The Wire Works

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2020, The Wire Works is a project led by Warrington Borough Council designed to unearth, discover and celebrate Warrington’s industrial wire heritage through oral histories, creative workshops, and local events.

Originally taking the form of an exhibition held between Saturday 16th October and Saturday 20th November at the Old Market Place in Warrington, the following pages form an archive of the exhibition and a place where you can learn all about Warrington’s rich wire heritage.

Wire was always Warrington’s most important trade. Wire making arrived here in the 18th century with the firms of Houghtons and Greenings. By the 1840s the Rylands Brothers wire works dominated the town, later followed by Whitecross, Locker and the Firth Company.

Warrington’s wire works supplied the world with all kinds of wire products such as woven wire ropes for collieries and shipping, cables for suspension bridges and conveyor belts as well as wire fencing and nails for builders. In this way Warrington wire helped to drive the Industrial Revolution!

Even the town’s rugby league club were nicknamed “The Wire”, a name that came from the term “wire pullers” or “wire drawers”. They were the elite craftsmen of the town and earned at least three times as much as their colleagues. They even had their own trade union that other wire workers were not allowed to join.

While most Warrington wire works specialised in “wire drawing” or making wire, other companies such as Greenings and Lockers specialised in weaving wire. Woven wire has a wide variety of industrial and commercial uses such as paper making, flour milling, grading sand and gravel and cement production. Today it is used in an even wider range of products including filters, heat shields and architectural mesh.

The changing world economic climate of the 1980s and 1990s led to the closure of most of Warrington’s wire works and the end of wire drawing in the town. Wire weaving was the only part of Warrington’s wire industry to adapt to the changing market conditions and survive into the present day with long established local companies such as Lockers and their newer colleagues Knitwire Products and Croft Filters.

This article was written for the Wire Works Project 2020-2021, a National Lottery Heritage funded project aiming to highlight and celebrate the legacy left by the wire industry, which dominated Warrington’s employment structure for over 170 years, putting the town at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution.