Saturday, April 13, 2013
Dubious histories #12 - Runcorn.
| posted by Simon |
8:47 am |
The earliest known mention of dwellings around what is now Runcorn, were troglodyte caves in the late Bronze, early Iron Age. These were mentioned in the Anglo Saxon chronicles as a place where the Vikings wouldn't go. The Troglodytes were hoarders of local villagers' waste, a sort of retarded womble covered in shit. The whole place was an olfactory no go area.
The Romans named Runcorn Stercilinium, literally "a place where shit is stored". All the Roman outposts and garrisons would empty their human waste and transport it to the area that would be become Runcorn. Situated as it is on the Mersey, it would wash into the Irish Sea, but over the years a mountain of fecal detritus accumulated, earning the area its unfortunate title.
Long after the Romans left, the stench still lingered, to such an extent that the Doomsday book has no record of the place; preferring not to mention, what had become, one of the smelliest places in Europe at the time.
In Shakespeare's time Runcorn had become a place of punishment, worse than gaol, worse than the workhouse. If you found yourself on the last stagecoach to Runcorn it meant you had been caught doing something deeply unpleasant, and the punishment was to exile you to somewhere equally as deeply unpleasant. Old Bill found himself there for a six month stretch after being found in a compromising position in a neighbour's livestock pen. During his time in Runcorn he penned part of Hamlet's soliloquy, describing the air around him as "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours".
The stigma, like a bad smell, hung around for many centuries and as the industrial revolution gathered pace, Runcorn became home to a new type of factory, the stench mill. Stench mills manufactured bad smells for other Northern towns not lucky enough to have their own factories, if you didn't have a tannery or a chemical works, Runcorn would ensure you didn't feel left out. Runcorn led the world in stench.
Little wonder then that Paul Simon wrote his seminal sixties masterpiece "this place stinks of shit" whilst sat on the platform of Runcorn railway station.
Today Runcorn is a shadow of its former self, the factories are shut, the compacted crap was used as foundations for the Jubilee bridge and the smell is only a fraction of its previous eye-watering worst. The town is now studded with dog shit and littered with Greggs bakeries, a fetid festering carcinoma on the rotting perineum of Cheshire.
Next in this award winning series, Widnes.