St Helens is a large town in Merseyside, England. It is the largest settlement of the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens with a population of just over 100,000 of an urban area with a total population of 176,843 at the time of the 2001 census.
Historically a part of Lancashire, the area grew during the 18th and 19th century as a significant centre for coal mining and glassmaking. Both prior and during this time it was also home to a cotton and linen industry (notably sail making) that did not last through the mid 19th century as well as salt, lime and alkali pits, copper smelting, and brewing.
The town and borough is notable for being the site of the first fully man made canal opened in autumn 1757, and also the first competition for steam locomotives (in Rainhill Trials).
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 The main industries have since left, become outdated, or have been outsourced leaving the float and patterned rolled glass producer Pilkingtons, a world leader in their industry, as the town's one remaining large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), Ravenhead glass (bought out by the Belgian nationalised Durobor), United Glass Bottles (U.G.B.), Triplex (owned by Pilkington, farmed out to India), Daglish Foundry (closed and demolished 1939), and Greenall's (now located in nearby Warrington).
Predominately arable land the area was also noted for its large swathes of moss, heath and bog land and was covered elsewhere in parts of the greater Mersey Forest (though the larger "Community Forest" was not established until much later).
As late as the start of the 19th century, St Helens did not exist as a town in its own right. It was formed from the townships of Eccleston, Windle, Parr and Sutton, townships of the parish of Prescot which became civil parishes on their own in 1866. Census figures from 1801 suggest the population of the township area to be 12,500 which by 1860 had reached 50,000. Incorporation as a borough was granted on the 2nd February, 1868 when Queen Victoria granted St. Helens a municipal charter. 20 years later St. Helens became a county borough.
Until the mid 1700's the local industry was almost entirely based on small scale home based initiatives such as linen weaving. The landscape was dotted by similarly small scale mining operations, notably for coal and it's the coal to which the town owes its initial growth and development and (subsequently) the symbiotic relationship shared with the coal dependent glass industry.
The town was built both physically and metaphorically on coal: the original motto on the borough coat of arms was "Ex Terra Lucem" (Latin for 'out of earth, light') and local collieries employed up to 5,000 men as late as the 1970s, whilst during the boom years of the British coal industry (1913 being the peak year of production with 1 million employed in UK mining) the St.Helens division of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation (the local miners' union) had the largest membership (10%) of that federation. Owing primarily to the abundance of winnable coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt and the transport revolution -- first the Sankey Canal and then the railways from 1830 onwards -- a glass and chemical industry was established in St Helens. The Sankey Canal was opened in 1757 to transport coal from the pits in Haydock and Parr to the River Mersey. An extension to the canal (the St.Helens section) was made in 1775 linking the canal to St Helens. In the 1830s, the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway was built for the same purpose.
The town served as a hub for the growth of Liverpool providing raw materials chiefly due to its location. Initially Liverpool petitioned for the extension of the turnpike road (The "Tollbar" area in St. Helens still retaining the significant reference), but subsequently resulted in the creation of an entirely new waterway. The original concept was 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 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.
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, the Beecham Clock Tower - which is now part of St Helens College - and St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church. The town, and old county borough, included the suburbs of Clock Face, Sutton and part of Windle.
The glass industry is no longer the major employer it once was, however it still employs over a thousand people in the town. 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.
Major investment is currently transforming the quarter into a retail and communications hub with former industrial land being reclaimed for use as hotels, shopping areas and housing. The many coal mines on the outlying districts of St.Helens, (most of which were closed before St.Helens borough was created and were, therefore, never in St.Helens) including Clock Face, Ravenhead, Sutton Manor, Bold, Wood Pit (Haydock), Lyme Pit (Haydock), Old Boston (Haydock) and Lea Green, were closed between the 1950s and early 1990s. 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.
In 1868, St Helens was incorporated as a borough, and was then made a county borough in 1889. The town hall was built between 1872 and 1876. As a county borough, St Helens was, from 1889 to 1974,outside the administrative county of Lancashire but remained within the geographical county palatine.
In 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.
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 is Billinge Hill, 3¾ miles (6 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 (50 m) above sea level.
St Helens has no airport. 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 with a direct bus service. Manchester Airport is approximately 25 miles (40 km) away and has numerous direct flights to Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. 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, constisting of several short sections only, the remainder being drained and filled.
St Helens College has previously broadcasted temporary, limited service radio broadcasts from their Town Centre Campus, headed by the late Paul Dempsey, who previously worked as a presenter on BBC Radio.
The past twenty years have seen major redevelopments in the town centre. This has included mass pedestrianisation of much of shopping area, with traffic being directed around the town centre on existing roads. There have been several noteworthy theatres in St.Helens. The first Theatre Royal was built on Bridge Street 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. Most of its popularity was due to the manager, Wallace Revill. Due to the growing audience figures, Revill built a new theatre on Corporation street and transferred the Theatre Royal name to this, and the Theatre Royal remains on the site to this day. 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 an extremely popular venue for live music, dance, drama and art.
