Warrington Walking Day the 'biggest church parade in Cheshire' (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 11:24 05 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:56 20 February 2013
Patrick O'Neill goes walkabout with the 4,000 citizens that make Warrington Walking Day the 'biggest church parade in Cheshire' <br/>Photography BY John Cocks
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THEY streamed though the Golden Gates like an army of pilgrims on their way to preach peace and tolerance to all men. And, briefly, I tagged along beside them following in the footsteps of what is arguably the biggest church parade in Cheshire.
Knutsford has its May Day, Chester its Race Days, but Warringtons Walking Day is just as impressive. Because it is an act of faith that for one day at least men (and women) of goodwill can walk together without rivalry or rancour.
Warringtons Golden Gates have a special significance here. The 4,000 walkers from 25 churches of all denominations close the town centre as they march with their banners and bands. They begin at the Golden Gates, originally designed for Sandringham Palace but rejected by Queen Victoria. She was not amused to see them displayed next to a statue of Oliver Cromwell who signed the death warrant of her ancestor, Charles I. (Warrington, amusingly, also has a statue of Cromwell donated to the town in 1899.)
The gates were presented to Warrington on Walking Day in 1895. They were presented by Councillor Frederick Monks and a monk was among the guests of honour this year. Brother Alfonso, a Benedictine monk, had made the pilgrimage from Tanzania to join the parade of parishioners, priests, prelates, ministers and even a pipe band on a golden day for the town that aspires to be a city.
Warrington plans to spend 3.5 billion over 25 years to turn the town into the best place to live and work in the UK and act as a counter-balance to the giants to its east and west, Liverpool and Manchester.
Plans include a dynamic Waterfront City Centre, a Bridge Street Quarter, 5,800 more affordable homes and a network of green spaces, waterways and parks. There are also plans to transform Walton Hall and its estate into a regional visitor destination including the creation of a golf academy, restoration of outbuildings and a new high quality hotel, conference and banqueting centre.
And guests at the new centre may well meet the residents of Walton Hall Zoo - African pygmy goats, Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, a breeding project for endangered red squirrels and Bobo, a donkey with 2,000 friends on Facebook.
Having swapped the guinea fowl at the zoo for the penny farthing at the Cycle Museum (which I reckon was 1/1s/1.25d well spent) I met curator Paul Adams who was gearing up for the Knutsford Great Race on September 5th. Its a gruelling event held every ten years, challenging 50 teams from around the world, riding Penny Farthings to cover the greatest distance in three hours. Fifty penny farthings: thats a whole 5s/2.5d by my reckoning.
Talking of old money I then popped into Dawsons, where a penny whistle now costs around 4, to meet manager Damien McMullen who has worked for Warringtons iconic music business for 11 years. Established in 1899 Dawsons claim to fame is that they sell all things musical to all types of musician. They also run music schools and their MD David Briggs has been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire.
Among his stated aims is an intention to help young people realise their potential and make their dreams come true. And 25-year-old Emma Kelly is doing just that.
She is creating a centre at Bank Quay House which combines food for the soul with a bistro for the body. Developers Python Properties, like the TV series that inspired them, are aiming for originality and to celebrate the work of local and regional artists. The aim is to complement the regeneration of Warrington while helping to attract new people and businesses to the town. Paintings, prints, photographs and piping hot coffee, its a winning combination.
Meanwhile down at the Golden Gates, George Muffler, 89 was preparing to walk for the 84th time alongside Ellie Reid aged three. Eighty six years separated them, but on Warrington Walking Day, thats just the wink of an eye.
Warrington is the eighth most popular office location in the UK and has the fifth highest earnings.
The statues at the Golden Gates are of Nike the goddess of Victory.
Which of course is the name of Queen Victoria who rejected them because they stood next to a statue of Oliver Cromwell.
Warrington's Suez, Egypt and Cairo Street date from the time when the local regiment fought against Napoleon in Egypt.
Lewis Carroll, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, visited Warrington with his father who was rector of Daresbury church.
The River of Life Sculpture is a memorial to victims of the terrorist bombing of 1993.