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Town History

A brief History of Warrington

Since time immemorial, the Mersey has caused trade, travellers, new ideas and attitudes to flow through Warrington. Preserving its character as a free-thinking liberal town, and keeping alive a precious tradition of progress, innovation and change.

On the south bank of the Mersey at what is now Wilderspool, the river was forded. At that site a community soon grew up, trading the rich fruits of the river - cockles and salmon. For centuries, gooseberries grown in the local area were regarded as the best in all of England.

The Romans used the ford for it's strategic importance. The moving water created a natural impenetrable barrier. So the Romans erected a camp, which soon became a town.

During Saxon times, Warrington expanded onto the opposite bank of the Mersey, near the present parish church. The town's strategic importance continued throughout and beyond the Norman period. Warrington then became a market town, causing so much traffic that its first bridge had to be built.

During the Civil War, Warrington's importance as a strategic river crossing became its downfall, it was wrested from the Royalists by the troops of Oliver Cromwell. In so doing, Cromwell's troops virtually destroyed the town to the ground (search out the east wall of St Elphin's parish church and see the scars of cannonball-fire). For perhaps the only time in its history, the resilient and confident character of Warrington was brought to a low ebb for ten years.

It wasn't long before the confident and outward-looking character of Warrington re-emerged. The town embraced the industrial revolution. it became the centre of not just one, but a whole myriad of industries, from copper smelting to sail-making and pin manufacture. The navigational properties of the river Mersey were improved, canals were built, and the town grew yet more prosperous and popular.

Like so many other towns Warrington experienced the days of depression and two world wars. During WWII, RAF Burtonwood became the largest US airbase in Europe. It played a key role during World War ll and then again for the Berlin airlift. More recently it contributed to the Desert Storm campaign. The base had another impact on the town - over 6,500 local women became GI brides!

In the 1960s and 70s, the town re-invented itself as it had so many times in the past - this time as a ‘new town’, with all the growth and optimism which had, by now, come to characterise Warrington.

As well as being a town of great historical and industrial importance, Warrington has an illustrious literary, educational and religious past. Daniel Defoe once visited Warrington and observed kindly that it was 'a large, populous and well built town - rich and full of good country tradesmen'. In addition, Warrington was the birthplace of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Education has always been important in Warrington. The grammar school was established in the 16th century and the famous non-conformist school, the Warrington Academy, was founded at Bridge Foot in 1757. Its high standards and excellent reputation attracted the best scholars, including Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, and Rheinhold Forster, who sailed with Captain Cook. This was a glorious time when Warrington was known as 'the Athens of the North'!

Recent History

In recent years, Warrington has proved itself to be a town of economic vitality and commercial acumen. It stands poised between the M6, M62 and M56, those rivers of transport which, along with nationwide railway links, carry the traffic of commerce and prosperity to the heart of Warrington.

Heavy industry and big business has grown in and around Warrington, but retailing and small businesses have flourished too, and all have been encouraged by locally-based initiatives and council-supported financial help. The result? Greater prosperity and a better standard of living for local people, who now enjoy excellent shopping, first class public transport, as well as superb leisure and community facilities.

1998 was a special year for Warrington. The borough council attained unitary status on 1 April - Once again standing independently in its capacity to make decisions and decide policy without reference to outside authority. Since it comprises local people with a strong sense of Warrington's individuality and community, the council was delighted at the grant of this status and there were celebrations throughout the year.

New horizons

And what of today? The patterns of the past repeat themselves; Warrington continues to prosper, with new industries, new businesses and new retail outlets investing in the town, while the people of Warrington care for each other and their community with respect for the past and a proper regard for the future. So perhaps you will understand why Warrington has so much to be proud of and so much to celebrate. Come and join us in our festivities - you will be very welcome!