Our day out: Widnes & Runcorn

Since we walked along the bank of the Mersey to Widnes last November we’ve been promising ourselves a return visit to get a better look at the place than we could on such a short early winter day. Being midsummer and being so sunny we couldn’t have had a better day than today to do so.

Sarah’s also written her own impressions of the day on her Monkey Puzzles blog.

Sarah on Widnes Dock Gates.

Sarah on Widnes Dock Gates.

Close as it is to Liverpool neither of us is familiar with any more of Widnes than the river frontage we walked to in November. So we begin today by looking for the town centre.

We follow the signs and are directed to here.

We follow the signs and are directed to here.

This turns out to be a 1995 version of a town centre.

This turns out to be a 1995 version of a town centre.

Built to look like the Victorian Arcade it clearly isn’t.

But leading through to a 'proper' street.

But leading through to a ‘proper’ street.

There's a market here too. Also from 1995.

There’s a market here too. Also from 1995.

Widnes06

But glad though we are to see a market this all feels like a precinct surrounded by car parking. So we feel there might be another town centre somewhere?

We get in the car and drive, feeling that much of this place has been given over to new roads and roundabouts.

We find the main graveyard and crematorium. Always of interest to Sarah.

We find the main graveyard and crematorium. Always of interest to Sarah.

We find Victoria Park.

We find Victoria Park.

And the town's War Memorial.

And the town’s War Memorial.

Also this splendid fountain. Sadly not working.

Also this splendid fountain. Sadly not working.

But dedicated to Gladstone. This has obviously been a wealthy place.

But dedicated to Gladstone. This has obviously been a wealthy place.

And of course it was. With docks, railways and chemical factories.

It looked like this.

It looked like this.

And of course it doesn’t look at all like that any more.

Apart from the occasional surprise view of Fiddler's Ferry Power Station.

Apart from the occasional surprise view of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station.

But it does feel like a place that’s been torn apart and never quite put back together again.

Like, some distance from the place calling itself the ‘town centre’ we find somewhere that actually looks like one.

A set of splendid red brick Victorian buildings.

A set of splendid red brick Victorian buildings.

Including this beautiful Library.

Including this beautiful Library.

And what must have been the Town Hall.

And what must have been the Town Hall.

But the large ‘Victoria Square’ is almost deserted. Cut adrift from the town which once must have clustered around it. We wonder if this lonely Square was a 1995 redevelopment too?

We head for the River.

To the Sankey Canal. Spike Island in the background.

To the Sankey Canal. Spike Island in the background.

Nature in abundance over on Spike Island.

Nature in abundance over on Spike Island.

While Sarah sits by an idyllic, though strangely rectangular pool.

While Sarah cools her feet in an idyllic, though strangely rectangular pool.

Which is in fact Widnes Dock.

And looked like this back in the 1930s.

And looked like this back in the 1930s.

It's still got its Dock Gates.

It’s still got its Dock Gates.

Once the way in and out looked like this.

Once the way in and out looked like this.

Now these are quieter times.

Now these are quieter times.

This will be where the new Mersey Gateway Bridge will soon cross the river.

Though this will be where the new Mersey Gateway Bridge will soon cross the river.

We walk along to look at more ways of crossing from Widnes to Runcorn.

This is where the Transporter Bridge would cross the river, until !961.

This is where the Transporter Bridge would cross the river, until 1961.

More on that in a bit.

Meanwhile Sarah is looking up at not one, but two, engineering wonders of the world.

The 1961 road bridge and the 1868 rail bridge.

The 1961 road bridge and the 1868 rail bridge.

Just beautiful.

Just beautiful.

Through the tunnel under the Transporter Bridge terminal you can walk into the River Mersey, should you so choose.

We don't though.

We don’t though.

Instead we turn for a look around the West Bank, as this bit of Widnes is called.

Instead we turn for a look around the West Bank, as this bit of Widnes is called.

'The Mersey'

‘The Mersey’ – a wonderfully situated pub.

Streets of terraces crowding alongside and even under the bridges.

Streets of terraces crowding alongside and even under the bridges.

And containing the Catalyst Museum, the museum of the towns chemical history.

And containing the Catalyst Museum, the museum of the town’s chemical history.

We’d thought we might go in. But not for £5.95 each, thanks. Museums only cost this kind of money when the Tories have got at them.

Instead we decide to go and look back at Runcorn from the other side of the river.

