Five facts from 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, here are a handful of facts Warrington History Society members have been enlightened with over the past 12 months. Thanks as always to our speakers and website contributors and a Happy New Year to one and all. 

Fact One

Albert Puffet, England's tallest policeman in Warrington in 1932In 1932 Warrington had the distinction of employing the tallest policeman in England. PC Albert Puffett stood at an astonishing 6ft 9.5 inches tall and was often seen walking the beat and directing traffic in the town centre. Although PC Puffett was the tallest PC in 1932 there were some taller PCs in later years with Warrington one of the last forces to reduce its height requirements from 6ft. (Source: WHS Lecture #360 “Policing in Warrington” – Paul Carter, 19/9/16).

Fact Two

Orford Tannery's stable block on the move 190675 years before the ill-fated “moving” of the old Academy Building from Bridge Foot to Bridge Street in 1981, a more successful building re-location exercise took place in Warrington. The building in question was a stable block belonging to Orford Tannery. In 1906, with the tannery strapped for cash, local builder Harry Fairclough came up with a way of saving the company some money – he moved the entire structure across a road using temporary beams, horses and manpower. Whereas the Academy (a famous 18th century learning institute for dissenters which led to Warrington briefly being known as “The Athens of the North”) had to be rebuilt once the dust had settled on its 19 metre journey, the transportation of Orford Tannery’s stable block is reported to have gone much more smoothly. (Source: WHS Website article: “Orford Tannery” – Peter Warburton, Dec 16).

Fact Three

William Beamont, Warrington's first mayorWarrington has much to thank its first mayor William Beamont for. Not only did he successfully lobby for the town to become a self-governing municipal borough (1847), he played a pivotal role in ensuring the town centre had a suitable sewerage system, even paying for some of the work out of his own pocket. During his lifetime (1797-1889) Warrington’s population grew from 10,000 to 50,000, a five-fold increase that brought problems such as overcrowding, ill-health and insufficient schooling but William Beamont had a hand in addressing them all.  His commitment to ensuring the town centre’s sewerage system was completed in the mid-1800s undoubtedly saved lives as most of the population then lived in the town centre and infant mortality rates quickly fell. (Source: WHS Lecture #359 “Three Mayors of Warrington: Beamont, Bennett and Hayes” – Andy Green, 18/4/16). For further information on William Beamont click here.

Fact Four

Cromwell's Cottage, WarringtonDating back to the mid-1600s, the Grade II* listed “Tudor Cottage” in Church Street is one of Warrington’s most iconic buildings. Although Oliver Cromwell did not stop there during the civil war (he is believed to have stayed a few doors down where the old General Wolfe pub was located) over the years the cottage has served as an iron mongers, bicycle shop, chip shop, offices for Rylands and much more.  Many images of the cottage exist but few, if any, show the deep open sewer that used to run along its outside from medieval times until the late 1800s. The sewer was so deep and wide that hefty stone “flats” were needed to gain access to the cottage and others along Church Street. When the River Mersey was high, the channel often spilled over bringing mud, water and chaos to one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares. (Source: “Buttermarket to Cockhedge”, a new book by WHS member Harry Wells, Nov 2016. Copies available from the information office in Warrington Market).

Fact Five

Boultings Building, WarringtonFor the first 100 years of its life the Grade II listed Boultings Building on Winwick Street was a Presbyterian church known as St John’s. In the mid-1800s open air services were known to take place outside the church on St John’s day (24 June) when the church’s minister is said to have preached with “great fervour, earnestness and fluency”. Before the church could be sold in 1909, the remains of the church’s founder and first minister, The Rev. Alexander Hay, and the family of another minister who had been laid to rest in the church’s crypt had to be moved to a new grave at Warrington Cemetery. (Source: WHS Website article: “St John’s Chapel, Winwick Street” – Margaret Fellows, Oct 16).

Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. Our next lecture, “A Walk Around Warrington” by Margaret Fellows will take place on Monday 16th January at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel, Cairo Street, at 7.30pm. Members and non-members are welcome to attend. To find out more click here.

Orford Tannery

Tanning (the process of converting animal skin into leather by soaking it in acid) has long been associated with Warrington. At one time (in 1927) the concentration of tanneries in the town was the highest in the country with an astonishing 7% of the UK’s 300 tanneries located here. Winwick Street, Mersey Street, Tannery Lane, Latchford, Penketh, and Orford were just some of the areas where tanning took place. In one year alone a reported 20,000 hides passed through the town’s tanneries. In this article Warrington History Society’s Peter Warburton recalls the history of Orford Tannery before ex-worker Mave Donelan recalls what life was like working there in the 1950s. 

