St Helens, Merseyside

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For the larger local government district, see Metropolitan Borough of St Helens.
St Helens
St Helens Photo Montage.jpg
A montage of the town hall, St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church, the Anderton Shearer Monument, the Ravenhead Colliery Mine Works, and the British Plate Glass Casting Hall, Ravenhead.
St Helens is located in Merseyside
St Helens
St Helens
 St Helens shown within Merseyside
Population 102,629 
(2001 Census)
OS grid reference SJ505955
Metropolitan borough St Helens
Metropolitan county Merseyside
Region North West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town ST. HELENS
Postcode district WA11, WA10, WA9, L35, WN4, WN5
Dialling code 01744
Police Merseyside
Fire Merseyside
Ambulance North West
EU Parliament North West England
UK Parliament St Helens North
St Helens South and Whiston
List of places
UK
England
Merseyside

Coordinates: 53°27′15″N 2°44′46″W / 53.4541°N 2.7461°W / 53.4541; -2.7461

St Helens (About this sound pronunciation ) is a large town[1][2] in Merseyside, England. It is the largest settlement and administrative centre of the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens with a population of just over 100,000, while the larger metropolitan borough had a population of 176,843 at the time of the 2001 Census.[3] The town was officially incorporated as a municipal borough in 1868 responsible for the administration of the 4 townships consisting of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle, with the larger responsibility as a county borough established in 1887 (superseded in 1974 by the larger still metropolitan borough).

St Helens is situated in the south west of the historic county of Lancashire, in North West England, 6 miles (9.7 km) north of the River Mersey. The town historically lay within the ancient Lancashire division of West Derby known as a "hundred".[4][5]

The local area developed rapidly during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries into a significant centre for coal mining,[6][7] and glassmaking.[8][9] Both prior and during this time it was also home to a cotton and linen industry (notably sail making)[10] that lasted until the mid-19th century as well as salt,[6] lime and alkali pits,[10] copper smelting,[11][12][13] and brewing.[14]

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 The main industries have since left, become outdated, or have been outsourced leaving the float and patterned rolled glass producer Pilkington's, a world leader in their industry, as the town's one remaining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),[15] United Glass Bottles (U.G.B.), Triplex (owned by Pilkington, farmed out to India), Daglish Foundry (closed and demolished 1939),[16] and Greenall's (now located in nearby Warrington).

History[edit]

Pre-history[edit]

The southern regions of the ancient Lancashire county was at least partially settled by the Celtic Brigantes[17] who were subsequently subjugated by the Romans during their 1st Century conquest, with nearby Wigan suggested as a location for the Roman settlement of Coccium.[18] No archaeological evidence has yet been uncovered to tie either group specifically to the St Helens area, however Eccleston derives its name from either the Latin Ecclesia or Welsh Eglwys suggesting a common link to a church (though none are known in that township until the 19th century).[19]

The first recorded settlements are Manors, Parishes and Titled Lands listed in the Domesday book in the 11th century. The titled lands would have encompassed the modern townships as part of their fiefdoms, though it may be inferred from listed tithes that the land was populated before then.[20][21][22]

Formation of the town[edit]

"St Helins" Chapel as recorded on a map of 1610.
Windle Chantry dates back to the 15th Century, with Sir Thomas Gerard responsible for its construction on his return from Agincourt around 1415
The Sherdley Old Hall farmhouse, built in 1671 in the Elizabethan style, a Grade II listed building.
"St Hellens" as recorded in 1818 OS.
A contemporary sketch of the original Town Hall, built 1839.
A photograph believed to be of the improvement commissioners offices built in 1852

St Helens 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,[23] to a village,[21][24] before finally becoming the significant urban centre of the four primary Manors and surrounding townships that make up the modern Town.[1][24][25][26]

The origin of the name "St Helens" stretches back at least to a "chapel of ease" dedicated to St Elyn,[21][27] the earliest documented reference to which is in 1552.[6][21] 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".[21] 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)[24][26] abutting onto the open farmland of Parr to the East, and Sutton and Eccleston to the South and West respectively.

The completion of the Domesday Book in 1086 reveals several Manors existed at that time although there are no specific references to "St Elyn", or mentions of the particular "vill" or villages. Windle is first recorded on some maps as "Windhull" (or variations thereof) in 1201,[21] Bold in 1212 (as Bolde)[28] and Parr (or Parre) in 1246,[22] whilst Sutton[20] and Ecclestone[19] are expected to have composed part of the Widnes "fee" (a hereditary entitlement of ownership) under a Knight or Earl.[20] It is known that The Hospitallers held lands in the area of Hardshaw as early as 1292, known as Crossgate[20][21] (which may be referred to by the long built over Cross Street in the town centre located beneath the modern College campus) and many of the original Parishes, Townships and local areas are named after the families that owned the land between the 11th and 18th century.[20][26]

The Ecclestone family owned the Eccleston township.[26] Their ancestral home dates to 1100, built by Hugh Ecclestone and are referred to throughout the period until the 18th century when they departed for nearby Southport[29]

The manor of Parr remained in control of the Parr family and their descendants throughout the 13th to the early 15th Century when a distant relative of the original family line William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton (brother of Henry VIII's wife Catherine Parr) sold the manor to the Byroms of Lowton.[26] A family that later supported the Royalists during the English Civil War and resulted in the death of Henry Byrom (son of the Lord of the Manor) dying at the Battle of Edgehill.[30]

The extensive lands of Sutton Manor stretched across the open and flat land leading towards the Mersey. The Manors name itself is of unknown origin, but the land within the enlarged estate refer to several leading families including the Eltonhead, Ravenhead, and Sherdley.[26] In 1212 William de Daresbury was the title holder of the Manors.[20] The Sherdley family trace back to the Northales who had been settled in the area since at least 1276 when they are referred to as plaintiffs in a boundary dispute with the Lords of Rainhill.[20]

Windle contained the smaller Hardshaw, described as a Berewick[26] in the Domesday book. It was in Hardshaw that Chapel Lane (containing the aforementioned Chapel of St Elyn) was constructed. The Windle Family were Lords of the Manor and Township from the Norman period onward, before ceding control to the Gerards of Bryn.[26]

In 1139, the Peerage "Earl of Derby" was created with Norman descendent Robert De Ferrers installed. Subsequently the region passed on to John of Gaunt, and eventually the Stanley family. Their ancestral home was eventually established in the nearby Knowsley area (to the west of the modern St. Helens borough), with the foundation of a hunting lodge in the 15th century and subsequently Knowsley Hall in the 18th century. The Earl of Derby's lands encompassed a region from Liverpool to Manchester, and to the north beyond Lancaster and were primarily turned to meeting the pastoral needs of the people.[20][21]

Throughout this period of time the area was predominantly arable land[6][21] and was noted for its large swathes of moss, heath and bog land while elsewhere in parts it was covered by the greater Mersey Forest[6] (the larger "Community Forest" was not established until much later).[31]

