St Helens

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St Helens
St Helens Photo Montage.jpg
Sights of St Helens
Grid reference: SJ505955
Location: 53°27’15"N, 2°44’46"W
Population: 102,629  (2001)
Post town: St Helens
Postcode: WA11, WA10, WA9
Dialling code: 01744
Local Government
Council: St Helens
St Helens North
St Helens South and Whiston

St Helens is a large town in southern Lancashire, caught within the conurbation of south Lancashire towns centred upon Liverpool

The town stands 6 miles north of the River Mersey, within the West Derby Hundred.

The local area developed rapidly during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries into a significant centre for coal mining,[1][2] and glassmaking.[3][4] It was also home to a cotton and linen industry (notably sail making)[5] that lasted until the mid-19th century as well as salt,[1] lime and alkali pits,[5] copper mining|copper smelting,[6][7][8] and brewing.[9]

Today, St Helens is very much a commercial town. The main industries have since left, become outdated, or have been outsourced leaving the float and patterned rolled glass producer Pilkington's, a world leader in their industry, as the town's one remaining large industrial employer. Previously the town had been home to Beechams (now part of GlaxoSmithKline), the Gamble family of the Alkali Works, Ravenhead glass (bought out by the Belgian nationalised Durobor),[10] United Glass Bottles (U.G.B.), Triplex (owned by Pilkington, farmed out to India), Daglish Foundry (closed and demolished 1939), and Greenall's (now located in nearby Warrington).


Billinge Hill

The town is landlocked with a stream running through, Mill Brook/Windle Brook running through Eccleston and connecting with the (disused) St. Helens Branch/Section of the Sankey Canal in the town centre. St Helens is around 160 feet above sea level. From the top of Billinge Hill near the town, the cities of Manchester and Liverpool are visible on a clear day as well as the towns of Wigan, Bolton and Warrington.

Carr Mill Dam offers picturesque lakeside trails and walks as well as national competitive powerboating and angling events.

The Burgies are two tailings on the site of the old Rushy Park coal mine. They were created by the dumping of toxic chemical waste from the manufacture of glass, they have since been covered with tall grass and woodland.


Churches in St Helens include:

  • Church of England:
  • Methodist: Wesley Methodist Church
  • United Reformed Church: Ormskirk Street United Reformed Church
  • Independent evangelical:
    • Deeper Life Bible Church
  • Baptist: St. Helens Baptist Church
  • Roman Catholic:
    • Holy Cross
    • St Austin
    • St Mary
    • SS Peter & Paul
    • St Teresa of Avila


Formation of the town

"St Helins" Chapel as recorded on a map of 1610
Sherdley Old Hall farmhouse, built in 1671
Contemporary sketch of the original Town Hall

St Helens existed as a hamlet perhaps from the Middle Ages, gathered around the Chapel of St Helen. It did not exist as a town in its own right until as late as the middle of the 19th century. The town has a complex evolution spurred on by rapid population growth in the region during the period of the Industrial Revolution. Between 1629 and 1839 St Helens grew from a small collection of houses surrounding an old chapel, to a village,[11][12] before finally becoming the significant urban centre of the four primary Manors and surrounding townships that make up the modern Town.[12][13][14]

The origin of the name "St Helens" stretches back at least to a "chapel of ease" dedicated to St Elyn,[11][15] the earliest documented reference to which is in 1552.[1][11] The first time the Chapel is formally referred to appears to be 1558 when Thomas Parr of Parr bequeathed a sum of money "to a stock towards finding a priest at St. Helen's Chapel in Hardshaw, and to the maintenance of God's divine service there for ever, if the stock go forward and that the priest do service as is aforesaid".[11] Early maps show that it originally existed on Chapel Lane, around the approximate site of the modern pedestrianised Church Street. Historically this would have fallen within the berewick of Hardshaw, within greater Township of Windle (making up the southern border)[12][14] abutting onto the open farmland of Parr to the East, and Sutton and Eccleston to the South and West respectively.

In 1552, the Chapel of St Elyn was noted as "consisting only of a 'challis and a lytle bell".[1] The chapel was described as being at the crux of the four townships of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle,[1] and lay on the intersecting roads that criss-crossed the area and that also served as a major thoroughfare for traffic between Lancashire towns such as Liverpool, Ormskirk, Lathom[1] and the Cheshire Plain south of the River Mersey.[11] The Chapel also sat directly between the port town of Liverpool, and the landlocked Manchester townships that would become important in the development of the greater area of both St Helens and Wigan.[1]

By 1746, St Helens, composed of the greater area of the 4 Townships (and their collieries) beyond Prescot, was referred to in a Statement in Parliament related to the extension of the Liverpool to Prescot Turnpike.[16][17]

