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.”

Memories of the Old Market


Warrington Golden Square Logi“Coming out of the Post Office and into Golden Square, I sat down on one of the seats for a rest. It was a grey afternoon in January and I was waiting for a friend to join me.

Suddenly, the air was full of shouting and a bustling and jostling crowd of shoppers! I was sitting in the middle of a street at the side of the fish market, from which came the cries of “a lovely bit of fish for tea, Mrs”- “fresh shrimps”. At a stall at the end of the fish market, a woman stood, hands on hips a flat black cap on her head and a sack apron tied around her ample waist. Old Charlie Lee sat, his black board at his side with a witty ditty chalked upon it, rabbits hung from the sides of the stalls and cock chickens too, with their heads swinging in the draught. Folks were pushing and shoving their way through the stone flagged market between the stalls, fish and poultry gave way to the tripe stall on the left with its peculiar smell, and “Cheese Jimmy” on the right where his silver haired sister bounced up and down in her efforts to cut through a huge cheese with a wire.

Then up 3 or 4 stone steps and you were in the Meat Hall where the butchers stood besides haunches of beef, hatchets at the ready, to make chops and joints to sell and to display on their counters. One could also purchase fresh vegetables and newly laid eggs from the stall at the top of the steps. Bread and biscuits were sold here too. Looking back from the top of the steps down into the well of the fish market, crowds of people, men women and children of Warrington, did their shopping, mainly on Wednesdays and Fridays. Walking back through the shouting and clamour and smells of the market, one emerged at the far end facing the Barley Mow, a row of peddlers selling anything from pegs to dusters, dishcloths and hankies on the pavement and along the old wall of the inn.

At the side of the Mow ran Market Street a busy thoroughfare leading to the wholesale vegeta ble market, passed Stirrups Butchers on the left and lower down the “rag” market with more shops. Some spring to mind, Peakes the grocers, Gaskells the bacon people, Morleys where shoes could be left to be heeled and soled and wallpaper purchased and Suttons provided linoleum by the roll and Geddes the tea and coffee merchant. In Market Street stood the “Cattle Market Inn”, the venue of farmers who came to town to barter for the best prices for their grain and produce. Across the street from the Cattle Market entry could be gained into the huge “rag” market where anything from shop soiled linen to carpets materials and bedding, could be bought very cheaply, Here were Butterworths, Harts and Baileys, Naylors (taffe Naylor) to name but a few. Stall upon stall of everything that anyone could want. The heart of the town of Warrington.

Walking back up to the other end, passed the large clock which stood at the centre of the “rag” Market, one could nip through the little wynd to come out on the other side of the Barley Mow, passed the vaults and pay a visit to Ashcrofts hardware shop for nails and screws and at the back of the shop buy wood, the scent of the sawdust filling the air.
And so back to where I sat on my seat facing the empty iron structure, the clammer and the shouting the pushing and shoving of an age long passed but remembered with affection, to see the modern Warrington so different so alien. Market Street blocked off by Bon Marche and the entrance to the Mall. It was time to go home.”

{This article was first published in Warrington History Society’s Winter 2002 newsletter}

question-questionDo you have any fleeting memories of old Warrington that you’d like to share with us? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us with your story and who knows, it could be appearing here very shortly!

The Great Oak of Winwick

{This article was first published in Warrington History Society’s Autumn 2002 newsletter}


The Great Oak of Winwick.

There once stood at Winwick an old oak tree of unusual size that its branches once served as a canopy for a dinner party of 124 persons, a company “never exceeded in any public occasion in the County of Lancaster”.

The dinner was given for Captain Phipps Hornby, the third son of the reverend Geoffrey Hornby a former rector of Winwick. Captain Horby commanded the ship named the VOLAGE at the Battle of LISSA, and captured a French flag. The young captain (he was only 26) returned to the village of Winwick early in August 1811 after five years away from home. The villagers arranged a princely banquet for him on the 26th August 1811 to honour his victory.

The interior of the great tree was covered with fine white cloth, giving it the appearance of a huge tent, the tables arranged in a semicircle round the trunk as shown in the picture.

The Winwick Oak stood in a field a little distance to the south of the church (near Rectory Close). It covered an area of ground 100 yards in circumference, the lower branches extended 90 feet north to south, and 87 feet from east to west, the diameter of the trunk at the base was 14 feet; and 11 feet at a height of 5 feet. The first branch was 7 feet 6 inches from the ground.

Loyal toasts were drunk, two songs were sung, specially written for the occasion one by Mr Fitchett the other by Mr Green and some Latin verses, by a local bard of which the following is a translation.

Renowned for generous shade, behold in me
A monarch oak of thrice a century;
Ye kindred trees, let memory cease to dwell
On those sad days, when struck by fate ye fell;
And turn to when, beneath my verdant shade,
A social throng the votive banquet made;
And hail’d him safe who war’s dire perils o’er,
The laurels earned in fight at Lissa wore.
Vain! if they hoped by union with my name
To add more lasting honours to his fame.
Since I must yield to time’s relentless sway,
Resign my bark and cast my leaves away;
While Hornby’s name unhurt by chance or fate,
Unchanging still, shall be forever great.

On the 4 February 1850, while Captain Hornby was living and had been knighted and made an admiral, the broad oak, a beautiful time honoured ornament of Winwick, was blown down by the wind, to the great grief of the neighbourhood; and the Latin bard’s prophecy that the hero’s name should survive it was thus part fulfilled.

A picture of the dinner under the tree is in St. Oswald’s Church, Winwick, together with the French flag captured at the Battle of Lissa, some wooden benches made from the timber of the broad oak after it was blown down and a memorial tablet to the memory of John Fitchett who wrote one of the songs for the banquet.

When this article was originally published Ray commented that its contents were based on information obtained from ‘A History of Winwick’ by William Beamont and St. Oswald’s Church.

Public Timekeeping in Warrington


In the 21st Century our days are kept in order by timepieces. At one end of the scale there are clocks which keep time to an accuracy of one second in 3 million years while at the other end we can buy a watch for a few pounds and regard it as an item which can be disposed of when fashions change. As well as our clocks and watches we can find out the time by reference to the telephone, television and computer. Mankind has not always needed to know the time to such accuracy as we do now: in centuries past work was regulated by day and night and the seasons. Even when clocks became more common they did not tell the same time uniformly throughout the country: that only came about when the railway system came into being and trains ran to a timetable. However, there was a period of time in between when clocks and watches were not available to the majority of the population but they did need to reckon the passing of the hours. This is when public timekeeping came into its own.

“Time is Precious. Peter Winstanley erected this dial 1756”; so read the inscription on a dial on the stable wall in the yard of The Bull’s Head, Bridge Street. Not quite the first public timepiece in Warrington but one that gave you a little reminder every time you looked at it. It was soon followed by a second near Peter Winstanley’s residence with another adage “Virtue join precious Time. The gift of Peter Winstanley to the Publick in Stanley Street Warrington 1757”.

Inscriptions on timepieces are not always inspiring or even visible. In 1647, Colonel John Booth gave the town possibly its first public timepiece – the curfew bell. It originally hung in a tower on the corn market and bore this inscription: “Donum Johannis Booth Colonelli et rectoris hujus de Warrington 1647” (The gift of John Booth Governor of this market town of Warrington 1647). Beamont’s record of the inscription is somewhat different being: “Exdono Johannis Booth armigeri Colonelli et rectoris emporii de Warrington 1647”. It later became the fire bell and later still was transferred to the clock in Trinity Chapel.


Holy Trinity Church – home of Warrington’s town bell and clock.