A 1920s view of Orford Tannery from the Church Tower of St Margarets and All Hallows. You can see the roof of Orford School on the left of the picture.

Orford Tannery was a major employer in Orford from the late 1800s until the 1950s and was a benefactor to both St Margarets and All Hallows Church and the school.

The piece of land upon which Orford Church Hall stands was given by William Mortimer & Company, the owners of Orford Tannery, situated on land at the top of Sandy Lane. The history of this now long gone business is interesting, as Orford Village owes it much for its early development.

Orford Tannery was built in the early 1800s and the yard was bought by Branscombe, Squire & Ovey in 1846 but it failed some five years later. James Reynolds then acquired the site and was later joined by William Mortimer, a relation from Cornwall, who, on James’s retirement, assumed ownership of the business.

Picture this, it’s 1906, eight years after Harry formed his company and he’s involved in the tendering to build a new stable block for the Orford Tannery in Warrington. The owners of the tannery are a bit short of brass and simply cannot afford the new building, so Harry comes up with an ingenious and cost-effective solution. He relocates the existing block by creating temporary beams under the building and sliding the entire structure across a road using only horses and manpower.

In 1906, the tannery needed a new stable block. With the business strapped for cash, local builder Harry Fairclough came up with a neat way of saving some money – he moved the entire structure across the road using temporary beams, horses and manpower!

In 1891 the Commercial Directory listed William Mortimer as operating two tanneries in Warrington, one in Orford and the other on Manchester Road.

The company produced tanners rough strap butts (basic leather straps that can be used for belts etc.,) and sole leather as its specialities, and the company prospered under William Mortimer until his death at the age of 59 in 1900.

Several years before this he had engaged Percy Densham, a Bristol tanner and a distant relative, to help him run the business when it was converted to a limited company and Percy was appointed as its managing director.

The Orford Tannery prospered before the 1914-18 War and was extended to include a new seven storey drying shed which was sadly destroyed by fire only a few months after its completion.

In the First World War, Sir Percy Densham, as he had then become, was appointed as a government advisor on leather purchases for boots and belting because of his position as chairman of the United Tanners. Hugh F.Gough, distantly related by marriage to one of the founders James Reynolds was made Managing Director and H.P Mortimer, William Mortimer’s eldest son, had been chairman of the company since 1900.

Orford Tannery from the air, 1951. Copyright Areofilms Limited/Britain From Above.

Orford Tannery from the air, 1951. Copyright Areofilms Limited/Britain From Above.

During the 1920s the business went into decline and by 1929 was running at a loss. In February 1931 H.P. Mortimer, the chairman, committed suicide and a year later the board decided to put the company into voluntary liquidation.

The close down of the yard was expected to take twelve months, but almost immediately the company was restarted as Orford Tanning Company Ltd., and by 1941 was part of the Sargar Group of Companies.

In 1941 John Brown, who had started work at the Orford Tannery in 1911, became its managing director and under his leadership it had become by 1956 the largest local industry with some 200 employees.

leather_advertFollowing the Second World War the company had developed a flexible bend leather suitable for lightweight shoes that was directly competitive with the performance of composite and other synthetic soles. In May 1947 the company exhibited this material at the British Industries Fair in Earls Court, London where they were listed in the catalogue as “Manufacturers of Bends, Shoulders and Bellies for Sole Leather, from English, Wet-salted, Dry, and Dry-salted hides. Ox and Bull Strap Butts from best English Hides, also Bull Necks for Polishing”.

The company’s soft shoe leather brands of “Battleship Oak” and “Willoford” helped it survive the 1950s but by then other tanneries had developed their own comparable leather.

By 1961, the tannery’s workforce had been reduced and in 1965 it was instructed by its parent company to make 30 employees redundant. But this move was not sufficient to save the company and by May 1966 the remaining 69 workers were told the yard and business would be closed and moved to W.J. Sargar in Colne, Lancashire.

On Wednesday 6th March 1968 the tannery buildings were razed to the ground by a fierce fire that could be seen up to 5 miles away. The fire started at around 10pm and at one time over 100 firefighters and 15 appliances from across Lancashire and Cheshire were on the scene. The 1.5 acre site has since been developed for housing.

WORKING LIFE AT ORFORD TANNERY by Mave Donelan

“I had been working at the Box Works in Warrington for some time and decided I needed a change. So, in 1958, I got a job at the Orford Tannery Yard. This was situated at the top of School Road and I’d thought my other jobs were dirty but this topped the lot.

“The ground floor of the tannery had these huge pits that seemed to contain dirty water. They were in fact lime pits, I learnt, in which the hides soaked. The men used to pull the slippery hides out with long hooked poles, but I didn’t go that close; I didn’t fancy falling in.

orford_tannery_map

Map showing the location of Orford Tannery.

