WITH a history of villages and settlements dating back centuries, the formation of St Helens has had a complex and long-reaching history.

Named after the 'Chapel of St Elyn', St Helens was not officially known as a town until 1868 when neighbouring villages were joined together to improve living and working standards.

Many settlements around St Helens were originally part of other areas, until the town grew with industry to become a much-wider borough and more areas became part of its authority.

As St Helens enters its 156th year as a recorded town, here is a brief history of how the town and neighbouring areas came to earn their name and grow into the places they are today.

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St Helens

St Helens Star: The town of St Helens grew around its central chapelThe town of St Helens grew around its central chapel (Image: Gary Bridge)
The early history of St Helens consists of small groups of dwellings that centred around the Chapel of St Elyn, which was first recorded in 1552. The central church lasted for centuries until a fire in 1916 and rebuilt as St Helens Parish Church ten years later.

Four primary villages of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton, and Windle grew around the old church, and the town was officially christened St Helens after the chapel and saint in 1868, following various iterations such as St Hellins, St Hellens, and St Elyns.

Following concerns about the living and working standards in factory towns, St Helens became a county borough in 1887 which gave it two representatives in Parliament, and it grew as an industrial force due to its mining, chemical, engineering, and glassmaking industries.

St Helens became a metropolitan borough in 1974, and subsumed areas such as Haydock, Newton-le-Willows, Rainford, and Rainhill under its new setting of Merseyside.


St Helens Star: Parr Street in the 1960sParr Street in the 1960s (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
Originally part of the 'West Derby Hundred' district in the 12th century, which was a section of South Lancashire with West Derby as its centre, the manor of Parr was held by Baron William Dacre two centuries later.

The area was divided by two local families documented as 'Halsall de Parr and 'de Parr', with the Halsall family associated with the area for several generations. The family later changed their name to Parr and one descendant was Sir Thomas Parr, the father of Henry VIII's final wife Catherine Parr.

The final descendant of the family, William Parr, died without an heir and the land was conveyed back to the crown.


St Helens Star: Sutton Manor pit in 1974Sutton Manor pit in 1974 (Image: Gary Conley)
The name of Sutton is believed to have come from 'Sudtun' which is the Old English for south town.

Along with other townships such as Eccleston and Rainhill, Sutton used to form part of the Barony of Widnes and then under the large parish of Prescot.

The Sutton township included Peasley Cross, Marshalls Cross, Clock Face, Ravenhead and Sherdley, and was transformed from a woodland area to a thriving community thanks to the rich discovery of coal in Sutton Heath around 1540.


St Helens Star: Eccleston Hall in the 1900sEccleston Hall in the 1900s (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
While Eccleston means church farm or settlement, there does not seem to be a church in the area until the late 18th century. It is therefore suggested that the name is connected with Prescot which has had a church for more than a thousand years.

As well as its history under the West Derby Hundred and parish of Prescot, Eccleston was also composed as part of a Widnes 'fee' under the ownership of a Knight or Earl.

Despite its early records, studies have remarked on the lack of prominent settlements in Eccleston, and the land was passed down from descendants of Hugh de Eccleston who historically owned much of the township.


St Helens Star: Windleshaw Chantry in 1960Windleshaw Chantry in 1960 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
With its name derived from 'Windy Hill', Windle was first recorded as 'Windhull' in 1201 and 'Wyndhill' in 1320, and originally fell under the land of Warrington Barons until at least 1585.

The Manor of Windle was divided between local families such as Alan de Windle, and transferred from the West Derby Hundred to the district of Prescot Parish, and later into St Helens.

Built in 1415, Windleshaw Chantry remains the oldest structure in St Helens, while Windle Hall was built in 1782 and leased to William Pilkington in 1795, which was lived in by the glassmaking family until 1998.


St Helens Star: Newton's High Street in 1900Newton's High Street in 1900 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
First recorded as 'Neweton' and believed to mean 'new town', Newton has been historically known as both 'Newton-le-Willows' and 'Newton in Makerfield' to differentiate it from other towns of the same name.

The town has been documented since at least the 12th century and was also part of the West Derby Hundred in southwest Lancashire. The area was designated as a parliamentary borough between 1558 and 1832, and the 'Newton-le-Willows' name was solidified as an urban district in 1939.

Newton grew around the country's first modern canal with the Sankey Canal, and later the Liverpool to Manchester railway.


St Helens Star: Earlestown Town Hall in 1980Earlestown Town Hall in 1980 (Image: GL Company)
Historically part of Newton-le-Willows, Earlestown was named after Sir Hardman Earle, who was the Chairman of the London and North Western Railway in the 1800s and bought up shares in the Liverpool to Manchester railway.

As Newton-le-Willows has held a market by Royal Charter since the 14th century, the market moved to its current Earlestown location in the 1890s where it has remained ever since.


St Helens Star: The former Haydock Park railway station in 1906The former Haydock Park railway station in 1906 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
First recorded as 'Hedoc' in 1169 and 'Haidoc' in 1212, the land of Haydock was divided between Hugh and William de Haydock from 1212.

Originally under the parish of Winwick, Haydock expanded rapidly as it became one of the country's richest areas in coal mining, containing up to 13 collieries at one time.


St Helens Star: The former Rainhill Hospital in 1974The former Rainhill Hospital in 1974 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)

Thought to derive from an Old English name of Regna or Regan, the earliest known reference of Rainhill is in 1190 when Richard de Eccleston granted the settlement or 'vill of Raynhull' to his brother Alan.

Originally under the Widnes 'fee', Rainhill became famous as the site of the Rainhill Trials in 1829, in which several locomotive trains competed to decide the best design to be used on the new Liverpool to Manchester railway.

The trials were won by George Stephenson's 'Rocket' which has since become a symbol of Rainhill.


St Helens Star: Rainford's Mossborough Hall in 1960Rainford's Mossborough Hall in 1960 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
Rainford is also believed to have come from the Old English name of Regna, or something similar, with the first mention of the village recorded in 1189.

The village has been a major manufacturer of clay smoking pipes in the past, as well as a location for sand excavation for use in St Helens' glassmaking factories. It has been consistently used as an area for farming and agriculture.


St Helens Star: Billinge Hill in the 1960sBillinge Hill in the 1960s (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
Billinge was founded around 550 AD by the Varini tribe, whose leading clan the Billingas gave the village and its first ruling family their names. 

The village was first recorded as Bylynge in 1251, and remained as an isolated community for centuries until the rise of St Helens and Wigan as industrial centres.


St Helens Star: The gates of Garswood Hall in 1960The gates of Garswood Hall in 1960 (Image: St Helens Local History & Archives)
Believed to come from the Old English words of 'fir wood', Garswood was formerly known as Seneley Green, the parish in which it lies today.

Founded by Robert Byrchall, Seneley Green became the site of Ashton-in-Makerfield Free Grammar School, which was the first free grammar school in the area. The building has since been demolished but is now the site of Garswood library.

Garswood has been used as an extensive farming and mining site in the past, and was part of Ashton-in-Makerfield until boundary changes in 1974.