The rapid growth of St Helens was driven by industry. The Penny Cyclopaedia states in 1839 that "Saint Helen's, Lancashire, is in the township of Windle, in the chapelry of St Helen's, Prescott parish. The township contains 3,540 acres, and had in 1831 a population of 5,825. The town has risen into importance of late years"[12] In contrast, by 1854 George Routledge states a reversal of the roles:

"St Helens, originally an inconsiderable village, is now a very thriving town"

- and later he describes the town as a "...may be said to contain the four townships of Sutton, Parr, Windle and Eccleston".[18] The composition of the town described by Routledge largely mirrors those observations made by Samuel Lewis in 1848 and later still in 1874 by John Marius Wilson[13] and John Bartholemew in 1887.[19]

Census figures from 1801 suggest the population of the District Area of St Helens to be 12,500[20] which by 1861 had reached between 37,631 and 55,523[20] (John Marius Wilson placing populace at the lower number, with total households at the specific figure of 6,539) in the wider area[13] with St Helens itself comprising a population of 20,176 in 3,577 households.[13] The Ordnance Survey of 1843 shows St Helens as the significant urban centre[21]

The original Town Hall was built in 1839 and described by Wilson in 1874 as "in the Italian style, with a Corinthian portico; and contains a lock-up, a news room, and a large hall for courts, concerts, balls, and public meetings".[13] It was not until 1852 that the Civil Parish of St Helens was instituted (noted in 1874 by Wilson as "more extensive than the town"[13]).

On 2 February 1868, Queen Victoria granted a Charter of Incorporation, defining St Helens officially as a Municipal Borough. The first election of Councillors took place on 9 May the same year, followed by the first Town Council meeting on 18 May.[13]

Industrial development

Beecham's Clock Tower built in 1877
Steam rises from "The Hotties" in St Helens

Until the mid-18th century the local industry was almost entirely based on small-scale home-based initiatives such as linen weaving.[1] The landscape was dotted with similarly small-scale excavation and mining operations, primarily for clay and peat, but also notably for coal and it's the coal to which the town owes its initial growth and development[1] and (subsequently) the symbiotic relationship shared with the coal dependent copper smelting and glass industries.

Sitting bare on the South Lancashire Coalfield the town was built both physically and metaphorically on coal; the original motto on the borough council's coat of arms was "Ex Terra Lucem" (roughly translated from Latin to "From the Ground, Light")[22][23][24][25] and local collieries employed up to 5,000 men as late as the 1970s. During the boom years of the British coal industry (with 1913 the peak year of production with 1 million being employed in UK mining industry) the St. Helens division of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation (the local miners' union) had the largest membership (10%) of that federation.[1]

The discovery of winnable coal seams is mentioned in 1556, referred to as "Beds of cinders or coke...have been discovered three feet thick" during the digging of a clay pit[14] and commonly is attributed to the Eltonhead family (Elton Head Road, modern B5204, shares the name of the family) whilst reference to the significant distribution of potsherds during excavation suggest that some light industry had been under way for some time prior (suggested to date back to the 13th Century) and the clay and pottery industries lasted in the area through to the early 20th Century. A dispute arose between the Landlord Bolds and the Tennant Eltonheads, eventually resulting in an agreement to compensate the Bold family.[14]

In the 18th century coal was an enabling force for the town that opened up opportunities for further commercial and industrial developments,[5] which in turn drove demand for the expeditious movement of raw goods not simply out of the town (coal to Liverpool to fuel its shipping and steel works for instance, but also its salt works[14]) but also in promoting an influx of raw products for processing. The symbiotic relationship of St Helens to its transport links is made evident through claims made to Parliament in 1746 for maintenance, and extension of the Turnpike road after localised flooding had damaged it.[14][16]

"because Prescot, being Three Miles nearer to Liverpoole than St Helens, Persons will naturally go to the former Place for Coals, if they can be supplied as well and as cheap there as at the latter"

The Sankey Canal was opened in 1757, and extended in 1775, to transport coal from the pits in Ravenhead, Haydock and Parr to Liverpool, and for raw materials to be shipped to St Helens.

Primarily because of the abundant coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt, glass making is known to have been an ongoing industry in Sutton area since at least 1688 when the French John Leaf Snr is recorded paying the Eltonhead family £50 for a lease of 2½ acres of Sutton's Lower Hey. The glass industry got a significant lift with the Crown authorised "British Cast Plate Glass Company" established in Ravenhead in 1786[3][4] that latched onto the success of similar enterprises to set the region as the market leader for glass.