A variety of different dates are given for this move to Trinity Chapel. Beamont says that a bell with this inscription was put in the steeple there in 1706 but he adds that the old curfew bell was also in the steeple. This other bell bears the following inscription: “Deo et ecclesia dedicavit Johannes Blackburn SSTP Hallelujah Henricus Penn fecit 1706” (Consecrated to God and the Church, John Blackburn SSTP Hallelujah Made by Henry Penn 1706).   A newspaper article suggests it was moved in 1810. If either of these is correct it would have been moved again after the steeple was blown down in 1822. However, the minutes of the Police Commissioners for the town on 19 August 1841 contain a resolution that Messrs Joseph Perrin, Peter Smith, John Smith and James Houghtin be appointed a committee to make an agreement with the Trustees of Trinity Chapel to move the fire bell to the top of the steeple if practicable. Yet again, another source says that it wasn’t transferred to the town clock (in Trinity Chapel) until 1855 when the old court house – where it had been – was demolished. It is known that a new fire bell was hung on the west end of the new Market Hall when that building was erected in 1856. I suspect that these items refer to more than one bell and although we may not be able to disentangle which bell was where during these years it seems that the town authorities were beginning to take an interest in public time keeping.

On 21 April 1836 the Police Commissioners decided that the salary to be paid to the ringer of the Town Bell at 6.00 am and 8.00 pm, should be paid by the Treasurer as “a matter materially attending to the regulation and order of the town”. In April 1863 Hamlet Savage was the ringer of the bell at a wage of 3/- (15p) per week and he was given explicit details of the times for ringing it:

  • 5.55-6.00 am: Monday to Saturday
  • 7.55-8.00 am: Sunday
  • 8.00-8.05 pm: Every evening (the bell was rung for 5 minutes then there was a break followed by the ringing of the number of days in the month)
  • 10.45-11.00 pm: Saturday (in addition to the earlier evening ringing)
  • 9.45-10.00 pm:  Sunday (in addition to the earlier evening ringing)

The Town Clock is housed in the tower of Holy Trinity Church, Sankey Street (built 1760). The first official reference to it is in the same Police Commissioners’ minutes referred to previously (21 April 1836) when Mr Carter tended his bill for one year’s care of the clock: from May 1834 to April 1835 the bill was 2 guineas (£2-10p). The Commissioners ordered that this sum should be paid by the Treasurer as, like the ringing of the Town Bell ‘it was a matter materially tending to the regulation and order of the town’. James Carter’s own notebook shows that he had previously received payment in 1824 for work on the clock. As the steeple of Trinity Chapel (as it was called until February 1870 when it became a parish in its own right) was blown down in 1822 the clock was probably put in when the replacement tower was erected. Unfortunately James Carter does not give us any other information about the clock.

The next official mention was on 1 February 1849 when Mr Carter (James died in 1848 so this is one of his sons, probably Joseph) reported that the winding ropes were ‘so worn as to be dangerous’. The prices of new ropes were to be ascertained and we can only presume that they were bought.

In 1852 more work needed to be carried out: Mr Carter was authorised to effect repairs not exceeding 45/- (£2-25p). New ropes for the weights were supplied by Mr Wagstaffe for 28/- (£1-40p) and to complete the improvements Mr Whittle repaired and repainted the dials at a cost of 10/- (50p).

In the Warrington Guardian of Saturday 14 August 1858 there is an interesting report of the debate of a resolution at the previous week’s council meeting. Councillor Holmes put the resolution that it was desirable to provide an illuminated public clock for the convenience of the inhabitants. He suggested that the matter should be referred to the General Purposes Committee to ascertain the best site for such a clock and an estimate of its cost. The important word is presumably ‘illuminated’ as there was already a town clock but why was the councillor thinking of another site? Councillor Pickmere provided the answer when he said that Mrs Houghton’s shop almost shut off the view of the clock from Market Gate. He believed that Market Gate was the only place for a public clock as anywhere else would only serve that locality whilst Market Gate was the true centre of the town. His suggestion was that a clock should be suspended on chains from the 4 buildings at the corners of Market Gate and have 4 faces one towards each of the principal streets.

