This is a study of the infrastructure of Warrington and it’s surrounding area in the immediate post World War II period. It was surrounded by airfields, munitions factories, and military camps representing all 3 services plus the US Army. It’s location was ideal, close to the Liverpool docks, good rail links, (and the Manchester Ship Canal), a large industrial base with everything from cardboard boxes to tank parts being produced here as well as all the chemicals needed for soap and explosives. It was about as far as you could get from occupied Europe but this didn’t stop it from being bombed and the airfield at Stretton was originally built for the fighter defense of Liverpool and Manchester. I grew up at Winwick in the 60’s and lived opposite an old gentleman who’s wartime duty was fire watch from up the Winwick church tower. From there he could see the flames from raids on Liverpool and Manchester. Warrington itself was bombed in September 1940, Warrington Museum’s local history site has some details of this on www.warringtonmuseum.co.uk/local-history/warrington-at-war-1939-45
Risley (Birchwood) 1947 I’ll start with the area I live in, the site of the Risley R.O.F. filling station No 6 August 1939 – 3.8 Km² of heath and mossland was compulsorily purchased, draining and construction began. Site chosen because of it’s remoteness but easy access with rail links both to the north and south, and, it was an area usually covered with low cloud and mist and so was hard to see even in daylight. Notice the dedicated rail link to the Manchester-Wigan branch line from Newchurch Halt on the present day Culcheth linear park. The stream on the right of the link is still there and marks the route of the pathway from the Warrington east M62 junction to Culcheth, a derelict WW2 nissan hut can be seen from this path. There was also a ‘halt’ on the Liverpool-Manchester line where Birchwood station is today. Both lines were used for moving materials and bringing in workers September 1940 – Bomb production starts February 1941 – Construction completed As a filling factory Risley received explosives in bulk from other ROF’s then filled them into various casings to produce the finished munitions. These were kept in storage bunkers to await dispatch, four of Risley’s bunkers survive in Birchwood Forest Park but access is not possible January 1946 – Site taken over by Directorate of Atomic Energy production (DATEN) as headquarters for the production of fissile material for use in Britains nuclear bombs. The Culcheth rail link still being used to bring in workers from Manchester. 1954 – HQ site expanded with the formation of the UKAEA to establish a civil nuclear power program alongside the military one. Workforce at this time was 20,000 increasing to 40,000 in 1963 1963 – Entire area disused and put up for sale 1965 – First batch of UKAEA apprentices enrolled at Risley (see http://www.enuii.org/risley/ ) I was in the 1968 intake. The last was in 1989 and the main apprentice training school building was finally demolished in March 2014 1968 – Site bought by Warrington and Runcorn Development Corporation and Birchwood new town development started. This was then the largest derelict industrial site in Europe and the rubble produced by it’s demolition was enough to build the large mounds around the north of the site, the largest becoming Pestfurlong Hill and, although originally flat moss land Birchwood continues to become quite bumpy with the landscaping of the Risley landfill sites to become new mountains in recent years. There are a few signs of the ordnance factory remaining, the 4 overgrown and filled in bunkers on Forest Park and the defensive pill box on Delenty Drive. Also many of the roads are named after military characters eg, Admiral’s Road, McCarthy Close, or objects, eg Ordnance Ave., and Barham, Vanguard, Centurion and Nelson were all the names of Battleships. Roads around the Risley science come from it’s nuclear physics past – Faraday St, Cavendish Ave and Daten Ave. The Noggin Inn survived all these changes but not as it was. The great thing about pubs back then was most had an ex-army nissan hut in the back where we could party and make a lot of noise without disturbing the other drinkers. The one at the Noggin was very popular for live music, folk and heavy rock, naturally making it a great bikers pub. Then a new landlord decided he wanted to attract more office workers from Risley and got rid of the hut as well as banning all bikes from his car park, it wasn’t just there, other pubs stopped farm workers from coming on their tractors, closed the bar sides and banned working clothes. Pubs were changing.
