The Harrison Confusion

What connects John Harrison, the inventor of the Marine Chronometer, and Warrington? 

If you’ve used the Google search engine today (3rd April 2018) you may have noticed that the Google Doodle is a picture of clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) who would have been 325 years old today. Harrison was a British clockmaker who famously solved the ‘longitude problem’ by creating  a clock called a ‘marine chronometer’ which sailors could use to calculate their longitudinal position at sea. This was one of the most important navigational aids ever invented and made ocean voyages much safer as a result.

John Harrison’s name has long been associated with Warrington and regularly appears on lists of famous people associated with the town. Some time ago you would have been able to see a picture of his house and accompanying workshop in the museum and heritage guides would point out the site of his premises on Bridge Street. There was even a metal sculpture at the corner of Bridge Street and Friar’s Gate in Warrington paying tribute to the clockmaker and his revolutionary chronometer.

So what connects John Harrison with Warrington?

The answer … sadly … is virtually nothing. There is no evidence the clockmaker even visited Warrington, let alone lived in the town.

John Harrison was born near Wakefield in Yorkshire, the son of a carpenter and part-time clockmaker. Around 1700 the family moved to Barrow upon Humber in Lincolnshire. Fascinated with clocks and watches from the age of 6, John built his first longcase clock in 1713 at the age of 20 but it was for maritime clocks that John would become famous.

Following a naval disaster in 1707 in which four warships along with 550 sailors were lost at sea due to navigational errors a British Board of Longitude was established in 1714 to solve the problem of how ships could accurately calculate their longitudinal position at sea. The Board offered a prize of almost £20,000 (equivalent to almost £3 million today) to anyone who could create a device to overcome this problem and Harrison set out to solve the problem by creating a clock that was not affected by temperature, pressure or damp and could keep the time of the reference place.

In 1730 Harrison presented his prototype to the board who were sufficiently impressed to award him money to develop it further. His first working marine chronometer, nicknamed ‘H1’ was completed in 1736. Although it worked admirably Harrison refined the design at least three more times with the fourth and fifth versions (‘H4’ and ‘H5’) providing the template for marine chronometers that would be used up until the 19th century.

With developments in technology replacing the marine chronometer during the Victorian period John Harrison’s fame faded from view somewhat until two things brought his story to the fore again. In 1995 Dava Soubel wrote a book entitled ‘Longitude’ which brought Harrison’s story to the general public and became the first popular bestseller on horology (the study of clocks). The following year in Christmas special of the popular long-running sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’ the long suffering main characters finally became millionaires after 15 years upon finding one of Harrison’s original chronometers in a lock-up.

Harrison died on 24th March, 1776, a few days before his 83rd birthday. He is buried in Hampstead along with his 2nd wife and son.

So why was John Harrison – a Yorkshireman who lived in Lincolnshire and who died in London – associated with Warrington?

The confusion seems to have arisen during the 19th century – the earliest reference we can find dates back to 1825 – when local antiquaries were compiling lists of famous Warringtonians and John’s name was somehow included for the first time. We do know that there was a Warrington clock-making family led by Edward Harrison working in Warrington as early as 1769 making them roughly contemporary with each other. Our best guess is that some of our 19th century sources confused the two Harrisons.

The “fact” that John Harrison resided in Warrington was generally accepted well into the 20th century but unfortunately it appears to be just a myth.














Lily Florence Waring Suffragist: 1877 – 1966. Activist, Academic, Artist and Author.

Today’s post, about Lily Waring, is the second written by our volunteer Carol relating to Warrington’s links with Women’s Suffrage.

We don’t have a photograph of Lily, so below I have copied an example of one of her paintings that is held at Warrington Museum.

