Here are some of our favourite facts about Warrington, all picked up from lectures presented to Warrington History Society over the past 52 years or from articles published in our newsletters. Be sure to visit our News & Articles pages to discover more. Better still, why not join us at one of our forthcoming lectures to hear dozens more interesting facts in person?
Often nicknamed ‘Warrington’s Dreamer’, Arthur Bennett, Mayor of Warrington in 1925, wanted to establish a seaport and airport in Warrington. He even managed to establish a Borough Council Aerodrome Committee to explore his ideas. As outlandish as his ideas may sound, long after his death the former Burtonwood Airbase was considered as a regional airport until subsidence caused by coal mining from the nearby Bold colliery put paid to the idea. And as for a seaport – why not? Even today ships still pass through Warrington via the Manchester Ship Canal! (Source: WHS Lecture #359 “Three Mayors of Warrington” – Andy Green, 18/4/16).
In 1863, Hamlet Savage, the ringer of town’s bell, was paid 3 shillings (15p) per week for the privilege and was given explicit details of the times he needed to ring it: In the mornings 5.55-6.00am Monday to Saturday and 7.55-8.00am on Sundays. He also needed to ring it every evening between 8.00-8.05pm with additional rings required between 10.45-11.00pm on Saturdays and 9.45-10.00pm on Sundays. The town bell still rings today – it is housed in the tower of Trinity Church at Market Gate – although these days is set to chime automatically. (Source: WHS Lecture #156 “Clockmaking: A Warrington Trade”- Kit Heald, 21/12/87).
Warrington was a major centre for glassmaking between 1780 and 1820 with pressed glass being a key speciality. Notable figures included Peter Seaman, Josiah Perrin, Thomas Glazebrook, Thomas Robinson, Edward Boulton and the Cartwright family who operated out of the Bank Quay, Cockhedge and Orford Lane areas. The centre of the pressed glass industry later moved to Manchester, most likely because the children of the above wanted to find their own share of the market and Manchester’s population was booming. Records show that most of the Manchester firms employed craftsmen who had perfected their skills in Warrington. (Source: WHS Lecture #358 “The Victorian Decorative Glass Industry and Warrington’s Part In Its Development”- David Williars, 21/3/16).
One of the earliest ‘performances’ of Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII may have occurred in Warrington! On Sunday 6th May 1632, nine men persuaded a Warrington ale house keeper called Gregory Harrison to let them use his loft after purchasing a ‘cann of alle’ (a can at the time was a kind of churn comprising several pints). As the play was being performed during the hours of divine service, the men were arrested by the town’s constables and churchwardens. They subsequently admitted performing a play called ‘Henery the Eaight’ and were duly prosecuted. (Source: WHS Lecture #321 “Crime in Warrington in the 1630s”- Alan Crosby,15/11/10). See Note 1.
A tantalising entry in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle of A.D. 923 records that Edward the Elder “went with his levies to Thelwall” and had a fortress “built, settled and garrisoned”, a fact that has led to Thelwall’s claim to be a bona fide city. However no trace of Thelwall’s fort has ever been found. A solution may lie in some 19th century maps. The obvious point for a fortification would be a crossing point on the River Mersey but the location of Warrington’s ancient ford is known as being close to Blackbear Bridge in Latchford – a full 3 miles from Thelwall. However, some Victorian maps clearly show this area as being a “detached part” of the Parish of Thelwall. Although excavation work would be needed to prove this assertion, perhaps Thelwall can rightly claim to be a city after all? (Source: WHS Newsletter #1 “On The Map”- G A Carter, Autumn 1977).
In 1848 Warrington became the first town in the United Kingdom to open a rate-supported public library. It was born from a long-established private library that had been operating from the Horsemarket Street premises of the printer William Eyres since 1760. Known as the Warrington Circulating Library, it was mainly used by tutors from the nearby Warrington Academy. Another unrelated library service, known as the Warrington Perambulating Library, is recognised as one of the first mobile libraries in the country. Established by the town’s Mechanics’ Institute in 1858, it comprised a travelling one-horse cart. The Institute promised the cart would visit “every door in Warrington” and as a result the number of books borrowed from its shelves rose from an astonishing 3,000 to 12,000 a year. (Source: WHS Millennium Scrapbook “The Birth of the Circulating Library”- Sylvia Wright, 2000).
- Note 1: Some historians have questioned if the play performed in the ale house was Shakespeare’s Henry VIII since in 1632 it was only available in Shakespeare’s First and Second Folios, both of which were weighty and expensive tomes from which to attempt a performance. However, the possibility that it was the great Bard’s play has yet to be disproven.