The Corporation St Theatre Royal opened by Revill, was relatively shortlived as it was destroyed by fire. It was then replaced by the current building which was designed by perhaps the greatest theatre architecht in history, Frank Matcham. The theatre was designed with a baroque style with ornate balconies, chandiliers and boxes. It was hit by disaster again in the 1940s when part of the ceilling collapsed, with several fatalities as a result. In the 1960s the theatre was purchased by Pilkingtons and was gutted internally leaving it in the rather drab state it is seen in today. The beautiful auditorium was destroyed as was the ornate frontage, simply replaced with a huge glass sheet. The theatre has remained open ever since and is today a very popular venue with top class touring acts and of course, the annual Pantomime. The front of the theatre was refurbished in 2001, however the inside of the theatre still remains a grey painted reminder of a catastrophic decision in the 1960s which destroyed a masterpiece of theatre architecture.
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. The main problem in St.Helens has been the virtual elimination of all the old buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving the town with a large selection of grey, square blots and few traditional buildings. It is due to its 'fragmented' town centre, the results of years of poor planning in the 1960s - 1980s that it is not as well appreciated as the neighbouring towns of Wigan and Warrington. The current council is working hard to solve these problems with good results.
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 and is often used by other gang shows worldwide as a form of inspiration to get ideas or acts or dance etc. The show is usually held in mid April at the Theatre Royal on Corporation Street. The show has a lovely mixture of dance, song and act which proves a huge hit year after year and due to its nature it is deemed one of the most family friendly shows in St. Helens.
The Catholic church of St. Anns and Blessed Dominic is a site of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics. The Victorian missionary Blessed Dominic Barberi is buried in the church on Monastery Road. It was he who received John Henry Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church. Alongside Blessed Dominic Father Ignatius Spencer is buried. The son of the 2nd Earl Spencer he was a famed convert to the Catholic faith. Elizabeth Prout, foundress of the religious order, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion is also buried with them.
The World of Glass Museum, which opened in 2000, incorporating the Pilkington Glass 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. The Smithy is a small museum in Eccleston about the works of a local blacksmith.
The borough of St Helens has several major parks and open spaces. These include the historic Taylor Park with opened in 1893. Sherdley Park is a modern park in Sutton, the park features a petting zoo and annuanly holds a funfair usually in July, called the St Helens Festival (originally called the St Helens Show) Other open spaces include the Sankey Valley Country Park and Colliers Moss Common.
Traditionally, the town is 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 Boudoir, Bar Java, Cafe Chloe and Zoo are centred around 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 3am.
The town no longer has any major nightclubs, the infamous Club Nexus which was the towns main club ceased trading on February 1, 2008 . The club which opened in the mid 1990s began to gain a bad reputation in the early 2000s for underage drinking, drug dealing and aesthetics. It previously lost it licence on two occasions in 2006 and 2007. A second 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 has recently been bought for around the sum of 3 million pounds and is going to be transformed from a Club/Cafebar to a shopping precinct.
There are several restaurants in the town centre with an increasingly mixed cuisine on offer. The George Quarter alone has Italian, Spanish, French/Modern British at Le Frog, Chinese and Thai cuisine on offer. A local newspaper, The St Helens Reporter, awarded its 2005 'Restaurant of the Year' prize to The Griffin Inn, Eccleston.
The principal hotel is the four star Park Inn, formerly Hilton Hotel, built during a period of massive commercial augmentation in the town during the mid-1990s. Other large hotels are the Holiday Inn, Travelodge and Thistle Hotel in Haydock. There are numerous smaller hotels, inns and B&Bs across the borough.
St Helens rugby league club's (St Helens RLFC) stadium is located in Eccleston in Dunriding Lane/Knowsley Road's residential area. During the summer, the 100 year-old stadium receives thousands of fans from St Helens and England's other rugby league towns, although it faces an uncertain future due to the rugby league club's intention to build a new modern stadium on the edge of the town with better transport links and parking facilities. The club has won the Challenge Cup eleven times and has played in many finals, the latest of which took place at the newly refurbished Wembley Stadium, where they beat Hull FC on August 30, 2008. The club was crowned World Club Champions in 2001 and again in 2007. In 2006 season the club won all three major honours in the domestic game, the Challenge Cup, League Leaders Shield, the League Leaders Shield and the Super League Grand Final. At the start of the 2007 season, the club also won the World Club Challenge, defeating Australian side Brisbane Broncos to add to the honours acquired the previous season. Other honours won by the club this year include, Daniel Anderson Coach of the Year, Paul Wellens Man of Steel and Players' Player and James Graham Young Player of the Year.
