Runcorn is an industrial town and cargo port within the borough of Halton in the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. In mid-2004 its population was estimated to be 61,252. The town is on the southern bank of the River Mersey where the estuary narrows to form Runcorn Gap. Directly to the north across the Mersey is the town of Widnes. Upstream and to the northeast is the town of Warrington, and downstream to the west is the city of Liverpool.
Runcorn railway station is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line. It provides frequent services to London (Euston), Liverpool, and Birmingham. The A533 road passes through the town from the south, crossing the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey. The Manchester Ship Canal runs between the town and the River Mersey, and the Bridgewater Canal passes through and ends in the town at its junction with the Manchester Ship Canal.
Runcorn was a small, isolated village until the coming of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was a health resort. Towards the end of the 18th century, a port began to develop on the south bank of the River Mersey. During the 19th century industries developed, in particular the manufacture of soap and alkali, quarrying, shipbuilding, engineering, and tanning. In the early 20th century, the prime industries were chemicals and tanning. The original village has grown to include what were outlying villages. Except for chemicals, all the old industries have disappeared, and there has been diversification, in particular because of the close links to the motorway system, and the development of warehousing and distribution centres. A new town was built to the east of the existing town in the 1960s and 1970s, and farther to the east, areas of private housing have been established; this has resulted in a doubling of the population from around 30,000 to its present level.
Little is known about the early history of the settlement but isolated findings of objects from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages have been made and there is evidence of a Roman presence in the area. The earliest recorded event in its history is the building by Ethelfleda of a fortification at Runcorn to protect the northern frontier of her kingdom of Mercia against the Vikings in 915. The fort was built on Castle Rock overlooking the River Mersey at Runcorn Gap.
Following the Norman conquest, Runcorn was not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday survey, although surrounding settlements were. William the Conqueror granted the earldom of Chester to Hugh d'Avranches who granted the barony of Halton to Nigel. It is likely that Nigel erected a motte and bailey castle on Halton Hill in the 1070s. In 1115, Nigel's son, William Fitznigel, founded an Augustinian Priory at Runcorn. In 1134 the priory was moved to Norton, about away. In 1391 the priory was raised to the higher status of abbey. In 1536 the monastery was dissolved, and around nine years later the buildings and some of the monastic lands were sold to Sir Richard Brooke who converted the habitable part of the abbey into a house.
During the Civil War Halton Castle was held for the Royalists by John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, the Steward of Halton. It fell twice to Parliamentarian Roundheads. The first siege was led by Sir William Brereton in 1643; the second was during the following year. Following this, a "Council of War" was held in Warrington in 1646 at which it was decided that the castle should be slighted. In 1656, Runcorn was described as being "nothing but a fair parish church, a parsonage and a few scattered tenements". And so it remained for over a century, an isolated and poor hamlet. The only through traffic used the ferry which crossed from Runcorn to the north bank of the River Mersey. Towards the end of the 18th century and in the early years of the 19th century the town was a health resort.
During the 18th century water transport had been improved in the area by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, the Bridgewater Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal. This gave Runcorn waterway connections with most of the interior of England through the canal system and with the sea along the River Mersey, thus forming the basis for the development of the Port of Runcorn. Later came the Runcorn to Latchford Canal linking with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, and the Weston canal which gave better access to the Weaver Navigation system. Industries began to develop within and around the town, in particular quarrying for Runcorn sandstone, shipbuilding, engineering, the manufacture of soap and chemicals and tanning. Runcorn was becoming an industrialised and highly polluted town. During the later 19th century the town became increasingly dominated by the chemical and tanning industries.
In 1868 the Runcorn Railway Bridge was opened across the Mersey, giving Runcorn direct rail links with Liverpool and the rest of the country. In the 1880s a pipeline was opened between Northwich and Weston Point, supplying brine to the salt and chemical works. In 1894 the Manchester Ship Canal was opened throughout its length. This allowed ocean-going ships to travel inland as far as Salford, some of them calling at the port of Runcorn. The rise in population between 1881 and 1891 and the drop by 1901 is explained by the number of people involved in constructing the ship canal. In 1905 the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge opened, giving a direct link for vehicular traffic for the first time between the two towns.
