All about the base!

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

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

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

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

Finding Samuel Fothergill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map courtesy of Warrington Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel’s gravestone (copyright Elaine Green)

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

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

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

Elaine Green, 2021.

Orford Hall circa 1900

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

The history of Orford Hall is fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairfield Motorcycle update!

Alfred Forster on one of his Warrington made Fairfield motorcycles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fairfield Motorcycle after its restoration.