5. Medieval Runcorn

History has revealed that the town of Runcorn was a prehistoric settlement well before the Roman invasion. Finds dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages have been found in the area.

At the time of the Roman invasion the inhabitants were a mixture of Bronze Age and Iron Age Celts. The dominant Celtic tribes were given the name Cornovii by the Roman invaders.

In the first century A.D. the well established Romans built roads to Deva(Chester) and to Wilderspool (Warrington). In the fifth century the Romans left and the Celtic culture predominated until the Anglo Saxon invasion who created the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria divided by the river Mersey.

During the reign of Alfred the Great the Vikings invaded Cheshire. Alfred's daughter Ethelfreada, who governed Mercia, granted lands on both sides of the river to the Danes. She erected a number of forts in north Cheshire including one on Castle Rock in the river at Runcorn.

In 1070 the Normans invaded the area and appointed Nigel as the first Baron of Halton. He built the castle on Halton hill and the Parish Church of Runcorn, placing his Seneschal's brother in charge of the Diocese.

In the year 1115 the second Baron, William Fitznigel, founded the Priory of Norton. He built the first Priory to be formed in Cheshire and Norton Priory was the only one to survive for any length of time. The following century King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries including the one at Norton; the Abbot and Canons unsuccessfully resisted and were disbanded.

Some years later the Abbey and church was demolished and the site was purchased by Sir Richard Brooke who built a large Georgian Manor on the site. The Barons of Halton enlarged their estates by their service to the Crown and by marriage the Barony of Widnes became part of the estates.

With the union of the Baronies a ferry across the river became a necessity. A charter was granted in 1178 for a ferry to be instituted between the two towns under the jurisdiction of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. The ferry continued to operate until the building of the Ship Canal.

The Castle of Halton was strengthened by the 14th Baron, John of Gaunt, whose son, Henry Bolinbroke,was the last Baron, ruled as the first Lancastrian King. On his death the castle and grounds were annexed to the Crown.

During the Civil War the Castle was destroyed after a fierce battle between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. The ruins were leased to the Earl of Cholmondeley who rebuilt the Courthouse and Jail. These buildings are now the Castle Hotel.

Writing in the Vale Royal Gazette in 1656 Dr. King wrote "Runcorn is nothing but a fair parish church, a parsonage, and a few scattered tenements" which seemed a fair estimate at the time. But in the next century the situation changed dramatically when the Duke of Bridgewater built the canals to open up a new age of prosperity for the twin towns of Widnes and Runcorn and to their importance to the industrial future of the north west of England.

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