Copper smelting began too.[6] The Parys Mining company, led by Michael Hughes, arranged to lease land from John Mackay on land close to the newly constructed Sankey Canal at Ravenhead (where Ravenhead Colliery had since been established).[14][16] This allowed copper ore carried from Amlwch on Anglesey to arrive in the St Helens region by the Mersey directly at the point where coal was being excavated to fire the forges of industry. Some 10,000 tons of copper ore yielding over 1,300 tons of copper passed along this route.[6][7] At the same time the Gerards were renting out land in Blackbrook to the Patten & Co company from nearby Warrington. The company smelted using the Gerards own coal, then moved the coal downstream from a private wharf on the navigable brook.[14]

By 1783 however, the coal industry leaders such as Mackay, Sarah Clayton and Thomas Case were all dead, penniless or both as a global constriction on coal shipments. An over-reliance on shipping to America brought ruin to many when the American War of Independence was fought, in 1775-1783.[14] It took partnership and coordination with other industries for the Mining industry to recover, and with the embargo lifted with the American towns troubles were soon overcome if not forgotten, and nor would this be the last troubling incident.[14]

The demand for chemicals such as alkali brought meant it wasn't long before the Gamble family started their lime and alkali pits, fulfilling the final need of the glass industry and saving on import costs. The growing demand for chemical processing also contributed heavily to the growth of Widnes.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was finished in 1830 passing through the southern edge of the town at Rainhill and St Helens Junction, and furthering its economic development as a centre of industry.[1]

The decline of the mining industry

The last coal mine located close to the town centre (Ravenhead Colliery) and those that were located in the outlying districts of St Helens, including Clock Face (Clock Face Colliery), Sutton, (Bold Colliery), Sutton Heath (Lea Green Colliery), Haydock (Lyme Pit, Wood Pit, Old Boston), were closed during a period that lasted from the nationalisation of the deep coal mining industry in 1947 until the early 1990s. By 1992 all the mines had been shut, with Sutton Manor Colliery, the last to go in St Helens proper, finally closing its gates on 24 May 1991. The collapse of the coal mining industry in St. Helens was the consequence of the implementation of government energy policy, which policy was opposed by the National Union of Mineworkers during the year-long Miners' Strike of 1984-1985. After the collapse of the miners' strike in March 1985, St Helens was but one of dozens of towns in the United Kingdom which was immediately set to lose a long-standing employer owing to the government maintaining that the deep mining of coal was no longer an economically viable proposition in most British coalfields. In the case of both Sutton Manor and Bold Collieries, it was estimated that when they were closed they each still had up to 40 years of winnable coal reserves.[26][27]

The last colliery in this area of the South Lancashire Coalfield was Parkside in Newton-le-Willows, which was closed in 1992.

Historic and notable buildings

The modern Town Hall built in 1876 to replace the original (damaged by a fire in 1871); its clock tower originally had a steeple but this was destroyed in a fire in 1913.

In the centre of the modern town centre, adjacent to the town hall, is the Gamble Institute, built in 1896 and named after Sir David Gamble, who was the first mayor and who also gifted the land for the building. Today, the Gamble Institute building serves as the central library and also houses other municipal offices and archives.

Other buildings of note are:

The Friends' Meeting House, Church Street. This attractive stone-built Grade II listed hall has been used for Quaker worship for over 300 years since its establishment, in 1678, by George Shaw of Bickerstaffe. A sign at the front of the building reads "so used" since 1678, partly leading local historians to believe the building had been used for another purpose for quite a number of years before 1678. The building & garden have been recently restored and are an important element of the George Street Conservation Area. The sundial over the door of the meeting house is dated 1753, while a curiosity in the garden is a huge glacial boulder, said to have been deposited from the Lake District following the last ice age.[28]

The Beecham Clock Tower, Westfield Street - which is now part of St Helens College. This was the original headquarters of the Beecham Pharmaceutical Empire.

St Mary's Lowe House Roman Catholic Church, North Road is a grade II listed building, opened in 1929, the second on this site (the land having been donated by Winifred Gorsuch Lowe - hence the name 'Lowe House'). The church is an unusual and striking landmark with a 130 ft tower and a dome of a Romanesque crossed with Gothic style. The major feature is the historic Carillon[29] (bells playable in musical notation by a keyboard, rather than in sequences by ropes). It is the largest in the North West of England housing 47 bells.[29] Other features include the clock, which is set in gold mosaic.


  • Newspapers:
    • St Helens Star
    • St Helens Reporter
  • Radio: 102.4 Wish FM (the name is from "Wigan & St Helens")


  • The World of Glass Museum (opened in 2000 incorporating the Pilkington Glass Museum and the St Helens Local Museum)
  • The North West Museum of Road Transport
  • The Smithy Heritage Centre, a small museum in Kiln Lane, Eccleston, about the works of a local blacksmith.

Parks, open spaces and nature walks

"The Green Man" art installation on The Duckeries in Parr

The borough of St Helens has several major parks and open spaces.

