a good score in such rainy weather.

3 Feb 1954
Last Saturday, another fellow and I went hunting in my car up in the Moors about 40 miles NE of here. His name is Amel and he comes from Texas. We got five birds – 2 quail and 3 partridge. Amel bought an old 12 gage (bore over here) in Warrington for 7 pounds ($18). Shot shells for the gun cost only 6 cents each. Our hunting license cost less than 1 pound each ($1.50). Took them back to Freda’s house and her mother cooked them up for us. Great feast! Her family loved them also.

8 Feb 1954
Went hunting last Sat. with two of the boys in my hut. Took the old Morris car up over the Moors. We got two birds and took them back to Freda’s mom to cook for us like last week. Oh yes, I got a ticket for Freda on the Queen Mary. It cost $167.65. Tourist class for the 8th of this April. Should be in NY – 13th of April.

louonwayhome

Louis Schmidt pictured on his way back home

30 March 1954
This is my last letter from England, as tonight I and the boys are going to Southampton by train and our boat leaves for the USA at 9:30 AM tomorrow. Freda’s family had a party for me up in Oldham – 30 miles from base. I said good-bye at 12:30 and took a taxi all the way back to the base. Just exchanged my English pounds back into US greenbacks early today. Have to get baggage loaded on to the trucks now! See you around the first part of April.

Sadly Louis Schmidt is no longer with us. Just in case you’re wondering, yes he did go on to marry Freda, the lady referred to in the article.


The Burtonwood Association & Heritage Centre

The aim of the Burtonwood Association is to uphold the memory of the men, women and activities that occurred at RAF Burtonwood between 1942 and 1993 and to record them for future generations. It is also responsible for running the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre at Gullivers World which is often visited by ex-servicemen and other site personnel.

lou-robbins

Ex-head choir boy Lou Robbins back in St Wilfred’s after 82 years

A recent visitor to the centre was 94-year-old Ernest ‘Lou’ Robbins, a locally born man who worked on the base between 1948 and 1958 as an Air Ministry Pipe Fitter and then as a warehouse charge-hand before emigrating to California. As well as visiting the heritage centre, Lou (not to be confused with the Lou in our main story above) travelled to St Wilfred’s Church in Grappenhall where he’d served as head choir boy over 82 years earlier. During WWII Lou worked as a heating installation engineer at Lyneham airfield in Wiltshire and was there the night a German aircraft bombed the base and killed five of his colleagues. Lou was unhurt but remembers the attack vividly. Lou later became an Army motorcycle dispatch rider before returning to  Warrington in 1948 to spend 10 happy years working at Burtonwood. Like most visitors to the heritage centre Lou found the whole experience fascinating and went back to the States with memories galore. To find out more about the the heritage centre, its exhibits and its opening times click here.

Warrington History Society would like to thank Aldon Ferguson of the Burtonwood Association for allowing us to publish the words and photographs used in this article.

Friars Green Chapel

One of the many highlights of Warrington History Society’s 2016/17 season was the opportunity to learn about our meeting place – Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel in Cairo Street. Here Ken McDermott, a minister at the Church, tells us more about the history of the Chapel and the Independent Methodist movement in general.

friarsgreentodaypic

To set the scene, the fellowship at Friars Green can trace its roots back to 1796 when the world was a different place. We think we have our problems now but just across the channel the French Revolution was in full swing. There were fears that a peoples’ revolution could be contagious and break out on this side of the channel too.

At the same time Britain was facing rapid change and becoming an industrial powerhouse with large numbers of working class people making the transition from working in an agricultural economy to migrating in vast numbers to the growing towns and cities to work in mills and factories; this was a change particularly felt in the north.

Dissenters, or non-conformists as they were to become termed, were often looked upon with suspicion. Indeed the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 prevented dissenters from taking up Public or Military Office – seeking to ensure that any such office was filled by communicants of the Church of England only. Even after the Act of Toleration of 1689 it would not be until the repeal of the Test Acts, nearly 140 years later in 1828, that non-conformists would be allowed to take such offices.

johnwesley

John Wesley who, with his brother Charles and George Whitefield, founded Methodism.

