Runcorn Silver Jubilee Bridge
|Population:||61,252 (2004 estimate)|
Runcorn is an industrial town and cargo port in northern Cheshire. The town stands on the southern bank of the River Mersey where the estuary narrows to form the Runcorn Gap. Directly to the north across the Mersey is the town of Widnes. Upstream and 8 miles to the northeast is the town of Warrington in Lancashire, and downstream 16 miles to the west is the city of Liverpool.
Runcorn was a small, isolated village until the coming of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the town was a health resort. Towards the end of the 18th century, a port began to develop on the south bank of the River Mersey. During the 19th century industries developed, in particular the manufacture of soap and alkali, quarrying, shipbuilding, engineering, and tanning. In the early 20th century, the prime industries were chemicals and tanning. The original village has grown to include what were outlying villages. Except for chemicals, all the old industries have disappeared, and there has been diversification, in particular because of the close links to the motorway system, and the development of warehousing and distribution centres. A new town was built to the east of the existing town in the 1960s and 1970s, and farther to the east, areas of private housing have been established; this has resulted in a doubling of the population from around 30,000 to its present level.
Round about the town
Runcorn stands on a spur projecting into the River Mersey, which flows to the north and then to the west of the town. On the north bank of the river is another spur forming the West Bank area of Widnes; together these form Runcorn Gap, a narrowing of the River Mersey.
Much of Runcorn's character is formed by its communication links. The Runcorn Gap is crossed by the Runcorn Railway Bridge, which carries the Liverpool branch of the West Coast Main Line, and the Silver Jubilee Bridge, which carries the A533. To the south of the town is the River Weaver and the Weston Canal. Both open into the ship canal. To the southeast of the town run the M56 motorway, the Chester–Manchester railway line, and the main branch of the West Coast Main Line. The town has a system of expressways, roads designed to divert traffic away from the residential areas. The Central Expressway runs through the centre of the town in a north-south direction. To the west of it lie most of the former villages which formed the older part of the town, namely Runcorn, Higher Runcorn, Weston, Weston Point and Clifton (formerly Rocksavage), and the new town areas of Halton Brook and Halton Lodge. To the east are the village of Halton, the old settlements of Norton and Stockham, and the new town areas of Castlefields, Palacefields, Windmill Hill, Murdishaw, Brookvale, and Hallwood Park.
The density of housing is generally high, but there are open green areas, in particular heathland on Runcorn Hill and the extensive Town Park created as part of the new town. The older industries, particularly the remaining chemical factories, are concentrated mainly to the southwest of the town bordering the Mersey, while newer industries, including warehousing, are to the northeast and southeast.
The Runcorn area drains into the River Mersey to the north and the River Weaver to the south. The bedrock of the western and northeastern parts of the town is made up of rock from the Sherwood sandstone group; in the other areas the bedrock is from the Mercia mudstone group. In places there are prominent outcrops of sandstone, particularly at Runcorn Hill and Halton Hill. Elsewhere the bedrock is covered by drift. At the northwestern periphery of the town the drift consists of recently blown sand. Farther to the east and bordering the River Mersey is recent alluvium. Elsewhere the drift consists of till.
The earliest written reference to the town is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is named Rumcofan, literally "spacious cove". Other historical spellings of Runcorn include Rumcoven, Ronchestorn, Runckhorne, and '’Runcorne'’.
The earliest recorded event in Runcorn's history is the building by Lady Æthelflæd]] of a fortification at the town to protect the northern frontier of Mercia against the Norse in 915. The fort was built on Castle Rock overlooking the River Mersey at Runcorn Gap.
Runcorn was not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book, although surrounding settlements were. William the Conqueror granted the Earldom of Chester to Hugh d'Avranches, who granted the Barony of Halton to Nigel. It is likely that Nigel erected a motte and bailey castle on Halton Hill in the 1070s. In 1115, Nigel's son, William Fitznigel, founded an Augustinian Priory at Runcorn. In 1134 the priory was moved to Norton, about 3½ miles away. In 1391 the priory was raised to the higher status of abbey.
In 1536 the monastery was dissolved, and around nine years later the buildings and some of the monastic lands were sold to Sir Richard Brooke who converted the habitable part of the abbey into a house.
During the English Civil War, Halton Castle was held for the Royalists by John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, the Steward of Halton. It fell twice to Parliamentarian Roundheads. The first siege was led by Sir William Brereton in 1643 and the second was during the following year. Following this, a "Council of War" was held in Warrington in 1646 at which it was decided that the castle should be slighted.
In 1656, Runcorn was described as being "nothing but a fair parish church, a parsonage and a few scattered tenements". Thus it remained for over a century; an isolated and poor hamlet. The only through traffic used the ferry which crossed from Runcorn to the north bank of the River Mersey. Towards the end of the 18th century and in the early years of the 19th century the town was a health resort.
