Widnes, Cheshire - UK

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An area of poor agricultural soil, described as 'half marsh, half moor'
sitting on the River Mersey, located in the north west corner of England.

Widnes News and Events (A1029566)

The History

10th Century Widnes

Widnes is a place where Vikings sailed up the river Mersey or 'Mercia' at it was known at the
time. Raided and then killed the local Anglo saxons and settled down on the head land of the
river (now called 'West Bank') which they called Vidnes (meaning wide nose) which soon became Widnes.
This head of land in times past was much more prominent but deminished by blasting operations when
the rail bridge was built.

English Settlements

The area changed very little for many centuries, still mainly full of green fields of times past.

In the 1841 census for Widnes the population is given as 2,209, much of it concentrated in
the Farnworth, Cronton, Appleton, Upton and West Bank dock areas the growth of these settlments
was important for developing the town prior to the indusry.


In 1180 a church was built in Farnworth at the top of the village high street recognition of the growth in population.

West Bank

A Boathouse was a welcome, called the 'Snig Pie House' when crossing the runcorn
gap by boat. famous for it's eel pies, from eels caught in the Mersey, the main
road it was situated on was nicknamed snig lane after the house, this was the main
crossing route for all visitors. It still called the 'snig' to this day, although
no more a Boathouse and no more does it sell it's pies.


Appleton was known for it's fine wire cottage industry that supplied local watchmakers.

Start of the Industry

By the 18th Century, a small collection of homesteads on the rocky
promontory, known as woodend, was atracting day trippers from near by
Liverpool who traveled down river to this quiet country retreat.

The Sankey Canal was built early in the 19th century, later being extended to
Fiddlers Ferry and then on to Widnes in 1830. It was built to carry coal from
the St. Helens coalfield to the River Mersey and was the first artificial waterway
in England, proceeding the Duke of Bridgwater's famous navigation by several years.

The St. Helens Railway Company built the St. Helens to Runcorn Gap railway in 1933
for the express purpose of carrying coal. Among the original subscribers were James
Muspratt who had a stake in the company, and Peter Greenall who had brewing,
coal and glass manufacturing interests.

Despite the building of the canal and the railway, it was 15 years before anyone
took advantage of the saltfields of Cheshire or the coalfields of south west Lancashire.
The reason for this lapse in time could have been the Salt Tax which had been in existence in England since the 11th. century.

By 1845, the world's first rail-canal-dock complex had been established on land that was then called 'Widnes Dock', now known as Spike Island. Hear at the southern point of the St Helens Canal and Railway, Cheshire salt would be sent to the glass-makers of St Helens in exchange for lancashire Coal from Northwich, Spike Island, a
buisy place at the time, only has the canals left nowa days, it's now a nature
reserve and a pleasant area were local events are held.

Enter John Hutchinson (1825 - 1865), who was working in St Helens chemical industry. When in 1847, he decided to set up in local business as an alkali producer. He became the principal founder of the chemical industry in Widnes His first factory, the Leblanc Soda works was established on the east side of the Sankey Canal. He acquired land and making use of the canal and railway established one of the first industrial estates in the country.

To accommodate the new workforce needed for his works, the industrialist built
rows of terraced houses with no facilities at the time, alongside the works.
Other Entrepreneurs followed such as William Gossages, Frederick Muspratt, Ludwig Mond
and John Brunner. The chemical works were built from wood and, like the houses,
were easy to build.

The second half of the 19th. century saw a greatest expansion of the chemical industry
in Widnes. By 1875 the population had risen to 20,000 and there were 50 factories in and
around the town producing such things as soap, alkali, borax, soda ash, salt cake and
bleaching powder.

Industrial Problems

Widnes soon began to achieve notoriety as 'the dirtiest, ugliest and most
depressing town in England', A House of Lords committee enquired into the matter
of noxious vapors. Their Lordship heard acounts of dead plants, wilting Crops
and dieing animals. The result was the Alkali Act of 1862 which imposed strictor
regulations, this and even fines and componsation claims were not to damage the industry who at the time shruged off the tiny fiscal problems with shear profits.

