|Area: 30 kmē|
St Helens is a town in the metropolitan county of Merseyside in North-West England, and within the historic borders of Lancashire. It gives its name to the metropolitan borough of St Helens, and is the largest town within it. The population of the town is 102,629 and that of the larger metropolitan borough 176,843.
As late as the start of the 19th century, St Helens did not exist. It was formed from the townships of Eccleston, Windle, Parr and Sutton, townships of the parish of Prescot which became civil parishes on their own in 1866.
St Helens takes its name from St Helen's Parish Church in Hardshaw, within Windle. The parish church was rebuilt in 1816 and rededicated to St Mary. However, after the church was rebuilt between 1916 and 1926 following a fire, the dedication returned to the historic "St Helen, St Helens".
Sankey Canal, also known as St Helens CanalThe town was built both physically and metaphorically on coal: the original motto on the borough coat of arms was "Ex Terra Lucem" and local collieries employed up to 5,000 men as late as the 1970s, whilst during the boom years of the British coal industry ((1913 being the peak year of production with 1 million employed in UK mining)the St.Helens division of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation (the local miners 'union) had the largest membership (10%) of that federation. Owing primarily to the abundance of winnable coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt and the transport revolution -- first the Sankey Canal and then the railways fom 1830 onwards -- a glass and chemical industry was established in St Helens. The Sankey Canal was opened in 1757 to transport coal from the pits in Haydock and Parr to the River Mersey. An extension to the canal was made in 1775 linking the canal to St.Helens. In the 1830s, the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway was built for the same purpose.
In 1868, St Helens was incorporated as a borough, and was then made a county borough in 1889. The Town Hall was built between 1872 and 1876. Its clock tower originally had a steeple but this was destroyed in a fire in 1913. In the centre of the modern town centre, adjacent to the Town Hall, is the Gamble building, built in 1896 and named after Sir David Gamble, who was the first Mayor and who also gifted the land for the building. Today, the Gamble Building serves as the Central Library and also houses other municipal offices and archives. Other buildings of note are the Friends' Meeting House, the Beecham Clock Tower - which is now part of St Helens College - and St Mary's Lowe House Catholic Church. The town, and old county borough, included the suburbs of Clock Face, Sutton and part of Windle. In 1974, under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972, St Helens became the centre of the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens in the newly created Merseyside county.
A major point of debate in St Helens continues to centre around the town's true place within national county boundaries. Many of the town's residents point towards its Lancashire heritage and argue that 'Merseyside', introduced in 1974, refers only to the administrative needs of the town. Some argue that local government reforms in 1974 were repealed in 1986, when Merseyside county council was abolished, or that St Helens has always remained part of Lancashire. Others hold the opinion that the borough did, and still does form part of a county (in the full sense of the word) of 'Merseyside.' A similar discussion continues in other areas affected by the local government boundary changes, such as Southport and areas of the Wirral.
The glass industry is no longer the major employer it once was, however it still employs over a thousand people in the town. The large Pilkington Brothers works dominates the town's industrial quarter although major investment is currently transforming the quarter into a retail and communications hub with former industrial land being reclaimed for use as hotels, shopping areas, and housing. The many coal mines, including Clock Face, Ravenhead, Sutton Manor, Bold, Wood Pit, Lyme Pit, Old Boston and Lea Green, were closed between the 1950s and early 1990s. The last colliery in the modern Metropolitan Borough and on the Lancashire Coalfield, at Parkside in Newton le Willows, was closed in 1992.