  • Taylor Park, a listed Grade II Historic Park and Garden, that opened in 1893
  • Victoria Park near the town centre.
  • Sherdley Park, s a modern park in Sutton which features a petting zoo and annually holds a funfair in the summer, usually in July, called the St Helens Festival (originally called the St Helens Show). Sherdley Park was purchased immediately after the Second World War from the Hughes Family.
  • Gaskell Park in Parr
  • The Duckeries (or Ashtons Green), a reclaimed open space
  • The Moss or "Colliers Moss"
  • The Flash (remnants of the canal tributary system and fishing ponds)
  • Sankey Valley Country Park, which has a nature walk along part of the 7 mile route of a longer footpath

St Helens Parks and open spaces:

  • Bishop Road Playing Fields
  • Carr Mill Dam, Carr Mill
  • Eccleston Park
  • Eccleston Mere
  • Fosters Park, Standish Street (formerly Hardshaw Park)
  • Gaskell Park, Fry Street / Lansbury Avenue, Parr
  • Grange Park, Broadway
  • Haresfinch Park, Woodlands Road, Haresfinch
  • Haydock Forest, Haydock
  • King George V Park and Playing Fields, Haydock
  • Mesnes Park, Newton Le Willows
  • Nanny Goat Park, Recreation Street, Pocket Nook
  • Queens Park, Lingholme Road
  • Recreation Park, Recreation Street
  • Sankey Valley Linear Park, Carr Mill to Blackbrook to Newton-le-Willows
  • Sherdley Park, Elton Head Road, Marshalls Cross
  • Sutton Park, Robins Lane, Sutton
  • Stanley Bank Wood, Blackbrook
  • Taylor Park, Grosvenor Road, West Park
  • Thatto Heath Park, Thatto Heath Road
  • The Duckeries, Derbyshire Hill Road, Parr
  • Victoria Park, Cowley Hill Lane,
  • Willow Park, Newton-le-Willows

There is allso in 2012, King George V park received a Green Flag Award

St Helens in popular culture

A famous Punch cartoon based on the painting Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon, exhibited in 1880 by Sir William Quiller Orchardson, had the caption "He's utterly convinced that he's being exiled to St. HELEN'S, poor devil!". (Bonaparte was exiled to the island of St Helena.)

Outside links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 3–11. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  2. St. Helens Choral Society. "Origin of St. Helens". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 108–120. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 202–223. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 120–131. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 223–246. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 75–90. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  8. Head, Sir George (1836). A home tour through the manufacturing districts of England, in the summer of 1835. Harper & Brothers. pp. 78–83. 
  9. Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 90–108. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  10. House of Commons report. "Ravenheads cause taken to Parliament, 2001". 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Farrer, William & Brownbill, J (1907). A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Victoria County History. pp. 371–377.  The Section dedicated to Windle.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Long, George. Editor (1839). The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volumes 13-14. Charles Knight & Penny Magazine. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 Wilson, John Marius (1874). Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870–1872). A. Fullarton & Co. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 14.9 Fletcher, Mike (2002). Black Gold and Hot Sand: A History of St. Helens. Carnegie Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85936-088-0. 
  15. St Helens Parish Church. "The history of St Helens Parish Church". 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. pp. 11–23. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. 
  17. Barker, T.C & Harris, J.R. (1994). Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St Helens, 1750-1900. Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 0-7146-4555-9. "Witness John Eyes, 28. Feb 1745 to the Committee of the House of Commons related to the Turnpike Trust "because Prescot, being Three Miles nearer to Liverpool than St Helens, Persons will naturally go to the former Place for Coals, if they can be supplied as well and as cheap there as at the latter"." 
  18. Routledge, George. Editor (1854). A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Victoria County History. George Routledge. pp. 89–137. 
  19. Bartholomew, John (1887). Gazetteer of the British Isles. A. and C. Black, 1887. p. 534. ISBN 0-00-448835-0. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 University of Portsmouth. "St Helens District: Total Population". 
  21. Ordnance Survey. "Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Scotland First Series". granted by The British Library. 
  22. "Public art project for M62 site". BBC Online. 23 July 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  23. "The Channel 4 Big Art Project in St.Helens". St.Helens Council. 
  24. "Channel 4 Big Art Project; The Sutton Manor Colliery Site". Big Art St. Helens. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  25. "Let there be light on St Helens' Dream, say ex-miners". 20 August 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  26. "A choice between head and heart". BBC Online. 23 February 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-21. 
  27. "Sutton Manor Woodland in St. Helens". Sutton Beauty. Retrieved 2010-06-21. 
  28. "Friends Meeting House". St Helens Council. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 "St Mary's Lowe House Carillion". British Carillon Society.