Runcorn Silver Jubilee Bridge
Runcorn gains its name from the Anglo Saxon for a wide cove or bay and is situated on the south bank of the Mersey.
There have been Bronze Age finds at both Runcorn and Weston Point, but little evidence of any Roman occupation. In the ninth century Princess Aethelfleda built a line of forts between Chester and Manchester in order to guard Mercia against invasion and one was situated at Castle Rock in Runcorn. The settlement appears to have been razed by the Normans and does not appear in the Domesday Book, except as a dependent manor of Halton. The baron of Halton built a motte and bailey castle on Halton Hill in the eleventh century and the Runcorn ferry was founded in 1178. The second baron of Halton established a house of Augustinian Canons in 1115 which was later moved from Runcorn to Norton. Norton Priory was upgraded to an Abbey in 1391 and it survived until 1536. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was sold to Sir Richard Brooke who took down the church and created a house from the other buildings. A further Georgian house was demolished in 1928 and, following excavations, Norton Priory was opened to the public in 1975.
In the fourteenth century weekly markets and annual fairs were being held in the town, but the surrounding area remained predominantly agricultural. Halton Castle became a prison in the sixteenth century and, during the Civil War, it was taken successively by both the Parliamentarians and Royalists. The castle was subsequently dismantled by the Parliamentarians in 1646 and the ruins still survive. By the eighteenth century Runcorn was a small port which was isolated from the main turnpike road network. The town's fortunes were changed in 1776 when the Bridgewater Canal was extended to Runcorn. This led to the building of a dock for the transfer of cargo and industry started to develop in the surrounding area. Further improvements to the canal network in the following 30 years meant that Runcorn's port handled large quantities of salt, coal and clay bound for Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester and Cheshire.
In the early nineteenth century Runcorn attracted visitors as a spa town but rapid industrialisation meant that this had ceased by 1840. At this stage, the town's main industries were quarrying for sandstone, shipbuilding, engineering, tanning, soap and chemical production. The Runcorn Railway Bridge was opened in 1868, which further improved accessibility, and a brine pipeline was constructed between Northwich and Weston Point in the 1880s to serve the chemical works. The building of the Manchester Ship Canal increased Runcorn's population (mainly due to an influx of construction workers) and its opening in 1894 meant that ocean-going ships could use the port for the first time.
The chemical and tanning industries became more important in the second half of the nineteenth century and the three Runcorn firms using the Leblanc method for alkali production became part of the United Alkali Company in 1890. In 1901 the population of Runcorn was 16,941 and shipbuilding had declined, leaving the main industries as tanning, soap, stone and chemicals. The construction of the Transporter Bridge in 1905 linked Runcorn to Widnes and provided the first road crossing of the Mersey before Warrington. In 1926 Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was formed from four chemical companies and this ensured that chemicals continued to be Runcorn's primary industry, particularly with the gradual decline of tanning. The opening of the Runcorn Road Bridge (now the Silver Jubilee Bridge) in 1964 improved communications across the Mersey and this was extended to four lanes in 1977. Runcorn was desigated a new town between 1964 and 1979 which meant an additional 33,500 inhabitants and the building of new estates to accommodate them.
Weston Point docks saw a surge in cargo handled in the 1960s before its decline and closure in the 1980s. ICI's factories were sold off in the 1990s and the main site now houses The Heath Business Park. There has been a major shift away from manufacturing to service industries, primarily because of easy access to the motorway system, and 78% of the population in 2004 had service jobs. Halton became a unitary borough in 1998 which drew together Runcorn (from the Cheshire side of the Mersey) and Widnes (from the Lancashire side). The population of Halton was 118,215 at the last census in 2001 and it is the most densely populated area in Cheshire with 14.9 people per hectare.