2018 will be a year that we will acknowledge and reflect upon the history and heritage of St Helens.
St Helens has a rich a varied past. It is also a place that can boast many firsts.
It’s a place that launched a household pain killer, was home to a famous music conductor, a playwright and a Prime Minister. It was the birthplace of the railways and the first industrial canal in the world. It was the first town to be twinned in Europe – with Stuttgart at the end of the Second World War, when the then Mayor of St Helens, Walter Marshall, became the first British civic leader to visit Germany after the war. He went to offer help to a city in ruins.
What makes a place like this? A place that helped build Liverpool. A place that became one of the glass capitals of the world.
Secrets in the soil
The answer lies beneath your feet – coal. Rich seams of it. Spurred on by the coal greedy industries created by the industrial revolution, scattered hamlets and small communities merged into a manufacturing metropolis. The thriving industries of Liverpool and the Cheshire salt mines needed all the fuel they could consume – and once the Sankey Canal opened in 1757, supply accelerated. The canal also provided for raw materials to be shipped in to St Helens. With this transport revolution came more industry, jobs and population growth.
And so this continued until the early 1980’s when the coal mining industry in St Helens and elsewhere in the UK started to collapse as the UK government maintained that deep mining of coal was no longer economically viable as demand for coal decreased. One by one the pits of St Helens shut, until the last remaining colliery, Parkside, in Newton le Willows, finally closed in 1993.
Coal had fed the local industries but glassmaking would make the town a world leader.
Owing mainly to the abundance of coal reserves, the quality of local sand, and the availability of salt in nearby Cheshire, glass making is known to have been going on in St Helens since the 1600. However, it was when the Pilkington Brothers developed the manufacture of flat glass that the region became the market leader for glass. In 1887 Windle Pilkington went on to built the world’s first continuous glass making furnace, and a century later in 1959 Alistair Pilkington developed a new way of making flat glass, known as the Float Process, and cemented the Pilkington family’s fortune.
Thomas Beecham and his son Joseph made a living selling herbal pills and potions in the local markets. The Beecham’s were great believers in the power of advertising. By 1884 they had advertised in over a thousand British papers, as well as using billboards, handbills, gimmicks and stunts to sell their Beecham Pills. They opened their first factory in St Helens in 1859, and the business expanded under Joseph, who twice became the Mayor of St Helens and was knighted in 1911. His son Thomas decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps, instead he became a world famous conductor – Sir Thomas Becham. Beecham’s has now merged with other companies to become the global pharmaceutical company – GlaxoSmithKline – although it still sells its Beecham’s cold and flu remedies.
Ex Terra Lucem
Roughly translated from Latin ‘Ex Terra Lucem’ means ‘From the earth, light’ and was the motto of St Helens from 1876. In 1974 it was changed to Prosperitas in Excelsis, which means ‘Flourishing Well’.
The original motto Ex Terra Lucem paid homage to the rapid growth of the town during the industrial revolution. This motto was also a large influence on Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
In 2013 the motto was restored to the towns crest by consent of the Local Authority.