In 1552, the Chapel of St Elyn was noted as "consisting only of a 'challis and a lytle bell".[6] The chapel was described as being at the crux of the four townships of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle,[6] 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[6] and the Cheshire region south of the River Mersey.[21] The transport link is attested to by the existence of Chester Lane (the modern B5419 is much foreshortened) that originally wound through the west of the town heading South to the Mersey crossing point of Warrington[21] and beyond to the ancient Chester Road (that now makes up part of the modern A56) that stretched between the historic town of its name and the Manchester townships.[21] 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.[6]

As a busy thoroughfare it is suggested by Historian and genealogist William Farrer that a village existed in the vicinity for centuries,[21] later sharing the name of the Chapel. It is known from the Diaries of a local Puritan by the name of Adam Martindale,[23] that by the time the King's Head Inn was constructed in 1629 on "the great road" (taken to refer to all or part of Chester Lane) between Warrington and Ormskirk, a number of houses, farms and manors counted amongst the properties in the local vicinity and general area.[21] Martindale notes that by 1618 that the original Chapel had been demolished and rebuilt[23] in the same vicinity. In 1678 a building was converted for use as a meeting place for the Society of Friends by George Shaw of Bickerstaffe. Local historians believe the building had been used for another purpose long before 1678. The Quaker Friends' Meeting House, as it is now known, is a Grade II listed building.

The strong link to Roman Catholicism in the area was maintained throughout this period by the eventual Lords of Sutton Manor, the De Holland family starting in 1321.[20] Thomas Holland, a local Jesuit Priest, was arrested and tried for high treason in October 1642 as "taking orders by authority of the see of Rome and returning to England" the first step in the process of beatification of Holland was allowed by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.[20] Conversely Roger Holland was burnt at the stake for "heresy" when he continued to his professed belief in the Reformed churches some 100 years earlier in 1558 during the Persecution of the Mary I.[20] It is suggested that Ravenhead Hall was the site of a Catholic Chapel during the most severe of Catholic Persecutions during the 17th and 18th century.[20] Whilst the Lathom family maintained Rainfords close connections, as did the Ecclestons.[19][20]

Less well known is the Windle connection to witches. In 1602 two women were sent to Lancaster for trial, while a decade later Isobel Roby was submitted to Sir Thomas Gerard, accused of upsetting the ship upon which Princess Anne of Denmark was arriving . She was finally executed at Lancaster, along with the Pendle and Salmesburg witches, 20 August 1612

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.[32][33]

The rapid growth of St Helens at the epicentre of the townships is attested to by several authors. 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 (1,433 ha), and had in 1831 a population of 5,825. The town has risen into importance of late years"[24] In contrast by 1854 (20 years prior to the establishment of St Helens the borough) George Routledge states a reversal of the roles "St Helens, originally an inconsiderable village, is now a very thriving town" and later describes the town as a "... may be said to contain the four townships of Sutton, Parr, Windle and Eccleston".[34] The composition of the town described by Routledge largely mirrors those observations made by Samuel Lewis in 1848[1] and later still in 1874 by John Marius Wilson[25] and John Bartholemew in 1887.[35]

Census figures from 1801 suggest the population of the District Area of St Helens to be 12,500[36] which by 1861 had reached between 37,631 and 55,523[36] (John Marius Wilson placing populace at the lower number, with total households at the specific figure of 6,539) in the wider area[25] with St Helens itself comprising a population of 20,176 in 3,577 households.[25] The Ordnance Survey of 1843 shows St Helens as the significant urban centre[37]

The original Town Hall was constructed 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".[25] It wasn't until 1852 that the Civil Parish of St Helens was instituted (noted in 1874 by Wilson as "more extensive than the town"[25]).

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.[25] Twenty years later in 1887 St Helens became a County Borough granting them two representatives in Parliament.[35]

in 1894, the Parish of St Helens was officially incorporated by the 1893 St Helens Corporation Act.[2][38] This was achieved by the abolition of the Civil Parishes of Parr, Sutton and amalgamation of their townships. The Civil Parishes of Eccleston and Windle both ceded a portions of their areas over to St Helens.[2]

St Helens, in the sense of the modern Borough, covers areas traditionally not associated with the town. The 1974 creation of the Ceremonial County of Merseyside appended the former urban districts of Haydock, Newton-le-Willows and Rainford, and parts of Billinge-and-Winstanley and Ashton-in-Makerfield urban districts, along with part of Whiston Rural District, all from the administrative county of Lancashire. The urban sprawl of St Helens was already extended up to the boundary lines of places such as Haydock and Rainhill, where inhabitants may consider themselves either part of either both St Helens the 'Town' or 'Borough', or just the Borough.

Industrial development[edit]

Beecham's Clock Tower built in 1877.
The Town Hall loses its steeple a second time, permanently, in 1913.
Steam rises from "The Hotties" in St Helens town centre in the 1970s, water warmed by the Pilkingtons factory was pumped into the canal via the "gusher" and was warm enough to support tropical fish. The canal is still a popular fishing site.

Until the mid-18th century the local industry was almost entirely based on small-scale home-based initiatives such as linen weaving.[6] 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[6] 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")[39][40][41][42] 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.[6]

The discovery of winnable coal seams is mentioned in 1556, referred to as "Beds of cinders or coke ... have been discovered three feet thick"[20] during the digging of a clay pit[26] 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"[20] 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.[19][20] A dispute arose between the Landlord Bolds and the Tennant Eltonheads, eventually resulting in an agreement to compensate the Bold family.[20][26]

The majority of the land prior to 1700 had been turned over to arable farming since at least the 12th century according to the historical family records of William De Daresbury. The township of Sutton was recorded as "by itself being assessed at four plough-lands".[20] Plow or ploughlands are assessed at 120 acres (0.49 km2) apiece.[43] The pastoral nature of the land in the local area was common even in 1901 with William Farrer noting of Eccleston that the "country is of an undulating nature and principally dedicated to agriculture, fields of rich and fertile soil being predominant"[19] and describing the produce as "chiefly potatoes, oats, and wheat on a clayey soil which alternates with peat".[19] Even so, Farrer also notes that several old quarries and shafts still existed within the area while also making reference to a "brewery at Portico, and a pottery near Prescot, while glass, watchmakers' tools, and mineral waters are also manufactured".[19]

Two hundred years earlier and Farrer may well have seen a different sight as St Helens was scarred and pitted by shallow mining operations, often quickly abandoned, left to flood and exceedingly prone to collapse. The primitive mining techniques, and limited ability to bail out gathering water left many pits with short lifespans. Complaints are recorded in Sutton Heath in particular to the plans to expand out the mining across the town, but the lure of a stable income ultimately won out against whatever reservations were held.[26] 100 years later, Farrer might be equally surprised to find the town knocking back offers of mining excavation, when in 2009 the Council rejected a planning application for an open cast mine effectively underlining the finality of the decline of coal mining in the area.[44]

In the 18th century however coal was an enabling force for the town that opened up opportunities for further commercial and industrial developments,[10] 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[26]) 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.[26][32]

It is clear that St Helens development owes as much to its location on the south Lancashire Coalfield as it does the fact that Liverpool, Chester and other centres of industry were not and yearned for the fossil fuel of choice.[26]

It was essential therefore for the town to maintain, and invest further, in transport links and promote itself as a hub for the growth of Liverpool, ably providing raw materials chiefly due to its location and promising transport links. Liverpool, recognising the need for a ready supply of coal for their forges, responded with a petition for the extension of the Liverpool to Prescot Turnpike.[32] This soon developed into a far more forward thinking development to be at the heart of the Industrial Revolution; canals.