Croft – HMS Gosling Also collectively known as the RN Aircraft Training Establishment, Risley, HMS Gosling was opened in July 1941 as the training depot for Air Fitters, Mechanics and Radio Mechanics for the Fleet Air Arm. Also Royal Marines of the RNAS Defence Force were trained here. It consisted of 5 dispersed camps:- Camp 1 – New lane, Croft (at Eaves Brow) HQ and admin. centre Camp 2 – Risley (on the site where Risley prison would be built in 1960) Camp 3 – Lady Lane, Croft (substantial remains until 2014 when it was demolished for housing development) Camp 4 – Lowton (this one is interesting to me because in the bottom left corner of the map are the Sovereign Confectionery Mills where my mother worked for a few years until it closed, (weekly treats for us kids) before she took a job at Winwick Hospital until retiring) Camp 5 – Glazebrook (Cadishead)
Some of its facilities were tasked with for the conversion and outfitting of specialist radio and radar vehicles for use by RN Mobile Operating Navy Air Bases (MONABs). This was the last unit to leave the Risley complex (then HMS Aerial II) in the mid 70’s in what is now the Trident industrial estate. Camp 3 Lady Lane was adapted into a transit hotel by the Americans in the 50’s. This was for personnel and families arriving at ‘the gateway to Europe’ – Burtonwood, it’s facilities, ie Club and Cinema, were very popular amongst Croft locals. information from http://royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk and ‘Burtonwood’ Aldon P. Ferguson, Airfield Publications
Padgate Camp No3 RAF Depot Padgate was the national recruit training centre for the RAF during and after World War II. It opened in April 1939 and by 1943 it’s weekly intake was 1500. The group of buildings in the top left hand corner was the barrage balloon depot, see http://warrington.photomag.co.uk/padgate-raf-padgate-warrington-balloon-depot/balloon-site-1946/ It continued after the war with National Service recruits, including Bruce Forsyth who remembered being marched to the camp from Padgate station on one of his game shows. In fact, I spoke to many people who remembered being at RAF Padgate when I mentioned that I was from Warrington. It finally closed in 1957 and there were still a hurricane and spitfire on the main entrance in the early 60’s when we used the camp as a playground, (hide and seek was great there) As with Risley the remaining clues to the area’s past are the road names on the housing development that covers the camp area, Insall Rd from it’s commander, south of this all base names eg Catfoss, Gosport and Valley, and to the north, all aircraft names eg Lysander, Harrier, Vulcan, Victor and Valiant. Have a look at http://www.jazznorthwest.co.uk/padgate.htm and http://www.qaranc.co.uk/nationalservice.php for some great tales and pictures from the 50’s
Culcheth – HMS Ariel Royal Navy Air Training Establishment (RNATE), Culcheth or HMS Ariel was established in October 1942, at first under the admin control of HMS Gosling, for the technical training of RN and WRNS radio mechanics. It consisted of 3 camps, Ariel West at Culcheth, East at Newchurch and South in Warrington. The RN archive site www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/FAA/Bases/Culcheth.htm#.V77KhVsrK70 lists Ariel South as being near the Chester road swing bridge at Walton but I can’t find any sign of it on the 1947 OS maps. I had a reply to an enquirery to the RN research site saying that it was on the road from Culcheth to Warrington at Risley which would place it at the NW of the ROF site where the Trident Industrial estate is now. Radio and radar repair and maintenance was started in 1944 and this was continued in Ariel South until the 70’s. West and East camps were closed in 1952 and soon the establishment of the civil atomic energy program at Risley meant vast numbers of new workers required accommodation in the area. Temporarily, this was solved by using the Ariel camps while new permanent housing was built, increasing the size of Culcheth dramatically. A hostel (now private flats) and sports club were built on Ariel West site. The club was purchased from the UKAEA in 1998 and became ‘Culcheth Sports’ which still Displays the HMS Ariel crest and has an Ariel lounge, for the complete history see http://www.daten.co.uk/club-history. The ‘Little London’ part of the site was then used by the UKAEA for some fuel test experiments, I spent some time there as an electrician in the mid 70’s. That, and the remaining parts of the camps became housing developments and the Taylor industrial estate. I was at Culcheth secondary school (same site as Culcheth High) in the mid 60’s in the original buildings which still had its air raid shelter outside, ‘smokers corner’! Culcheth Hall had been demolished in the 50’s but it’s avenue of tree’s was still there. A fascinating history of Culcheth can be found on www.culcheth.org/history1.htm
RNAS Stretton – HMS Blackcap The runway layout at Stretton is that of a RAF airfield rather than FAA, this is because when construction was started in 1940 it was needed for the fighter defense of Merseyside and Manchester but this Blitz was over before it was completed and the RAF first loaned it to the Admiralty who took over completely and commissioned it as HMS Blackcap in 1942. The 3 main areas were the airfield for flight operations, to the north was the RN aircraft maintenance yards and eastwards was the Fairey Aviation hangers. Faireys also had a single building factory on Wildespool Causeway in Warrington that is now the Network Warrington bus depot. These hangers, the main runway and some other buildings are still there. After the war, Stretton was the collection point for thousands of surplus aircraft and their scrapping led to some Warrington scrapyards becoming a mecca for aircraft and engine parts and to a thriving aluminium industry in the town. The main communal area was where the Young Offenders Institute is now. Wrens were accommodated in Grappenhall Heyes on Lumbrook Lane, Grappenhall Hall on Church lane, now a special school and Springfield which was the Wren’s sick bay. Post war, Stretton was extremely busy as a training and maintenance base and the home of the RNVR until it’s closure in 1958. Just south of Stretton, at Wildacre Farm, can be seen the remains of Northern Radar, Antrobus which had a massive job in controlling all the Merseyside, Burtonwood, Stretton and Manchester air traffic in the 50’s and 60’s, see www.rafburtonwood.org/northern.html and http://nwex.co.uk/showthread.php?t=6400 for info and pictures. Information for HMS Blackcap from ‘Cheshire airfields in the second world war’ by Aldon Ferguson.