During the first half of the 20th century the industry of the town continued to be dominated by chemicals and tanning. This growth was largely due to government fixed-priced cost contracts for tanned hides. In 1926 four chemical companies merged to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). As the century progressed there was diversification of industry. In 1961 the Transporter Bridge was replaced by Runcorn Road Bridge (since named the Silver Jubilee Bridge) which allowed a more efficient means of road traffic across Runcorn Gap. The designation of Runcorn as a new town in 1964 brought major changes and more than doubled the population. Much of the architecture of the new town was innovative, especially the Southgate development designed by Sir James Stirling and built between 1970 and 1977. Stirling's housing development was beset with problems and it was demolished in the early 1990s. During the second half of the 20th century the tanneries closed (the last to close was the Highfield Tannery in the late 1960s) and the chemical industry declined. At the same time, light industry developed together with warehouses and distribution centres.
At the time of the Domesday survey, Runcorn was in the hundred of Tunendune, but later, and until the early 19th century, Runcorn was part of the Bucklow hundred. Under the Runcorn Improvement Act 1852, a board of Improvement Commissioners was established to administer the civil government of the town. By the Local Government Act 1894, the administration of the town and the surrounding areas was divided into Runcorn Urban District and Runcorn Rural District. Initially the urban district consisted of only the built-up area of Runcorn itself. By 1937, this area had been extended to include the communities of Weston and Weston Point to the south. By 1971 it had been further extended to the east to incorporate the village of Halton.
In 1964, Runcorn was designated as a new town. In 1974, as part of the Local Government Act 1972, Runcorn Urban District was abolished and its territory amalgamated with Widnes to form the borough of Halton. In 1998, this borough became a unitary authority within the ceremonial county of Cheshire.
Runcorn is part of two parliamentary constituencies. The western part of the town, which includes the old town area and part of the new town, is in the constituency of Halton and the eastern part, containing the rest of the new town and private housing to the east of this, is in the Weaver Vale constituency. Since the 1997 general election the Member of Parliament for the Halton constituency has been Derek Twigg and for the Weaver Vale constituency Mike Hall. Both are members of the Labour party.
The local authority is the borough of Halton. The town is divided into ten electoral wards. There are 56 local councillors: 33 represent the Labour party, 15 the Liberal Democrat party, and 8 the Conservative party. Runcorn is in the European parliamentary constituency of North West England.
Runcorn is situated on a spur projecting into the River Mersey, which flows to the north and then to the west of the town. On the north bank of the river is another spur forming the West Bank area of Widnes; together these form Runcorn Gap, a narrowing of the River Mersey. Runcorn Gap is crossed by the Runcorn Railway Bridge, which carries the Liverpool branch of the West Coast Main Line, and the Silver Jubilee Bridge, which carries the A533 road. To the south of the town is the River Weaver and the Weston Canal. Both open into the ship canal. To the southeast of the town run the M56 motorway, the Chester–Manchester railway line, and the main branch of the West Coast Main Line. The town has a system of expressways, roads designed to divert traffic away from the residential areas. The Central Expressway runs through the centre of the town in a north-south direction. To the west of it lie most of the former settlements which formed the older part of the town, namely Runcorn, Higher Runcorn, Weston, Weston Point and Clifton (formerly Rocksavage), and the new town areas of Halton Brook and Halton Lodge. To the east are the village of Halton, the old settlements of Norton and Stockham, and the new town areas of Castlefields, Palacefields, Windmill Hill, Murdishaw, Brookvale, and Hallwood Park.