Originally mooted was the concept to make the Sankey Brook navigable, but its eventual result was a full man made canal linking St. Helens to the River Mersey and the city of Liverpool. 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.

The transport revolution centred on the region encouraged an influx of industry to the sparsely populated area. With industry came job opportunities and population growth. Between 1700 St Helens grew from a sparsely populated array of manor houses and their tenants into a sprawling span of mining operations.[19][32]

Owing primarily to the abundance of coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt[6] 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[8][9] that latched onto the success of similar enterprises to set the region as the market leader for glass.

The foundation of the companies owed as much to Industrial leaders (and their money) from outside the town, as much to its natural resources. The synchronous development of the steam engine was however the significant development, with James Watts stationary steam engine design leading the way. Now able to pump water from deeper than ever before, mines could be driven to find even more dense seams.[26] At the same time, the growth in using such machinery (for mills, forges, ships both domestic and foreign) increased the demand exponentially for coal - and the town responded in due course.[26]

Land exchanged hands in St Helens rapidly, as established families moved out of the growing towns filled with the working classes, to more gentrified areas in less industrially developed regions. In their place came men of money, self made wealthy Industrialists such as John Mackay (who first leased land in St Helens in the 1760s from King George III before buying the land constituting Ravenhead Farm from the Archbishop of York), Michael Hughes, the Gambles, and later Thomas Beecham, Thomas Greenall and the Pilkingtons[11][26] willing and able to take advantage of the situation. A few remained such as the Gerards of Windle Hall. They took it upon themselves to avail their land to professionals.[26]

One of the first major industries to grow out of the transport innovations in the region was Copper Smelting.[11] 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).[26][32] This allowed copper ore carried from Amlwch in Anglesey, North Wales to arrive in the St Helens region via 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.[11][12] At the same time the Gerards were renting out land in Blackbrook to the Patten & Co company from nearby Warrington.[45] The company smelted using the Gerards own coal, then moved the coal downstream from a private wharf on the navigable brook.[26][45]

The boom was not to last however, and by 1783 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 the USA during the period of the War of Independence 1775–1783 brought ruin to many and was to lead to the permanent loss of several smaller industries.[26] It took partnership and coordination with other industries for the Mining industry to recover, and with the embargo lifted with the US the towns troubles were soon overcome if not forgotten, and nor would this be the last troubling incident.[26]

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.[6]

The decline of the mining industry[edit]

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 1984–85. After the collapse of the miners' strike in March 1985, St. Helens was but one of dozens of towns in the UK that 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.[46][47] The last colliery in the modern metropolitan borough and in the St Helens area of the South Lancashire Coalfield, was Parkside, in Newton-le-Willows, which was closed in 1992.

The modern town[edit]

Employment[edit]

The distinctive blue Pilkington's Head Office, a Grade II listed building constructed in 1959–63 designed by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

The glass industry is no longer the major employer it once was, however it still employs over a thousand people in the town.[48] The large Pilkington Brothers works, founded in 1826, dominates the town's industrial quarter and still produces all the UK's output of flat glass.

In 1994 planning permission was sought out for a link road connecting the M62 directly with the town centre.[49] The development included a £5m retail and commercial property project in the Ravenhead area that had seen successive business closures with the folding of UGB and Ravenhead Glass.[49]

Housing[edit]

St Helens is still predominately divided into the quarters of the original four townships, inside which exist period developments and housing estates. The Town centre is predominately Terraced Housing dating to the late 19th century onwards through to the 1930s. Development from that point focused out on the wider areas of Parr and Sutton that were largely undeveloped until that point.

Between 1930 and 2000 there were several phased developments giving the town an artificial landscape dominated by large expanses of housing estates in their own unique building styles dependent upon the era in which they were designed and constructed. For instance Parr's Councourse Way is a semicircular web structure of concrete fabricated buildings built for the miners. The pebble dashed exterior is distinctive enough to give the estate the name "Cement City". Elsewhere the "New Street Estate" known locally as "Beth Ave", after the primary access on New Street, was stigmatised from the beginning as its modern angular construction (with distinctive angled roof) and vivid red brick led to it being called "Lego Land".

Helena Partnerships are the largest housing association in St Helens, responsible for the administration of over 13,000 social housing properties. The Liverpool based Riverside group are the largest organisation in Merseyside, and hold a significant share in St Helens including Residential Care (such as Holley Court). Independent organisations such as Extracare Charitable Trust operate the Reeve Court development on the border of Rainhill/Sutton on Eltonhead Road.

Retail[edit]

The view down into the Town Centre, with Beechams Clock Tower in view.

The town's shopping area is centred on the parish church of St Helens, the original site of St Mary's open market. The open market was later replaced by an awned covered market that populated Chapel Lane and the locale.

The current Church Square shopping centre was built in the early 1970s and surrounds St Helens on 3 sides. Church Street, the main high street, runs parallel to Church Square and is sandwiched by the town's second shopping centre known as The Hardshaw Centre. These primary centres contain many of the most popular British retail chains such as Boots, BHS, Topshop and Marks & Spencer. The other main shopping streets in the town centre include the more traditional small store based Bridge Street, Duke Street and Westfield Street populated by independent specialists.

The town centre has several supermarkets including mainstream stores such as Asda and Tesco, as well as smaller stores such as Lidl. Morrisons retain three stores located in the Eccleston, Sutton and Earlestown areas of the town, whilst Tesco opened a second superstore in Haydock in 2006. There is also a Tesco superstore in Earlestown, which is on a former Safeway site and many smaller Tesco Express and Tesco Metro stores. A new Tesco Extra store opened in October 2011 on the outskirts of the town centre to replace the existing Chalon Way superstore, which has now been taken over by new retail Home & Leisure outlet, The Range.

Outside of the town centre, traditional shopping streets still exist in several areas including Fingerpost, Chain Lane, Ashtons Green Drive, The Concourse (Parr), Sutton (Peckers Hill Road) and the High Street and Park Road South areas of Newton-le-Willows. These share a mix of small chain stores and independent companies.

St Helens has two major retail parks, one on either side of the St Helens Linkway. The older of these, St Helens Retail Park, is home to several discount stores and wholesale retailers such as Halfords, Maplins, TK Maxx, Aldi, Iceland, Topps Tiles and Dunelm Mill.