Some may be surprised to hear that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, remained an Anglican clergyman to his dying day but he was an extraordinary character. Following a spiritual awakening in 1738, when he “felt his heart strangely warmed”, he commenced a new and radical phase in his ministry. He preached in the open air and travelled tremendous distances, setting up small societies wherever he went.

In these societies he would encourage intensive personal accountability, discipleship and bible teaching and would appoint un-ordained itinerant evangelists to areas to teach under his direction. Wesley had never seen his groups as separate to the Church of England but others did. They looked at the methodology that he used and labelled them “Methodists”.

Following Wesley’s death in 1791 it became clear that Methodism was separating from the Established Church, and, over time, it became more hierarchical and less dynamic. Small groups that had enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, came under increasing control. This would lead to difficult times that saw many groups leave, including the Primitive Methodists, Quaker Methodists, Band Room Methodists and Free Gospel Methodists.It was this heady mix that gave rise to the fellowship here in Warrington.

The history at Friars Green Independent Methodist Church is tied closely to the history of the Independent Methodist Denomination as a whole. Not because it was the earliest church, though it was amongst the earliest, but because its early leaders would be influential in forging a loose connexion of independent churches which had sprung into being from similar backgrounds.

Independent Methodism is the story of multiple groups, bearing numerous names, breaking away from Wesleyan Methodism typically for similar reasons.

In 1796, a group of members left Warrington’s Bank Street Methodist Church as a result of an attempt to curtail the cottage meetings which many of them attended. They started to hold meetings in a room over a grocers shop in Rose and Crown Street, just to the side of the old Rose and Crown pub on Bridge Street, and over the next few years they were joined by a number of Quakers.

peter_phillips

Peter Phillips

This may have been influenced by the fact that, one of their number, a young man of 19, Peter Phillips, had close contacts with Quakers.

Peter was born in 1778, one of 12 children, whose father was the town crier of Warrington and was often drunk and violent.

Early in his life, his mother placed him in the home of Thomas and Mary Watt, Quakers and tallow chandlers (candlemakers and merchants in oil) who lived at Friars Gate. His brother John took him to Bank Street Methodist Church where he became a regular member and, on at least one occasion, he heard John Wesley preach there. Peter was a gifted and intelligent young man, becoming a chairmaker in his adult life.

By 1802 they were able to build their first chapel. It was to be on the site of the green of the former 13 Century Augustinian Friary – hence the name ‘Friars Green.’

oldfriarsgreen

The old Friars Green Chapel

Founding members included William Maginnis (glass cutter), George Brimelow (weaver), Peter Phillips and his brother Joshua (chairmakers), these would be followed by shoe makers, farmers, a hat manufacturer, a spade maker, schoolmaster and Excise Officer.

Partly because of recent history and partly because of the Quaker influence, the church held the view that ministry should be unpaid and that no member should have a higher rank than any other. Hence its leaders were all voluntary workers, most of them tradesmen. Their determination commitment was shown in how they lived their lives…After gaining the packet of land they undertook the building work themselves at the end of each day’s work. The new chapel faced St Austin’s Lane with the land in front and behind used for burial purposes.

In 1806, Friars Green formed links with other churches of similar character. In due course they agreed upon the name ‘Independent Methodist’ which continues to the present day.

The church was vigorous in its evangelistic work and was always looking for ways to expand. Over the years, some of its meetings in outlying communities became churches themselves – Stockton Heath, Lymm, Lowton, Risley and Culcheth, for example.

Peter Phillips, the young chair maker, went on to lead the church for over fifty years and was an influential character in knitting together the patchwork of churches that would eventually become the “Independent Methodist Connexion. Here the distinctives would be developed… Priesthood of all believers… A free Gospel a free Ministry… No distinctive dress for ministers…. Typically churches ran by working class people for working class people…Churches where women had equality right from the beginning.

hannah_phillips

Hannah Phillips

Peter himself was an extraordinary character. In his 50 year ministry he travelled more than 30,000 miles, much on foot, and preached in excess of 6000 times. A further example of this is seen in an excerpt from John Dolan’s book “Peter’s People”: “Both Peter and (his wife} Hannah Phillips were practical philanthropists. This was vividly demonstrated during the 1832 cholera epidemic. The triangle of land bordered by Bridge Street, Buttermarket Street and Mersey Street became known as “sewer island”. In July, the hottest month of 1832, out of 116 people who died of cholera in the town, 90 lived in this area. Many fled to the countryside, but Peter and Hannah Phillips remained and exercised a personal ministry of care to the sick and the dying. Theirs was a philanthropy rooted in Christian belief and the comfort was spiritual as well as practical.”