Councillor Holmes thought that the current clock could be made ‘a yard or two higher’ and if illuminated could be visible from more places than if it were put on any other public building in the town. He estimated that the cost of installing illumination would be £50-£80 with running costs dependant on the length of time it was lit. Councillor Edelsten did not think that it was the right time to be spending money on an illuminated clock but if one was really essential it should be sited at one end of the market shed with one face to Market Street and the other to the market hall. The resolution was sent to the General Purposes Committee and at their September meeting the borough engineer. Mr Coxon, was requested to obtain information as to the cost of maintaining the proposed clock. At the October meeting, he reported that much depended on the size and situation of the clock. A clock on a pillar ‘similar to the one opposite the Electric Telegraphic Company offices in Castle Street, Liverpool, would best answer the purpose and might be placed with advantage at the corner of Market Gate at the angle in front of Messrs Picton and Hattons’. This would cost £70-£80 with maintenance of £5 per annum. The committee resolved that it was not prepared to approve Mr Coxon’s plan and no one seems to have resurrected Councillor Pickmere’s suggestion! However, it was not long before the council was forced into action.

In November 1861 Mr Coxon reported to the General Purposes Committee that the dome of the clock tower in Trinity Church was much decayed and it would be prudent to cease ringing the bell. He suggested that the trustees should have it repaired or replaced. A builder, Mr Gibson, advised the commissioners of the chapel that it should be replaced but they did not have sufficient funds to do this. The rector, Mr James Nicholson, on behalf of the Commissioners approached the corporation pointing out that in the past matters of this nature had always been met by the inhabitants of the town generally as “it is especially devoted to the town clock and the bell”. He promised the Corporation full co-operation from the commissioners. The General Purposes Committee then resolved that Trinity Chapel was the best site for a public clock for the convenience of those passing through the town and the following January the Commissioners of the chapel offered, and had accepted, £50 towards the cost of rebuilding the tower; the total cost was estimated at £200.

In addition to producing the town clock, George Blackhurst made many other timepieces whilst working in Warrington. This Brass Quarter Striking Skeleton Clock recently fetched £2,800 at auction.

In addition to producing the town clock, George Blackhurst manufactured many other timepieces whilst working in Warrington between 1851-58. This Brass Quarter Striking Skeleton Clock recently fetched £2,800 at auction.

Councillor Edelsten, of whom we have already heard, offered the council a clock to be put up on Mrs Houghton’s shop at Market Gate ( if Mr Wilson, the owner, agreed). He said “he would take care that it was such a clock as would be not only a credit to himself but useful to the town”. It was to be made by Mr George Blackhurst, a Warrington clock maker, and be guaranteed for 12 months. He asked that the Corporation should pay him 1/- (5p) per year as acknowledgement. A sub-committee was set up to confer with him. However, there seems to have been some ill-will between the members of the sub-committee and Councillor Edelsten as he wrote to the General Purposes Committee complaining that they would not accept it on his terms but only under certain conditions. “I am astonished,” he wrote, ” and after the uncalled for remarks….the Corporation must accept the offer as it stands or decline it altogether.” The corporation declined it.

Warrington Museum has a regulator with winders dial which is stated to be part of George Blackhurst’s town clock of 1855 which came from Hamlet Houghton’s shop; however it is the wrong year if this was Councillor Edelsten’s clock.   There is no mention of this clock in the minutes of the General Purposes Committee and from the subject matter it undoubtedly would have been mentioned if it was there in 1858 or 1861. It seems then that either the date is wrong and Councillor Edelsten put up a clock notwithstanding the sub-committee’s views or this was merely a large or turret clock that was on Houghton’s shop and calling it the ‘town clock’ is incorrect.

In April 1862 the Committee accepted tenders for the work on the clock tower: Richard Kitchen, for iron work £160; John Jackson for masonry, joinery and scaffolding £85; H & S Chandley for painting £8.

In August of that year the Committee, as ever trying not to spend more than is absolutely necessary, asked the Gas Company to illuminate the dial free of charge. The Gas Company’s reply, in which it took no responsibility for the safety of the clock, was to agree to illuminate but with a meter from which, £7.10.0 (£7.50p) per half year would be deducted. By September it had been firmly decided that the old clock could not be repaired and that a new one was to be purchased. In October J Bailey and Company of Manchester had their tender of £255 accepted for the construction and erection of a new clock.

By May 1863 there was dissatisfaction with Bailey’s conduct concerning the clock. Some of this frustration is shown in the following verse which appeared in the Warrington Guardian of 30 May:

Dithery, dithery dock, what’s up with the trumpery clock? It tells nothing but lies, you don’t know how time flies, unless by the Borough reeve’s clock, And that tells the truth like the giver; on both you may safely rely, so three cheers for J B now and ever, and three groans for the clock in the sky.