The larger Ravenhead Retail Park houses more large-scale mainstream retail stores, such as PC World, Currys, Next, B&Q, Smyths, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins, JJB Sport, Carphone Warehouse, Petsworld, Carpet Right, SCS Sofas, Boots and a number of restaurants, fast food outlets and cafes. Ravenhead Retail Park is among the top 10 largest retail parks in the UK and continues to attract further investment and phased construction, developing on brownfield land. The same area (in particular the old United Glass Bottles site) has been used for development of the new St. Helens RLFC stadium and the construction of a Tesco Extra supermarket, to replace the smaller Tesco supermarket in the town centre.[50] At 140,000 square metres, this Tesco Extra store is one of the biggest in England[51]

Major investment is currently transforming former industrial land for use as hotels, shopping areas and housing after an initial landscape grading and character assessment project was concluded in late 2005 by Land Use Consultants on behalf of St Helens Council.[52]

Urban regeneration projects[edit]

Modern apartments, part of a major redevelopment of the Town Centre.
"The Green Man" art installation on The Duckeries in Parr. Part of Project Re:new.

Since the millennium[53] St Helens has become a focus for a whole borough scheme of Urban Regeneration initiatives in coordination with local Housing Authorities, Business and Art Projects in addition to European, Regional and Central Government funding such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund,[54] the North West Regional Development Agency[55] and The Mersey Partnership[56] as part of the European Regional Development Fund[57]

The whole project is coordinated by St Helens Council under their umbrella corporate branding "St Helens; The Heart of the North West"[58] with an emphasis on promoting the location of the town as a vital hub of the region, to encourage investment and the development of business links.[59][60]

In 2007 the Brand New St Helens project was launched[61] and published their Development Review Document.[62] The report set out the achievements in the years since the millennium and set out the future development projects for the town including the wholly rebuilt College Campus, and Cowley Language College (formerly Cowley High). The document also lays out retail, leisure and tourism developments for the Town.

In 2009 a MultiAarea Agreement (MAA) was made with the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens agreeing to form part of the Liverpool City Region, a cross boundary cooperation of 5 adjoining authorities in Merseyside and the Halton Borough on strategic policy areas such as economic growth, transport, tourism, culture, housing, and physical infrastructure.

Local Projects such as "Re:new St Helens"[63] operated in conjunction with Helena Housing was originally set up in 2006 in an effort to initially "make the Parr area of St Helens a better place to live, work and be part of". The scheme's success led to it being expanded to other identified areas in need of redevelopment including Four Acre (in Clock Face), Thatto Heath and the North of the Town Centre.[63]

The Re:new projects coordinate a Partnership Board to meet the needs of local residents in conjunction with local service providers such as the Council, Local Education Authority, Local Healthcare, Housing Associations and the Police to help improve services, identify local priorities and make changes with an aim to tackle "the quality of life issues which matter most to local people".[63] The scheme has been responsible for the redevelopment of The Duckeries and Gaskell Park in Parr that both achieved Green Flag status in 2008[62]

The George Street Quarter regeneration programme left an impressive stamp on the town. The George Street area receives foot traffic from the railway station so the area was enhanced to leave a positive impression on tourists. Major improvements were made to building exteriors, parking, security, street furniture and paving. This has attracted several new businesses to the quarter including award-winning restaurants. The surrounding areas are now receiving attention, with the Hardshaw Centre receiving a new car park exit stairway into the George Street quarter. The stairway spirals around a tall pointed metal structure and is named 'The Needle'. However this new and modern looking stairway is in stark contrast to the brown, square and brick built Hardshaw Centre.

The main shopping areas, Church Street and Church Square, are currently undergoing extensive regeneration and there is a proposal for Duke Street, which extends into the town centre, to also receive funding.

Historic and notable buildings[edit]

A tinctured period postcard of the new (and current) Town Hall as it would have appeared in 1876.
An artists rendition of the Quaker Friends' Meeting House, a Grade II listed building.

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.[64]

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 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[65] (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.[65] Other features include the clock, which is set in gold mosaic.

The Roman Catholic Church of St. Anne and Blessed Dominic, Monastery Road, Sutton, is a site of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics. The Victorian missionary Blessed Dominic Barberi is buried in the church. It was he who received Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman into the Roman Catholic Church. Alongside Blessed Dominic, Father Ignatius Spencer is buried. The son of the 2nd Earl Spencer he was a famed convert to the Roman Catholic faith. Elizabeth Prout, foundress of the religious order, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion is also buried with them.

Geography[edit]

Billinge Hill is the highest point in St Helens and Merseyside

The St Helens Borough covers roughly 30 km² over an area of soft rolling hills used primarily for agricultural purposes, mainly arable. The highest point in the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens, and the whole of Merseyside is Billinge Hill, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north from the town centre. 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 (49 metres) above sea level. From the top of Billinge Hill 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 is Merseyside's largest body of inland water, offering picturesque lakeside trails and walks as well as national competitive powerboating and angling events.

Moss Bank, a suburb of St Helens, Merseyside, is about two and a half miles north of the town centre. It has a community library and two churches - the Protestant St David's and the Catholic St Patrick's.

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.

Transport and infrastructure[edit]

Location[edit]

St Helens viewed looking southwest in 2007. The town centre is at centre and the Linkway runs to the top. Sherdley Park is top left. Pilkington Cowley Hill works is bottom centre.

St Helens is 11 miles (18 km) to the East of Liverpool and 23 miles (37 km) from the centre of Manchester. The town shares borders with the towns or boroughs of Prescot in Knowsley, Skelmersdale, Warrington, Widnes, Wigan, and has direct transport links by road and via two main railway lines. The idea of its centralised location has formed the basis behind promotional literature by the local authority.[58]

The town is considered part of the Liverpool Urban Area for ONS purposes.[3]

Hospitality[edit]

The principal hotel is the four star Park Inn (formerly Hilton Hotel) in the town centre, built during a period of commercial augmentation in the town during the mid-1990s.

Other large hotels in the locality are the Holiday Inn, Travelodge, Ramada Encore and Thistle Hotel in Haydock, plus Premier Inns at Carr Mill and Micklehead Green, Sutton Manor.

There are numerous smaller hotels, inns and B&Bs across the borough.

Hospitality is also available at Langtree Park, home of St Helens Rugby League Club.

Road[edit]

St Helens is well served by motorway links with the East/West corridors of the M58 and M62 to the North and South of the town respectively. The town is also served by the parallel running North/South routes of the M57 and M6 to the East and West.

The M6 runs a few miles to the eastern side of the town centre, with Junction 23, at Haydock, serving both north and south bound traffic and Junction 24, at Ashton in Makerfield, serving south bound exit and north bound access.

The M62 runs a couple of miles to the south of the town with Junction 7 at Rainhill Stoops. The M57's Junction 2 lies several miles south west of St.Helens, at Prescot. The M58 is several miles north, at the north-western end of the A570 Rainford By-Pass dual carriageway.

The A580 East Lancashire Road runs north of the town centre alongside Eccleston, Moss Bank and through Haydock. It is a dual-carriageway former trunk road taking traffic from Manchester to the Liverpool Docks. It was built between 1929 and 1934 and was opened by King George V. It was intended to take pressure away from the A58, a major road running from Prescot (M57) through St. Helens to the A1(M) at Wetherby, West Yorkshire.

The Rainford By-Pass is a section of the A570, between the East Lancashire Road and the M58 and is part of the transport route from Southport, in Sefton, through West Lancashire, through St Helens to the M62 Junction 7 at Rainhill.

