All about the base!

BACK in 2019 Radio Warrington broadcast a two hour ‘Culture Show’ special during which Aldon Ferguson, President of the RAF Burtonwood Association, recalled the history of Burtonwood Airbase.

Opened in January 1940 as a servicing and storage centre for British aircraft, control transferred to the USAF in 1942 when it became a service and maintenance facility for B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators, B-26 Marauders and other iconic airplanes. The first US contingent of 162 men checked into Burtonwood on 11 June 1942. Thousands more followed and soon the base’s workshops and hangars were echoing to the sound of American accents.

By 1944, a peak of 18,500 US Air Force personnel were stationed at Burtonwood which by now was the largest airfield in Europe. After the war control of the facility returned to the RAF but with the advent of the Cold War in 1948 the Americans returned and ultimately there would be a significant US presence in Burtonwood, including as a major storage facility for the US Army, until its closure in the 1990s.

Listen to the full fascinating story of Burtonwood Airbase by clicking on the link below:

Finding Samuel Fothergill

Samuel Fothergill (1715–1772) was a Quaker minister who spent a large part of his life in Warrington. Quakerism, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends, is a religious movement that is almost 400 years old. The movement grew out of Christianity and its members believe there is something transcendent and precious in every person. In 2018, Elaine Green completed a Masters’ dissertation on the life of Samuel Fothergill and based on her research, she has written the following article for members of Warrington History Society and others who may be interested in her findings.

Signature of Samuel Fothergill (extracted from Memoirs of the Life and Gospel Labours of Samuel Fothergill, G. Crosfield, London, 1843).

For my Masters dissertation in 2018, I researched the life and works of Warrington Quaker, Samuel Fothergill. My studies focussed on his 18th century Quaker theology and how that played out in his church life. Once completed, I found myself wanting to know more about his life in Warrington. I had plenty of ideas, but when I decided to write out his life story, I found I had to make some assumptions of detail I didn’t in fact possess.

I judged that Warrington History Society members were likely to know more, and I was fortunate enough to correspond with one member, Harry Wells, whose knowledge filled the gaps in my imagination. These are some of the results of our research ‘conversation’.

I placed Samuel with his wife, Suzanna Croudson, at 48, Sankey Street. The grocer’s shop was eventually taken over by family member, George Crosfield. I was unable on my own to site that address along today’s Sankey Street. Harry was able to assure me that the old street numbering had not been completely lost in the modern developments and the site could be located. In my story I had invented that 48 stood at the corner of King Street, but Harry pointed out that, in Sam’s time, 48 would have been 56 and located just above the first ‘E’ of STREET on the 18th century map. He was also able to tell me more about this substantial three-storey building with outhouses and delivery yard, so my imagined fictional description now reads:

‘Our shop, which we extended and, in part, rebuilt during our years there, stood amid the row of shops and houses along the north side, between Golborne’s Lane and King Street. Our building was quite narrow, but tall and stretching back deeply to storehouses and beyond to our stables, carriage house and vegetable garden. To one side of the building was the carriage and waggon entrance, a general thoroughfare, leading to a yard for deliveries and dispatches. The front shop window just caught the more open aspects of the street towards Market Gate, as well as the alleyways and Ashtons Lane that ran between more shops and an inn on the opposite side of the street down to various kitchen gardens, small piggeries as well as newer more fashionable houses.’

One thing that Harry and I have struggled to find out is what happened to the grocery business between 1773, when wife, Suzanna Fothergill died and 1777, when George Crosfield, a family relative, took over, following completion of his own grocer’s apprenticeship. Harry had found a Ruth Fothergill who moved to Warrington at about this time from Kendal and wondered if there was some family connection. I have found that, oddly, there were a number of Fothergill family streams in the Cumbria-Yorkshire region that were seemingly unrelated to one another. I find this as mysterious as Harry clearly does, but from death registration it is evident that Ruth, unmarried, was a Presbyterian with no Quaker links. I also know from my other studies of Samuel Fothergill that he was so closely connected within Quaker trading that he would have resisted turning to a Presbyterian or Unitarian for such support. So I remain in doubt on this point and ignorant of what happened to the business in those lost years.

One of Samuel’s brothers, Joseph, married Hannah Kelsall in February 1735 and traded as an ironmonger. I describe him as at that time forging pins, files and tools from his home in Bridge Street, alongside weavers of sacking, canvas and sailcloth, candles-makers, tanners and a brewhouse. I go on to say that his business grew with the manufacturing expansion in the town, first leasing a workshop by the Horse Market, then,

‘He owned a now large ironworks off the Horse Market, employing around 140 men, and so, although held in high regard in the town, he had a great deal of burdensome responsibility and physical toil.’