Spring Flowers

I will pass over to Carol now to share some of her findings relating to Lily:




I first came across Lily Waring’s name in the Warrington Women’s Suffrage Society  fundraising cook book and the annual reports 1908 – 1911. Not only was she a speaker at public meetings and a participant at national demonstrations but she held the positions of Honorary Secretary and Press Secretary at the Warrington Society. This was to change when in 1911 Lily was appointed to the official position of National Organiser for the Women’s Suffrage Society.  In her new role she travelled through the UK and this was recorded in the 1911 Census. On a visit to Penwortham in Preston she is described as “Women’s Suffrage Agitator”. On August 17th 1918 I came across a letter from L.F.Waring to the Warrington Examiner on the issue of “Woman and The Vote” in which she outlines her concerns. This letter and the Census description naturally caught my interest and I decided to try and uncover further biographical details.

Whilst carrying out searches I found that Lily was a graduate of Girton College Cambridge. Later she graduated from Cambridge School of Art, Manchester Art College and later studied in Paris. Lily continued her academic and artistic work throughout her life as a teacher, academic author and artist. Her specialism was Serbian Studies and in 1917 her work “Serbia” was published with a preface by the Serbian Minister in London. Set in the context of WW1 this was a work of significance. This work was successful as it was reprinted a number of times.

Lily’s art also received public attention as she exhibited at the Beaux Gallery in London. Her artistic credentials were further enhanced by several of her paintings selling at the Channel Islands Auction House and at Rosebery’s Auction House London, both prestigious auction houses. Lily’s art is still remembered as a number of her paintings are held in the Warrington Museum’s collection.

Lily the author produced poetry and works of fiction which were published in the 1960’s – Landmarks Poems, Their Several Ways a novel set in the North of England and The Demon Seed to the backdrop of WW1.

From the evidence collected it can be said that Lily Waring was a woman who had many talents. Through these she expressed her thoughts and concerns. Lily Waring  is a name to remember.



St David’s Day


As today is Saint David’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to put up a post with a Welsh theme.

There are some Warringtonians of note with Welsh connections, and of course there have been Welsh Chapels in the town. But the item I have chosen to look at today is “Seithinyn” a poem written in 1895 by Robert Anderton Naylor, Timber Merchant and one time resident of Cuerden Hall in Thelwall.

Naylor later stood as the Conservative candidate against Lloyd George at Carnarvon in the 1906 election, but that is a story for another day.

Naylor’s poem takes as its inspiration the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Gwaelod was a land said to have existed where Cardigan Bay now is. The story goes that the district was below sea level, but that the sea was kept at bay by a large wall, the gates of which were swung shut at high tide.

I haven’t the time or space here to do justice to the tale itself, but the basic gist of it is that the man responsible for maintaining the walls and insuring that the gates were closed on time was named Seithenyn. One day the ruler of the land, King Gwyddno Garanhir, held a vast feast at which the people of Gwaelod became so drunk that they fell into insensibility.

Meanwhile, a terrible storm was brewing outside the walls. Here different versions of the story vary, with some suggesting that the gates were left open to the storm tide, or that a hole was broken in the walls. In either case warning bells were rung by the one faithful watchman who had stayed by his post during the feast. But no assistance came as Seithenyn and the citizens of Gwaelod were too drunk to be woken.

Gwaelod was lost to the sea, and all of its citizens were drowned except for the faithful watchman and the King’s daughter who escaped to high land and watched the floods claim Gwaelod.

Local legend has it that on quiet days you can hear the warning bell ringing out across Cardigan Bay.

In the Triads of the Island of Britain, an early collection of Welsh folklore, Seithenyn is named as one of the Three Immortal Drunkards of the Isle of Britain.

It is perhaps not surprising that the story Naylor chose to put to poetry warns of the perils of drinking. He was a well-known teetotaller and an important member of the temperance movement both in Warrington and Nationally. Of course it may be coincidence that he was so taken with this particular fable, but I think perhaps the moral lesson here was too good to miss.

A copy of Naylor’s poem is held in the archives and can be consulted in the Searchroom, its reference number is Wp2050.

Mabel Capper

Today – February 6th 2018 – is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which enabled some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time and paved the way for universal suffrage 10 years later.

To celebrate this we are profiling Mabel Capper, Warrington’s first female journalist who devoted much of her life to the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Manchester-born Mabel Capper came from a family of active suffrage campaigners. Her mother was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union and her father and brother were involved in the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.