A major development in communication was the opening of the dual-carriageway St Helens Linkway (classified as part of the A570) in 1994, which linked the town centre directly with the M62 (at Rainhill). The A572 takes traffic from the town centre through Parr to Earlestown and Newton-le-Willows.

In 2010 St Helens was proclaimed "UK's most car-friendly town" measured on variables such as "petrol prices, parking costs and the number of speed cameras in an assessment carried out by Virgin Money Car Insurance" in research conducted by The Independent newspaper.[66]

Bus service[edit]

A St Helens Corporation liveried bus in 1968, in front of the Town Hall
Battery-electric minibus in St Helens

St Helens has a central bus station that sits between Bickerstaffe Street and Corporation Street. A Merseytravel office is located on Bickerstaffe Street, where passes and advice can be sought. The town currently has no Borough Corporation bus service of its own, having been privatised in the 80s.

From 1890 the town operated St Helens Corporation Transport providing Bus, Trolleybus and organising public network services throughout the area. Following local government re-organisation in 1974, the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (Merseytravel) was expanded to cover St Helens . After privatisation in 1986 the town was served by several locally branded operations under the umbrella of the Merseyside Transport Limited (MTL) company in which Merseytravel retained shares until 1993.

Arriva purchased the MTL operating company in 2000 and has operated the majority of the routes since. Several smaller operators run specific routes within the town area such as Cumfybus, Hattons, HTL Buses, Red Kite,[67] Strawberry,[68] and local municipal bus companies such as Halton Transport operate limited routes. There are also three zero-fare services operated by battery-electric minibuses in and around the town centre, which are provided on behalf of Merseytravel by Selwyns Travel. From the 22 February 2014, these buses were withdraw from service as part of a Merseytravel programme of spending cuts, and due to the buses being at end of their operational lives and investment to keep them running...[69]

Bus services to Wigan, Liverpool, Widnes and Warrington operate from the town centre.

Private hire[edit]

St Helens is well served by almost a dozen Private Hire minicab firms and the distinctive 'Black Cab' hackney-carriage service popular across the UK. AtoB&Delta,[70] Cable Cars, Critchleys and Saints Cars are the most prominent and offer minibus services also to local airports, cities and nightspots.

In addition to taxis the town is home to several licensed tour operators. For example David Ogdens[71] offer tours and private hire coach facilities, as do Ashtons, Coachmaster,[72] Ellisons, a company first established in St Helens in 1920,[73] Red Kite[67] and Hattons who in addition also supplies coach travel to St Helens RLFC and Warrington Wolves.[74]

Rail[edit]

The completely rebuilt St Helens Central station

Rail is an important means of transport in the region as a whole. St Helens Central (formerly known as St. Helens Shaw Street) serves the town centre. The St Helens stations of Thatto Heath and Eccleston Park and Garswood are on the same Line that runs from Liverpool Lime Street railway station to Wigan North Western railway station.

The Liverpool to Manchester line (following the old Liverpool and Manchester Railway route) serves the St Helens area at Rainhill, Lea Green and St Helens Junction before passing on to Earlestown and Newton-le-Willows railway station. The St Helens Junction and Rainhill buildings are two of the original stations built when the line opened in 1830 and are both now Listed Buildings.

Other local stations included Collins Green that closed in 1951 and the old Lea Green, closed in 1955. However a new Lea Green station was opened in 2000 with a Park & Ride system to encourage use of the route and alleviate congestion.

A major redevelopment of St Helens Central was completed in 2007 at a cost of £6.2 million.[62] which the Council hopes will encourage investment, create more jobs and improve the gateway into the town. The building has been constructed using Copper on the fins, in reference to the towns early industrial heritage.[62]

It was confirmed by the Government in 2010 that Electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester and Liverpool to Wigan lines would be implemented, with national body Network Rail announcing a projected overall completion date of 2014. As of October 2012, preparatory work for electrification is ongoing - much of it involving raising clearance height of bridgeworks - timetables are likely to be disrupted by weekend engineering work and rail replacement bus transport, so subsequently may be revised more frequently.

Discussions started by the St Helens Green Party have been made with the local council over the possibility of a new train station at Carr Mill, Laffak, St Helens.

Air and sea[edit]

The Sankey Canal (photograph taken in Newton-le-Willows).

The nearest airport is Liverpool John Lennon Airport, serving European destinations, located about 12 miles (19 km) south-west of the town and is connected by a frequent service from St. Helens bus station. By road it is accessed via the St. Helens Linkway to M62 westbound Junction 7 at Rainhill. There is no direct rail connection at present, although some trains calling at St. Helens Central now go to Liverpool South Parkway station, which has shuttle buses connecting with the airport.

Manchester Airport is approximately 25 miles (40 km) away and has numerous direct flights to Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. By road it is accessed via the St. Helens Linkway to M62 eastbound Junction 7 at Rainhill and by rail, the Manchester Airport train service serves St. Helens Junction station.

St Helens is a landlocked town, but with easy access to the ports of Liverpool, on the River Mersey and Mostyn, North Wales, on the River Dee. The Sankey Canal, including the St. Helens section, is no longer used for transporting goods, consisting of several short sections only, the remainder being drained and filled.

Past links[edit]

One of St Helens Corporation's trams.

An extensive tram and trolleybus system was operated between 1880 and 1936 trolleybuses commenced in 1927 and ceased 30 June 1958 when the last Prescot Circle trolleybus was replaced by a bus service. From 1919 the service was operated by the St Helens Corporation Tramways, prior to this it had been operated by the St. Helens and District Tramways Company, and subsequently the New St. Helens and District Tramways Company. Originally horse drawn, they became steam powered by 1890, and then electric by 1899. The original lines were all removed during the war for steel for the war effort. The only tram tracks left can be seen in the Transport museum and one isolated trolleybus pole that carried the power lines can still be seen in Warrington Rd, Peasley Cross.

A tram link also existed, to Windle and in Haydock, the latter serving Liverpool via Knotty Ash.

Governance[edit]

Civic history[edit]

St Helens Town Hall as it appears today without the steeple.

St Helens first became responsible for the administration of the wider area in 1836 when made a Registration sub-district of the Prescot Parish as part of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 that devolved control down to the more localised Parish control (spurred on by the Reform Act 1832).

St Helens, in Hardshaw of Windle, constructed its original Town Hall in 1839 that served as a legal court, meeting house, and administrative centre. It also held Council meetings for Aldermen and Parishioners alike.

In 1868 St Helens was incorporated as a borough (covering the 4 Townships). In response to the old, smaller, hall burning suffering fire damage in 1872 a new hall was planned. This, current town hall, was built between 1872 and 1876. In 1889 St Helens was again reformed, this time as a county borough with greater responsibility over an increased area of land. This was part of an ongoing process of local government restructure during the Victorian era, this time as part of the Municipal Corporations Act 1882.

As a county borough, St Helens was, from 1889 to 1974, inside the administrative county of Lancashire. On 1 April 1974, under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972, St Helens became the administrative centre of the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens in the newly created Merseyside Metropolitan county. At this time St Helens Council replaced all the local Councils within the prescribed area.