I asked Harry if he knew of any further information about Joseph, whom I assumed had cut quite a figure as ‘ironmaster’ in the town. Harry was more cautious about this, since he could not find any record of Joseph, other than that he was known as an ‘ironmonger’. This title even appears on his death certificate, as if his business changed little during his lifestyle. I took my information about his employing 140 men in ‘an iron industry’ from a piece of research published in an article in the Friends Historical Society Journal in 2005 by Christopher Booth, entitled ‘The Quakers of Countersett and their Legacy’. I conclude that Joseph may well have described himself as an ironmonger, but there is some suggestion that he grew a business that then disappeared until ironworking was better known in the town, around Foundry Street and Cockhedge in the following century.

Map courtesy of Warrington Museum

I set the destruction of the Warrington bridge in 1745 in the middle of a winter night, when the townsfolk all come out in response to, as I had it, an explosion. Harry had to set me right on a few points in this bit of my story. First, there was no explosion, but the middle arch of the bridge was dismantled by hand. I kept the event to the middle of the night but the nature of it had to be slightly rewritten. I also had the militia turn their pistols on the crowd, but, as Harry explained, they were more likely to have been muskets. I adjusted that too and so my episode reads:

‘Suddenly, within but yards of the bridge itself, the militia men, some choking on clouds of dust, made to halt the ragged crowd. There was the smell of dust and wood burning on the air.
Against the black, moonless sky, illuminated only by burning torches before and unfamiliar small flames behind, the numbers of the military milling around was itself alarming. Amid a continuing noise of falling masonry, the thunderous crashing of heavy water and the accompanying chaotic shouts of townsfolk and military, I called across to where I now lost sight of Joseph.
“Art thou safe, Joseph? I no longer see thee….!” ….. At that moment, the militia men raised their muskets and pointed them straight at the bewildered crowd. An officer stepped forward to shout to the crowd to stay back:
“I command you under the authority of the Earl of Derby, to stand back! Go back to your beds! The bridge has been destroyed to defend the town against the Jacobites, by order of the Duke of Cumberland! Go home, or we shoot!”’
>

I refer a number of times to the second newssheet to appear in Lancashire, ‘The Eyres Weekly Journal and Warrington Advertiser’. I place the Eyres bookshop and press near the Horse Market. Harry was able to confirm that this was not far off, but more precisely on the east side of the street by Market Gate.

I understand the town to have been one that attracted different post-Reformation faiths. I describe a tension in relations between Charles Owen, the Presbyterian, later Unitarian Minister (now Cairo Street Meeting House) and the Quakers, but also some later collaboration between the Fothergills and John Seddon of the dissentors’ Academy. Samuel’s brother, Dr John Fothergill was also a friend of Joseph Priestley. I could find no direct links between the Quakers and the management or investment in the Academy in Warrington, even though a few Quakers were students there. The most prominent example in my story is the anti-slavery campaigner, George Harrison, who was sponsored to study for a time there after he had finished at the Quaker school at Penketh.

Harry speculated that a Thomas Barnes, one-time student at the Academy and later its Rector, might have been a Quaker. Certainly Barnes was the name of a Quaker family in Sankey who worshipped at Penketh, but I have not been able to connect the Academy Thomas Barnes, another Unitarian, with the Sankey family.

I have Samuel frequently travelling by coach to London for religious meetings. He set out from the ‘Red Lion’ and I have transported him, over an estimated number of days, via Leek, Newport Pagnall and St Albans and later, by ‘The Flying Stage Coach’. From Dublin via Holyhead, I take him to stay at the ‘Kings Head’ in Conwy before crossing the Gowy to Chester, then through Frodsham (and the ‘Bear’s Paw Inn’). With the exception of my own imaginings about the stop at Newport Pagnell on the route to London and my assumed coaching road from Holyhead, the other locations along Samuel’s routes have been taken from the memoirs collated by George Crosfield (1843).

Samuel’s gravestone (copyright Elaine Green)

Harry rightly pointed out that there were easier ports to access from Dublin than Holyhead, such as Liverpool. I have checked back in my own notes to find that Samuel and other Quakers chose the Holyhead-Dublin crossing. On this occasion, they sailed to Dublin from Pennsylvania and were delayed because of privateers in the Irish Sea. After further delay in Dublin, Samuel sailed to Holyhead.

