'New town' Runcorn celebrates 50th birthday

Image copyright Homes and Communities Agency
Image caption Castlefields was the largest of the New Town's housing developments, offering three types of accommodation

Designated a new town by the government on 10 April 1964 Runcorn has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

It was one of several new towns planned to alleviate the housing shortages following World War Two and its status as such saw it transformed into an area for modern urban living.

It offered a new life in a new town for families from Liverpool and Merseyside.

Set in Cheshire on the south side of the Mersey, Runcorn was seen as part of the solution to overcrowding in Liverpool.

It was advertised as "the place to be" with its state of the art neighbourhoods designed by Professor Arthur Ling.

In 1968 Ronald Sumner, who had moved there from Liverpool, was showing people around his home - promoting this new way of life.

"I was so proud of it," he said,

"People were coming up at the weekends and I said 'come in and have a look around'.

"Most of the people said, 'oh I like this', and they went and signed up, so we started the influx into the Runcorn area."

Image copyright Homes and Communities Agency
Image caption The New Town sold the idea of a "better family life"

Mr Sumner had secured a job in the area which allowed him to move into Runcorn.

"It was absolutely fantastic. Everything was new," he added.

"Out here you are in the country, really in the country.

"It was amazing the amount of people who come out here, from Liverpool, and see so many trees... all they have got is walking up and down streets."

Image copyright Halton Borough Council
Image caption Much of the architecture of the new town was seen as "modern and innovative"

Councillor Dave Cargill, 80, was drawn to the town after visiting his auntie - who was one of the first people to move there.

He made the move in 1974 with his wife, Ellen, and four children and has lived there ever since.

"It was an opportunity to have a fresh look on life," he said.

"It was an opportunity for the children and there was a lot of work at the time, the town was dealing in industrial enterprise. There were open areas and people had gardens and they wanted to improve their lifestyle, fulfil their dreams."

Mr Cargill is a self-proclaimed "proud scouser" who along with thousands of others made the move out of Liverpool to the attractive new town.

"We came by individual and personal choice," he said.

"My family certainly benefitted from it and you see people who moved up here at the same time who also must have benefitted or they wouldn't have stayed."

Image copyright Homes and Communities Agency
Image caption The aim of the new town was to create a vigorous community which would have its own shops, schools and social life

While most of Runcorn's new residents came from the immediate surrounding area, Barbara Lee was just 22 when she made the move from Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, for work.

"We didn't know the area at all," she said.

"We saw a brand new house on a brand new estate. It was a bit of a shock going up, but it was an adventure and I was young.

"It was lovely that everything was new, when you have lived in an old town such as Cirencester for such a long time.

"There were just housing estates everywhere, although no local shops, so if you wanted anything you had to get the bus. Luckily the bus services were wonderful."

Looking around the town now, both Mr Sumner and Mr Cargill see it as a success.

"People seem to be happy here," Mr Cargill said.

"The very fact people have stayed here and have helped expand the new town and have been prepared to work within the new town is proof of that."

Image copyright Homes and Communities Agency
Image caption People living in Castlefields established groups for Young Wives, Brownies and Guides

But Mr Cargill, cabinet member for community safety at Halton Borough Council, admits Runcorn has had its problems.

"The industrial areas closed down and went out of business," he said.

"It shattered peoples dreams. But we've done the best we can to improve those areas."

Mr Sumner added: "It's certainly better now. The new town has definitely worked here, although I'm sure there are those who'd disagree with me."

The 50th anniversary of Runcorn is being marked by a series of events and activities, including a public exhibition at Halton Lea Library - Runcorn New Town at 50 - running from 14 April -25 April.

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