Widneses industry is now long gone, but the dirty town lable stays, this is because not only the Mersy was polluted with such things as Lead, Arsnic and Mercury which has taken many years to clean up but also with problems cleaning the land after diferent and varied industries dumped there wast there.

Some interesting people have originated in Widnes though out the ages, from
Richard Bancroft who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604 to Roy Chadwick
C.B.E (1893 - 1947) he became the chief designer at the British Aviation firm in 1917.

Widnes is now a demised industrial town, flinching at it's employment problems,
coughing with past smoke and digging it's self out of the toxic waste of the
past. steadily now going into the 21st Century with a limp.

Pastimes and Attractions

The Widens Vikings

Widnes is known for it's sport, in particular Rugby League. which it reguly
plays with neighbour St Helens. Originialy nicknamed 'The Chemic' because of
there long sponsorship by ICI, now 'The Widnes Vikings'. They had a new stadium
built bit by bit, 1996, 1998 and 1999 by the local council, sponsored by a car
company it was called the AutoQuest Stadium. the reason? there poor stadium was
suspected of keeping them out of a new Super League which was being formed at
the time.

The Halton Show

Exitment comes with the annual Halton Show that brings a fair and many
attractions to Spike Island (part of West Bank), this is a time to enjoy and
savour with horse jumping and dare devils. including a wide verity or local
cottage industry arts and crafts with dance and drama. Reprasentatives for
difent parts of the council set up tents, including the local colleges. (a good
time to ask about policies). This event is usually held around the end of July,
on a weekend with a big fireworks display afterwards.

The Catalyst

For the educational stimulus, we have 'The Catalyst' which is the only
science centre and museum solely devoted to chemistry and how the products of
chemistry are used in every day life. This includes interactive displays and a
lovely Glass lift (with a glass bottom) going up 6 floors. It's an interesting
place to learn about chemistry, particualy because it's a charity trust, a
number of years ago it was greatly extended by money from the Lotery, with a then
curent blue peter presenter doing the opening honers, it now has a cafe and
disabled facilities, about time.

Holiday Events

The November 5th celerbration is the only one currenly being run, a big
fireworks display is now organised from the Runcorn-Widnes bridge, when it's all
lit up. a few years they have put on lazer shows with corergraphed music. Many
years ago, they held a real bonfire in Spike Island, but because of reports of
injury and problems with the burned grass being an eye saw it was stoped.

Archtecture and Transport

Rail Bridge

The Railway Bridge was built in 1868 it took 5 years to build and what was
then the longest railway bridge in England. For the price of one penny people
could walk across the footway. This was in a way good because after the building
of the Macnchester Ship Canal a few years later, Boats could no longer go from widnes to

Transporter Bridge

This pice of victorian engeneering was the first road vecial crossing the
Runcorn Gap, finished in 1905 it carried a set load, on a carage there and back.
and it took time to cross, now a distant memory in old photo graphs, it was demolished it's last jouney 21st July 1961 to be replaced.

Runcorn Widnes Bridge

A majestic arch, painted a pale green, spans the mersy at West Bank,
Originaly a 2 laned bridge built in 1961 to cope with the trafic conjestion.
Costing about £3 million to compleat the masive steel structure, it caried 10
times the number of vehicles a day as the old Transporter Bridge, later it was
extended in 1975 to 4 lanes and was renamed 'The Silver Jubilee Bridge' two
years later in honor for her majesty, although The bridge is still called The
Runcorn Bridge by locals. Now this extended bridge is getting full and
plans are afoot to biuld a new bridge to cope, it won't be as grand as this one,
low simple repetative arches are expected.


Widnes Old and Widnes
- Barry Miller
Halton Council -
History and Events
Vikings Rugby Leage - AutoQuest and

Catalyst Museum - Information

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