The density of housing is generally high, but there are open green areas, in particular heathland on Runcorn Hill and the extensive Town Park created as part of the new town. The older industries, particularly the remaining chemical factories, are concentrated mainly to the southwest of the town bordering the Mersey, while newer industries, including warehousing, are to the northeast and southeast.
The Runcorn area drains into the River Mersey to the north and the River Weaver to the south. The bedrock of the western and northeastern parts of the town is made up of rock from the Sherwood sandstone group; in the other areas the bedrock is from the Mercia mudstone group. In places there are prominent outcrops of sandstone, particularly at Runcorn Hill and Halton Hill. Elsewhere the bedrock is covered by drift. At the northwestern periphery of the town the drift consists of recently blown sand. Farther to the east and bordering the River Mersey is recent alluvium. Elsewhere the drift consists of till.
Since the borough of Halton became a unitary authority in 1998, demographic statistics have been collated for the authority as a whole, rather than separately for the towns of Runcorn and Widnes. While the two towns have different histories and come from different historic counties, their demographic features are similar.
The population of Halton in 2004 was 118,915. It is the most densely populated district in Cheshire at 14.9 persons per hectare. The change in population during the 20th century is shown in the following table.
There has been an increase in the number of households from 47,214 in 1991 to 52,501 in 2006. The average household size has fallen from 2.70 in 1991 to 2.44 in 2001. In 1991, 75.8% of houses were centrally heated, compared with 89.8% in 2001. The type of housing has also changed, with an increase from 15.5% to 19.2% in detached houses from 1991 to 2001, an increase over the same years in semi-detached houses from 30.0% to 33.0%, and a corresponding decrease in terraced houses from 44.0% to 37.5%. The percentage of dwellings in council tax bands A–B is, at 69%, the highest in any Cheshire local authority. The percentages in bands E–F (8%) and G–H (1%) are the lowest.
Of Runcorn's former industries, all but the chemical industry have disappeared. The industry was dominated for many years by ICI; it has since been taken over by Ineos. In Runcorn, Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire. The former ICI offices and laboratories now comprise the Heath Business and Technical Park, which provides office, laboratory, conference, and leisure facilities. To the east of the town, diverse industries have been developed including, because of the proximity to the motorway system, warehouses and distribution centres. The town continues to act as a port on the Manchester Ship Canal. There are two adjacent ports. Runcorn Docks is owned by the Manchester Ship Canal, which is part of the Peel Ports Group. The Port of Weston is owned by the Stobart Group Limited.
There has been a shift in employment from manufacturing to service industries. In 1991 34% worked in the manufacturing sector and 61% were in the service sector. By 2004 17% were in manufacturing jobs and 78% were in service jobs. This trend in the local region is demonstrated in this chart which shows the regional "gross value added" of Halton and Warrington at current basic prices, with figures in millions of British pounds.
|Year||Regional Gross Value Added||Agriculture||Industry||Services|
Runcorn has two shopping centres. The original shopping area was in the older part of the town on High Street, Regent Street, and Church Street. This centre continues to exist, but with the coming of the new town, has declined. There is a small supermarket and some specialist shops, but with a higher-than-average proportion of charity shops and take-away food outlets. A small market has been rebuilt adjacent to the old town bus station. In the centre of the new town area Halton Lea (formerly Shopping City) is an enclosed shopping mall with an attached bus station. Adjacent to it is Trident Park containing shopping outlets and a cinema and further away is an ASDA supermarket.
The major landmark in the town is Halton Castle on the top of Halton Hill near the geographical centre of the town. Only ruins of the castle exist, but there are widespread views from the top of the hill. The interior of the castle grounds is open at advertised times. Incorporated in the castle walls is the Castle Hotel, which used to include a courthouse on the first floor. Another landmark is Norton water tower, built of Runcorn sandstone, high, which holds 672,000 imperial gallons (3 million litres) of water and supplies water to Liverpool.
