A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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Wydenesse, Wedenes, 1300; Wydnes, 1347.
Apelton, 1180; Appelton, 1198; Apulton, 1332.
Widnes appears at first to have been the name of the district, the township name being Appleton. This hamlet lies close to the centre, with Farnworth, the site of the chapel, on the extreme north, Upton to the north-west, and Denton to the east. Simm's Cross and Lugdale have recently become hamlets or suburbs of Widnes town. The marshy district by the Mersey was interrupted by a projecting piece of higher land, whence a crossing could be had to Runcorn on the Cheshire side. On this ground the town of Widnes has sprung up.
The flat and open country close to the town itself is absolutely devoid of anything beautiful; a district more lacking in attractive natural features it would be difficult to conceive. A great cloud of smoke hangs continually over the town, and choking fumes assail the nose, from various works. In the face of such an atmosphere it is not to be wondered at that trees and other green things refuse to grow. Even the riverside is unpicturesque and rendered unpleasant by the unsavoury mud which the tide leaves stranded upon rocks and stones. The more remote and countrified parts of the township consist of open fields, with the minimum share of trees. Crops, such as oats, potatoes, and turnips, thrive in a clayey soil. The township lies upon the three sandstone and pebble beds constituting the bunter series of the new red sandstone or trias. The lower mottled sandstone occurs at Upton in the west, the upper mottled sandstone at Denton in the south-east. In the low-lying ground towards the river the strata are obscured by alluvial deposits.
The area of the township is 3,039½ acres. (fn. 1) It is divided by a brook from Ditton on the west. The roads are numerous. Probably the most ancient is that from Rainhill through Farnworth, and south and south-west to the crossing-place into Cheshire. It is joined, to the north of Farnworth, by another ancient road, the name of which, Chester Lane, shows its use. From the meeting-point there is a more direct road to Widnes, also roads to Cronton on the west, Upton and Ditton on the south-west, and Penketh on the east. From Widnes a road leads west to Hale and Garston.
The London and North Western Company's railway from Liverpool to Manchester passes through the town, where there is a station. To the west there is a junction with the same company's main line from London to Liverpool, which here crosses the Mersey by a great bridge built in 1868, at one side of which is accommodation for foot passengers. (fn. 2) The St. Helens line branches off from Widnes station; there is another station at Appleton, and a third at the northern boundary, called Farnworth and Bold. The Cheshire Lines Committee's Liverpool and Manchester section crosses near the centre and has a station called Farnworth, to the south of this village; there is also a branch line to Widnes town, with stations there and near the eastern boundary, called Widnes (Central) and Tanhouse Lane. The St. Helens Canal has its terminus in the docks at the eastern side of the town. Runcorn Gap was the old name of the part of the Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn.
Sixty years ago there were but a few scattered dwellings by the side of the Mersey, but the establishment of chemical works there about 1850 speedily brought an increase of population, and the busy industrial town—the centre of the alkali trade—has grown up among and around the works. There are also soap, oil, and paint factories, iron foundries, and copper-smelting works. There are toolmaking and some minor industries at Farnworth.
Plumpton's Cross, Simm's Cross, and Whitfield's Cross show where the crosses have stood. (fn. 3)
This district gave its name to the Lancashire portion of the fee of Halton, known as the lordship or barony of WIDNES. In 1086 William son of Nigel, lord of Halton, held a hide and a half in West Derby hundred, and two hides and four plough-lands in Warrington hundred. (fn. 4) This was shortly afterwards largely increased, (fn. 5) and at his death in 1211, Roger, constable of Chester, held the lordship by the service of four knights' fees. (fn. 6) In 1242 the earl of Lincoln, a minor, held half a fee in demesne in Appleton and Cronton, which had been assigned in dower to his mother the countess. (fn. 7) Early in 1311, on the death of Henry de Lacy, the whole fee passed to Thomas earl of Lancaster, (fn. 8) and has since been held by the successive earls and dukes of Lancaster and the crown. (fn. 9)
From patents of the seventeenth century the manor appears to have been assigned as part of the dowers of the queens. (fn. 10) In 1699 it was leased to Richard, Earl Rivers, and in 1728 to George, earl of Cholmondeley; (fn. 11) from the latter the right has descended to the present marquis of Cholmondeley as lessee. (fn. 12)
Appleton was held in bondage as three ploughlands in the time of Edward II. (fn. 13) In 1351 Henry, newly created duke of Lancaster, granted that each of his tenants should in future hold severally and freely the tenements hitherto held in bondage or at will. (fn. 14) The history of the township is undistinguished until the modern establishment of chemical works. The courts appear to have been usually, or often, held at Farnworth. (fn. 15)
