On Merseyside, St Helens is a large town made up of local townships that coalesced during the Industrial Revolution.
St Helens’ coal mines closed in the 20th century, and some, like Sutton Manor have become country parks.
The town is maybe best known for glassmaking, leading the market for this industry in Victorian times.
One important glass manufacturer, Pilkington is still headquartered in St Helens, producing the UK’s entire output of float glass.
The fantastic World of Glass Museum in the town centre documents St Helens’ glassmaking heritage and lets you explore the bowels of a giant Victorian furnace.
1. World of Glass
The glass manufacturer Pilkington is the only big industrial name still operating in St Helens.
The company’s collections are the basis for this top-notch museum at the canal-side site of a former Pilkington factory.
One of the special things about the world of glass is how it integrates the walkable subterranean tunnels of the world’s first regenerative glass furnace, created by William Windle Pilkington in 1887. You can peruse the Pilkington collections of extremely ornate studio glass, while the Earth into Light Gallery investigates St Helens’ glassmaking trade, from its 17th-century roots to the boom days of the 19th and early 20th century.
The Glass Roots Gallery meanwhile goes into the broader history of glass, presenting artefacts going back to Ancient Egypt, while there are glassmaking demonstrations every day, and you can try making your own bauble at a glassblowing course.
2. Knowsley Safari
The Earls of Derby, whose ancestral seat is a few miles out of St Helens at Knowsley Hall, had a long history of keeping exotic animals, going back well before Knowsley Safari Park was opened by Edward Stanley, the 18th Earl, in 1971. The park is one of the top days out in the North West, with a five-mile Safari Drive through 550 acres inhabited by more than 750 animals.
This guides you through zones for all sorts of antelopes (wildebeests, blackbucks, lechwes, Road and more), as well as deer, bison, zebras, southern white rhinos and buffalo.
Knowsley Safari’s stars are the olive baboons, known to cause a lot of mischief with cars.
If you don’t want to drive your own there’s a Baboon Bus running through the entire Safari Drive.
Knownsley also has a Foot Safari, which is more like a regular zoo, with a new Amur Tiger Trail, a Giraffe Tower and demonstration areas for birds of prey and sea lions.
3. Carr Mill Dam
The largest inland body of water in Merseyside is at least four hundred years old, and began life as a pond to power a mill.
In the 1750s it was massively enlarged as a reservoir to feed the Sankey Canal, and then again by the London and North Western Railway in the 19th century.
Carr Mill Dam is a haven for water sports enthusiasts and anglers, but if you’re just visiting to enjoy the scenery the old brick Nineteen Arches Bridge is a haunting sight on the lake’s north side.
You can find a cafe at The Boat House on the east shore and a waterside Toby Carvery to the south.
By the railway line, also on the east shore is the only tract of ancient woodland in St Helens.
4. North West Museum of Road Transport
This fascinating transport museum is set in the St Helens Corporation Transport bus depot, which goes back to 1881 and was restored in the 2000s.
The museum is a repository for historic buses run by companies across the region, not only from St Helens, but also Liverpool, Chester, Warrington, Widnes and Southport.
You can come by on Saturdays, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, to view the collection of single and double-decker buses dating from the 1930s onwards, all with their original livery.
These are complemented by lots of other vehicles, like a Dennis F8 fire engine from the 1950s, and a fleet of historic cars like a Ford Prefect.
On “Running Days” you can climb aboard one of the old buses for a trip around St Helens, while there are seasonal events for youngsters like a Santa’s grotto at Christmas.
5. Inglenook Farm
Many things rolled into one, Inglenook Farm grows chamomile and lavender for essential oils distilled on site.
But visitors are welcome at a farmhouse cafe for cooked breakfasts, and light lunchtime bites like sandwiches, jacket potatoes, wraps and salads.
Children will adore the farm’s animals, among them a donkey, a pair of Shetland ponies, goats, sheep, ducks, peacocks and chickens.
There’s also a roll-call of local businesses based at Inglenook Farm’s courtyard, like a craft beer shop, a vintage bike restorer, a pet groomer, a tipi maker and a garden room designer.
6. Taylor Park
The Grade II Taylor Park used to belong to the Eccleston estate and was donated by the landowner Samuel Taylor (VIII) in 1892. On these 47 acres is a quarry that had provided the sandstone for Eccleston Hall, still standing close by in Whiston.
Taylor Park has kept a lot of its Victorian character, not least in the lovely garden that was planted in the quarry, and the sweeping lake attracting wildfowl and with a boathouse on its south bank.
This is now a popular tearoom open seven days a week, while there’s an adventure play area for little ones and paths winding off into the woodland around the lake.
7. St Helens R. F. C.
St Helens is the proud home of one of the most successful and best-supported Rugby League teams in the country, winning 13 titles, the most recent in 2014. Founded back in 1873, the Saints play at the modern Langtree Park, which was opened in 2011 and can hold 18,000. Rugby League is a spring and summer sport, kicking off at the end of January and building up to a play-off series and then a grand final in October.