An important historical site and the major visitor centre in the town is Norton Priory, a museum. The site contains the remains of an ancient priory with adjacent gardens, formerly of a country house. Nearby are a walled garden, including a national collection of tree quinces, and an ice house.
Much of the architecture of the town is undistinguished, but there are listed buildings of some importance. The listed churches are All Saints Parish Church and Holy Trinity Church in the centre of the older part of the town, St Mary's in Halton village, St John's in Weston, and Christ Church in Weston Point. All Saints' Church, a Grade II* listed building, dates from 1849 and was built by Anthony Salvin in red sandstone. The oldest existing houses are the Seneschal's house in Halton village (1598), Weston Old Hall (1607), Brookfield Farmhouse (1691), and Halton Old Hall (1693). Other outstanding houses include Runcorn Town Hall (formerly Halton Grange), Camden House and Cottage in High Street, and Bridgewater House near the Ship Canal.
A war memorial to those who lost their lives in World War I, World War II and in later conflicts is at the bottom of Moughland Lane. There is a memorial in Castle Road, Halton village, commemorating residents of the village who served in the Boer War.
Per tuppence per person per trip… Per trip or per part of per trip.
Runcorn Hill Local Nature Reserve has been developed on the site of a quarry and consists of heathland. Adjacent to it is a park which includes a bandstand, a model boating lake, and sports facilities. Wigg Island is a nature reserve on a former industrial site. The reserve is on an island between the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey and consists of open spaces and woodland with bird hides and pathways. Murdishaw Valley is an area of ancient woodland to the east of the town between the Murdishaw housing development and the M56. Rock Park is on the site of a quarry in the old town area and includes sports facilities. Town Park is in the centre of the new town development and has a link to the north with Norton Priory. Open areas in Runcorn form part of Mersey Forest, one of Britain's community forests.
Runcorn's hospital is Halton Hospital, which is administered by the North Cheshire Hospitals NHS Trust. This hospital is undergoing change. Originally planned as a District General Hospital, it was never large enough to provide a full range of services. Acute medical services have been transferred to Warrington Hospital. The plan is to provide non-emergency surgery and rehabilitation at Halton Hospital. Halton Haven Hospice is in the Murdishaw area of the town. Primary care services are provided by the Halton and St Helens Primary Care Trust. In Runcorn general practitioner services are provided in five health centres and in one separate medical practice in Heath Road. There are dental practices providing National Health Service and private dental care.
There are two railway stations. Runcorn, located in the old town, is on the Liverpool branch of the West Coast Main Line, and has 15 Virgin Trains a day (weekdays) between Liverpool and London, as well as an hourly 'semi-fast' service of London Midland trains between Liverpool and Birmingham. (Incidentally, when it was built the nearby railway bridge across the Mersey incorporated a footpath running alongside the tracks.)
Runcorn East station, located in the Murdishaw district of the new town, is on the Chester to Manchester line, with an hourly service to Chester, Warrington, and Manchester, provided by Arriva Trains Wales and Northern Rail.
There are two bus stations, one in the old town centre and the other at Halton Lea, with buses running locally within Runcorn, and also to Widnes, Warrington, Chester and Liverpool, provided by Halton Transport and Arriva.
National Express coaches call at Runcorn, on the Hoylake–Liverpool–London and Southport–Cambridge services. Coach services are provided by Selwyns and Anthony's Travel..
The Silver Jubilee Bridge was widened in the mid-1970s by bolting a new pedestrian way to the side of the original structure and widening the roadways over the old footpaths. However, it is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey is planned, to be known as the Mersey Gateway.
There are 29 primary schools in the town and one nursery school at The Grange. The four secondary schools are Halton High, St. Chad's Catholic High, The Grange, and The Heath. Two institutions, Halton College and Runcorn Sixth Form College, merged in 2006 to form the Riverside College Halton. There is one special school in the town, Cavendish School. There are opportunities for adult education in information technology at the Acorn Lifelong Learning Centre and at the Grange City Learning Centre. Other courses for adults are held at different venues in the town.