Upton (fn. 16) and Denton gave surnames to local families, the name Denton appearing down to recent times. (fn. 17) The Wright family was also of importance, and their residence was known as Widnes Hall. (fn. 18) Matthew Gregson states: 'There are [1817–24] four estates in the townships of Appleton, Widnes, and Upton, which have long been known by the names of Upper House, Lower House, Carter's House, and Peel House … . The Upper House belongs to Mr. Cowley, who resides upon it; the Lower is the property of John Leigh, esq., and Carter's House that of Mr. Taylor, both of Liverpool.' (fn. 19) A family named Hawarden were resident in the seventeenth century; (fn. 20) they are supposed to have acquired the estate by marriage with an heiress of the Appleton family. (fn. 21)
A free passage over the Mersey was allowed very early, two acres being granted as the fee of the ferryman. (fn. 22)
In the time of Mary and Elizabeth there were various disputes between Roger Charnock, the royal farmer, and the tenants of Widnes regarding marsh lands called the Warth and Plocks, and Appleton mill. (fn. 23)
The estate of Henry Wood of Widnes was sold by order of the Parliamentary authorities in 1652. (fn. 24) In 1666 there were in Widnes twenty-six dwellings with three hearths and more paying to the tax; the principal residents were Hawarden, Ditchfield, Appleton, Plumpton, and Wright. (fn. 25) John Chaddock of Burtonwood, as a 'Papist,' in 1717 registered his cottage at Upton. (fn. 26)
An interesting report on the state of the river bank about 1828 was made by Edward Eyes on behalf of the duchy. (fn. 27)
It would appear that in the middle ages a borough and market had been established at Farnworth; for there are incidental notices, such as the eight 'burgages,' &c., in Denton held by Randle Bold at his death in 1447, and the 20d. for stallage collected in 1426 from tailors, mercers, and others, trading at Farnworth on Sundays. (fn. 28) Coming to the present day, the Local Government Act of 1858 was adopted by WIDNES in 1865, (fn. 29) and further powers as to water, gas, &c., were afterwards secured by various Acts. A borough, with mayor and council of 24 members, was created in 1892. (fn. 30) The gas and water works were acquired under an Improvement Act in 1867; (fn. 31) the water pumping stations are at Stockswell and Netherley, and the reservoirs at Pex Hill. St. John's Market was opened in 1875. The Libraries Act was adopted in 1885, and the present technical schools and free library were opened in 1896. The Appleton House estate was acquired and opened as the Victoria Park and Recreation Ground in 1900, the Victoria Promenade at West Bank being opened at the same time. The cemetery was opened in 1898. There are hospitals for accidents, opened in 1878, and infectious diseases, 1887. The population numbered 28,580 in 1901.
Farnworth church, now called that of St. Luke, but anciently dedicated in honour of St. Wilfrid, consists of chancel 33 ft. by 22 ft. with north vestry and south chapel, nave 60 ft. by 25 ft. with aisles, south transept, north and south porches, and west tower 10 ft. square inside, and has grown to its present form from an aisleless nave and chancel church of which part of the west wall alone remains. It belonged, as far as can now be ascertained, to c. 1180–1200, and its nave was of about the same dimensions as that now standing. There are no evidences of alteration till the fourteenth century, though such may of course have taken place. In this century a tower was added at the west end of the nave, and the north and south walls of the nave were moved about six feet northwards, thus throwing the tower out of centre. The story of this alteration has been obscured by the rebuilding of the north side of the church, but from accounts previous to this rebuilding, which took place about 1855, it appears that the north arcade of the nave was of earlier detail than the still existing south arcade. The tower as it stands at present has no work which seems to point to a date before 1340, but as there remains on its east face the weathering of a roof which belonged to the old nave before its axis was moved northwards, it is evident that this part of it at least must be older than either of the arcades. In the north-west angle of the nave is a two-light window of mid-fourteenth-century date, which is set in the northward extension of the west wall, outside the lines of the old nave, and may be coeval with the alterations. This points to a date of c. 1350 for the original north arcade. The nave roof, destroyed c. 1855, seems to have been a good specimen of fourteenth-century work, little if at all later than 1350, and unless we are to suppose that it was transferred from the old nave to the new (as indeed it might have been, the widths of the two being approximately the same), it gives another reason for assuming that there was very little difference in date between the two arcades, and that the whole rebuilding may be set down to the middle of the century. (fn. 32) The chancel must of necessity have been rebuilt about the same time—unless some previous alterations to it had changed its axis and suggested a like alteration in the nave (fn. 33) —and the existing work probably follows the lines then laid down, though nothing in the chancel seems older than the end of the fifteenth century.