In December 2006 St Helens were awarded with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award at the Annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year Ceremony, this accolade recognises the best team in any sport within the United Kingdom. At the same ceremony Daniel Anderson was given the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach Award - this was the first time a rugby league coach had won the award.
The town is also home to a large number of amateur rugby league teams. Most notable of these are Thatto Heath Crusaders, Pilkington Recs, Blackbrook, Haydock, Haresfinch, Bold Miners and Clock Face. Most of these teams and others in the area compete in the BARLA North West Counties league (although 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. Thatto Heath is known locally as a rugby league hotbed, having a number of amateur teams. It is the birthplace of many famous players including Alex Murphy, the Chisnall brothers, Paul Forber and St. Austins Primary School.
St Helens Town FC is an English football club, currently playing in the first division of the North West Counties Football League. The club, based in St. Helens, play their home games at Knowsley Road, the home of St Helens RLFC, the town's rugby league club.
The town also has its own amateur football league, the St Helens Combination which has been running since the 1917/18 season.
An example of a cricket club in the town is St Helens Cricket Club.
St Helens has two retail parks, one on either side of the St Helens Linkway. The older of these, St Helens Retail Park, is home to discount stores and wholesale retailers, while Ravenhead Retail Park houses more mainstream retail stores, such as Currys, Next, B&Q and Boots. The town has several supermarkets.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had two St. Helens-born men amongst its production team - director David Yates and choreographer Paul Harris. Yates is also directing its follow-up, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Two actresses on the popular TV series Hollyoaks are from St. Helens - Emma Rigby and Carley Stenson. Pauline Yates, best known for playing Elizabeth Perrin in the BBC television sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is also from the town. Actor Matthew Crompton, of The Bill, Coronation Street and Brookside fame, was born and raised in St. Helens.
Johnny Vegas, the comedian and actor, was born and raised in St. Helens, and maintains close ties with the town. He is not the only comedian to come from the town - ostrich-jockey Bernie Clifton is also from St. Helens.
St. Helens has had several notable musicians, mostly in bands based elsewhere. For example, Haydock-born guitarist Nick McCabe found fame in Wigan's The Verve. Drummer Peter Clarke (better known as 'Budgie') played in Liverpool bands The Spitfire Boys(formed by St Helens guitarist David Littler) and Big in Japan before moving to London and joining Siouxsie & the Banshees. He was married to Banshees vocalist Siouxsie Sioux for a time, but they are now divorced. One-time Beautiful South vocalist Jacqui Abbott is from St. Helens. Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton reportedly heard her singing at a party in the town and asked her to join the band. Jeffrey Walker, best known for playing bass in Carcass, is from St. Helens. He formed his first band Electro Hippies in the town.
Recently local band The Loungs have come to some degree of prominence, releasing an album and three singles on the Manchester-based Akoustik Anarkhy label. Despite favourable reviews in the press and online they have yet to break the charts.
St Helens' contribution to the media has not been limited to comedy and music however; recently Owen Roberts, who is an expert on fraud and personal finance, has been featured on all the major broadcast outlets including BBC Breakfast, ITV1 and Channel Five, providing advice and information to consumers. While he does not have a discernible St Helens accent he keeps close ties to the area.
In football St Helens Town F.C. compete in the North West Counties Football League and share Knowsley Road with the rugby club. St. Helens has also supplied the world with several notable football players - former leading women's football player Lily Parr, Manchester United players Bill Foulkes (one of the Busby Babes and survivor of the Munich plane crash), Tommy O'Neill and Phil Marsh and Manchester City player Gary Owen. City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann was originally from Germany but settled in St Helens after World War 2.
World champion Grand Prix motorcycle road racer Geoff Duke is from St. Helens, as is darts player Alan Tabern. The latter is an avid Saints supporter, and has 'The Saints Are Coming' by The Skids as his entrance music as a tribute to the team.
Amateur boxer Ronnie "No Mercy" Mercer was named ABA light fly weight champion in 1996. Nicknamed "Lord of the Flies", Ronnie went on to box for England. He was later forced to retire early from boxing due to a detached retina.
Professional mixed martial arts fighter and former Cage Rage Heavyweight Champion Rob Broughton also comes from St Helens. With notable wins over Butterbean and James Thompson in the cage. Rob is currently ranked third at super heavyweight in the world.
Other people born in the town include Victorian philanthropist John Rylands, Independent theatre reviewer Paul Taylor, glamour model Louise Glover, 1950's theatre actor Paul Walsh, businessman and philanthropist Michael Smurfit, and Harold Dacre Robinson Lowe (1886-1952), who had dinosaur Monoclonius lowei named after him by CM Sternberg in 1940, Businessman and philanthropist Kevin O'Brien
Mike Clarke, known locally as the godfather of St Helens, still resides in this town.
Mark Edwardson, TV presenter for the BBC in the North West, was born at Cowley Hill Hospital in St Helens and was brought up in Haydock.