LIKE Michael Portillo with his Bradshaw’s Guide, I am looking at the town’s history from the Victoria County History, compiled around 1900.

This time Hardshaw, our town centre, which is within Windle (a separate story). 

Conveniences for the growing town were supplied through the 19th Century with a gas company incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1832; and in 1844 water pipes were laid in the town. 

Market sheds launched in 1843, with a market hall in 1850 and a covered market in 1889.

A town hall was built by an association of ‘proprietors’ in 1839, but this burnt down in 1871 with the present public hall built and opened in 1876. 

Other key dates saw a charter of incorporation granted in 1868, with the 150th anniversary being celebrated this year. 

The town became a parliamentary borough in 1885 and a county borough in 1889, with a borough police force established in 1887. 

The area comprised Hardshaw, parts of Windle and Eccleston, and the whole of Parr and Sutton and the population in 1901 was 84,410.

A public library and technical school was built and presented to the town by Sir David Gamble in 1896.

Meanwhile, the St Helens Hospital, established in 1873, and the Providence Hospital, opened in 1884. 

There are several parks in the area, the principal being Victoria on the north, opened in 1887, and Taylor on the southwest, opened in 1893 with the cemetery at Windleshaw.

The town had an uninviting aspect, with factories rearing a forest of tall chimneys, shafts, kilns, and other weird constructions, and the fumes of acids and smoke of furnaces rendering the atmosphere almost unbearable to a stranger. 

The soil is mostly clay, which in the north-westerly part of the district produces crops of wheat, oats, and clover.

On trade and manufacturers, the collieries were prominent. Glass-making, for long the principal trade, began in 1773, and copper-smelting about the same time. 

The Pilkington works were the largest glass manufactory in the world. Meanwhile, the great chemical works began in 1829 with an iron foundry established as early as 1798. 

And the area’s breweries can be traced back with a malt kiln at Dentons Green in Windle having existed in the early 18th century.

Of course the earliest mention of St Helens chapel by this name dates back to the 16th Century, in the inventory of church goods made in 1552. The chapel was re-built in 1816 as St Mary’s. 

And a school was built in the chapel yard in 1670 by John Lyon of Windle. 

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church of England began services in 1863; the church built in 1868. 

The Wesleyan Methodists and the Primitive Methodists each have two churches, and there is also a Methodist Free Church, with another Congregational chapel in Knowsley Road. 

The Baptists have three places of worship in St Helens: Central, built in 1849; Park Road in 1869; and Jubilee in 1888 and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists have one chapel.

Quakers have long had a meeting place, registered in 1689 and the Christian Brethren also have one.

Roman Catholicism retained numerous adherents in the district, the first record in 1693 when Mary Egerton of Hardshaw Hall bequeathed £4 to Gerard Barton, so long as he helped the people in and about Hardshaw. 

Soon afterwards Blackbrook House in Parr became available. And when the Scarisbricks ceased to reside at Eccleston Hall, the chapel closed, but Winifred, widow of former owner John Gorsuch Eccleston, built Lowe House church as compensation, opened in 1793. 

Aside from a brief interval, it has been in charge of the Jesuit fathers, who also serve Holy Cross Church, built in 1862. 

The church of the Sacred Heart was built in 1878.

Meanwhile, the ruined chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury at Windleshaw, popularly known as the ‘Windleshaw Abbey,’ stands about a mile from St Helens, the grounds in due course used as a burial place by adherents of the faith. 

In 1824 adjoining land was purchased by Sir William Gerard, whose son in 1835 added a plot of land to the burial ground.

In 1861 the St Helens Burial Board acquired adjacent ground for a public cemetery. There is a well, known as St Thomas’s, about 300 yards from the ruin with water said to be good for sore eyes. 

An ancient cross on three steps stands beside the chantry; on it the date 1627.

By 1800 St Helens was a small town, comparable with Ormskirk. A Saturday market was established ‘by custom,’ and two annual fairs, on Easter Monday and Tuesday and the first Friday and Saturday after September 8.