Burtonwood airfield and base complex
This 1947 map of the Burtonwood base area, the layout of which which has obviously not been included, the same for goes for RNAS Stretton. Detailed layouts of military installations were obviously not allowed on maps that were to be offered for sale to the public for security reasons. ROF Risley was not in use by this time so was detailed
1938 – Site selected by the RAF as an aircraft repair depot and aircraft storage unit and construction started. April 1940 – Opened as No 37 MU and Burtonwood Repair Depot (BRD site) under the control of Fairey Aviation who also began operations on the Mary Ann Site. These were also used for training RAF personnel on US airframes and engines. April 1942 – Burtonwood selected by the US Army for the repair and maintenance of US Aircraft and the 1st American units arrived in June. May 1946 – Control handed back to the RAF 1948 – The Berlin Airlift and the Americans return 1951 – Massive extensions until 1957 1958 – end of flying operations by the USAF, battle commenced between the NCB who wanted to mine coal under the runway and the RAF who didn’t want to give up one of the longest runways in the country. Hard standings for 4 V-bombers were constructed along with facilities for their crews for dispersal operations 1965 – RAF formally takes over occupancy, airfield status “active when required” 1967 – General de Gaulle quits NATO and orders the US Army out of France. so the US Army re-occupied the base facilities as Burtonwood Army Depot one – BAD1. Runway is now unfit for flying operations but RAF cadet gliders and US Army helicopters still operate there. 1972 – M62 constructed on the runway, Mining subsidence forms depressions in it’s otherwise flat surface. 1993 – the cold war is over and the US Army run down BAD1 and evacuate. 2009 – last major buildings are demolished, some remain, see ‘Lancashire at War’s’ excellent page on http://www.lancashireatwar.co.uk/raf-burtonwood/4589011296
My first encounter with aircraft came from Burtonwood, growing up on a farm in Croft and then in Winwick village we were on the flightpath. A flight of B36’s landed when I was 4 years and the noise scared the life out of me, though long, the runway could only take B36’s lightly loaded so one circled Manchester all night burning up fuel. 3-4 years later I was at school at Winwick when Vulcans dropped in occasionally on dispersal excercises and my fear went through fascination to obsession.
For the full Burtonwood story see Aldon P. Ferguson’s Airfield publications ‘8th Air Force Base Air Depot ‘Burtonwood” and ‘Royal Air Force Burtonwood’ 50 years in photographs, and the RAF Burtonwood Association at http://www.rafburtonwood.com/
Penketh Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery
Moore Lane Camp
Widnes POW camp and AA Battery
Warrington – town centre
Warrington had a massive industrial base, steel wire, iron castings, aluminium, leather, chemicals and paper to name a few and so had been responsible for producing everything from guns to cardboard boxes during the war. It was also a major hub for rail and water transport and the map shows numerous rail tracks and canals with links to the river and ship canal. The two main lines are still in use, the closed lines and former canal routes are now linear parks or footpaths providing very nice off road access to most of the town. The Howley Lock and the remains of the Paddington Lock can still be seen from the newly revamped riverside walk from Bridgefoot to Woolston New Cut. To the west the Sankey Valley park contains part of the St Helens canal. You can go south from Latchford to Stockton Heath on the route of the Black Bear section of the Runcorn Latchford canal. Sustantial remains of the Warrington dock are on the path by the Ship Canal towards Walton and the last warfs that I can remember on the Mersey were at Thames Board Mills (marked as ‘Mersey Works’ on this map) about where the village hotel is now.
1086 – Doomesday book lists Warrington as a ‘small village’ and the Normans built a wooden castle here around this time. 1258 – First reference to a bridge at Warrington 1292 – A small town with a population of several hundred, also the Augustinian Friars arrived in Warrington around this time. 1495 – Stone bridge built over the Mersey 1526 – Sir Thomas Boteler leaves tne money for the Grammar School 1539 – Friary closed by Henry VIII 1642 – The Civil War, Warrington (population 2000) was important because of it’s bridge, was seized by the Royalists but only until May 1643 when the Parliamentarian army laid siege and captured it. 13 Aug 1651, Battle of Warrington Bridge, one of the last battles of the war June 1834 – First Warrington Walking day 4 Oct 1853 – RMS Tayleur launched from the Vulcan (Tayleur & Co) Foundry yard at Bank Quay. The largest iron merchant ship constructed at that time she was built for the White Star Line and, like her successor the Titanic, was lost on her maiden voyage with large loss of life. 1872 – Excavations following the demolition of old cottages for the widening of Bridge Street reveal the foundations of the 13th Century Friary Church in the area known as Friars Gate. 1891 – Orford (Penisula) Barracks opened 29 March 1894 – Dugout canoe found in the mud of Arpley Meadows near Walton Lock 14 Sept 1940 – Thames Board recreation field bombed during a fete, many civilian casualties 1974 – Boundary changes move Warrington from Lancashire into Cheshire