Such enquiries only lead to others, of course. I have contacted a Friend in Wales, who is also an historian, to ask how he believes my ministers would have travelled from Holyhead to Chester, and I shall adjust my ‘facts’ according to his reading of the possibilities. I am also still keen to find out what happened to the Fothergill grocery business in 1773 and I am grateful to Harry Wells for the suggestion that I read the last wills of some of my characters.

I thank Harry very much for sharing with me in our exchanges his knowledge of what was happening around my protagonist in Warrington in the 18th century. It makes for a much better story!

Elaine Green, 2021.

Orford Hall circa 1900

AFTER many hours spent referencing and scrutinising old maps and images, local history enthusiast and animation expert Mark Collins has produced a superb ‘3D’ video (below) that reveals what Orford Hall looked like in the early 1900s.

The history of Orford Hall is fascinating.

Originally a timber and plaster building with ornate chimneys and a thatched roof, it was built for the Le Norris family in 1232. After the Norris family left, the Hall was acquired in 1595 by Thomas Tildesley, who rebuilt it in a Jacobean style.

Thomas Blackburne purchased the Hall in 1638 and during the Blackburne family’s tenure it became known for its outstanding collection of rare plants, trees and unusual animals. The hothouse in its grounds was said to be the first in the country to grow pineapples, coffee, tea and sugarcane and it also had an Orangery where citrus fruits were cultivated.  The Hall was said to be a true ‘botanical’ garden with its plants assembled just as much for their scientific study as their beauty

In its later years the hall was leased to Lucy Hornby (whose grandson Edmund became the first MP for Warrington) and its final residents were William Beamont, the first mayor of Warrington, and his wife, Letitia.

In 1916, thanks largely to the efforts of Alderman Arthur Bennett, the Blackburne family gifted the hall and its surrounding 18 acres of grounds to the town as a War Memorial and public park to honour “the valour of the lads of Warrington in the Great War.”

Sadly, the condition of the Hall deteriorated to the point where it was not financially viable to restore which eventually led to its demolition in 1935. The hall’s grounds however are still very much in use and attract an estimated 1.2m visitors a year as part of the town’s Orford Jubilee Neighbourhood Hub complex.

Warrington History Society would like to thank Mark for bringing the Hall back to life and for allowing the society to share his work with the people of Warrington.

Fairfield Motorcycle update!

Alfred Forster on one of his Warrington made Fairfield motorcycles.

Warrington History Society members may recall the Fairfield Motorcycle that Andrew Spicer of auctioneers Dee, Atkinson & Harrison brought to one of our 2018 lectures prior to it being auctioned off.

Built in Warrington by Alfred Forster (pictured above) in Howley in 1914, its appearance created quite a stir and we’re delighted to say a gentleman called Barrie Fairfield has been in touch to introduce himself as the person who purchased the machine and yes, one of the reasons he bought it was the motorcycle shared his surname!

Says Barrie: “The motorcycle was by no means in working order and it did not run. However after much fettling, cleaning and repairs mainly to the Armstrong gear hub and clutch it was restored to full working order, as good as it was when the machine was first made by Alfred back in 1914.”

Barrie reports that the machine is completely original other than a few consumables he needed to add such as control cables, brake blocks and drive belt (the original items he removed he has kept for historic keepsake).

Adds Barrie: “The machine is completely reliable, starts relatively easy and runs without missing a beat. I have ridden it on numerous occasions and entered into the 2019 Banbury Run – the largest gathering of pre-1931 motorcycles and three-wheelers in the world – which I completed without a hitch apart from running out of fuel once!”

Barrie says a unique point about the machine is the fact it has a three compartment tank, one section for oil for engine lubrication, a second for petrol to start the engine and warm it up and a third for paraffin to run the machine. He says he knows of no other motorcycle of this veteran period manufactured to run on paraffin.”

To assist with our records and archives Barrie has sent us some photos of the Fairfield motorcycle (included on this page complete with its Banbury Race number of 189) to show its present condition.

Barrie has a collection of five motorcycles, three old Classic Nortons from 1959, 1961 and 1976 and two Fairfields, the 1914 model discussed here and a 2020 Fairfield he has just built using the frame of an old mountain bike.

May we take this opportunity to thank Barrie for updating us on this important piece of Warrington history. To view our original Fairfield Motorcycle article click here.

Can you help? Barrie has asked if anyone has any further information on the three wheel cars Alfred Forster built after the first world war which would now be 100 years old. If you do, please contact the society at warringtonhistorysociety@gmail.com and we will pass on your message.

The Fairfield Motorcycle after its restoration.

 

 

 

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’.

https://allthingswarrington.net/files/this-warrington-video.mp4

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