The real problems are seen through the minutes of the General Purposes Committee. In May 1863 the Committee gave Bailey’s 14 days to finish the clock or the contract would be cancelled. Bailey’s wrote agreeing to this but did not do the work. Next Mr Coxon was told to have the work carried out by some other firm and charge it to Bailey’s. However, this does not seem to have happened either, because it is not until August 1864 that we are informed that Bailey’s had completed the work “according to contract” (!) and £300.16.4 (£300.84p) had been paid with £45.16.4 (£45.64p) being for extra work on the dial and telling hammers. Unfortunately the minutes supply us with no more information about this strange state of affairs.

In July 1871 the old clock which had been taken from the tower was requested for use by St Paul’s Church to “provide a clock for the people at that end of the town” and the Committee resolved that it should be handed over to Dr Massingham as long as the Corporation incurred no expense.

January 1876 saw a new lighting system used on the clock. Arnold and Lewis of Manchester set the jets further away from the dials where they gave a brighter light and ensuring the dials would stay cleaner. The cost was £20 per dial exclusive of joinery and ventilation work and in May £92 was paid to the company for the work which included some other repairs. £15 was also paid to Henry Holt for painting the tower which was next painted in 1881 when Mr Whittle was paid £20.

Another new clock was placed in the tower in April 1883. Mayor John Crosfield presented a clock made by Mr Joyce of Whitchurch to be put in Holy Trinity church and this was accepted with none of the antagonism that surrounded Councillor Edelsten’s proposed gift of over 20 years previously. James Joyce was a highly respected maker who had made, among other turret clocks, one for Worcester Cathedral. In July of the following year the minutes tell us that the corporation asked the company to provide an estimate for care and repair of the clock for the following three years. In that same year the rest of the clocks belonging to the corporation were put into the care of Mr Edward Eustance for their repair and winding. He was paid £10 per year for three years. In 1886 it was arranged with Joyce’s to fit new opal dials to the Town Clock.

After the dark years of World War 2 the Warrington Guardian of 28 July 1945 reported that the clock and tower were to be painted and pointed respectively. The possibility of adding more lights was going to be considered and an attempt would be made to clean the faces from the inside. The ironwork was to be scraped and the figures, fingers and weathervane were to be gilded. It was mentioned in this report that the tower from the church roof upwards was regarded as town property. The Warrington Examiner of 8 August 1952 reported that in 1948 the clock and tower were overhauled as the weather vane had attained a list of 5o and it was thought to be a danger to the public.

Eustance's Clock, Sankey Street.

Eustance’s Clock, Sankey Street.

Other well-known clocks in Warrington have been the market clock in the old covered market and E & A Eustance’s clock above their premises in Sankey Street. A clock had been on that site for many years. An advert in the Warrington Guardian of 26 November 1862 used the words “The Illuminated Clock” with their name and address. It was finally removed in 1993 when the firm moved into Golden Square and, unfortunately, seems to have disappeared from public sight.

{This article was first published in Warrington History Society’s Millennium Scrapbook in the Year 2000}.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Minutes of Police Commissioners for Warrington – Vol 1 & 2 (WCL ms 1354); Minutes of General Purposes Committee, Warrington Corporation (WCL ms 1630); Notebook of James Carter (WCL ms 2433); Warrington Guardian – 14 August 1858; Warrington Guardian – 28 July 1945; Warrington Examiner – 8 August 1952: A Bennett Proceedings of Warrington Literary and Philosophical Society 1898-9 “Glimpses of  Bygone Warrington” 1899 (WCL S10211); W Beamont with notes by J Kendrick jnr: A Chronicle of Events at Warrington at and shortly before the Great Civil War (WCL 5152); GA Carter: Warrington and the Mid Mersey Valley 1971; Warrington Town Trail 1 1976 (WCL p2859); Dava Sobel: Longitude 1995; David E Duncan The Calendar 1998. WCL is the Warrington Central Library reference number.