Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here. It was a Tuesday lunchtime and we had just spent an hour in the park chasing my ball, chewing sticks and generally running around manically. We went home and I expected to spend the afternoon snoozing, which I love to do. I am a good snoozer. No sooner had we walked through the door than my human said, ‘shall we go for a walk around Widnes, punk?’ He is so cheeky, calling me punk, but I jumped at the opportunity of another walk.
During the lockdown we wrote a short blog about a walk around Runcorn that my dad found on the Halton Heritage site, entitled A Runcorn walk – Meandering and Mysteries. This time we did a walk called A Widnes Walk – Meandering and Mysteries, from the same publisher. It was only a short walk but, the sun was shining, and it was too nice to stay indoors. So, after a short drive over the Mersey Gateway Bridge we arrived in the recommended car park in Appleton Village.
We turned right as we left the car park into Appleton Village, along the side of St. Bede’s cemetery. On the corner of Appleton Village and Deacon Road, opposite the graveyard, is the site of Appleton Quarry. Sandstone from the quarry was used to build the wall at the roadside surrounding the cemetery. We turned right, then right again to head toward St. Bede’s Church, passing the apartments that was once the site of Appleton Lodge. This was the home of John Hutchinson, the founder of the first chemical works in Widnes. His grave is at the side of St. Bede’s Church, a few yards away from his old home.
The walk was starting to look like a stroll around pavements for me. I think that it was one of the big fellers walks and I would not be having a free run. I thought that it was OK though because I had already had a run around earlier and I knew that if I worked on it, he would take me to the park again later. I used to pull on my lead when I was a pup but, my dad says that I am well behaved now when I am on the lead. Really, I am just saving my energy for when he wants to sit on his backside later!
St. Bede’s Roman Catholic Church, a Grade II listed building was directly in front of us, close to the schools of the same name. The church was built in 1847 with money donated by the local Dennett family, who also gifted the land. It is a red sandstone structure with a slate roof, with numerous gargoyles on the door arches and tower. The war memorial cross standing in the grounds commemorates the local people killed in the two world wars.
As we entered Appleton Village again, the area directly opposite us was the site of Francis Heyes Wire Works. On the corner of Appleton Village and Birchfield Road is thought to be the site of Appleton Hall. The hall’s exact location is a mystery but, immediately as you turn into Birchfield Road, the row of houses on the right is called Pineapple Terrace, and it is thought that Appleton Hall had pineapple stoves or glass frames for the cultivation of pineapples. It is said that there is a link here, maybe!
This was the point when my day took a nosedive. My human started to sing again, quietly due to there being people within earshot. ‘Agadoo’ was his annoying dirge. Something to do with ‘pineapples’ and ‘shaking the tree’. As soon as he gets something in his head, I have to suffer!
A few yards further along Birchfield Road we came to the Victoria Park gates. The park was opened in 1900 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. As we entered the park we were met by the impressive statue of Thomas Mottershead. The local hero was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 for ‘most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill’ in landing a severely damaged plane in a safe area, costing him his life four days later after being badly burned in the incident.
Another nearby memorial stone commemorates Halton’s three heroes, that have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Thomas ‘Todger’ Jones, Thomas Wilkinson and Thomas Mottershead are remembered on a stone in a well maintained flower bed. Two other nearby stones commemorate Gordon Oaks MP and one commemorating those involved in the D Day landings.
On the right is a large greenhouse, the Butterfly House, that is sadly closed at present. Outside of the Butterfly House is the Gladstone Memorial. The fountain is not in use at present. It was moved from its original position, close to St. Bede’s Church, and has undergone costly refurbishment after it was vandalised. The memorial was erected in 1902 to commemorate the work and life of W.E. Gladstone, one of the country’s famed Prime Ministers.
After a few more steps we came to a milestone that was rescued from a nearby road in Bold after it suffered bomb damage during the Second World War. Two plaques tell the story of how a Zeppelin dropped a bomb in an area that wasn’t the planned target for the air raid. The pilot should have been above Sheffield, but it is thought that due to it being a dark and overcast night and the effectiveness of the blackout, he was way off his target area. Nobody was injured in this bomb drop but seven people were killed in Wigan along with injuries in Wigan and Aspull by further bombings.
Directly behind the milestone is the large Portland stone obelisk of the War Memorial. The Grade II Listed memorial was first unveiled in 1921 to commemorate local people who died in the First World War. The names of those who died in World War II were added later.
We turned right at the memorial, to walk through the formal gardens on the site of Appleton House. The house was built for Henry Deacon, and his stepson Henry Wade Deacon continued to live there when his father died in 1876. The large school nearby was named after Sir Henry. The house was demolished in 1906 but some of the stableyard walls still exist as part of the gardens. The house was used as a hospital for the injured returning from the Boer Wars between 1900 and 1903.
We continued our walk through the park, as we walked past the bowling greens on our right. My dad was tempted to buy a coffee from the café by the bandstand but, it was too busy for him. He can be very impatient. So, we visited the bandstand instead. This is a modern replica of the original Victorian structure. The Foden’s Brass Band used to play on the bandstand in the 1920’s and 30’s and were paid £35 to £40 per performance.
The park was becoming quite busy as the sun shone and a queue was forming outside of the ice cream shop. We passed by it as we headed to the lake in the north corner of the park. The fountain looked spectacular and was in full flow, with the surface of the lake occupied by ducks, swans and other wading birds. The area provides some tranquillity in the busy park, as you look across its water, toward the grassy areas of the open space.
On rounding the lake, we walked into the short woodland walk with its winding wood shaving footpath. The walk is lined by oak, beech, sycamore and horse chestnut trees and is a cool shelter from the warm sun. My dad spotted a grey squirrel on a bench that he photographed. It is fortunate that I didn’t spot it as squirrels are my nemesis. I always chase them but, without success. I am not sure what I would do if I caught one, probably turn and run myself. On the way out of the woodland walk I spotted a large carved squirrel. I had a quick sniff but, its not the same as the real thing.
We walked past the skate park with its huge ramps and past the tennis courts as we walked toward the park exit on Fairfield Road. A short walk along pavements took us back to the car park where we had left the car. We passed the site of Fairfield House once owned by Frederick Guy who, along with James Randle, built many houses in the area. The doctor’s surgery was once the office and shop of Frederick Guy. The quarry behind was managed by James Randle.
We were back at the car and ready for our short journey home on the opposite side of the River Mersey. Victoria Park is a lovely park but with me being a Cocker Spaniel, I had to stay on my lead. There is one small dog walking area where I can run free but, on this day, it was too crowded. It is good to see the parks being used again after the lockdown but, boy was it busy. By the way, I did bet my walk in the park later! Till next time!