Sunday, 12 March 2017

Winwick Quay; A Lost Industrial Hub on the Sankey Canal

Winwick Quay in the mid 1970s (Warrington Borough Council)

Of all the features that survive on the Sankey Canal, Winwick Quay is my personal favourite; it has a dry dock, the boat maintenance yard can still be seen and the old Ship Inn is still there, and though it is now a private cottage, it has a number of features inside from when it was an Inn. There are also a number of archaeological features revealing possible workshops that have been excavated over the years by members of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society. In its heyday, the area was a lively industrial centre, and is indeed located on a central position on the canal system, more or less midway from its terminus in St Helens and its final entrance into the River Mersey at Spike Island in Widnes. Winwick Quay was also the site of a train station from 1837 to 1840. The dry dock still has the small sluice gate at the back that was used to drain water into a stream after the gates were closed, allowing work to be carried out on the bottom of the boat. The dock could then be refilled from the canal after repairs were done. The long building in the maintenance yard bears the date 1841, and had a mechanism for lifting boats for repair work.

The same scene today
This hub of industrial activity on the canal had come to end by the early 1960s, and by the time that I first discovered Winwick Quay in the hot summer of 1976, the M6 motorway had been built and the canal edged itself into a culvert pipe that took the water under the motorway to the other side. I can remember the old wooden swing bridge and looking down into a canal that was already being used a rubbish dump. It wasn’t long after this that this section of the canal was infilled, and I’ve spoken to locals who remember all kinds of rubbish being dumped in it, from old fridges to bags of old telephones. Thankfully the dry dock was not filled in and can still be seen, and a small swing bridge was constructed between the entrance of the dry dock and the infilled canal, ready for a future time when the canal is to be excavated.

The cottage that once was the Ship Inn
This part of the canal could have a bright future; it could be dug out and used as an open air museum that could reveal the way people lived and worked on the first industrial canal in the early Victorian era. It has a great historical value to the area; the dry dock is unique and could still work, and the boat maintenance yard with accompanying buildings are privately owned but still very well preserved. The Winwick Quay site could not only provide an educational centrepiece to the first industrial canal, it could also give an exceptional historical insight into the Victorian era in Warrington.

The old fire place in the boat repair building

A close up of the boat repair building dated 1841

An aerial shot of Winwick Quay dated 1947 (photo from the disused stations website)

A dredger in the dry dock (Peter Norton Collection, SCARS website)


All other photographs by Dr David Harrison unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Warrington Academy

The Warrington Academy was an non-conformist Academy that opened in 1757 and attracted such ground-breaking tutors as scientist Joseph Priestley, botanist Johann Reinhold Forster and poet and critic John Aikin, the Academy creating an intellectual scene during the later eighteenth century in the Lancashire Market town. The first building to house the Academy can still be seen, though much altered, it was moved back from the road during the early 1980s then rebuilt altogether, becoming the Guardian offices.

Johann Reinhold Forster joined the Academy as a tutor in 1768, his eldest son Georg becoming a student there. He stayed in Warrington until 1770 when he left the Academy to reside in London, where he wrote A Catalogue of the Animals of North America. Forster, who had befriended Joseph Banks, the botanist who had accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage, was offered the position on Cook’s second voyage instead of fellow Academy tutor Joseph Priestley. It is thought that Priestley, who was a Dissenter, may have been rejected on his religious grounds as the Board was mainly made up of Anglican Clergy. Banks like Forster was also a Freemason and these two men of science may have known of each other’s membership. Johann was to be the ship’s Naturalist and his son Georg was to accompany him.

The voyage which was a resounding success, began on 1772 and returned to England in 1775, stopping at countries such as Easter Island, Tahiti, and the Tonga Islands. On his return, Forster became resentful towards the Admiralty, who had forbid him to write about the voyage, so he gave the task to his son, who published his findings in the book A Voyage Around the World.  The book became a best seller and sealed the reputations of both Johann and his son Georg. Despite the disagreements, Forster continuously wrote to Joseph Banks, who became President of the Royal Society in 1778, indicating that he had been mistreated, and had not been paid in full. Banks responded to the letters by supplying a loan to Forster, which was never repaid.

The second Academy building was located on what is now Academy Way, and it remained there until it closed in 1786. This second building is long gone, but we still have the original Georgian building to remind us of the importance that the Academy had on what has been referred to as the British Enlightenment.