Warrington has the 'wow' factor

Patrick O'Neill discovers the people who put the 'wow' into Warrington PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Wow. Prestbury might know its Ps and Qs. Bramall Hall can drop its ‘aitches’, Chester University boasts the ABC of Cheshire education. But if you want to experience the ‘wow factor’, come to Warrington.

The ‘Wow factor’ was invented for a �250,000 scheme involving more ‘ws’ for Warrington than you get in the average encyclopaedia. Called ‘bringing the wow factor to Warrington museum,’ it includes.

• A Window of Warrington, two new galleries telling how the town developed, including Warrington’s charge of the light brigade heroes and the story of Warrington’s Titanic connection.

• A Window on the World telling the story of world cultures in the Warrington collection. It includes ‘an Egyptian mummy case and items of the museum’s award winning collection from ‘the lost tombs of Peru’.

• The Fish Gallery has been restored making new waves with some splendid finny folk.

Continuing our alphabetic exploration of ‘What’s on in Warrington’ several events spring to mind. There’s an Autumn of Arts Event from September 24 to October 29, a free festival including a public arts trail of the town visiting the historic market; cultural quarter; the Pyramid; Parr Hall and the Gallery at Bank Quay.

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And the there are the wonders of Walton Hall Gardens. They include a Wedding Fayre on September 3. The Country Fayre, the first of what they hope will be an annual event, featuring craft stalls, dog displays, birds of prey and narrow boat rides is on September 11. Time for Tots is a day out for pre-schoolers on September 14. And there’s a morning stroll along an easy-paced three mile walk on September 19.

On the day I visited with photographer John Cocks, we were particularly impressed by Pottery in the Park. Run by Mike Jones and his partner Marjorie Carman, it’s a chance to paint and make pots for yourself. ‘It’s a very hands-on experience keeping old skills going and taking children away from their PlayStations,’ says Mike who also runs industrial tours round Warrington.

At the museum we were wowed by The Warrington Dinosaur, a Triassic beast called a Ticinosuchus, that roamed round Lymm 259 million of years ago. Of more recent vintage were the Latchford Stocks which restrained locals a couple of centuries ago and an exhibition of snapshots by youngsters from Warrington and twin town Hilden in Germany, where according to one young photographer, Jasmin from Hilden, we are advised: ‘Don’t live your life like others. Live every day as if it is a new one.’

And that’s without a visit to Warrington’s best kept secret, the interior of St Elphin’s Church. It has the fifth highest spire (281ft) of any parish church in the country (coming after St Walburge’s, Preston; St James’, Louth; St Mary’s, Redciffe and St Wulfram’s, Grantham).

It is also the oldest religious establishment in the area, dating back to the year 650, and recorded in Domesday Book. Until September 17 St Elphin’s is open to the public on Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm and Saturdays from 9.30am till 3pm.

And now for the most controversial ‘W’ factor of all. ‘Where is Warrington?’ Half the town believe they are part of Lancashire and the other half are confident that they belong to Cheshire.

Right in the centre of the town are the Lancashire Tea Rooms, selling Lancashire Teas at �1.40 a hot pot. ‘We serve a nice cup of tea and keep a warm welcome for customers,’ said manager Stephen Welsby, whose grandfather fought at the Somme with the South Lancashires.

Warrington Wolves play Rugby League which is as Lancashire as an Eccles Cake. Warrington recently hosted a regimental homecoming for the Duke of Lancaster’s 1st battalion after deployment in Afghanistan. And their regimental chapel is in St Elphin’s.

‘We pay our dues to Cheshire, but we look to Lancashire. And we would certainly support Lancashire at cricket,’ said church warden Arnold Wright.But a prominent pub in Warrington is called The Looking Glass and there are scores of references to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson of Daresbury. Local statues and etchings of white rabbits, March hares, mad hatters and dozy dormice abound. (Dodgson was better know as Lewis Carroll, author of the classic children’s novel Alice in Wonderland).

Cross to Stockton Heath and the area’s 36 restaurants, eateries, bars and pubs form a true taste of Cheshire, (with a bit of India, China, Portugal and Italy thrown in for good measure.)

Elsewhere, local purveyors of prestige property, cutting edge fashion, wonderful weddings, inventive interiors and outdoors sports win it for Cheshire ‘set’, game and match.

So Warrington has the best of both worlds. And perhaps the clearest explanation I have found is this. The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (Lancashire) recruits as far south as the Mersey. And the Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) recruits as far north as the Mersey. Never the twain shall meet, you might say. So, unless you are stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of the Mersey, you can happily enjoy the industrial heritage of Lancashire and the champagne lifestyle of Cheshire.

And you can be proud to know you have been in Warrington all the time.

What’s what in Warrington

Actor Pete Postlethwaite wrote of warm memories of his 101 Norris Street home and upbringing in the Warrington area in his biography. ‘Growing up was a happy process. My happiness at home was replicated at school. I went to an ordinary Catholic junior school St Benedict’s RC.’ There he had his first experience of theatre, playing Jesus in the school nativity play. All this and more is in A Spectacle of Dust published posthumously this summer by Weidenfeld & Nicholson. This fine actor will be sadly missed.

Warrington’s ‘who’s who’ includes Old Bill, said to be the world’s longest living horse. Foaled in Woolston in 1760 he lived to be 63. It also includes Oliver Cromwell, who stayed in Church Street after his victory over the Royalists. Robert Dudley earl of Leicester and Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite owned Warrington for a time. Also connected with the town are Chris Evans, radio and TV presenter; Joseph Priestley discover of oxygen; actress Helen Worth and railway and pop mogul Pete Waterman

One of Warrington’s most prominent war memorials is a statue of Col MacCarthy O’Leary, who led the charge of Pieter’s Hill in South Africa. The same Boer War campaign saw the South Lancashire’s involved in the Relief of Ladysmith and the battle of Spion Kop, now more famous for soccer battles fought by Liverpool football club fans.

Police Officers have taken over an empty shop in the town centre where according to neighbourhood inspector Neil Drum: ‘It is part of a drive to improve links with the local community.’

Andrew Leicester, 24 from Latchford has won the prestigious Fishmonger of the Year title and appeared on a BBC Three show which aims to find the most talented young professionals. He has worked on Andrew’s Fish, Game and Poultry stall since the age of 14.

The statue on the Town Hall gates is Nike The Goddess of Victory. Her wings are featured on Warrington Borough Council’s logo.Suez, Egypt and Cairo Streets in Warrington date from the 1840s when the South Lancashire regiment campaigned in against the French.

When Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) visited Warrington Museum, he caught sight of their stuffed walrus which in all likelihood inspired his toothed and whiskered beast in The Walrus and the Carpenter, which spoke of many things including shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings.

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