“Further along the same floor was an old man with a gigantic mass of these slimy wet hides that were being put through a huge machine with funny rollers. There were bits of hide and water going everywhere and a big mountain of the stuff on the floor all around him. After he had carried out this task he piled the now quite dry hides on a bogie awaiting collection by my friend Sylvia and now me.

“We had to bend down and push this truck full of hides to a ramshackle old lift. We’d travel up in this rattling lift to the second floor which was a large dirty room, unlit with fifteen to twenty partitioned-off bays that covered the whole floor. I think there must have been windows, but they were so dirty with years of grime that they didn’t let in any light at all. The only available light we had in the whole place was from two small 40 watt inspection lights that we used to carry with us and plug into the bays in which we were working.

“We used to put one light at the front of the bay to illuminate the truck full of cows’ bellies, then we’d have a bucket full of oil mixed with water in which we’d dip a cloth and wipe each hide with the liquid. After this the hides had to be hung up to dry at the back of the bay where we had placed the second light. It used to look quite spooky; just like hundreds of people hanging by their necks from the beams! This job of wiping the hides left our hands a dirty brown colour as it did everyone else’s and the only way to get them clean was to dip them into a vat of raw bleach that was left there for that purpose. This left my hands very cracked and sore, but they soon got used to that treatment and were alright after the first couple of weeks.

“We never bothered to clean our hands for our ‘baggin’ (lunch break) but just got on with eating our food with our hands still filthy. Everyone else did it, so I followed suit and it didn’t seem to do me any harm. It makes me squirm now when I think of it.

“After some months working with Sylvia, a person on the top floor, a place that was quite light and pleasant to work in, left their job. Sylvia had been working at the tannery for a lot longer than me so got promoted and I was left to do the job alone. It was really spooky up on that second floor with the shadows, the smells and the cold as it was the middle of winter. Because it was pitch black in that drying room, apart from those two small lights, I felt isolated, a bit scared and I didn’t fancy talking to myself all day. You definitely needed two people up there to help you get over the shadows, the little noises and the isolation. I decided the job was not for me and so I moved on.”

tannery_workers

Some of Orford Tannery’s workforce, circa. 1920. Image courtesy of Charlotte Holcroft of Massachusetts whose grandfather is pictured in the middle row. If you can spot any of you own relatives on this picture please let us know.

Additional material by Andy Green.

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 “A Walk Around Warrington” by Margaret Fellows will take place at 7.30pm on Monday 16th January 2017 at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel in Cairo Street. For further details click here

The ‘Rostherne’ Goblet

Warrington – often referred to as the town of many industries – was once a major centre for glassmaking with pressed glass being a key speciality. Here Warrington History Society member John Slater recalls the fascinating history behind one example of fine commemorative glassware with Warrington connections – The ‘Rostherne’ Goblet.

goblet_bigCurrently on display in Warrington Museum is a large 23cm high mid-Victorian goblet finely engraved with the image of a church and a dedication to Sarah E. Saxon. The date 1866 appears under the dedication.

When the goblet was offered at a London saleroom in 2008 {eventually selling for £1,680}, the engraving was attributed to the Bohemian craftsman Wilhelm Pohl; largely because of the architectural subject and quality of the engraving. It is known that Pohl was living in Orford Lane, Warrington in the 1860’s near to the Orford Lane Glassworks then owned by Peter Robinson and Edward Bolton. A further investigation of the goblet has been undertaken to try and substantiate the Pohl attribution.

ROSTHERNE CHURCH

quatrafoil-and-church

The goblet depicts Rostherne church as it looked in the mid-1800s (top). The lower image shows the church as it looks today.

This has been indenitfied as St. Mary’s, Rostherne near Knutsford, about 10 miles east of Warrington. At the end of the eighteenth century the Egertons, living at the nearby Tatton Park, bought the ‘advowson’ of the church (the right to choose the vicar). Extensive restoration work was carried out in 1888 by the architect A.W. Blomfield, commissioned by Wilbraham Egerton, first and last Earl Egerton. The goblet depicts the Church as it appeared in the mid-nineteenth century with four (2 x 2) ‘dormer’ windows in the roof of the nave; several chimneys from the various heating systems then in use and a quatrafoil window in the eastern wall of the Egerton Chapel.

