St Helens owes it’s existence due to it’s location on the South Lancashire coal field & an abundance of raw materials that supported other industries.
The towns motto is Ex Terra Lucem, meaning “From the Ground Light”. The rapid population growth was due to the industrial revolution of the 18th & 19th centuries St Helens didn’t exist as a town till the late 19th century.
Coal mining and glass making being the most notable industry’s, Pilkington, United Glass Bottles, & Rockware, amongst others, employed thousands.
Arable farming has always been a feature in the rolling land surrounding the town. It also boasted a cotton and linen industry which petered out in the mid 19th century. Salt, lime and alkali were also produced
Kurtz & Gamble owned chemical works. Leathers also had chemical factory. Iron foundrys such as Dalglish, Woodcocks, and Varleys thrived in the town. Sidac had a factory in the town for many years
Copper smelting grew on the side of the newly built Sankey navigation, processing ore mined in Anglesey & thrived for a many years from 1771 – 1815.
Greenhalls owned a now long gone town centre brewery, closed in 1975 to make way for the Hardshaw Centre
BICC in Prescot was a major employer, producing copper cable. In its heyday employing 10,000 in it’s Prescot factory, now long gone.
Beechams was also a major employer in St Helens before being taken over by Smithkline and production moved to another site.
The newly built (1829) Liverpool to Manchester railway also contributed to increasing trade in the town & within a few years the track was extended to St Helens & Wigan. Being the first railway it also had the misfortune to record the worlds first railroad fatality, William Huskisson MP, was in collision with Stephenson’s Rocket & subsequently died from his injuries.
Up until 1842 boys & girls some as young as 6 were employed underground in the mines, labouring for 10 to 12 hours a day 7 days a week for low pay. The mines and collieries act of 1842 prohibited children under 10 being employed underground.
The mines were a very dangerous and dusty, black lung disease (pneumoconiosis) being an occupational hazard.
Haydock Queen pit disasters. Two explosions December 1868 and July 1869 rocked the Haydock mining community to the core. This is documented in a book “With hearts So Light” by Ian Winstanley
The Haydock Wood Pit disaster of 1878 saw 198 men and boys killed and injured in an explosion caused by methane gas, known to the miner as “firedamp”.
Firedamp wasn’t just the miners enemy. In 1984 the Abbeystead disaster happened when party of 44 visitors were inside a newly completed underground pumping station operated by North West Water. Methane from nearby mine workings seeped into the building causing an explosion 16 men, women and children died and the others were badly injured.
The conditions in the factories were no better, the chemical works took a
terrible toll on the health of the workers, rotting lungs, blistering the skin and blackening teeth causing them to fall out.
The pollution from the chemical works was an environmental disaster, hydrochloric acid
was produced as a by product to the alkali & having no commercial value it was dumped
polluting the ground & water courses, killing all the aquatic life.
The St Helens Kurtz chemical factory explosion 1899. A massive explosion caused when 70 tons of chemicals caught fire & exploded killing 5, injuring 137, causing widespread devastation to property and setting fire to the nearby gas works.
Most of the chemical production was gradually migrated from St Helens to nearby Widnes by 1919.
Roughdales bricks in Sutton, now gone
The Royal Ordinance factory at Kirkby made munitions for the war effort 2 separate explosions there took the lives of 16 and injured 11