Mabel started her career as a journalist at the young age of 10 by editing a manuscript magazine and quickly became the first female journalist on the Warrington Examiner in 1907. Described as the “engaging lady journalist” she actively publicly corresponded with other local newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian, arguing the cause for women’s suffrage.

Between the years 1907 and 1912 Mabel dedicated much of her time to the cause, including taking part in by-elections and protest campaigns throughout the country. She also took part in more militant activities such as the disruption of political meetings and polling stations as well as window-breaking. She was even one of 4 suffragettes accused of targeting Prime Minister Asquith with a bomb in Dublin, a charge that was eventually withdrawn.

Mabel was imprisoned a total of six times and was one of the first suffragettes to be force-fed as the result of a hunger strike.

In 1912 her first play, entitled ‘The Betrothal of Number 13’ was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The subject matter was the stigma imposed by imprisonment, even on the innocent.

Following the declaration of war in 1914, Mabel became a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, later becoming involved with the pacifist and socialist movements. After the war she returned to journalism and worked as a journalist on the Daily Herald.

Mabel married fellow writer Cecil Chisholm in Hampstead in 1921. Following the Second World War she moved to Hastings, where she died in 1966.

Our display ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ celebrating the Warrington women who fought for women’s suffrage runs until 28th April 2018.

Dr Mary Anderson Noble

As you probably know, 2018 marks 100 years since women over the age of thirty gained the right to vote. To commemorate this event the museum has put up a display showing some of the hard work and campaigning that went on in Warrington at the time.

As part of this commemoration Carol, one of our volunteers, has been researching the stories around some of the women campaigners in the town and the struggles they went through in their fight for equal rights.

In this set of blog entries Carol will share some of her findings with you.

Today’s post, the first in the series, looks at Dr Mary Anderson Noble, and from here I pass over to Carol:


Dr Mary Anderson Noble


I thought it would be interesting to see the photograph of Dr Noble as not only we can put a name to a face but we can also consider her role in Warrington during WW1.

Looking at the picture we could make a generalisation. She comes across as a well-dressed and fashionable woman of the period but we can go beyond this.  If we read the headline and the article it is clear that Dr Noble was a key figure in Warrington’s history as she was appointed “Warrington’s First Lady Doctor” at Whitecross  Military Hospital.

Today women doctors are an accepted part of the medical profession but in 1917 Dr Mary Anderson Noble Mb Chb was an exception. Even more impressive was the fact that she was appointed House Surgeon at Whitecross. In 1917 Dr Noble was leading the way as she succeeded in  a male dominated profession and was appointed to a significant position at Whitecross Military Hospital where the “Boys worshipped Dr Noble” (Warrington Examiner – Happy Whitecross 28/04/1017 p5 col 6).

There is one question that I wish I knew the answer to. When she married William C.  Mackie in 1919 did she leave the profession to take up domesticity as women were expected to or did she continue as a doctor and surgeon?

Whatever the answer it is clear that Mary Anderson Noble changed attitudes and expectations.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first of my posts, there are plenty more to come, Carol.

Public asked to help make Warrington Festival bigger and better

Residents are being asked to help make Warrington Festival bigger and better by answering a short questionnaire.

The first Warrington Festival took place in 2015, organised by a board of partners from major organisations in the town including LiveWire, Warrington Borough Council and Culture Warrington.

25 events attracted more than 20,000 people – Pixie Lott headlined an open air gig at Bank Park, with other attractions including the English Half Marathon, a cycle festival, a medieval market and country fair.

2017’s highlights included the RivFest outdoor music festival, Warrington MELA, Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, youth volunteering events and a family mile.

Organisers now hope to make Warrington Festival even bigger and better by asking the public to provide feedback to help enhance the offer for 2018, ensuring it meets the needs and expectations of visitors.

To complete the short questionnaire visit

The closing date for responses is Friday 8 December 2017.

