A Brief History of the Birchwood Area
Before 1246, Risley belonged to Culcheth, a British name meaning “backwood”, or “a retreat in a wood”.
It was on the death of Gilbert de Culcheth, in 1246, that his estate was divided between his four daughters. One daughter, Ellen, married one of the sons of Hugh de Hindley, and took on the name of Risley. The couple took over the part of the Culcheth estate that was called Risley.
The Risley family lived on the estate until 1736, when it was sold to the Blackburne family. In May 1853, the Blackburne family sold the estate to Richard Watson Marshall, who appears to have spent a lot of money on building, drainage, and other improvements.
In 1872, following the death of Richard Watson, the estate was sold to H&R Ainscough, who were noted breeders of horses. It was shortly after this date that the British Moss Litter Company took over the tenancy of Risley Moss, for extracting peat.
At the turn of the century, Risley was a typical, small farming community. The focal point of the area was the village, situated close to where the A574 now crosses the M62. There were 30 tenant farmers on the Risley estate, as well as a school, a chapel, a blacksmith, and a wheelwright.
The estate was again sold in 1907, to a Mr Thomas Jackson, a Corn Miller from Bolton. He did not live on the estate and it was put up for auction in 1920, when a Mr John Benson of Wigan purchased it. It remained in his ownership until 1938.
World War II broke out in 1939, and it was bought by the War Ministry. Risley was a flat site, often shrouded by mist, making it an ideal location for the new Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) as it would be hidden from enemy aircraft. Over 1,000,000 mines and 500,000 bombs were assembled here. The “Grand Slam”, a 22,000 lb bomb, which sank the German ship ‘Tirpizt’, was built at Risley.
The workforce was taken from a wide area. There were ex-miners from Leigh, as well as women from many parts of the town and country. A hostel was opened at “Newchurch Hall” for Irish women. This area is now an industrial estate, and is situated near Culcheth.
In 1946 the Admiralty took over the site, and in 1956 the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority bought part of the site.
In 1972, when the New Town was developed, the concrete bunkers were demolished, but because of the close proximity of the Universities' Reactor, explosives could not be used. After the demolition of the Ordnance Factory and the formation of the New Town, Birchwood Forest Park was created. The playing fields are about a metre higher than the surrounding land, because the bases of the 16 bunkers could not be demolished without using explosives, and so they were covered with a layer of topsoil.
The site of the wartime ordnance factory became the launch pad for a new community, bringing people from Greater Manchester, Merseyside and further afield to live in Warrington. Birchwood was created!
Great care was taken by the Warrington and Runcorn Development Corporation to create ‘a healthy and interesting environment, which would provide employment, good quality housing, shopping and community facilities, a place of character where things have been designed on a human scale’.
Birchwood comprises of three villages: Locking Stumps, Gorse Covert and Oakwood each of which has its own village square, public house, shop, primary school and community facility.
Today, Birchwood is a thriving community, at the intersection of two of the busiest motorways in the country. The Birchwood Park has become one of the largest business centres in the North West, and continues to expand to this day.
The information for the history of Birchwood was extracted from, "Look At Birchwood", written by the pupils of Birchwood C of E Primary School, and "Risley - The Historical background" written by H.Henshaw. We are most grateful for the information provided.
Additional historical information can be found on the website of Brian Tuohey, a local resident and keen historian, who has kindly given his permission to provide a link to his website, where this information is available. Click here to read more about "Rural Risley to Bustling Birchwood - A Journey Through Time.