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. 


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).


…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!

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 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

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.


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.


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 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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.’


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

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.


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 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 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.

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.


“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.


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.”


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.



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


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.


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.


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



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.


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 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


St John’s Chapel, Winwick St.

Many Warringtonians will remember The Boultings building on the corner of Winwick Street and John Street as the former headquarters of electrical engineering company W A Boulting Ltd. Others may recall it as a short-lived mid-1980s nightclub called The Silver Fox Club. But did you know that for the first 100 years of its life – from 1808 to 1909 – this attractive Grade 2 listed building was in fact a church called St Johns? Back in 2003, Margaret Fellows researched the history of St John’s Chapel for Warrington History Society’s Winter 2003 Newsletter. Her article is reproduced below with her kind permission.


St John’s Chapel, Winwick Street, was founded in 1808. The initial congregation comprised Episcopalians from St James Church and Presbyterians from Cairo Street Chapel.

The first St. John’s Chapel was founded in 1808 in Winwick Street, but to find the origin of its first congregation we have to go back to events in 1796. It was in that year that the then minister of St. James Church in Knutsford Road, having built up a large congregation, moved to a new living. Although he took care to find a suitable successor, his successor’s teaching was not liked by all members of the congregation, causing a group of them to move away to attend the Stepney Independent Chapel.

Within three years the group had grown in number consisting of Episcopalians from St. James, Presbyterians from Cairo Street Chapel and a few from the Stepney Chapel in King Street. A larger room in which to hold their meetings was offered to them, and they applied to the Countess of Huntingdon – who was at that time the main patron of the theological colleges – to be provided with a minister. This new Minister was the Reverend Alexander Hay, who became the founder and first Minister of St. John’s, which opened on Thursday, January 7th 1808.


Rev. Alexander Hay – founder and first minister of St John’s Chapel.

In the early years, Reverend Hay preached six times a week, as well as other meetings and visiting, for which his stipend was 80 guineas a year. In 1814, St. John’s opened classes for adults in private houses in different parts of the town, and soon, about one hundred and fifty people were attending. Sadly, the self-imposed burden of building up the church took its toll on the health of Alexander Hay, and he died on 17th May, 1827 aged 47. He was interred in the left aisle of the chapel, an inscribed tablet being placed on the wall. Several ministers followed, but sadly, by 1852 the congregation had dwindled to about 50, and the church was offered for sale. It was purchased by Mr. Robert Barbour, and in March 1854 the congregation was received into the Presbyterian Church of England.

Robert Barbour was consistently financially generous during his ownership, and in 1873 he donated the Chapel building as a free gift to the Trustees. When appeals were made for money for repairs and refurnishing, he gave generously. Many friends also gave financial help, the name of Peter Walker appearing frequently. In those days, pew rents provided a large part of the church income, but ”the plate” at the church door was introduced in 1865.

The last minister of St. John’s was the Reverend James Warnock, who served his whole ministry in Warrington from 1877 until has death from typhoid in May 1900. Due to financial problems no further minister was inducted, and in 1906 the committee agreed to offer the Winwick Street buildings for sale.

On 7th August 1908 the trustees accepted an offer of £1150 for the site. The last service was held on 7th January 1909 and the chapel was closed, the congregation then consisting of about fifty people from Stockton Heath, Bewsey, Padgate, Orford and Howley. Despite having no spiritual home they were not discouraged, and held one service each Sunday in the Cairo Street Unitarian Church.


The ‘Boultings’ today. After the congregation moved out in 1909 it was used as offices for the tannery on the other side of John Street with a footbridge connecting the two buildings.

In April 1909 they decided to find a site to build a new church and a new minister to try to rescue the congregation. They chose Mr. William Reid as their Preacher-in-charge, who did his work well, and steady progress was made in both membership and finances.  By April 1910 they had not only secured a site, but were proceeding with the building of a new church on Wilderspool Causeway. The old building in Winwick Street subsequently became the offices of Winwick Street Tannery.

So, you may well ask, what became of the remains of The Reverend Alexander Hay? This was more of a problem to unravel. After following several false leads, and much searching, the burial register revealed that his remains were “Removed by Licence from St John’s Presbyterian Church, Winwick Street, Warrington”. What the register also revealed, a fact of which I was not previously aware, was that three other persons had been buried in the crypt. These bodies had also been removed. They were Mary Bird, aged 32 and her two unnamed infant daughters (presumably all had died at childbirth), who had been the wife and daughters of the Reverend Caleb Bird, the Minister of St. John’s from 1836 to 1841. Mary Bird and her daughters had been buried in 1838. All four were re-interred in one grave in Warrington Cemetery on the 10th September, 1908. In those days, they were classed as dissenters, and consequently were buried in unconsecrated ground.


John Street was formerly known as St John’s Street. It’s name was changed after the church became redundant.

Margaret’s article throws interesting light on a building lots of us have passed on many occasions. We conclude this article with an eyewitness report that takes us back to the heyday of the church itself.  It is from the pen of former Mayor William Beamont who, on walking past the chapel on St John’s Day 1860 recalled an open air service that was taking place outside. Wrote Beamont: “As I passed Townsend {as the area was then known} the new Presbyterian minister of St John’s was preaching in the street with great fervour, earnestness and fluency. I stopped to hear him and was pleased and I hope edified.”

Lewis Carroll

frances_broomfield_alice_paintingLewis Carroll, creator of the much loved ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ stories, will be the subject of Warrington History Society’s next talk on Monday 17th October 2016.

Carroll’s influence looms large in Warrington. There’s the iconic Tea Party sculpture in Golden Square (officially unveiled on 30th May 1984 by HRH The Prince and Princess of Wales), two pubs – The Looking Glass in Buttermarket Street and The Hatter in Whitecross – and much more.

The area’s most notable Lewis Carroll landmark however is probably the Visitor Centre located within All Saints Church, Daresbury, where Carroll’s father was vicar from 1827 to 1843.

This month’s talk, “Lewis Carroll Through The Window”, will be given by Irene Rutter, one of the Centre’s visitor guides. Irene will recall the life and times of the famous Daresbury-born author, who spent the first 11 years of his life in the Village, through the memorial window that was erected in his honour at the church.


Daresbury-born Lewis Carroll whose work  is said to have drawn inspiration from some of the curiosities on display at Warrington Museum.

Carroll, real name Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was much more than an author. The Visitor Centre refers to him as a “churchman, storyteller, University don, pioneer photographer and puzzler” and Irene will touch on many of these aspects of his life during her talk.

Warrington History Society’s talks are open to members and non-members alike. The Lewis Carroll talk will take place at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel, Cairo Street, Warrington (opposite the Postern Gate’s car park) on Monday 17th October at 7.30pm. For further information visit

Irene Rutter: Irene was born and brought up in Warrington, attending Beamont and Warrington High School before going to Manchester Royal Infirmary to study Radiography. She has worked in the Health Service for 41 years at various hospitals, including the old Warrington Infirmary, and her passion for Lewis Carroll’s work started at an early age.


Edwin Russell’s sculpture in Golden Square, Warrington. Created from granite and depicting four classic Lewis Carroll characters (Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Sleepy Dormouse and the March Hare), the piece cost £25,000 to create and includes a number of empty seats allowing passersby to join the party.

Warrington History Society: Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 with the aim of encouraging an interest in all aspects of the history and archaeology of Warrington and its surrounding areas. For information on how to join the Society visit

Main image (top of page): ‘The White Rabbit’s House’ – the latest Lewis Carroll inspired painting by Warrington born artist Frances Broomfield. To see more of Frances’ paintings and illustrations visit