An Introduction, and Weston Point before the School came
Before I start I'll give you a little bit of my background so that you know where I am coming from. I am a Runcornian and am proud to say it. I was brought up in York Street. We went to Camden chapel. My father was Charlie Millinger, who worked at ICI. He was a bit of a character, so much so that at the first governors' meeting I attended at Weston Point when I took over as head, it was mentioned that my father was Charlie Millinger. One governor, whom I won't name, sat back on his heels and said "Oh, I remember him - he taught me to swear". This is how you start your new job!
I've always been interested in history. I studied history at college and recently I've been particularly interested in Weston Point. The trouble with Weston Point is that it's always subsumed with everything relating to Runcorn. No extra mention is made of it; it's Weston and Weston Point - more often than not it's Weston primarily and Weston Point is an add-on. But Weston Point has a very complex history of its own. On taking over the headship of the school, the staff and I decided that the children should know about the rich history of the area in which they lived, and particularly about Weston Point. To this end, we spent a training day at the County Archive offices researching the school's history. We found maps going back from pre-1800 right the way through to about 1981. These show the development of the settlement, from nothing to a few farms and cottages, and right the way through up to the development of the big factory that became ICI. On the oldest map, right back in the beginning, it shows all the tithe land belonging to the Orreds and the Alcock brothers. Next is the map of the area of Runcorn Township. This is round about the early 1800s-1811, I think. In Higher Runcorn there were fields and quarries and by the river there were basins and docks. Weston Point had a basin and nothing else apart from a few houses.
In 1670 they discovered rock salt in Cheshire and started to mine it, that was the basic raw material of the chemical industry. Runcorn was described at that time as 'a sleepy hamlet'. Weston Point was mostly agricultural land. From 1722 there were large stone quarries which gave some employment and the rest of the inhabitants were employed in agriculture.
In 1792 Runcorn was said to be a 'considerable town', but it can really be deemed little more than a village. In 1795 the average wage was £6.6s a year, and by 1815, the time of the Battle of Waterloo, the average wage was £9.9s. The people prospered because they grew potatoes here; the salt marshes were very good for potatoes. At the start of the industrial revolution, canal building began in the area, the Bridgewater Canal was built, the Weston Canal and the Weaver Navigation followed, and gradually more and more people moved into the area. I tell you this because I think the way the school developed reflected very much what happened in Runcorn, Weston Point and Weston. The school mirrors the highs and lows, if you like, of the area.
By 1841 there were 550 people living in Weston, by 1851 it had increased to 650 people. These were quarry men and navvies, who were digging the 'cut'. All their households were expanding and they all had plenty of children. This in the days before compulsory education; you didn't have to be educated. The nearest schools were in Runcorn. There was a private Day School in Higher Runcorn. There were private schools in the old town, but there was no school at all in Weston Point; and the population was increasing.
The Weaver Navigation Company, who built and maintained the Weaver Canal linking Weston Point with Northwich, was quite paternalistic, they wanted to look after their workers. So what was the first thing they built? They built a church - never mind a school - they built the church first. That was Christ Church on the island, which is, thankfully, still there. The church on the island was built and paid for by the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation. They decided to build it there, "rather than purchase expensive land in Weston". It was a handsome Gothic structure. The Weaver Navigation Company was keen to improve its workforce, so they built three churches along the canal for the accommodation of watermen navigating the river. It didn't matter where you were 'up the cut', on a Sunday you could go to church. The company made sure of that. They paid for the incumbent, who was a Mr Samuel Bagnall, B.A. He resided in the parsonage, which was a neat little building next to the church. In 1841 the area had expanded, they had a church and a parsonage, and a B.A., no less, taking the services. When the church was officially opened on Christmas Eve by the Bishop of Chester, it became the only church in Britain to be built on an uninhabited island. Now, some will argue with this, but it is actually on an island between the river and the canal.