In the early nineteenth century, few people had educational opportunities. Peter Phillips and others wanted to tackle this problem in Warrington, so they established Sunday Schools where reading and writing could be taught. The first one that he established was at our Stockton Heath Church in 1807, the Friars Green’s school began here in 1810 and Peter began a further school at Brick Street, in the Cockhedge area, in 1823 which continued until 1985. By 1821 the Stockton Heath Sunday School had over 300 attending. Peter died on May 11th 1853 having seen the work of God grow in Warrington and beyond.

In 1859, the chapel was demolished and the present building (pictured at the top of this page) replaced it. The church and Sunday School continued to thrive and, in time, prominent townsmen came from their ranks. Two members, James Evans and Robert Henshall, became mayors of Warrington in the 1920s. The present Worship Space was built as a schoolroom in 1911 on the site of the chapel’s former burial ground, providing much needed facilities for the number of children who attended.

friars-green-upstairs

A hidden gem of Warrington – the upstairs gallery at Friars Green Chapel. Sadly it is rarely used today because of issues with access.

Over the years, Friars Green has produced numerous able preachers who took the Christian message out to churches over a wide area. Many of their names are commemorated on a tablet in the chapel. Some went on to fulfil leadership roles in other churches.

The scale of the church’s activities during the past 200 years is so great it can only be hinted at in this article. Groups included the choir, Women’s Auxiliary, Christian Endeavour and Band of Hope, together with recreational activities such as football, cricket and amateur dramatics. Friars Green, therefore, has a great heritage. Members of the Church hope that by God’s grace it will go on to successfully meet the new challenges it faces in its third century.

The Independent Methodist movement currently comprises 74 churches. Most of these are based  in the North of England (for example there are 8 churches in the Warrington ‘circuit’, 10 in Wigan, 8 in Leigh, etc) with other churches in small groups elsewhere in the country. Further information on Friars Green Church and the wider Independent Methodist movement can be found at www.imcgb.org.uk. Many thanks to Ken for allowing us to publish his article.

 

Warrington History Society
Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. Our 2017/18 lecture programme will be published in July 2017 with lectures commencing in September. All lectures will take place at Friars Green Chapel.

 

The General Wolfe

In 1985 the landlord of The General Wolfe public house on Church Street called “time gentleman please” for the last time. His words marked the end of an era for one of Warrington’s most historic pubs.  Here, in an extract from his latest book, ‘Buttermarket to Cockhedge’, Warrington History Society member Harry Wells recalls the history of the once thriving Greenall Whitley pub and the unsuccessful fight to save it from demolition.

The General Wolfe circa 1977 with the old Star Kinema, left, and part of Rylands' factory, far right. (Picture: Harry Wells).

The General Wolfe circa 1977 with the old Star Kinema, left, and part of Rylands’ wire works, far right. (Picture: Harry Wells).

The General Wolfe was a well known local pub situated next to the Star Kinema. Although the pub itself wasn’t huge, it had a large yard at the back with various ancillary buildings, including an old brewhouse and stables. In 1891 we find the licensee was Alfred Wright Brundil who lived here with his wife, their son who was a medical student, their eldest daughter who was a pupil teacher, two younger daughters and a niece. There were also three general domestic servants as well as an ostler, groom and a male servant.

The sad state of the vandalised and boarded up General Wolfe in 1993

The sad state of the vandalised and boarded up General Wolfe in 1993

The present building is a ‘replica’ erected in 1997. The original pub, having been empty for eighteen months was boarded up by Greenall Whitley in 1987 to prevent vandalism. The owners explained that there were then too many pubs in the area for the level of demand. In August 1990 it was reported that Interchase Limited had bought the site and that construction would soon be starting on a 25,000 sq.ft. development.