The aisles are probably on the same lines as those which must have been built with the fourteenth-century arcades; the north aisle is completely modern but the south retains one window which may be original. The eastward extension of this aisle, partly overlapping the chancel, seems to be of the same date as the late work in the chancel.
The south transept is the last development in the plan, having been built by Bishop Smith of Lincoln, c. 1500, to accommodate the inhabitants of Cuerdley. The chancel arch may have been inserted at the same time to give abutment to the western arch of the south chapel.
The chancel has an east window of five lights with tracery, and a south window of three lights, the stonework being for the most part modern. In the north wall is a three-light window, cinquefoiled, with quatrefoiled tracery in the head, of late fifteenth-century type. The chancel arch is of two chamfered orders with half-octagonal responds, and of later date than the walls of the chancel; its probable origin has been noted above. The roof of the chancel is flat, divided into square panels with heavy moulded beams having bosses at the intersections and diagonal ribs across the panels; a fine piece of late fifteenth-century work.
The vestry on the north is modern. The south chapel has an east window of three lights, like that on the north of the chancel, and two three-light windows on the south, with uncusped tracery. There is a small four-centred doorway in its east wall, and another near the west end of the south wall. Its roof is modern, and the chapel is now used as an organchamber.
The south transept has a four-light east window, containing a few squares of old glass, with the letters SG, and a five-light south window with modern uncusped tracery. The west window is of somewhat earlier type, square-headed with three trefoiled lights, but is probably not older than the wall in which it is set. Beneath it is a blocked doorway, and in the south-west angle of the transept is a vice. The roof is old, cleaned and repaired at a late restoration, 1894–5, up to which time the base of a screen with linen pattern panels remained in this transept. It was then removed, and the panels re-used in the altar table now in the chancel.
The nave is of five bays; the north arcade is modern (c. 1855), the two eastern bays, which form the south enclosure of the Bold chapel, being more elaborately treated than the others, in late thirteenthcentury style, while the south arcade, though much patched and repaired, belongs to the fourteenth century, and is of plain detail. (fn. 34) The nave roof is of deal, and replaces a fine fourteenth-century roof with principal and intermediate collar beam trusses, the former having arched braces under the collars. It was destroyed in 1855, under the mistaken impression that it was thrusting out the north arcade.
The north aisle was rebuilt in 1855 and no ancient features were preserved; it formerly had a good panelled roof and moulded cornice with paterae. The Bold chapel was enclosed on south and west with oak screens, and had a flat panelled oak roof with diagonal ribs on the panels, after the fashion of that still existing in the chancel.
The south aisle has been more fortunate, and retains a fifteenth-century south doorway, fitted with an old door, a square-headed window west of the doorway, with three trefoiled lights and perhaps coeval with the aisle, and a second window east of the doorway of two trefoiled lights under a square head, of the beginning of the sixteenth century. The roof also is old, with an embattled cornice, and was repaired in 1894–5.
The tower arch is plain, and was formerly built up; it is now filled with a seventeenth-century screen with turned oak balusters in the upper part. The west window is of three cinquefoiled lights with quatrefoil tracery, and the belfry windows are square-headed of two lights. There is a vice in the south-west angle. The lower courses of the old west wall of the nave, before the building of the tower, remain under the floor, and part can still be seen, with a plain chamfered plinth. Until 1894 the church was filled with galleries and pews of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of which had the names of their owners and the dates cut on them, and some of these inscriptions have been preserved and set up as panelling against the walls. A good many pieces of fifteenth and sixteenth-century bench ends, &c., were found when these pews were removed, but were unfortunately in too damaged a condition to be re-used.
The font, which originally stood in the south aisle, (fn. 35) and was afterwards set at the west end of the north aisle, is now at the west end of the nave. It is octagonal, with a roll at the base of the bowl, but otherwise perfectly plain, and may be of the fifteenth century.
