By Tim Lambert
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Warrington was only a small village but in time it grew larger and more important. St Elphin’s Church existed by 1086 and probably much earlier. Furthermore, the Normans built a wooden castle at Warrington around 1070 AD.
By the beginning of the 12th century, Warrington had grown into a small market town. In 1255 Warrington was granted the right to hold a fair. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area. From 1277 Warrington had 2 fairs.
Sometime in the 13th century (the exact date is unknown), Warrington was given a charter. (A document granting the townspeople certain rights). In 1292 Warrington was given a second charter. However, the town remained under the control of the Lord of the Manor. However, Medieval Warrington was a small town. It only had a population of several hundred.
Then in the late 13th century, Augustinian friars came to Warrington. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach.
In 1495, at the very end of the Middle Ages, a stone bridge was built over the Mersey.
In 1526 a wealthy man named Sir Thomas Boteler left money in his will to found a grammar school in Warrington. In 1539 Henry VIII closed the friary.
During the 16th century and the 17th century, Warrington grew larger and more important. This was despite outbreaks of plague in 1613 and 1647. There was also a famine in Northwest England in 1623-1624, which led to many deaths. However, Warrington recovered from each disaster and continued to grow.
By the time of the civil war in 1642, Warrington was still a small town with a population of around 2,000, but it was strategically important because of its bridge. In 1642 Royalists seized Warrington but the parliamentarians laid siege in 1643. In May 1643 they captured Warrington and they held it for the rest of the war.
In the 18th century, Warrington became known for its sacking industry and canvas industry. In the 17th century, Warrington benefited from the growth of Liverpool. It created a large market for sailcloth. In Warrington in the 18th century, there was also a pin-making industry and a file and tool-making industry. There was also a copper industry.
In the 18th century, Warrington was famous for its sailcloth. In the 1770s a writer said that Warrington supplied ‘nearly one-half of the Navy of Great Britain’. He also said that making pins was an important industry in Warrington. So was making ‘locks, hinges, cast iron and other branches of hardware’. The writer said that near the town there was: ‘A very large works for the refining of copper’. He said the glass industry and sugar refineries ’employ many hands’.
Bank Hall was built in 1750. It later became the Town Hall. The first newspaper in Warrington was printed in 1756.
19th Century Warrington
By 1801 the population of Warrington was over 10,500, which made it a fairly large town by the standards of the time. It grew rapidly. By 1861 it was over 26,000. By 1901 the population of Warrington was nearly 65,000. Meanwhile in 1831, Warrington was connected to Liverpool and Manchester by railway.
In the 19th century, there were a number of improvements to Warrington. In 1813 an Act of Parliament formed a body of men called Police Commissioners. They had powers to pave, clean, and light the streets of Warrington. At first oil lamps lighted the streets but in 1821 gaslight was introduced to Warrington. The Commissioners also organised refuse disposal and from 1828 they provided the fire brigade. The first police force in Warrington was formed in 1838.
However, like all early 19th century towns, Warrington was overcrowded and unsanitary. In 1832 there was a cholera epidemic that killed 169 people.
However, life in 19th century Warrington gradually improved. In 1846 a company was formed to supply Warrington with piped water supply. In the 1860s and 1870s, sewers were dug.
In 1847 Warrington was made a borough and gained a mayor and corporation. Meanwhile, in 1810 a dispensary was opened where the poor could obtain free medicines. Warrington infirmary opened in 1877.
In 1848 the first public library opened in Warrington. In 1856 a Market Hall was built and in 1860 a 281 feet high spire was added to St Elphin’s Church.
In the late 19th century parks were opened. Bank Park opened to the public in 1873. Victoria Park opened in 1897. So did Queens Gardens. Parr Hall opened in 1898.
During the 19th century, Warrington was transformed from a market town to a major industrial centre. In the early 19th century glassmaking in Warrington declined due to competition from St Helens.
However other industries boomed. There was a large metalworking industry in Warrington in the 19th century and there were many ironworks. After 1884 aluminum was made in Warrington. The file-making industry in Warrington boomed in the 19th century. There was also an important wire-making industry in Warrington. The pin-making industry also flourished. There was a considerable textile industry in Warrington in the 19th century. There were many fustian cutters.
The linen industry continued. Some cotton was woven in the town though it never developed into a cotton town like those further north. There was also a large soap-making industry in Warrington. From the end of the 19th century gas cookers were made in Warrington.
In the 20th century Warrington, like other towns, underwent ‘de-industrialization’. Old manufacturing industries declined. However, service industries such as retail, education, and local government grew rapidly.
The first electricity was generated in Warrington in 1900. Between 1902 and 1935 electric trams ran in the streets of Warrington. The first buses ran in 1913 and between 1931 and 1935 they replace the trams.
In 1917 Orford Park (originally the grounds of a hall) opened. The first council houses in Warrington were built in the 1920s and 1930s. Many more were built after 1945, many of them to replace demolished slums.
Then in 1968, it was decided to make Warrington a new town. People from Greater Manchester were moved to the town. As a result, Warrington grew rapidly and new suburbs and industrial estates were built.
Woolston Park opened in 1977. Birchwood Shopping Centre opened in 1980. Cockhedge Shopping Park opened in 1984. Golden Square Shopping Centre was opened in stages. The first stage was completed in 1977. The second stage was finished in 1979 and the third stage was ready in 1983.
In 1974 the boundaries of Warrington were enlarged and in 1998 Warrington became a unitary authority.
WARRINGTON IN THE 21st CENTURY
In the 21st century, Warrington is still a thriving town. The Pyramid Arts Centre opened in 2002. Today the population of Warrington is 202,000.