During the 18th century, water transport had been improved in the area by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, the Bridgewater Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal. This gave Runcorn waterway connections with most of the interior of England through the canal system and with the sea along the River Mersey, thus forming the basis for the development of the Port of Runcorn. Later came the Runcorn to Latchford Canal linking with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, and the Weston canal which gave better access to the Weaver Navigation system. Industries began to develop within and around the town, in particular quarrying for Runcorn sandstone, shipbuilding, engineering, the manufacture of soap and chemicals and tanning, supplied with salt as a raw material from the great deposits of Cheshire won by brine extraction. Runcorn was becoming an industrialised and highly polluted town. During the later 19th century the town became increasingly dominated by the chemical and tanning industries.
In 1868 the Runcorn Railway Bridge was opened across the Mersey, giving Runcorn direct rail links with Liverpool in Lancashire and with the rest of the country. In the 1880s a pipeline was opened between Northwich and Weston Point, supplying brine to the salt and chemical works. In 1894 the Manchester Ship Canal was opened throughout its length which allowed ocean-going ships to travel inland as far as Salford, some of them calling at the port of Runcorn. The rise in population between 1881 and 1891 and the drop by 1901 is explained by the number of people involved in constructing the ship canal. In 1905 the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge opened, giving a direct link for vehicular traffic for the first time between the two towns.
During the first half of the 20th century the industry of the town continued to be dominated by chemicals and tanning. This growth was largely due to government fixed-priced cost contracts for tanned hides. In 1926 four chemical companies merged to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). As the century progressed there was diversification of industry. In 1961 the Transporter Bridge was replaced by Runcorn Road Bridge (since named the Silver Jubilee Bridge) which allowed a more efficient means of road traffic across Runcorn Gap. The designation of Runcorn as a new town in 1964 brought major changes and more than doubled the population. Much of the architecture of the new town was innovative, especially the Southgate development designed by Sir James Stirling built between 1970 and 1977 and demolished as a failure in the early 1990s. During the second half of the 20th century the tanneries closed (the last to close was the Highfield Tannery in the late 1960s) and the chemical industry declined. At the same time, light industry developed together with warehouses and distribution centres.
Of Runcorn's former industries, all but the chemical industry have disappeared. The industry was dominated for many years by Imperial Chemical Industries; it has since been taken over by Ineos. In Runcorn, Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire. The former ICI offices and laboratories now comprise the Heath Business and Technical Park, which provides office, laboratory, conference, and leisure facilities. To the east of the town, diverse industries have been developed including, because of the proximity to the motorway system, warehouses and distribution centres. The town continues to act as a port on the Manchester Ship Canal. There are two adjacent ports. Runcorn Docks is owned by the Manchester Ship Canal, which is part of the Peel Group|Peel Ports Group. The Port of Weston is owned by the Stobart Group Limited.
There has been a shift in employment from manufacturing to service industries. In 1991 34% worked in the manufacturing sector and 61% were in the service sector. By 2004 17% were in manufacturing jobs and 78% were in service jobs. This trend in the local region is demonstrated in this chart which shows the regional "gross value added" of Halton and Warrington at current basic prices, with figures in millions of British pounds.
Landmarks and places of interest
Halton Castle is the town's major landmark. It stands in ruins is on the top of Halton Hill near the geographical centre of the town, whch gives fine views all around. The interior of the castle grounds is open at advertised times. Incorporated in the castle walls is the Castle Hotel, which used to include a courthouse on the first floor.
Norton Water Tower is built of Runcorn sandstone, 112 feet high, which holds 672,000 gallons of water and supplies water to Liverpool.
Norton Priory is the major visitor centre in the town, now a museum. The site contains the remains of an ancient priory with adjacent gardens, formerly of a country house. Nearby are a walled garden, including a national collection of tree quinces, and an ice house.
Much of the architecture of the town is undistinguished, but there are listed buildings of some importance. All Saints Church and Holy Trinity Church in the centre of the older part of the town, St Mary's in Halton village, St John's in Weston, and Christ Church in Weston Point are all lited buildings. All Saints' Church, a Grade II* listed building, dates from 1849 and was built by Anthony Salvin in red sandstone.
The oldest existing houses are the Seneschal's House in Halton village (1598), Weston Old Hall (1607), Brookfield Farmhouse (1691), and Halton Old Hall (1693). Other outstanding houses include Runcorn Town Hall (formerly Halton Grange), Camden House and Cottage in High Street, and Bridgewater House near the Ship Canal.
A war memorial to those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars, as well as those killed later conflicts, is found at the end of Moughland Lane. A memorial in Castle Road, Halton village, commemorats residents of the village who served in the Boer War.
The parish church of Runcorn is All Saints in the old town centre. Ten other Anglican churches are in the town. Five Roman Catholic churches can be found in Runcorn too. There are three Methodist chapels and one Welsh Presbyterian chapel. Wicksten Drive Christian Centre is shared between the Church of England and the Methodists.
Hallwood Ecumenical Parish in Beechwood and Palace Fields consists of 3 churches all recognised by the Church of England, the Methodists and the United Reformed Church. Norton Ecumenical Parish, covering Windmill Hill, Norton and Murdishaw, is served by an Ecumenical Partnership between St Berteline's Church (Anglican) and Murdishaw Ecumenical Church (Methodist run).