Historic coat of arms[edit]

St. Helens County Borough Council coat of arms 1876–1974, "Ex Terra Lucem" - "From the Ground, Light" granted in 1876

The old Town and Borough Council coat of arms were granted on 17 January 1876. The coat of arms is an Argent (white or silver) Field common to earlier coat of arms in the area. The black cross is referenced from the family of the Ecclestons. The saltires in the first and fourth quarters are from the arms of the Gerards of Windleshaw. The "second and third a griffon segreant" meanwhile are taken from the Bold family. The blue bars are from the arms of the Parr family, Marquises of Northampton. The lion the is from the crest of the Walmsleys and the two fleurs-de-lys refer to Sir David Gamble, first Mayor and benefactor of the town, and the Haydock family.

As the council ceased to exist in 1974, these arms are since then no longer in use. The coat of arms of the present council of Metropolitan Borough of St Helens has taken over part of its design.

Motto[edit]

The motto was the Latin "Ex Terra Lucem". A literal translation would be "From the Ground, Light" whilst more descriptive translations might be "Light out of the earth" or "Out of the earth comes light". The phrase refers to both the abundant and winnable coal resources (which can be burnt, to produce "light") in addition to their use in local industry such as Glass (through which light passes).

The motto of the town and larger borough was changed in 1974 to "PROSPERITAS IN EXCELSIS", which is included on the arms of the Metropolitan borough Council.

After the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, Frank Cottrell Boyce the creative writer behind Danny Boyle's opening ceremonyy revealed that the town motto was a significant influence to the Olympic cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick. The cauldron petals, once lit, start on the floor and rises up to form one torch.[75]

The success and high profile of the games led the Council and local residents to consider re-adopting "Ex Terra Lucem". It was felt that it was more appropriate to the town's history and had more meaning for local people, representing hope for the future. A number of people had raised this and requested that the Council consider replacing the motto.

A public consultation commenced on 17 January 2013 and at its meeting held on 17 April 2013, Council resolved to revert to the original motto of "Ex Terra Lucem". The Coat of Arms remained the same.[76]

Parliamentary representation[edit]

St. Helens is represented by the St. Helens South and Whiston and St. Helens North constituencies. Both contain areas outside of the town boundary, but within the greater Borough. Each constituency sends 1 representative to Parliament.

At the last election in 2010 both Dave Watts and Shaun Woodward retained their seats for The Labour Party. David Watts MP (St Helens North) has been incumbent since 1997, whilst Shaun Woodward MP (St Helens South and Whiston) has retained his role since 2001.

The town is considered a Labour stronghold and to have "safe (Labour) seats".

Local council representation[edit]

St. Helens and its associated wards are represented by St. Helens Metropolitan Borough Council.[77]

The Council has historically been in Labour hands (since the existence of the Borough Council in 1974), however between 2006 and 2010 the Council Leadership was a Liberal / Conservative coalition. The 2010 Local Election returned Labour to control of the area.

Parish councils[edit]

St Helens is still served by several parish councils. Their activity is much reduced in the modern town, but are still active in the communities and are recognised by the Borough Council[78] as they may "undertake many duties such as street lighting, managing cemeteries, allotments, commons, village halls, war memorials and markets etc".

St Helens Council lists the parish councils as:

  • Billinge Parish Council
  • Bold Parish Council
 
  • Eccleston Parish Council
  • Rainford Parish Council
 
  • Rainhill Parish Council
  • Seneley Green Parish Council
 
  • Windle Parish Council

Demography[edit]

Christianity is the main religion in St Helens Borough, being about 87% according to the 2001 census.[3] This makes St Helens the "most Christian town in Britain".[38] Nearby Wigan is also in the top 3.[79] Conversely St Helens shows the second least number of people (out of 376 local authorities) that actively describe themselves as having no religion at all.[3]

There is very little ethnic minority representation in the St Helens population, amongst the lowest levels recorded in the country. 98.84% of the St Helens population described itself as White British in 2001[80] The largest ethnic minority in St Helens in 2001 was recorded as Indian with 409.[3]

By 2006 the otherwise transient gypsy and traveller community have overtaken that number and are now considered to "make up the largest identifiable ethnic minority group in St Helens".[81]

Crime statistics have shown a decline in 6/7 key indicators since 2008[82] The town also has lower than recorded national rates of criminal offences in 6/7 key indicators.[82] Theft from a Motor Vehicle, and Interfering with a Motor Vehicle bucking the trend.

In 2006 a controversial[83] study by think tank Reform placed St Helens 2nd in the country for murders per 100,000 population with 4.87 (behind Nottingham with 5.21) and vaulted the town to 10th overall in the country (out of the 55 areas studied).[84] The study drew criticism for its use of inaccurate population figures from both Nottingham and St Helens Police and officials, and was described as "too simplistic".[83][84] The discrepancy was dealt with by a Liverpool Echo article that demonstrated the think tank had conflated the town's urban population (of 102,000) with that of the greater borough (of 175,000) causing the Borough's recorded crime rate to soar to 10th from 44th.[84]

Education[edit]

Primary schools[edit]

The Borough of St Helens has one nursery school, one infant school, one junior school and fifty-two primary schools. Performance in the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 SATs has been consistently above national averages over the past 5 years.

Special schools[edit]

There are three special schools in St Helens - Penkford, Mill Green and Lansbury Bridge.

Secondary schools[edit]

The Borough of St Helens has nine secondary schools:

   

Further education[edit]

The town has seven educational institutions offering post-16 education in Cowley International College, Rainford High Technology College, Rainhill High School, The Sutton Academy, The Hope Academy - (all 11-18 secondary schools), Carmel College (a sixth form college) and St Helens College (a general FE college). Carmel College is a leading college in the country with a value added score of 328. The college is an associate of the University of Liverpool. St Helens College, which has recently rebuilt its Town Centre Campus, offers a wide variety of Higher and Further Education courses including degree courses, foundation degrees, BTECs and professional qualifications at the college's Business School. The college has a growing reputation for its standards and achievements. There is no university in St Helens; locals who stay in the area and go to university often take advantage of the surrounding universities such as Edge Hill (Ormskirk), Liverpool, Manchester, Salford and Chester.

Media, entertainment and leisure[edit]

Media[edit]

There are two local weekly newspapers which are freely distributed. These are the St Helens Star and the St Helens Reporter with publication days of Thursday and Wednesday respectively.

St Helens has no television broadcasters within the town itself. However Relax Radio an internet based community Radio broadcasts across the town based in St helens and 102.4 Wish FM gives the second part of its name (sh) to St Helens while the first half goes to Wigan (Wi), representing the two reception areas. The radio station is based in Orrell, near Wigan, the transmitter site being at Billinge Hill, right on the border of the two metropolitan areas!

St Helens College has previously made temporary, limited service FM radio broadcasts from their Town Centre Campus, headed by Paul Dempsey, who previously worked as a presenter on BBC radio. In December 2010, the St Helens College radio station re-commenced broadcasting under the banner 'Solar 1287 AM'.

Tourist Information[edit]

This is available on-line at www.visitst.helens.com.

Museums[edit]

Located in the town centre, The World of Glass Museum, which opened in 2000 incorporating the Pilkington Glass Museum and the St. Helens Local Museum, has received many awards including North West Attraction of the Year.