Duo of emerging artists lead Warrington contemporary arts extended programme

Holly Rowan Hesson, Echo (partial view), 2017, projection (looped series of 140 stills for each of six projectors), scaffold sheet, steel structure, webbing, lighting gels, dimensions variable (image credit: Jules Lister)

Holly Rowan Hesson, Echo (partial view), 2017, projection (looped series of 140 stills for each of six projectors), scaffold sheet, steel structure, webbing, lighting gels, dimensions variable (image credit: Jules Lister)

Two emerging artists whose work is currently being displayed as part of Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival (WCAF) are leading an exciting new programme of events and exhibitions.

Ellen Sampson and Holly Rowan Hesson are heading up a new year-long programme of events and exhibitions designed to continue the promotion of contemporary arts after the festival’s Open exhibitions come to a close this weekend.

Ellen has used film, photography and installation to explore the relationships between bodily experience, memory and footwear in her exhibition, Worn: footwear, attachment and affective experience, which is on display now at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

Fascinated as a child by the magical shoes in fairytales, Ellen trained as a shoemaker before becoming an artist.

Ellen Sampson - Worn

Ellen Sampson, Dance, film projection: 9 minutes 30 seconds, Shoes: Leather, copper, cedar, wax, paint, cotton. Image credit: Ellen Sampson)

She said: “By focusing on the shoe as an everyday object, and on the experience of wearing, I explore how through touch and use we become entangled with the things we wear.

“I look at how, through wear, our shoes become records of our journeys and lives, and how the marks upon the shoe, as traces of these experiences, can be read.”

Holly Rowan Hesson’s Echo, a projection and sculptural installation, creates dialogues with materials, memory and the physical space at Pyramid arts centre.

Holly Rowan Hesson, Echo (partial view), 2017, projection (looped series of 140 stills for each of six projectors), scaffold sheet, steel structure, webbing, lighting gels, dimensions variable (image credit: Jules Lister)

Holly Rowan Hesson, Echo (partial view), 2017, projection (looped series of 140 stills for each of six projectors), scaffold sheet, steel structure, webbing, lighting gels, dimensions variable (image credit: Jules Lister)

She said: “Through intuitive and process-led image-making, I create dialogues with material, sites and residual memories.

“This regularly starts with interrogations in specific man-made structures, buildings and physical spaces.

“Exploring uncertainty and transience, my work is concerned with the actual fragility and transitory nature of what seems solid, weighty and permanent, both physically and also in the way things are perceived.

“Using the visual language and formal concerns of abstraction, my resulting sculptural and installation work is multi-layered, often with uncertain depth of focus.”

There will also be a free talk and tour featuring both artists on 24 January, before the exhibitions close on 27 January 2018.

Thanks to support from Arts Council England, Culture Warrington, the charity which runs WCAF, the museum, art gallery and arts centre, is now developing a year-round contemporary arts engagement and development programme, starting with Ellen and Holly’s exhibitions.

By working with partners from across the North West, the charity plans to commission local, regional and national artists to connect with Warrington’s neighbourhoods throughout the year, culminating in WCAF2018.

Maureen Banner, Culture Warrington board chair, said: “While we look forward to Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival as an annual highlight it’s exciting to consider that this year we’ll have a new ongoing programme of events to keep the momentum going.

“With help from Arts Council England we’ll be able to continue bringing contemporary art to a wider audience by creating ambitious and inclusive projects.”


Listings information

Exhibition title: Ellen Sampson – Worn: footwear, attachment and affective experience

Dates: Until Saturday 27 January 2018

Times: All day

Admission: Free

Location: Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, Museum Street, Warrington, WA1 1JB


Listings information

Exhibition title: Holly Rowan Hesson – Echo

Dates: Until Saturday 27 January 2018

Times: All day

Admission: Free

Location: Pyramid arts centre, Palmyra Square South, Warrington, WA1 1BL

Arts festival competition winners announced at packed launch

Robert Watson – Bamburgh

The winners of this year’s Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival (WCAF) Open competitions have been announced at a packed event to mark the launch.