In October the Motherwell company submitted plans to restore the frontage of the building, while making internal alterations and demolishing the outbuildings for a courtyard office development. By February 1991 the plans seemed to involve a replica copy building instead. Councillors were determined to defend the listed building and the plans were refused, but in the same month a mystery fire broke out destroying much of the interior. An appeal against the refusal of planning consent was heard in September 1993. The developers then commissioned a structural survey which found the building could not be restored.

The rebuilt General Wolfe in 2013.

The rebuilt General Wolfe in 2013.

In April 1994 a listed building application was submitted by restoration experts Sir Frank Mears Associates of Edinburgh involving the demolition of the General Wolfe and the restoration and extension of the cottages to the full length of the site. They commented ‘it is a building of great antiquity and we hope to restore it to how it looked originally’. The plans were refused and the company appealed, leading to a public inquiry. However the inspector dismissed the appeal saying the owners should have been aware of their responsibility to maintain the buildings for the benefit of future generations. The inspector noted that the building had deteriorated badly and that about half the slates at the rear of the building had disappeared and added that he could see no justification for not carrying out the restoration work without delay. With care and skill, he commented, all the buildings on the site were capable of repair and restoration. However, whatever the inspector said, the Grade II listed pub then lay derelict and deteriorating for a number of years, although listed and standing in the middle of a Conservation Area, until it was demolished in 1996.

The pub’s name of course celebrates the legendary exploits of General James Wolfe in the capture of Quebec. It is listed under that name in Baines’s Directory of 1824, but its history goes back much further.

Cromwell lodged here - The Spotted Leopard stood on the site of the General Wolfe until 16xx when reports suggest it was 'razed' to the ground in a fire.

Cromwell lodged here – The Spotted Leopard stood on the site of the General Wolfe until 1662 when reports suggest it was ‘razed’ to the ground in a fire.

Before rebuilding in the mid-nineteenth century, the sign appears to have been the Spotted Leopard which may be identified by tradition with ‘Cromwell’s Lodgings’, the place where Oliver Cromwell stayed for three days in August 1648 after the rout of the Duke of Hamilton’s Scots. In 1952, a plaque to this effect was mounted, rather confusingly, on the nearby Tudor Cottage. After the events of 1642-3 there was a period of relative quiet in the town until 1648 when the remnants of the Scots army reached Warrington after being engaged by Cromwell’s forces on the road south from Preston. At Warrington the Scots cavalry continued into Cheshire, while the infantry dug in around the bridge and because of the strength of their position Cromwell gave quarter and accepted their surrender. According to modern tradition the defeated forces were addressed by their conqueror on Scotland Bank, thus giving their name to what is today Scotland Road, before returning home.

The General Wolfe around 1900

A crowd of men, possibly workers from the nearby Rylands factory, gathers outside the General Wolfe around 1900. (Picture courtesy of Stan Smith. Stan believes his grandfather Isaac Smith is somewhere on the photograph. If you can name any of the faces on the image please let us know. To see a larger version click here).

 

Harry Wells
IMG_0144Harry Wells is a local historian who has produced many books on Warrington’s past. His latest book, ‘Buttermarket to Cockhedge’, from which this article is taken is available now from the Information Office in Warrington Market. Priced at £8.99 the book takes readers on an imaginary historic walk from Market Gate eastwards down Buttermarket Street and Church Street, returning by way of School Brow, Brick Street and Cockhedge Lane.

Warrington History Society
Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. The Society’s next lecture “Abandon Hope: Life In The Workhouse” by Peter Watson will take place at 7.30pm on Monday 20th March 2017 at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel in Cairo Street. For further details click here

Yankee Doodle Dollar!

In the first of a series of special articles, Warrington History Society looks back at the impact Burtonwood’s gigantic American Airbase had on the town between 1942 and 1993. First up, we travel back to 1957 to reproduce a report on the multi-million pound contribution the base was having on the local economy. The report, slightly edited for ease of reading, first appeared in the ‘Burtonwood Beacon’ newspaper in Autumn 1957.