Across the road bridge and down into runcorn Old Town.

Across the road bridge and down into Runcorn Old Town.

Yes, there’s a whole Runcorn New Town we’re not going to today. We will though, another time.

Down on the Promenade there is the Manchester Ship Canal before the River Mersey. And a whole township of assorted geese.

Down on the Promenade there is the Manchester Ship Canal before the River Mersey. And a whole township of assorted geese.

And this view of Widnes, where we've just been.

And this view of Widnes, where we’ve just been.

The Widnes end of the old Transporter Bridge.

The Widnes end of the old Transporter Bridge.

The Runcorn end was here.

The Runcorn end was here.

This Transporter Bridge, on its last day, in 1961.

This Transporter Bridge, from the Runcorn side, on its last day, in 1961.

We walk under the bridges here on the Runcorn side.

We walk under the bridges here on the Runcorn side.

Neither of us have ever been down here before.

The road bridge gets more beautiful the more you look at it.

The road bridge gets more beautiful the more you look at it.

Engineering or art? What's the difference.

Engineering or art? What’s the difference.

Here I am, taking that last photograph.

Here I am, taking that last photograph.

Through the arch of the rail bridge.

Through the arch of the rail bridge.

Which looks like this if you turn around.

Which looks like this if you turn around.

And again, terraced housing clustering in roads sliced up by both bridges.

And again, terraced housing clustering in roads sliced up by both bridges.

It looks beautiful. But we both wonder what it must be like to live here?

It looks beautiful. But we both wonder what it must be like to live here?

This church, built into this arch of the rail bridge 20 years after the bridge was constructed. Splendidly eccentric.

This church, built into this arch of the rail bridge 20 years after the bridge was constructed. Splendidly eccentric.

Stragely this part of Runcorn is called South Bank. Even though the opposite bit of Widnes is known as West Bank.

Stragely this part of Runcorn is called South Bank. Even though the opposite bit of Widnes is known as West Bank.

Whatever, they’re both beautifully curious places and we loved having a good walk around both of them.

Then, as in all good stories of good days out, we went home.

Then, as in all good stories of good days out, we went home.

The End.

14 thoughts on “Our day out: Widnes & Runcorn

  1. robertday154

    I’m assuming that, at £5.95 a go, the Catalyst Museum wasnlt exactly packed.

    I’ve just looked at their website (http://www.catalyst.org.uk/), and their corporate partners are many and varied. And rich. You would think, wouldn’t you, that if they wanted to encourage an interest in and understanding of the chemical industry, educate people as to its role and encourage youngsters to get interested in the chemical industries and possibly even inspired by them, they’d put their collective hands in their collective pockets and fund it so that it was cheap – if not free – to get in. The objectives of the place should demand a high level of subsidy from the corporate partners to attract punters.

    That’s what we’re being told the idea of corporate participation and sponsorship of the arts and humanities is about. The things people want, they should pay the going rate for; those are the simple laws of supply and demand. The things that the people should have, whether they know they want them or not, should be provided collectively Whether that collective is public or private, I’m not all that fussed as to which, IF everyone is agreed that the public good is served. I understand that was the Victorian idea of corporate responsibility, which was good when it happened. It’s only because it only happened sporadically and unevenly that the state decided that it was too important to be left to chance.

    Instead, here we’re seeing something that looks suspiciously like a tax dodge and some corporate social responsibility window dressing. Not impressed.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Robert. Interesting to hear your ‘tax dodge’ theory.

      In fact it was closed today, a Monday, even though checking on their website on our way, they’d said it was open. It looked a bit ‘dusty’ though somehow. Like it’s not overwhelmed with visitors. Which really it should be.

      Reply
    2. Alan Creevy

      Apropos of nothing, except the mention of the Catalyst museum… I used to edit the Cheshire Police newspaper, the name of which was changed to ‘Catalyst’ by order of the then Chief Constable. A short while after the name change, Catalyst museum wrote to me to point out that Catalyst was the name of their museum and would I kindly like to consider changing the name of the newspaper to avoid any confusion? A short note back explaining that as their Catalyst was a museum and my in-house newspaper was an in-house newspaper, there probably wouldn’t be much confusion. This seemed to get them off my back. Boring, but true.

      Reply
      1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        Yes, people are funny when they think they own a word. Did they write to all local schools getting them to take the word Catalyst out of their chemistry text books?