Experienced multi-disciplinary artist Tracy Hill won the Art Open competition with commendations for two pieces of work – a charcoal on Kozo paper called Cognitive Surveillance II and Matrix of Movement II which featured hand-drawn lithographs also on Kozo paper.

Tracy, who lives in Warrington, described her pieces as considering the historical legacy of post-industrial landscapes along the River Mersey and the Hunter River in Australia.

She said: “They explore perceptions of mapping, digital navigation and how we encounter our rural spaces connected with a modern obsession for locating, ordering and fragmenting our experiences.”

Having also been the winner of the first ever WCAF Art Open competition back in 2011, Tracy added: “I have always supported the festival. Since its inception, WCAF has provided an important platform for regional artists of all disciplines and stages of their careers.

“WCAF is a unique opportunity which is key for inspiring the next generation of artists; it is the point in the year when the artistic community come together and show the diversity and strength of creativity in the region.”

Second place went to Francesca Neal, who has just completed her Masters in Fine Art at Manchester School of Art, for her oil on canvas piece entitled Perfformiad.

She said: “It’s great to know there are opportunities available to artists in Warrington and the surrounding area to engage with events like Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, which always has an exciting programme.

“I’m thrilled to be a runner-up in this year’s Art Open.”

The judges commended the standard of entries in both competitions, choosing Robert Watson as the winner of the Photography Open for his picture entitled Bamburgh, a striking black and white image which captures mist rolling across a rocky outcrop.

“I was absolutely bowled over to win,” he said. “I’ve taken pictures all my life as my dad was a keen photographer but this is the first competition I’ve entered.

“I’m both excited and nervous at having won a solo show but I feel like I’m on the first rung of the ladder now.”

Second place went to Harry Horton from Great Sankey for his Girls on Bicycle, Vietnam.

He said he was grateful to WCAF, which is organised by arts charity Culture Warrington, for giving him the opportunity to exhibit his work.

“It was a really nice surprise to finish in second place and I’ll definitely be entering the competition again next year,” he added.

The two winners will each enjoy a solo exhibition next year and a cash prize of £250 to help facilitate their work, while the runners-up won £100.

Entries for the Art and Photography Opens are on display now at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery and The Gallery at Bank Quay House respectively, until Saturday 28 October.

Visitors to the exhibitions can help choose the winner of the Python Oakley People’s Choice prize by nominating their favourite entries; voting slips are available at both venues and the winner will be announced at the close of the exhibition.

Maureen Banner, Culture Warrington board chair, said: “The launch was a wonderful evening to celebrate Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, one of the main highlights in the Culture Warrington calendar.

“It was brilliant to see so many people at the event keen to celebrate the wealth of talent here in the Warrington area and it was an honour to award the winners with their well-deserved prizes.

“The standard of work entered in the art and photography competitions was very impressive and it must have been a difficult job for the judges who had to choose between them, so a big thankyou to them.”

The winners were announced at a packed launch night in Warrington Museum & Art Gallery on Friday following a ‘cultural crawl’ from Bank Quay House via Pyramid Arts Centre.

Also on display as part of the festival is Echo, a new installation at Pyramid by Holly Rowan Hesson which explores uncertainty and transience, and Worn: footwear, attachment and affective experience by Ellen Sampson, an artist who explores the relationships between bodily experience, memory and artefacts, at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

More information on the full programme can be found at

NB Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival is part of a wider calendar of events held across Cheshire in association with Slant, the county’s cultural destination programme.

Elias Ashmole – the Warrington Freemason

Elias Ashmole is probably best-known today as the founder of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the oldest university museum in the world. As well as being a collector he was a politician, an astrologer, an alchemist, an officer of arms … and a Warrington freemason! In fact Elias Ashmole’s account of his initiation into freemasonry in Warrington in October 1646 is the first recorded account of an English speculative Freemason.

Elias was born in Lichfield on 23rd May 1617 into a family whose fortunes were in decline. His father Simon was an ex-soldier and saddle maker while his mother, Anne, was the daughter of a wealthy Coventry draper. They were, however, able to afford to send the young Elias to Grammar School in Lichfield.

