Friday, 24 November 2017
Volunteer Stories: Wandering and wondering about Warrington
Kath and Joan didn't know each other when they began volunteering here, they are now a crack team and firm friends, having worked their way through 2,764 (and counting) Warrington Borough Council building plans - removing old acidic envelopes, repackaging, inspecting and cataloguing - making them searchable and accessible for the first time. Here they reflect on their experience ...
It usually seems that the rich and powerful leave the better preserved records and artefacts. This is not always the case in the drawings for planning permissions granted by Warrington Borough Council in the early 1880s. It is the less well-off doing their own drawings on rougher quality paper whose records are usually better preserved. The architects used tracing paper for the block plans, ground plans, elevations and sections for the better off clients. Unfortunately, as Angela, one of the conservators here explains ‘Transparent papers do not age well and are often found in poorer physical condition than non-transparent papers of the same age. They were exposed to acids, impregnated with oils or manufactured with over-beaten fibres to give them their transparent qualities. Oxidation and acid hydrolysis will cause discolouration and cause the paper to become brittle and prone to cracking.’ Fortunately, the main architects of Warrington, William Owen, Robert Curran, and Pierpoint & Adams, usually write an accompanying letter which contain the salient facts - where, what and for whom. A glimpse of social mobility is provided during this period when John Wright from his letterheads moves from being a builder to an architect in the town.
Planning permission provides a fascinating snapshot of the development of Warrington in the late 19th century. There are applications to build new streets of terraced houses which have to be built in accordance with the local bye-laws, brick built, slate roofed and with drainage to sewers as well as with closets in the yards. 'To be drained as shown with glazed socket drain tiles laid with proper fall and clay puddled joints into the present nine inch sewer in Porter Street' (1882, Mr William Hewitt). Bathrooms and indoor closets are the preserve of the rich in the borough. Yet James Parkinson wants to convert a kitchen and lumber room to a photographic studio complete with dressing room, preparing room and darkroom and an indoor closet in 1883. The names of the developers and landowners are a fascinating mix of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ men of Warrington: a map drawn up in 1882 of the land owned by the Honourable Leopold W H Powys shows numerous new streets with no names available for leasing to builders in Little Sankey. The names of the developers including John Appleton and William Porter keep on reoccurring.
Applications for planning permissions not only provide information about the architects, builders, and the landowners but also reveal how the borough was developing otherwise. Schools are being built or altered; some include a house for the teacher as well as the separate girls’ and boys’ entrances, classrooms and playgrounds. Is it a case of desperate measures in a very last-minute application to build two closets at Bank Street School before the “schools open again on Monday next.”?
Entertainment is also provided for: an application was received from Mr Harmston for a temporary erection of a circus tent in 1881 complete with side elevations and a ground plan showing the seating, an orchestra pit and stabling (above). In 1883 Mr Brinsley Sheridan applied to construct a new theatre on Scotland Road (below).
Commercial premises also reflect new standards, when in 1883 a new fish warehouse had to comply with the standards laid down by the Local Board of Health. Even the man who converted his front room and bedroom above to a temporary stable and hayloft had to make sure that there was no direct access to these new features from the rest of his house.
Talking of stables, there is no greater contrast between the rich Captain Sylvanus Reynolds’ substantial architect-designed brick built stable house with accommodation for the coach man and four horses and the distinctly less wealthy Mr W Owen wood shippon stable for four horses to be built on waste land off Ellesmere Street as shown on the rough sketch drawn by him which comprises his planning application.
There is also evidence of the growing wealth of women, who owned property and were active in its development or alteration at a time when married women’s possession (and they themselves) were the property of their husbands. Mrs Ann Jackson applies for permission to build a slaughter house and stable in Church Street, and Mrs Harriet Woods owns houses on Church Street and a druggist shop on the corner of Church Street and Orchard Street and more cottages on Orchard Street and wants to build a warehouse between the druggist and the cottages.
Finally, just to prove that there is nothing new in the current fashion for artisan coffee, Mr Geddes wants to build a new warehouse at the junction of Peter Street and Market Street for his coffee roasting room and shop.