What’s New and What’s Old in Runcorn and Widnes

Yesterday I picked up friend Ann from her home in Widnes and we’re now spending a few days ‘Sleeping with Books‘ at Gladstone’s Library. After my two-night stay last year I thought it would be interesting to spend a few days in the area and in particular to visit Chirk Castle, which has been on my ‘list’ for a long time.

Widnes is only just over half an hour from Hawarden (home to Gladstone’s Library) and Ann wanted to show me a few sights in her local area. Our first stop was to view the new bridge, The Mersey Gateway Bridge, currently edging its way across the River Mersey.

We crossed the current bridge and over in Runcorn made our way through unlikely housing estates, roadworks and a large light industrial/business estate to the amazing Norton Priory which I had never heard of but which would easily constitute a whole day of exploration and interest.

The Priory Ruins Today

The site has been recently reopened following an extensive renovation programme.

Norton Priory is the most excavated monastic site in Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, its brand new £4.5m museum tells its 900 year story, displaying hundreds of medieval and later period objects discovered during the extensive archaeological digs. Visitors can explore the medieval undercroft and priory ruins or venture further into the surrounding woodland to discover secret summer houses and stream glades.

Also at Norton Priory is the stunning 18th century Walled Garden which offers orchards, a fruit garden and a beautiful rose walk, surrounded by woodland and a wildflower meadow. The gardens are open all year around.”

A voucher from my English Heritage Handbook allowed us two-for-one entry and the lady volunteer who welcomed us at the desk gave us an enthusiastic brief history and explanation of the site. We managed, in a short time, to visit both exhibition halls, the Undercroft, the ruins and gardens and the 18th century Walled Garden.

Towering within the reception area is the sandstone statue of St Christopher, probably sculpted in 1391 it looms over the far end of the hall.

The twice life-size statue is one of Norton Priory’s greatest treasures. It is internationally significant as an outstanding piece of medieval colossal sculpture. It was carved from local red sandstone from Windmill Hill. It can be dated to the period 1375-1400 by the style of the carving. It is likely that it was made when the priory was raised to abbey status in 1391. The statue was originally painted in bright colours.

And here is an artist’s impression of the priory when it was filled with the “greatest variety of mosaic tiles found anywhere in Britain.”

Many of the treasures found during years of archaeological digs and research are beautifully displayed in the new Museum Exhibition Hall.

The original priory Undercroft has survived and we were able walk through this cool space into the gardens and ruins.

Finally, the Romanesque Arch. This archway is one of the oldest surviving parts of the priory. It was built in the 12th century, but was originally sited elsewhere, probably as a door between the cloister and church. It survived intact and was moved here when the Brooke family built this entrance porch in 1868 …

… this Victorian copy was added to give the porch symmetry.

We had a quick walk round the Georgian Walled Garden which, incidentally, houses the National Collection of Tree Quince (Cydonia Oblonga).

Which seemed a suitable place to buy a jar of Quince Marmalade. Can’t wait to try it!

As we set off for Gladstone’s Library we noticed this at Norton Priory.

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