This week Burtonwood’s money men tallied up its dollar expenditures for the fiscal year 1957 and arrived at an interesting sum: between 1 July 1956 and 30 June 1957 it spent a whopping $21,012,944 million dollars (or £7.5 million sterling) in the local community, a sizeable increase over its 1956 spending.

An American serviceman shopping in Warrington

An American serviceman shopping in Warrington in 1957. Around 6,000 US personnel were based at Burtonwood in 1957, some with family members, giving a massive  boost to the local economy.

A major portion of the grand tally was the massive $13.08m (£4.67m) which streamed into the local gold stream via pay checks and conversions. Of this, $6.89m (£2.47m) was converted into pounds by American men and women and spent locally, and $6.19m (£2.21m) was given to the Air Ministry for payment of wages to UK civilians. These figures were monies paid out to both regular Maintenance/Operations personnel, and employees in co-appropriated fund agencies: clubs, youth center, dependents’ school, PTA, etc.

The second highest figure on the long list was the huge $3.02m (£1.08m) spent on major repairs and minor construction— the general maintenance necessary to keep Burtonwood airbase operational such as the building, recondition, repair and maintenance of thousands of offices, work sites and living quarters on the base.

Supplies accounted for $1.87m (£668K) — money spent locally to purchase “any thing other than equipment.” Petroleum, oils and lubricants made up a major portion of the Maintenance/Operations Supply fund, which was mainly comprised of expendable items.

Maintenance men work on a Boeing WB-50 bomber at Burtonwood's Mary Ann site in 1957.

Maintenance men work on a Boeing WB-50 bomber at Burtonwood’s Mary Ann site in 1957.

Utilities burned up $1.45m (£516K) —bills for electricity, water, coal, coke, garbage and trash disposal, and like items.

Contractual Services cost $560K (£200K). These monies were used for the repair of equipment, road haulages, laundry, janitorial services, bus contracts, etc.

Rentals were paid out to the tune of $490K (£176K) —for the rental of cold storage facilities at Aintree, near Liverpool, off-base office spaces at Liverpool and Southampton, certain on-base quarters in Site 6, and others.

Equipment, mainly locally purchased office desks, typewriters, furnishings, etc., totalled $230K (£83K), Rates & Property Taxes cost NAMAE $120K (£46K) and Communications (telephones and rentals) cost $190K (£68K).

And finally, car enthusiasts purchased $230K (£82K) worth of British automobiles through AFEX (money transfer) here. These figures do not include the large number of automobiles purchased through other sources.

American Servicemen cashing cheques in Warrington

In 1957 Burtonwood personnel converted $6.89m dollars into £2.47m pounds. Most was converted over the desk or through checking accounts.

The giant total amount was funnelled out through Burtonwood mainly in salaries, which were converted into rent monies, food, petrol, clothing, entertainment, and general living expenses.

But the tremendous sum didn’t quite break the camel’s back. At the last count Burtonwood’s net assets (or as one person explained ‘what we own less what we owe’) was figured out to be a trim $242.56m (£86.6 million)!

UPDATE: 60 years on and according to the inflation calculator at moneysorter.co.uk the value of £1 in 1957 would be £16.85 today. If we apply this rate of inflation to some of the figures quoted (see table below) the scale of the financial impact Burtonwood Base had on the local economy becomes even clearer:-

Fiscal fact 2017 Value
Burtonwood Airbase’s total contribution to the local economy in 1956/57 £126.53m
Money converted into GBP by Burtonwood’s US service personnel in 1956/57 £41.49m
Wages paid to UK civilians by Burtonwood Airbase in 1956/57 £37.27m
Burtonwood Airbase’s net assets in 1957 £1.45 billion
Another shot of a Boeing WB-50. This particular model was used by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Burtonwood.

Another shot of a Boeing WB-50 only this time in colour. This particular plane was used by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Burtonwood. All of the images on this page were reproduced with the permission of Aldon Ferguson, president of the Burtonwood Association.

The Burtonwood Association
The aim of the Burtonwood Association is to uphold the memory of the men, women and activities that occurred at RAF Burtonwood and to record them for future generations. It is also responsible for running the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre at Gullivers World. To find out more click here.

Warrington History Society
Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. To find out more click here.