The North West Museum of Road Transport is another museum located in the town centre. The Smithy Heritage Centre is a small museum in Kiln Lane, Eccleston about the works of a local blacksmith.

Parks, open spaces and nature walks[edit]

The Dream unveiled in 2009
"The Green Man" art installation on The Duckeries in Parr

The borough of St Helens has several major parks and open spaces. These include the historic Taylor Park, a listed Grade II Historic Park and Garden, that opened in 1893 as well as Victoria Park located near the town centre.

Sherdley Park is 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.

Parr has Gaskell Park in addition to the reclaimed open space known as The Duckeries (or Ashtons Green), and shares a boundary with boggy heathland known as "The Moss" or "Colliers Moss" (traditionally associated with Bold and its power station),[85][86][87] and the area known as the "Flash" (remnants of the canal tributary system and fishing ponds) with nature walk along part of the 7 mile route that makes up the Sankey Valley Country Park (part of the Trans Pennine trail).[88]

A 20m tall sculpture, called Dream, has been erected on a former colliery in Sutton Manor in St Helens and can be seen from the M62 motorway.[89]

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/Laffak 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

Gaskell Park, Taylor Park and The Duckeries all received Green Flag Award status in 2009. Also in 2012, King George V park received a Green Flag Award

Nightlife and social scene[edit]

Traditionally, the town was known for its social clubs, mainly connected with the Labour Party and the Roman Catholic Church. In recent years, the boom in Britain's 'binge drinking' culture in the mid-1990s has fuelled the nightlife industry over the past 10 years. The town centre has exploded over this time with many new or relaunched drinking establishments. Many of the new bars including Dali Bar, Bar Java and Zoo are centred on Westfield Street and Bridge Street in the town centre. Several bars such as Panama Joes, Zoo Bar and Dali Bar have licences to serve alcohol until 3 am.

A nightclub was planned for Bridge Street, with building work being completed for the end of 2002, but it has remained closed since completion. The building was up for sale for many months and was bought for around the sum of £3 million. There are plans to transform it from a club/cafe bar to a shopping precinct.[90]

There are several restaurants in the town centre with an increasingly mixed cuisine on offer. A local newspaper, The St Helens Reporter, awarded its 2005 'Restaurant of the Year' prize to The Griffin Inn, Eccleston.[91] Takeaways are also regarded as a popular choice of cuisine in St Helens, of which many have extremely local roots.

Theatre[edit]

The first Theatre Royal, a wooden barn-type building which was situated behind the Running Horses pub in Bridge St.
The Citadel, as it stood around the start of the 20th century after the Salvation Army procured it

The Citadel Theatre[edit]

Main article: Citadel Arts Centre

The first Theatre Royal was built on Bridge Street, opening in 1847[26] and was a large wooden barn. This was open for several seasons until heavy snow caused the roof to collapse. It was then replaced by a new Theatre Royal on Milk Street. This building can still be seen today, in its newer guise as The Citadel arts centre. The Theatre Royal on Milk Street consisted of stalls, two balconies and an ornate interior. It became extremely popular with touring theatre and music hall, playing host to the likes of Vesta Tilley and George Formby and some of the best known theatre productions of the day.

With growing audience figures, Revill built a new theatre on Corporation street and transferred the Theatre Royal name to this instead.

The Milk Street theatre was then purchased by the Salvation Army where it was more or less completely re-built internally. It was re named SA Citadel. It remained in this use for nearly 90 years, until the Salvation Army moved to a newer site. It was then opened as The Citadel arts centre in 1988, and was completely refurbished again in 2000. Today it is a popular venue for live music, theatre, community arts and other arts based activities.

Postcard Illustration of the Original Theatre Royal (Matcham Design)
The Present-Day Theatre Royal

The Theatre Royal[edit]

The Theatre Royal opened by Revill on Corporation Street in 1889 was relatively short-lived as it was severely damaged by fire in 1901.[92] It was then reconstructed by revered theatre architect Frank Matcham.[92][93] The Matcham theatre was designed in a baroque style with ornate balconies, chandeliers and boxes.[92] In the 1960s the theatre was purchased by Pilkingtons and was gutted internally.[92] The auditorium was completely refurbished removing all traces of the original interior design, whilst the ornate frontage was replaced with a plain glass façade. This was subsequently heavily refurbished in 2001.

The theatre is today a very popular venue with touring acts and annual Pantomime. In addition there are performances by local amateur operatic and dramatic societies, schools and dancing academies.

Each year many youngsters from the Scout and Guide Movement perform at the annual St. Helens Scout and Guide Gang Show. The show has been nationally recognised as being of a high standard.

Sport[edit]

Rugby League[edit]

Professional[edit]

The new Saints Langtree Park stadium.
St Helens (in white) face off against Wigan in 2009 Playoffs.

St Helens is home to St. Helens Rugby League Football Club founded in 1873, known otherwise simply as 'Saints'. The club have played their home games at Knowsley Road in Eccleston since 1890, but in 2012 moved into a brand new stadium - Langtree Park - built on the old United Glass Bottle (UGB) site in Ravenhead.

Since the formation of the all professional Super League in 1996 St Helens have successfully won the title on 5 occasions, and been runners-up on 5 more occasions. The club have been awarded the League Leader's Shield 4 times in the last 5 seasons. The club have been crowned World Club Champions on two occasions, winning the World Club Challenge in 2001 and most recently in 2007 defeating Australian side Brisbane Broncos on both occasions.

Historically the club have won the Rugby League Challenge Cup on twelve occasions, seven wins have taken place since 1996. They most recently defeated Hull on 30 August 2008 to cap a hat-trick of successive Titles.

In 2006 season the club won all three major honours in the domestic game, the Challenge Cup, League Leaders Shield and the Super League Grand Final.[94] The club were awarded in December 2006 the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award at the annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year Ceremony.[95] Club Coach Daniel Anderson won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach Award (a first for Rugby League).[94][95]

Saints players have won seven of the last 11 Man of Steel Awards and 5 Lance Todd Trophys since 2000. Paul Wellens and Chris Joynt have each won the Harry Sunderland Trophy in the Clubs two World Club Challenge victories.

Amateur[edit]

A local Rugby League junior game underway.

The town is also home to a large number of amateur rugby league teams comprising Senior and Youth teams. Most notable of these are Blackbrook ARLFC,[96] Bold Miners, Clock Face Miners, Haresfinch Hawks, Haydock Warriors, Pilkington Recs[97] and Thatto Heath Crusaders.[98] Most of these teams and others in the area compete in the BARLA North West Counties competition (Pilkingtons in the Premier League, Haydock and Blackbrook in Division 1, Thatto Heath and Clock Face in Division 2). Thatto Heath compete in the higher ranked National Conference League.

The continued success and achievement of these teams at the grass roots level is important to the town and have provided many players who have gone on to play for the 'Saints' and other professional and semi-professional clubs. Significantly in recent years Blackbrook Royals have contributed 26 Lancashire Cup winning sides across 8 age ranges from U12 to U18, with two in the Open Age category[96] and 10 National Cups. Pilkington Recs with 17 wins (and 6 times runner up) and Thatto Heath with 10[99] have ensured St Helens teams have contested have been represented in a significant number of North West Counties competition finals since 1994.

