Runcorn

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Arms of the former Runcorn Urban District Council

Runcorn is an industrial town in the unitary authority of Halton, Cheshire, England on the southern banks of the River Mersey at the site of the river's first bridge crossing. The name came from Saxon Rumcofan = "wide bay or creek".

Contents

History

Ruler of Mercia, Aethelflaed had a fortification built at Runcorn to protect the northern frontier of her kingdom against the Vikings. Her visitation to the fort site at Castle Rock near the riverside (where the railway bridge now stands), in AD 915 is the first mention of Runcorn in recorded history.

Runcorn was not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday survey, though surrounding villages of Halton, Weston, Aston, Sutton and Stockham were. Runcorn could have been integrated into Halton at that time (today Halton village is part of Runcorn) or may have been harried to worthlessness by William the Conqueror.

In Norman Cheshire, the first Earl of Chester, Hugh d'Avranches split his estate into baronies. The Halton barony held precedent over all others and Nigel, the constable of Chester (Cheshire) became its first baron. Nigel erected a motte and bailey castle on Halton Hill around 1071 to keep watch over the Lancashire and Cheshire plains and the river estuary. The stone structured castle, as is seen remained today, would have started development in the later half of the 12th century; being gradually built upon, with each of the early barons undertaking various projects and adding to the work of his predecessor.

In 1115, Nigel's son, William Fitznigel, founded an Augustinian Priory at Runcorn. In 1134 the monks moved the priory to Norton, about three and a half miles away. The barons of Halton provided Norton Priory with substantial amounts of money until 1200. In 1391 the priory was raised to the higher status of abbey. In 1536 the monastery was dissolved, and a few 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 home for himself and his family.

During the Civil War the castle was held for The Crown by 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 a year later. Stone blocks removed from the castle would have been used to build many of the still existing houses in Halton village. Following the Civil War, the castle was purchased by Colonel Henry Brooke of Norton Priory. However it was only held by the Brooke family for a short period of time, as it was returned to the Duchy after the Restoration in 1660.

According to a writer in 1656, Runcorn was "nothing but a fair parish church, a parsonage and a few scattered tenements".

Runcorn today

Today, Runcorn consists of the 'old town' which began expansion on farmland during the Industrial Revolution brought by the Bridgewater Canal; and the 'new town' which was built in the 1970s and 80s as part of the government's new and expanded towns development program. The town also retains ruins of the 12th-century castle and the remains of the priory. Large chemical works are found at the furthest edge of the western part of the old town. This is offset by the vast greenery of the new town to the east. The Catalyst Museum in neighbouring Widnes recognises the contribution of the chemical industry as it has developed around the North West.

The remains of Norton Priory, including its museum and walled garden are the main tourist attraction of the town. There is also a shopping centre (Halton Lea), and a dry ski slope.

Population in 2001 was 61,330.

Transport

Runcorn is well served by roads (the M56 motorway passes to the south of the town, and fast expressways run round and through the new town), railways (Runcorn station on the Liverpool to Crewe line and Runcorn East of the Chester to Warrington line) and is within 15 minutes drive of Liverpool John Lennon Airport. It is connected to Widnes across the Mersey by a rail bridge. Road transport went by ferry until the 1890s when a transporter bridge was built. This was replaced in 1962 by a steel arched bridge resembling the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Runcorn Bridge as it is known has become a notorious traffic bottleneck. To alleviate this, an additional crossing between Runcorn and Widnes is planned. [1] (http://www.merseycrossing.co.uk/) The Manchester Ship Canal passes alongside Runcorn and under both bridges. Buses in Runcorn use dedicated "busways", a rarity in the United Kingdom.

See also

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