In the Bold chapel are the marble figures of Richard Bold, 1635, and his wife, and an armed effigy of very poor workmanship, holding a book, which from its details appears to date from the beginning of the seventeenth century. (fn. 36) Near it at the west end of the chapel is a white marble monument to Mary Bold, Princess Sapieha, 1824.
There are six bells, all of 1718, by Richard Saunders.
The registers begin in 1538.
About the end of the thirteenth century an attempt seems to have been made to sever the dependency of Farnworth on Prescot. In 1291 Richard de Buddeswall, archdeacon of Chester, holding his visitation at Prescot, caused a number of those who customarily heard divine service and received the sacraments in the chapel to appear before him and assert publicly that Farnworth was not an independent parish, but that the people within the chapelry were bound to contribute to the repairs of the church of Prescot, the maintenance of the service there, and other charges, in the same manner as the rest of the parishioners. (fn. 37) Farnworth is called a church in 1323, (fn. 38) and seems to have enjoyed almost full parochial rights.
Few of the names of the pre-Reformation clergy have been preserved. Baldwin Bold was there at the beginning of the sixteenth century, (fn. 41) and Richard White was curate in 1542, 1548, and 1554. (fn. 42)
A small yearly payment, called the Duchy money, has long been made to the incumbent by the crown. Its origin is uncertain. (fn. 43)
A parish was assigned in 1859. (fn. 44) The vicars are presented by the vicar of Prescot. The following is a list:—
|1562||Thomas Hill (fn. 45)|
|1567||John Walbank (fn. 46)|
|1576||Thomas Roebuck (fn. 47)|
|1581||William Cross (fn. 48)|
|1589||William Sherlock (fn. 49)|
|1641||Nathaniel Barnard (fn. 50)|
|1647||John Walton, M.A. (fn. 51)|
|1649||(?) William Garner (fn. 52)|
|oc.||1675–9||Milo Marsden (fn. 53)|
|1687||Christopher Marsden (fn. 54)|
|—||John Foxley (fn. 55)|
|oc.||1705–9||Radley Ainscough (fn. 56)|
|oc.||1718–32||Henry Hargreaves (fn. 57)|
|1733||Charles Bryer (fn. 58)|
|1742||Richard Nightingale (fn. 59)|
|1747||Thomas Moss (fn. 60)|
|1792||William Thompson (fn. 61)|
|1881||George Bond, M.A. (Lincoln Coll. Oxford)|
|1892||John Wright Williams|
There was a chantry founded here by Sir John Bold, an annual rent of £4 being assigned to it from the lordship of Bold. (fn. 62) In 1534 the cantarist was Richard White, and later Thomas Johnson. There was no plate. (fn. 63)
There appears to have been a resident curate maintained at Farnworth after the Reformation, but he was only 'a reading minister.' The Parliamentary Committee in 1645 assigned £50 a year out of the sequestered tithes of the earl of Newcastle, who farmed them from King's College, to augment the stipend of the curate. They estimated that there were 2,000 communicants within the chapelry. (fn. 64)
The school was founded in 1509 by William Smith, bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 65)
More recently in connexion with the Establishment there have been erected three churches in Widnes. St. Mary's was built in 1856; (fn. 66) the patronage has recently been transferred to the bishop of Liverpool. St. Ambrose, in the gift of trustees, was built in 1883; St. Paul's, to which the bishop of Liverpool collates, in the following year.
A Wesleyan Methodist church was built at Widnes in 1863, and two others more recently; one at Farnworth, built in 1849, was replaced by a new one in 1891; there is an iron chapel at Appleton. The Welsh Wesleyans also have a church. There are two Primitive Methodist chapels, and one of the United Free Methodists, called Zion.
The Congregationalists have a church at Simm's Cross; (fn. 67) and the Welsh Congregationalists have a place of worship. (fn. 68) The Welsh Presbyterians, or Calvinistic Methodists, also have one. The Baptist chapel at Appleton dates from 1890, but a congregation is said to have been formed in 1872. The Salvation Army has a barracks. The Unitarians also have a meeting-place.
Roman Catholic worship was maintained during the period of persecution (fn. 69) in one of the houses of the Hawarden family in Appleton and Widnes, and some of its members were among the officiating priests. In 1750 a public chapel was opened in Appleton, replaced by the present church of St. Bede in 1847. (fn. 70) In 1865 the church of St. Mary was opened in Widnes, followed in 1888 by St. Patrick's.