        Anyway, bet you didn’t charge £5.95 for a look at your magazine!

  2. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool)

    I went to the Catalyst Museum just after it opened, with my school, in about 1992 and loved it so much I made my dad take me back in the summer hols! It was the first interactive museum I’d ever seen. I learned more about the history of the chemical industry than got inspired by it, but I am surprised now I’m older and more cynical that it’s not free, considering the PR possibilities. There must be sufficient demand to ask people to pay. It reminds me of Sellafield Visitor Centre, which IS free unsurprisingly, because PR is exactly what it’s about!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, we went to the Wylfa visitor centre on Anglesey last year. And of course it was free.

      Given Astra Zeneca is a major sponsor of the Catalyst I don’t think they need our 5.95s.

      Reply
  3. Erika Rushton

    Brilliant thanks Ronnie. I am copying a colleague Jeff in who Works over in Runcorn as I thought he might like the end of your post. And I wonder if we might tempt you on one of your walks to meander around Castlefields one day – Jeff knows it better than most and it could benefit from ‘a sense of place’ Erika

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply
  4. David Sparks (@dsparks83)

    The old town hall and library development is much newer than the ’95 morrisons and town centre bit, although the original market in Widnes was just behind the old town hall before it moved. There also used to be the Queen’s hall theatre near there which was knocked down in the not too dim and distant past either. I think the victoria square was supposed to produce a bit of a night life area but the bars there keep closing and reopening so it’s not exactly booming.

    As for the Catalyst museum it was the destination of many a school trip when I was younger, good views from the glass walled top floor, a pity it wasn’t open when you went.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi David, yes I suspect we might have grumbled but paid and gone in if the Catalyst had been open. Despite objecting to paid entry museums.

      And thanks for the information on the order of things in the 2 town centres. Did you grow up in Widnes?

      Reply
  5. David Sparks (@dsparks83)

    Yep, not too far from Victoria park that you visited. There’s some fun stories behind that park as well, decisions made only to be reversed years later.
    The fountain was relocated to the town hall many years ago before more recently being moved back. The pond was filled in for health and safety reasons (I think) leaving a boggy bit of grass, before being dug in again in recent years. I have to say though it’s much nicer than it was when I was younger, plenty spent on it.

    Reply
  6. Donna

    Hi, I’ve just read your account of your day out to Widnes and Runcorn, it brought back many memories as Iived in Runcorn New Town 1983-2001, and my mums’ family hailed from Dittton. Yes Widnes was redeveloped a lot in the 1990’s-prior to Greenoaks, the land on which it now stand was a brownfield site, and the main shopping run was between the current ‘town centre’ and the Town Square. The main road was Victoria Road, where Asda now stands-the Asda replaced the Halebank store that had been there for decades, employing many generations of Widnesians. The current Asda stand on the site of Simms Cross school, an imposing Victorian building-the lintels over the entrance for ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ are displayed outside the Asda store as a nod to what was there before. In the Town Square, behind the building which you rightly identified as the former Town Hall was the original outdoor and indoor market, which had a separate building for fishmongers. When the market was moved to the new premises it lost something, and as you say the town centre feels very fractured. It’s a shame as Widnes had a very distinct identity of its’ own, and the orginal market was renowned for bargains. Re the Fountain at Victoria Park, David is right that was in front of the Town Hall for some years. I have a family connection with the park, as my maternal grandad was a gardener there from around 1945 to his death in 1963, so I always feel a strong connection with that park. Very recently the former ICI building from the 1930’s on Waterloo Road (the Waterloo Centre) has come down to make way for the Mersey Gateway, which is another landmark lost. Widnes and Runcorn have a very distinct atmosphere to them, and the New Town even moreso-plenty of green space and some stunning beauty spots, but again is so fractured with a seperate New Town centre that there is no real sense of cohesion. Thanks for blogging this-if I may recommend a route from Old to New Runcorn, following the Towpath alongside the Bridgewater Canal will take you past some interesting sights, and if you follow it to Preston Brook you will pass Norton Priory Museum. Halton Castle is also worth a look, it has stunning views and an interesting history. Thanks again for this and other blogs, always interesting and bittersweet reading, thank you :o)

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for all these memories and information Donna. And for the route from Runcorn Old Town to New Town. Definitely walk that one day.

      And glad you’re enjoying the blog generally.

      Reply

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