Today there are three ‘dormer’ windows arranged linearly along the nave, the chimneys and quatrafoil window have gone. Also, as might be expected, the modern churchyard is much larger than the one shown in the engraving. The detail in the engraving is ample testement to the skill of the engraver. There is a house at the western end of the Church. In the summer this is obscured by a clump of trees, but the engraver indicates its presence by showing a window visible through the foliage. Amongst the vegetation on the right-hand side, below the Church, is the name Rosthorne, the nineteenth century spelling of the village name

SARAH E. SAXON

the-dedicationSarah Ellen Saxon nee Carter was born in Warrington in 1846. She was the illegitimate daughter (no father’s name on the birth certificate) of Sarah Carter and grand-daughter of William and Catherine Carter nee Antrobus of Bank Street, Warrington. On 7 September 1865 Sarah Ellen married Thomas Saxon, glassblower, at the Wesleyan methodist chapel, then in Bank Street. Witnesses to the marriage were James England, glassblower and Mrs Sarah Brooks*. Sarah Ellen died in August 1866, shortly after giving birth to a daughter Edith Saxon. This accounts for the date on the goblet. It is noticeable that the quality of the date engraving is poor suggesting strongly that it was not made by the same hand as the other work on the goblet.

*Sarah Carter married Thomas Brooks in St James, Latchford in June 1862. She died in 1868, age 43.

THOMAS SAXON

Born in 1836 in Yorkshire; his father George Saxon, glassblower, was originally from Warrington but moved first to St. Helens and then to Worsbrough, near Barnsley (presumabley to the recently established Worsbrough Bridge Glassworks.) In the 1861 census Thomas is recorded as living in the Ancoats district of Manchester, occupation glassblower. After his marriage to Sarah Ellen Carter, the couple went to live in Winwick Road, close to the Orford Lane Glassworks. It seems very likely that Thomas worked here; the more so that James England was a witness at his wedding. The England family had a long standing relationship with Orford lane; James’s Grandfather was one of the founders of the Glassworks.

SITES OF INTEREST

1 – Orford Lane Glassworks
2 – Wilhelm Pohl; Orford Lane
3 – Thomas and Sarah Ellen Saxon: 9 Winwick Road
4 – Thomas Saxon: Allen Street (address on marriage certificate)
5 – Sarah Ellen Carter: Bridge Street (address on marriage certificate)
6 – William and Catherine Carter: Bank Street

wire_glass_landmarks

CONCLUSION

Although hopes of finding some direct documentary evidence to support the Pohl attribution have not been realised we do, nevertheless, have the coincidence of Saxon and Pohl, senior artisans in the glass industry, living near one another and probably involved in the same Glassworks. It therefore, together with the other evidence of subject and technique, seems reasonable to suggest that Thomas Saxon commisioned Wilhelm Pohl to engrave the goblet as a wedding gift to his wife. No direct evidence has been found to link Sarah Ellen Carter to Rostherne. But there may have been a connection with the Carter/ Antrobus* families. Edith Saxon is recorded in the 1871 census as being the foster-child of John and Elizabeth Vost, living in Rostherne. Unfortunately Edith died in1880; she is buried in St. Marys Churchyard with her foster-parents.

old_fox_inn_warrington

The Old Fox Inn in Buttermarket Street. Thomas Saxon was landlord of the inn prior to his death in 1885.

Thomas Saxon remarried after his first wife’s death and had another family; one son and four daughters. But no trace of the ‘Rostherne’ Goblet has been found until it reappeared in 2008. It seems likely that Elizabeth Saxon (second wife) disposed of it after Thomas Saxon’s death in 1885. At that time he was landlord of the Old Fox Inn, Buttermarket Street, Warrington. This was demolished when central Warrington was redeveloped in the early 1900’s.

*Catherine Carter was the daughter of Thomas and Ellen Antrobus. She was born in Lymm in 1797. Lymm is a neighboring parish to the west of Rostherne.

References & Acknowledgements

  • Bonhams; New Bond Street; Sale 15957, 17.12.2008, lot 383
  • Hajdamach, C.A (1987) J.Glass Assoc. 2 P. 41-54
  • England, C.A (1993) Thomas England Glassmaker, 1759-1821
  • Unpublished research note held at Warrington Library, Local Studies Section
  • Information on births, marriages and deaths were obtained from the relevant church and local record offices.
  • Thanks are due to Mr. Whitlow, churchwarden, and other members of St. Marys congregation who helped to define the changes that occured in the Church during the 19th century and assisted in the location of the grave of Thomas and Elizabeth Vost and their adopted daughter Edith Vost-Saxon.
  • Thanks also to members of staff at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery; in particular Mrs. M. Hill who arranged the photgraphy of the Goblet.
  • Mr. G. Macgregor, Altrincham, took most of the photographs.
  • Map source OpenStreetMap.
  • A version of this article was first published in The Glass Cone (a publication of the Glass Association).

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 “Howley, Fairfield & Latchford” by Gordon Speakman will take place at 7.30pm on Monday 21st November 2016 at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel in Cairo Street. For further details click here