St Helens

St Helens wikiHistorically part of Lancashire, St. Helens grew during the 19th century as a significant centre for Coal mining and Glassmaking. Today, St Helens is still very much an industrial and commercial town, its urban area having a total population of 176,843 at the time of the 2001 census.
World of GlassThe St Helens Borough covers roughly 30 sq/km over an area of soft rolling hills used primarily for agricultural purposes, mainly pastoral. The highest point in the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens is Billinge Hill, 3.75 miles north from the town centre. The town is landlocked with a stream running through, Mill Brook/Windle Brook running through Eccleston and connecting with the (disused) St.Helens Branch/Section of the Sankey Canal in the town centre. St Helens is around 160 feet above sea level.

As late as the start of the 19th century, St Helens did not exist. It was formed from the townships of Eccleston, Windle, Parr and Sutton, townships of the parish of Prescot which became civil parishes on their own in 1866.

St Helens takes its name from St Helen's Parish Church in Hardshaw, within Windle. The parish church was rebuilt in 1816 and rededicated to St Mary. However, after the church was rebuilt between 1916 and 1926 following a fire, the dedication returned to the historic "St Helen, St Helens".

St Helens was built both physically and metaphorically on coal: the original motto on the borough coat of arms was "Ex Terra Lucem" and local collieries employed up to 5,000 men as late as the 1970s, whilst during the boom years of the British coal industry (1913 being the peak year of production with 1 million employed in UK mining) the St.Helens division of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation (the local miners' union) had the largest St Helens Roofsmembership (10%) of that federation. Owing primarily to the abundance of winnable coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt and the transport revolution -- first the Sankey Canal and then the railways from 1830 onwards -- a glass and chemical industry was established in St Helens. The Sankey Canal was opened in 1757 to transport coal from the pits in Haydock and Parr to the River Mersey. An extension to the canal (the St.Helens section) was made in 1775 linking the canal to St Helens. In the 1830s, the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway was built for the same purpose.

Its clock tower originally had a steeple but this was destroyed in a fire in 1913. In the centre of the modern town centre, adjacent to St Helens Town Hall, is the Gamble Institute, built in 1896 and named after Sir David Gamble, who was the first mayor and who also gifted the land for the building. Today, the Gamble Institute building serves as the central library and also houses other municipal offices and archives. Other buildings of note are the Friends' Meeting House, the Beecham Clock Tower - which is now part of St Helens College - and St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church. The town, and old county borough, included the suburbs of Clock Face, Sutton and part of Windle.

The glass industry is no longer the major employer it once was, however it still employs over a thousand people in St Helens. The large Pilkington Brothers works, founded in 1826, dominates the town's industrial quarter and still produces all the UK's output of flat glass.

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