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Warrington History

Find out about Warrington’s Past

Americans are often amazed at how far back the history goes for many English towns, and Warrington history is a good example of how long towns in this country have survived and thrived. This town is huge, and its most recent attempts to gain city status have recently been rebuffed. So it’s still a town despite its population of more than 206,000.

Early Years and Early Names

Sign for Warrington CheshireTo understand all about Warrington, you have to know that it first started as a Roman settlement back in 79 AD, as the location of Warrington has been an important crossing point on the River Mersey. They called the settlement Veratinum. That lasted until the Roman troop withdrawal that occurred from the years 407 to 410 AD.

After the Roman retreat, the Anglo-Saxons came in. It apparently held on through the centuries, as it was still there by the time of the Domesday Survey made in 1086 by the order of William the Conqueror (known as William the Bastard to his contemporaries). It was known as Walintune, which is a mix of three Old English words. “Wal” refers Britons and serfs, “ing” (or “ieg”) refers to a well-watered area, and “tune” (or tun/ton) means a farmstead or an estate.

Walintune soon became Warrington as the years passed. However, other theories have been suggested. Some say that Waer was the name of a local chieftain, so the name may have been Waerstun or Waer’s settlement. Others say that Waering means dam or weir, so Waeringtun refers to the settlement of the weirs by the river.

Most recently, a new Viking theory has been proposed. In the language of the Northmen of the time, “Vorringtun” means a place to moor boats, and that’s a rather perfect description of the settlement for Viking raiders.

Regardless of the true origin for the Warrington name, it’s true that the town stayed pretty much the same. It was a little market town, and by the middle of the 1200s it was allowed to hold 1 and then 2 annual fairs. But its population remained at just a few hundred people.

The English Civil War

Warrington was a small town of about 2,000 people by 1642. Yet it was a pivotal location in the English Civil War for both the Roundheads (the Oliver Cromwell Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers (Royalists) loyal to King Charles II.

Painting of Oliver Cromwell who visited WarringtonAccording to local history, Oliver Cromwell himself stayed in the old town center in the parish church area. The quarters of Royalist supporter James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, was near the Marquis of Granby public house.

The last Royalist victory was also in Warrington, in 1651. This was the Battle of Warrington Bridge, where David Leslie, Lord Newark, led Scottish troops loyal to King Charles II defeated the Parliamentarian army led by John Lambert.

Industrialization and Growth

The town accelerated its growth as the Industrial Revolution came. The town was already famed for its sail cloth and sacks. The town also made files and tools as well as pins. The town expanded and became more urban, especially when the River Mersey became navigable. By 1801, its population stood at more than 10,500. Steam power and railways came in, and the town thrived.

Of course, having that many people in such a small place wasn’t exactly sanitary. That’s why there was a cholera epidemic in 1832 which killed 169 people. Still, things improved for the people. They got piped water supply in 1846, and the town had sewers dug in the 1860s and 1870s.

old photo of steel production in WarringtonWarrington became a famous center for steel manufacture, especially for steel wire. In fact, this is the fact that most people know about the history of Warrington. This particular industry is tied to the town, so much so that its rugby team is called “The Wire”. This is also the nickname for its football club and even for an independent local radio station.

There were also a couple of brewing and distilling establishments, tanning operations, soap manufacturing, furniture-making, and home appliance manufacturing during the 1800s up to the 1900s.

Modern History

aerial photo of Warrington air fieldWarrington had the largest US Army Air Force airfield that wasn’t in the US. This airfield continued to operate until 1993.

The town was also designated as a new town in 1968, which led to population increases. In the 1970s and 1980s, heavy industry declined. But because of the population growth, the light industry employed many workers that kept unemployment numbers down. Business still thrives in Warrington, Atlantis being one of the companies going from strength to strength.

The town was also a notorious site of an IRA bombing that killed 2 children in 1993. The outrage over the attack helped convince the IRA negotiators to make a peace accord with the British several years later. By 2005, the IRA had completely disarmed.

Today, the town is a peaceful and festive place for families. It’s still not a city yet, but it’s getting there.