A town with Roman origins that developed through Saxon settlement into a medieval market town with an important textile trade. There are several places that come to mind but I suspect the places that come to mind don’t include my destination this week.
Perhaps its Palladian Town Hall, rated by Pevsner as the finest late 18th Century home in South Lancashire. South Lancashire? Probably not where you had in mind. This is a region famed for its industrial heritage and the industrial revolution really brought prosperity to the area.
The town hall was originally the private home of merchant Thomas Patten, but this elegant property and some of its surrounding grounds were sold to the borough council a century later, the grounds becoming the town’s first public park. Sadly the public toilets in the same grounds are more indicative of the more recent fortunes of Warrington.
Now mention Warrington to me and I think of Rugby Union, and the team which has the unique record of being one of the founder clubs and the only one who has never slipped out of the top league. Or rather that was the first thing that came to mind about this Merseyside town.
That all changed twenty years ago when the town was rocked by the explosions of two bombs planted by the IRA. This came just a month after a gas holder was bombed in the same town which caused enormous damage but no casualties, though a policeman was shot and injured after stopping the bombers’ van. Sadly the second event was more tragic.
The two bombs were small, and planted in cast iron waste paper bins in the town centre. The warnings given at the time are in dispute, but whatever the truth, Warrington was not the focus of police efforts to save lives. The location and timing of the two bombs in Warrington meant that shoppers fleeing the first explosion were driven into range of the second, a tactic frequently used by terrorist bombers since.
The cast iron of the bins was turned to shrapnel and caused carnage. Dozens were injured, but it was the death of two children that made the event notorious. Three year old Jonathon Ball died in the explosions, but 12-year-old Tim Parry, who suffered the full force of the blast died in hospital a few days later when his life support was ended.
People react to such attacks in a variety of ways. In Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitaries predictably sought revenge, but this was eclipsed by a number of peace campaigns including that of Tim’s parents who began a campaign to promote greater understanding between communities in Britain and Ireland. Now those efforts have a physical presence. A large timber clad building in Warrington that bears the names of the two victims in now an international centre promoting peace and conflict resolution.