In 1633 Elias moved to London where he qualified as a solicitor and soon established a successful legal practice. In 1638 he married Eleanor Mainwaring, a member of an aristocratic family from Cheshire, who unfortunately died in 1641.

Elias sided with the supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War and left London for the house of his father-in-law, Peter Mainwaring of Smallwood in Cheshire. In 1644 he was appointed King’s Commissioner of Excise for Staffordshire and Lichfield and soon afterwards he was made ordnance officer for the king’s forces at Oxford.  Joining Brasenose College he studied mathematics, physics, English history, law, numismatics, chorography, alchemy, astrology, astronomy and botany. Leaving Oxford in late 1645, he accepted a position as Commissioner of Excise at Worcester and as a Captain in Lord Astley’s Regiment of Foot. The regiment was part of the Royalist Infantry but his Elias’ mathematical skills meant he was seconded to artillery positions and he never seems to have seen active service.

His diary for the 24th June 1646 reads:

“Worcester surrendedred, and thence I rode out of the town according to the Articles and went to my Father Mainwaring in Cheshire.”

It was during this stay in Cheshire that Elias became a Freemason for his diary for the 16th October 1646 reads as follows:

“1646 October 16, 4.30 PM – I was made a Freemason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Colonel Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in Cheshire. The names of those that were then of the Lodge (were) Mr Rich Penket, Warden; Mr James Collier, Mr Rich Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Rich Ellam and Hugh Brewer.”

It is thought that many of those attending the Lodge that day were relations of Ashmole and appear to have been local figures as their surnames are still found in the Warrington area.

There is also another mention of Masonic activity in his diary:

“March 10-1682 – about 5 PM I received a summons to appear at a lodge to be held the next day at Mason’s Hall London. Accordingly I went and about noon were admitted into the fellowship of the Freemasons: Sir William Wilson Knight, Captain Rich Borthwick, Mr Will Woodman, Mr William Grey, Mr Samuel Taylor and Mr William Wise. I was the senior fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted). There were present beside myself the fellows after named: Mr Thomas Wise, Master of the Masons Company this year; Mr Thomas Shorthouse, Mr Thomas Shadbolt Wainsford Esquire, Mr Nicholas Young, Mr John Short Shorthouse, Mr William Hamon, Mr John Thompson and Mr William Stanton. We all dined at the Half Moon Tavern in Cheapside, at a noble dinner prepared at the charge of the new-accepted Masons”.

The almost 35 year gap between diary entries on freemasonry have led some historians to believe that he was not an active freemason but the fact that he was summoned to attend a meeting in the prestigious Mason’s Hall would suggest that he was well-regarded by his fellow masons.

Ashmole married again in 1649 but the marriage was not a happy one and his second wife Mary soon filed suit for separation and alimony. The marriage did provide Ashmole with extensive estates in Berkshire which left him wealthy enough to pursue his many interests.

Upon the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Ashmole’s loyalty to the crown was richly rewarded with political offices. He became Commissioner and then Comptroller for the Excise in London and later the Accountant-General of the Excise. This position made him responsible for a large portion of the King’s revenue, gave him a considerable income and allowed him an important power of patronage.

Throughout his life Elias was an avid collector of curiosities, many of which he acquired from the traveller, botanist and collector John Tradescant the Younger. His library reflected his intellectual outlook and his interests, particularly the antiquarian, mystical and scientific studies of the time. He was one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Society, a key institution in the development of experimental science.

Elias Ashmole  died at his house in Lambeth on 18th May 1692 aged 76 years and was buried in St Mary’s Church yard in Lambeth on 26th May. He bequeathed most of his collections to the University of Oxford to create the Ashmolean Museum while the bulk of his antiquarian library now resides in the nearby Bodleian Library.

You can learn more about Freemasonry at our Masonic Tercentenary Display at the museum until Saturday 6th January 2018. Alternatively why not visit the nearby Warrington Museum of Freemasonry – see details.