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Early history of Widnes

There is little evidence of any early human occupation of the area although a flint arrowhead was discovered at Pex Hill, suggesting there was some human presence in the Stone Age. Roman roads by-passed the area but some Roman coins were found where the Ditton railway station once stood. In the 9th century Vikings had invaded the country and Widnes was at the extreme south of the Danelaw. The River Mersey derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon maeres ea, which means boundary river, the boundary being that between the Danelaw and the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Following the Norman conquest, William the Conqueror granted the Earldom of Lancaster to Roger de Poictou who in turn granted the barony of Widnes to Yorfrid. Yorfrid had no sons and his elder daughter married William FitzNigel, the second Baron of Halton. On Yorfrid's death the barony of Widnes passed to that of Halton. A Norman church was built in Farnworth. Its date of origin is uncertain but it is likely that this was around 1180. In 1507 a grammar school was established in Farnworth with an endowment from Bishop William Smyth. Until the middle of the 19th century the area consisted of the scattered hamlets of Farnworth, Appleton, Ditton, Upton and Woodend. Nearby were the villages of Cronton and Cuerdley.

In the 1750s the Sankey Canal was constructed. This linked the area of St Helens with the River Mersey at Sankey Bridges, near Warrington and was in operation by 1757. It was extended to Fiddler's Ferry in 1762 and then in 1833 a further extension to Woodend was opened. In the same year the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway was opened. The railway connected St Helens with an area in Woodend which was to become known as Spike Island. The termini of the canal and railway were adjacent and here the world's first railway dock was established. Despite these transport links and the emergence of the chemical industry at nearby Runcorn and elsewhere in the Mersey Valley, the Industrial Revolution did not arrive at Widnes until 14 years later, with the arrival at Spike Island of John Hutchinson.

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