St Helens finished top of the 12-team league in the 2018 league campaign but were defeated by Warrington in the play-offs.
If there’s a fixture to keep your eye on it’s when rivals Wigan Warriors come to town, which is always a hotly contested encounter.
8. Sutton Manor Woodland
This 230-acre park in the south of St Helens betrays a few signs of the highly productive colliery that came before.
Sunk in 1906, the mine reached its peak in the 1960s when more than 1,000 people were employed here, and was finally shut down in 1991. It can be sobering to think that more than 60 men lost their lives on what is now a flowing landscape with a high point of over 80 metres on the colliery’s former spoil tip.
In the intervening years tens of thousands of ash, willow and alder trees have taken hold, and a monumental sculpture, “Dream” has been placed atop the highest summit.
You can also track down the colliery’s old National Coal Board wrought iron gates.
This 20-metre-high sculpture is by Jaume Plensa and was unveiled in 2009. The work, weighing 500 tons and composed of bright white concrete (thanks to its dolomite content) depicts the head of a nine-year-old girl with eyes closed in meditation.
The result of a long consultation process that included 15 miners from the colliery, Dream is intended to look back at St Helens’ mining past and kindle hope for the future.
As you get closer to the work you’ll see that it’s made up of many pieces – 90 in all on 14 tiers.
For more interpretation you can download an audioguide and app before heading to the park.
10. Theatre Royal
You wouldn’t guess it from the modern exterior but the large theatre on Corporation Street is more than a 100 years old.
Dating to the early 1900s the building was a Frank Matcham construction, and was heavily remodelled in the1960s and then in the early 2000s.
Theatre Royal has a very diverse programme, booking famous comedians (Jimmy Carr in 2020),tons of tribute acts, pantomimes, touring musicals and dance companies.
There are regular appearances by sporting personalities (especially relating to Liverpool FC,) and cultural figures.
During the school holidays children will love the wacky science demonstrations and shows adapted from books and TV programmes.
11. Sherdley Park
The largest park in St Helens is in the Sutton district, south of the town centre.
This land belonged to the descendants of the 19th-century copper industrialist Michael Hughes, until it was bought by the local council after World War II as a recreation space for Sutton’s residents.
Sherdley Park covers 336 acres, encompassing a lake, woodland, expansive fields, an 18-hole golf course, formal gardens and a children’s playground.
Green Fees at the golf course are £14 midweek and £16 on weekends, while you can hit 100 balls at the driving range for £6.
12. Church of St Mary, Lowe House
St Helens’ Catholic population swelled in the early 20th century, and this formidable church was built to serve the congregation in 1924. Partly named for the manor house that used to occupy this land, the Church of St Mary is exuberantly decorated inside and full of drama, combining Gothic and Byzantine Styles.
There’s a monolithic, 40-metre tower with a clock face set in gold mosaic.
This holds a 47-bell carillon, thought to be the largest in the North West, and occasionally played during recitals.
The tower’s dark outline is set off by the crossing dome, clad with copper.
In the nave you’ll be struck by the shining polished granite columns, all crowned with detailed Byzantine-style capitals, as well as the high vaults of the chancel apse.
13. The Smithy Heritage Centre
There’s a small but lovable museum at this blacksmith’s forge in Eccleston village.
The Smithy has been here for at least 200 years and was a crucial amenity for the village until the middle of the 20th century, mostly making and fitting horseshoes for this rural community.
Some of the blacksmith’s other jobs were making and repairing tools and agricultural implements, as well as cooperating with a wheelwright on wagons, wheels and even coffins.
The heritage centre displays artefacts like blacksmith and wheelwright tools, as well as black and white photographs, and exhibitions about Eccleston’s local history.
14. St Mary’s Market
If there’s something you need or you just fancy a spot of shopping, Church Street and the Church Square Shopping Centre host many top retailers like Argos, Marks & Spencer, JD Sports, River Island, Game and the like.
Greggs, Costa Coffee, Subway and McDonald’s are all here too, no more than a 100 metres from each other.
And if you’d prefer to shop local, the indoor St Mary’s Market is open Monday to Saturday opposite the World of Glass.
St Mary’s has free WiFi, and its permanent stalls have high occupancy rates.
For starters there’s a butcher, fishmonger, haberdasher, dressmaker and fabric dealer.
You can also shop for fruit and vegetables, toys, phone accessories, arts and crafts, flowers and teas from around the world, knowing that you’re supporting the local economy!
15. Haydock Park Racecourse
One of the top racecourses in the UK by attendance, Haydock Park stages year-round racing.
This takes place on the flat for most of the year, but there’s a packed schedule of National Hunt (jump) meets in the winter.
The course is known for its tight turns, long straights and generally fast, firm ground favouring pure speed above tactics.
The Group 1/Grade I events to look out for are the Haydock Sprint Cup on the flat in September, and the Betfair Chase National Hunt Race in November, which was dominated in the 2000s by Kauto Star (four wins). Haydock Park is also a concert venue in summer, and puts on all kinds of special events, like a Ladies’ Day for the Rose of Lancaster Stakes in August.