There is an Independent Baptist chapel, three independent Christian churches. There are no places of worship in Runcorn for any other major world religions.
The Runcorn Ferry
Before the building of Runcorn Railway Bridge and its attached footbridge, the only way to cross the Mersey at or near Runcorn Gap, other than by the dangerous method of fording, was by the ferry. The ferry has a history going back to the 12th century.
The ferry was celebrated in the monologue entitled The Runcorn Ferry, written by Marriott Edgar and popularised by Stanley Holloway. It includes the lines:
Per tuppence per person per trip… Per trip or per part of per trip.
- Runcorn New Town, Halton Borough Council, http://www2.halton.gov.uk/yourcouncil/townsandvillages/runcornnewtown?a=5441, retrieved 28 June 2007
- Halton Business Directory, Halton Borough Council, archived from the original on August 22, 2007, http://web.archive.org/web/20070822004655/http://www.ebusinessdirectories.co.uk/BusinessDirectories/Pages/HaltonBD2006/alive.html, retrieved 1 September 2007
- Phillips and Phillips 2002, pp. 4–5.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Abingdon I: Mercian Register) 915
- Nickson 1887, p. 5. and Starkey 1990, p. 4.
- Nickson 1887, pp. 6–13. The foundations of the fort were discovered during the building of the railway bridge but were covered by an abutment of the bridge.
- Starkey 1990, pp. 7–8.
- Greene 1989, pp. 1–9.
- Greene 1989, p. 151. and Nickson 1887, p. 39.
- Starkey 1990, pp. 57–58.
- King, Daniel, The Vale Royal of England, 1656 (quoted in Starkey 1990, p. 73.)
- Starkey 1990, pp. 133–137.
- Starkey 1983, pp. 19–24. and Starkey 1990, p. 125–130.
- Starkey 1990, p. 173.
- Nickson 1887, p. 206.
- Starkey 1990, p. 160–162.
- Starkey 1983, p. 184.
- Thompson 2000, p. 17.
- Unhappy customers, BD: The Architects' Website, 30 March 2007, http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=430&storycode=3084063&c=2&encCode=00000000012cb5c6, retrieved 27 July 2007
- INEOS Businesses, INEOS Group, http://www.ineos.com/bus_by_name.html, retrieved 29 March 2007
- the heath... the best place for your business, The Heath Business and Technical Park, http://www.theheath.com/index.shtml, retrieved 29 March 2007
- Peel Ports Group, Peel Ports Group, http://www.peelports.co.uk/home/, retrieved 18 August 2008
- Eddie Stobart joining Stock Market, Eddie Stobart, 15 August 2007, http://www.eddiestobart.co.uk/News/News_Article.php?id=41, retrieved 18 August 2008
- Short, Adrian (23 August 2007), "Truck giant to haul in jobs", Runcorn Weekly News (Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales), http://iccheshireonline.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/runcornandwidnesweeklynews/tm_headline=truck-giant-to-haul-in-jobs%26method=full%26objectid=19677552%26siteid=50020-name_page.html#story_continue, retrieved 18 August 2008
- (PDF) Regional Gross Value Added, Office for National Statistics, 21 December 2005, pp. 242, http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_economy/RegionalGVA.pdf#page=242, retrieved 7 April 2007
- "The Halton Castle Website". The Norton Priory Museum Trust. http://www.haltoncastle.org/. Retrieved 27 March 2007.
- Starkey 1990, p. 162.
- Bullock, Ross (7 February 2005). "History of Norton Priory and Runcorn". http://www.rossbullock.co.uk/. Retrieved 27 March 2007. This is a personal website but it is accurate and comprehensive.
- "Norton Priory Museum & Gardens". The Norton Priory Museum Trust. http://www.nortonpriory.org/. Retrieved 27 March 2007.
- "All Saints' Church". Images of England. http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/details/default.aspx?pid=1&id=56027. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
- "Listed Buildings in Halton". Halton Borough Council. http://www2.halton.gov.uk/content/environment/planning/forwardplanning/listedconservationareas/listedbuildings?a=5441. Retrieved 27 March 2007.
- Starkey 1990, p. 218.
- Starkey 1990, p. 10–11..
- Marriott Edgar. "The Runcorn Ferry". Make 'em Laugh!. http://monologues.co.uk/Runcorn_Ferry.htm. Retrieved 14 May 2007.
- Greene, Patrick (1989). Norton Priory: The archaeology of a mediaeval religious house. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33054-8.
- Nickson, Charles (1887). History of Runcorn. London and Warrington: Mackie & Co..
- Phillips, A.D.M.; Phillips, C.B. (2002). A New Historical Atlas of Cheshire. Chester: Cheshire County Council. ISBN 0-904532-46-1.
- Starkey, H.F. (1983). Schooner Port: Two Centuries of Upper Mersey Sail. Ormskirk: G.W. & A. Hesketh. ISBN 0-905777-34-4.
- Starkey, H.F. (1990). Old Runcorn. Halton Borough Council.
- Thompson, Dave (2000). Bridging the Years: The Story of Runcorn-Widnes Transporter Bridge. Runcorn: Dave Thompson.