The following table shows the percentage of pupils gaining five GCSE A*–C level grades, including and excluding English and Maths in 2007.
|School||Eligible Pupils||Including English and Maths||Excluding English and Maths|
|The Heath School||202||50||83|
|St Chad's Catholic High School||150||39||56|
|The Grange Comprehensive School||223||27||46|
|Halton High School||131||24||59|
The 2001 census showed, that of the people living in the borough of Halton, 83.8% declared themselves to be Christian, 8.7% stated that they had "no religion," and 7.0% made no religious claims at all. Those stating their religions as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islam or Sikh amounted to 0.5%.
The Anglican churches are part of the Diocese of Chester and the deanery of Frodsham. In Runcorn, the parish church is All Saints in the old town centre. Ten other Anglican churches are in the town. Five Roman Catholic churches can be found in Runcorn and are administered by the Diocese of Shrewsbury. There are three Methodist chapels and one Welsh Presbyterian chapel. Wicksten Drive Christian Centre is shared between the Church of England and the Methodists. Hallwood Ecumenical Parish in Beechwood and Palace Fields consists of 3 churches all recognised by the Church of England, the Methodists and the United Reformed Church. Norton Ecumenical Parish, covering Windmill Hill, Norton and Murdishaw, is served by an Ecumenical Partnership between St Berteline's Church (Anglican) and Murdishaw Ecumenical Church (Methodist run).
There is an Independent Baptist chapel, three independent Christian churches, and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Jehovah's Witnesses have two Kingdom Halls, and there is a Spiritualist church. There are no places of worship in Runcorn for any other major world religions.
Runcorn Cricket Club and Runcorn Hockey Club are based at the Runcorn Sports Club in Moughland Lane. Runcorn Rugby Union FC is based at Halton Sports Club in Murdishaw. There is an 18 hole golf course at Runcorn Golf Club in Clifton Road and a golf driving range at Sutton Fields. Runcorn Sports Club is a privately run sports club in Moughland Lane and provides facilities and coaching for cricket and hockey. Halton Sports Club is in Murdishaw Avenue. Privately run swimming pools are at Beechwood local centre and Stockham Lodge Raquet and Health Club. Adjacent to the latter are two artificial ski slopes administered by Runcorn Ski Centre. The Runcorn Rowing Club rows on the River Weaver Navigation near Clifton Village. The local authority runs several sports centres, including: Runcorn Swimming Pool; Brookvale Recreation Centre, offering indoor sporting facilities; and Phoenix Park, with outdoor sporting facilities. Other sports are also catered for. Runcorn has a professional wrestling academy, the Runcorn Wrestling Academy (RWA).
Individuals from Runcorn who have gained entry into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography include Sir John Chesshyre (1662–1738), a prominent lawyer, Nathan Alcock (1707–79), a noted physician, and his brother Rev. Thomas Alcock (1709–98), Vicar of Runcorn, and writer and cider maker. Thomas Hazlehurst (1779–1842) founded one of the two major soap and alkali manufacturing businesses in the town, Hazlehurst & Sons. His son Thomas Hazlehurst (1816–76) was involved with the business. He was a Methodist who paid for the construction of 12 chapels and three schools in the area.
Edward John Smith (1850–1912), captain of the Titanic, purchased a retirement home in Higher Runcorn but never lived there because of his death aboard the Titanic. Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853–76), a novelist and playwright, was born in Runcorn. Thomas Alfred Jones (1880–56) was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal during World War I. In more recent times the classical pianist Martin Roscoe (1952 – ) was born in Halton Village. The singer and Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh (1976– ) often spends her weekends in Runcorn spending time with her family. The boxer Robin Reid (1971– ) attended secondary school in Runcorn, a place he identifies as his home town. The singer Nicola Roberts (1985– ) from the British girl band, 'Girls Aloud,' also comes from Runcorn.
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