Thatto Heath alone have helped to contribute over 40 professionals to the game including current St Helens players James Graham, Keiron Cunningham (who also played for Wigan St Judes), Paul Wellens and Andy Yates,[100] and former players Lee Briers and Steve Prescott.[99] While Blackbrook have current St Helens representation in the form of first team regulars James Roby, Scott Moore, Paul Clough, Gary Wheeler, Jamie Foster and Andrew Dixon,[100] with Jacob Emmitt, Sean Magenniss, Lee Gaskell and Paul Johnson on the fringes.[100] Pilkington Recs meanwhile have recently contributed Gareth Frodsham and Tom Armstrong.[100]

The St Helens RLFC Under 18's and 16's and St Helens RLFC Academy teams serve as official feeders to Saints.

Rugby Union[edit]

West Park (in Green) play.

St Helens is home to several Amateur Rugby Union teams. Liverpool St Helens F.C. are the most prominent Union team in a town where the League code takes precedence. The team claims to be "the oldest open rugby club in the World" based on its origins in the formation of Liverpool Football Club (not to be confused with the later Association Football team of the same name) in 1857.

Liverpool St Helens operate, in addition to their First Team, both multiple Senior, Colts and Junior teams, and in addition have an U18 and U15 Girls rugby team as part of their "open" and inclusive Rugby approach. In 2008 the club announced an unveiling of its Centre of Excellence in coordination with Sportsmatch (a department of Sport England).

Several local Social, Sports and Leisure clubs host their own teams, including the most successful club in the town of recent history West Park St Helens (commonly referred to simply as West Park),[101] that currently play in National League 3 North, and Ruskin Park R.F.C.[102]

Association Football[edit]

St Helens Town FC is an Amateur English football club, currently playing in the first division of the North West Counties Football League. The club formerly played their games at Knowsley Road but have since moved to play at Ashton Athletic FC.

The town also has its own amateur football league, the St Helens Combination which has been running since the 1917–18 season. In 2009, Brazilian Soccer Schools St Helens launched specialist soccer and Futsal centres on the region to teach junior and youth players Futsal.

Cricket[edit]

St. Helens is home to several Amateur Cricket sides. St Helens Cricket Club, formed in 1843, and St Helens Recreation Cricket Club are the most prominent and both play in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition at various levels.

Sutton, Haydock, Rainhill and Newton le Willows also have their own local Cricket Clubs with representation from 11 to multiple senior teams.

Other sports[edit]

The Town was formerly home to the Amateur American Football team St Helens Cardinals. The Cardinals were active between 1984 and 1998, successfully winning the UKAFL Championship in 1987 with a 28-26 win over the Ipswich Cardinals. The teams colours were red, white and black and used the crest of the Arizona Cardinals on their black helmets.

Former player Mike Worthington was involved in the prospective take-over of Rotherham United F.C. in 2004 that did not come to fruition and is a Chairman with Earth Mortgages.

Former manager Brian Coulson is still active in the league after 30 years, now based with the Merseyside Nighthawks. Several former players still ply their trade with local teams including the Chester Romans.

The Town also had an Amateur Australian Rules Football team (2002–2004) St Helens Miners who won the Country Cup in 2002 - In 2005 the team joined up with Manchester.

Current professional darts players Dave Chisnall, Michael Smith and Alan Tabern grew up in St Helens and have each beaten Phil 'the power' Taylor on at least one occasion in their careers.

St Helens is also home to the first Youth 5v5 Futsal squad in the region. IFC St Helens play in the Junior National Futsal League.

Notable People, Families & Organisations[edit]

Conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham in 1910

Beechams[edit]

The Beecham dynasty is one of the most notable families to be associated with St. Helens. Thomas Beecham opened his first factory, what was to become the world's largest pharmaceutical producer, Beechams, in St. Helens, 16 years after launching, and producing, his products from a small premises in nearby Wigan.[103]

His son Joseph Beecham built up the business and promoted classical music in the town. Conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, son of Joseph, was born in St Helens.

Pilkingtons[edit]

A liveried Pilkingtons trailer
Main article: Pilkington

The Pilkington dynasty is another notable family associated with St. Helens having founded the largest glass manufacturer in the United Kingdom as well as inventing the revolutionary float glass process which was subsequently licensed for use by other glass manufacturers.

Sir Alastair Pilkington, inventor with Kenneth Bickerstaff of the float glass process, was not however a member of that family.

Entertainment[edit]

George Groves is credited with being Hollywood's first "sound man", as he was the recording engineer on the seminal Al Jolson picture, The Jazz Singer (1927), as well as many other early talkies.

Bernie Clifton, comedian and entertainer.

Johnny Vegas is also an actor and comedian from the town.

David Yates, a feature film director who is credited with the final four Harry Potter films was raised in Rainhill, a village in the Borough of St Helens.

Jacqueline Abbott is a singer and was the main female vocalist for the Beautiful South.

Peter Edward Clarke, drummer with, among others, The Slits, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Creatures.

Carole Matthews, Writer of 25 bestselling books.

Other[edit]

Richard Seddon, who went on to become Prime Minister of New Zealand, was from St. Helens. He is currently the country's longest-serving Prime Minister, holding the office from 1893 until 1906.

John Rylands, the Victorian philanthropist, was born and raised in St Helens, forming and building the Ryland & Son textile manufacturing empire in nearby Wigan.

Harold D'acre Robinson Lowe was born in St Helens, the 1901 Census stating that Harold D.R. Lowe lived at 260 Boundary Road, St Helens.[104] A dinosaur was named for him by CM Sternberg in 1940; Monoclonius lowei.

John William Draper was born in St Helens in 1811. He went on to become a noted scientist in the field of photochemistry, chemistry and other sciences.

Bill Foulkes, who played nearly 700 games as a full-back for Manchester United between 1952 and 1970 and was a survivor of the Munich air disaster in 1958, was born in St Helens in 1932.[105]

Premier League darts player Dave Chisnall was born in St Helens, as were fellow professional darts players Michael Smith and Alan Tabern - all three of which have beaten Phil Taylor live on Sky Sports.

Cultural references[edit]

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!". This was a pun on St. Helena, the South Atlantic island to which Napoleon was exiled.

International links[edit]

St Helens is twinned with:

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Barker, T.C. & Harris, J.R. (1994, 1st Ed 1954). A Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St. Helens, 1750–1900. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-4555-1.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Farrer, William & Brownbill, J (1907). A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Victoria County History. Victoria County History.  Available online from British History Online
  • Fletcher, Mike (2002). Black Gold and Hot Sand: A History of St. Helens. Carnegie Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85936-088-0. 
  • Martindale, Adam (2008). The Life of Adam Martindale, Written By Himself. BiblioLife. ISBN 978-0-559-40988-2. 
  • Routledge, George. Editor (1854). Pictorial history of the county of Lancaster ... George Routledge.  Available online from Google Books

External links[edit]