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date: 01 July 2022

Greenall, Peterfree


Greenall, Peterfree

  • Theo Barker

Greenall, Peter (1796–1845), brewer, was born on 25 April 1796 at Wilderspool, Warrington, the second son of Edward Greenall (1758–1835), brewer, and his wife, Betty (d. 1835), daughter of John Pratt of Liverpool. His grandfather, Thomas Greenall (1733–1805), taking advantage of the opening up of the south Lancashire coalfield by canal in 1757, set up as common brewer four years later in Hardshaw. Over the course of the next century this hamlet developed into the town of St Helens. Before his death Thomas Greenall had bought 350 acres of land in the neighbourhood as well as 14 public houses and other properties. In 1786 he became associated with others in the brewery at Wilderspool, which his son Edward managed from 1792. Edward in his turn acquired all the business interests of his brothers Peter (d. 1815) and William (d. 1817). In 1818 Edward sent his son Peter, not yet twenty-two years old, to take charge of the brewery at St Helens and the considerable family possessions there. On 6 March 1821 Peter Greenall married Eleanor Pilkington (1798–1846), who brought a dowry of £1000. Eleanor was sister of Richard and William Pilkington, already partners with their father in the little town's flourishing wine and spirit business. The couple had two daughters.

Peter Greenall accepted his responsibilities as leading local resident in an industrial district which by then numbered ten thousand people, of whom about four thousand lived in the town itself. Pipes were laid from the brewery's ponds to supply water to those inhabitants who could afford to pay for it. The first (terminating) building society in the area was formed at his instigation and helped to put up houses, many of them on his land. By 1830 Greenall's rents in the area totalled nearly £2500 a year. He headed the local Oddfellows lodge, Manchester Unity, when it was opened in 1825; when St Helens was raised to district status he became its grand master. His signature appeared on share certificates of the local Gas Light Company, formed in 1832, and, more importantly, he took the lead in the creation of the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway in 1830. This provided transport down to the River Mersey, from November 1832, in competition with the canal. In the longer run, however, it was Greenall's involvement in what was to become Pilkington Brothers glassworks which was to be of much greater significance. Greenall held only three of the eleven shares in the partnership—his two brothers-in-law, who had reluctantly forsaken the prosperous wine and spirit business, held the rest. Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly his influence at the Warrington bank of Parr, Lyon, and Greenall that saved the struggling firm from going under before it had grown strong enough to survive unaided; by 1842, at the depth of the worst depression of the century, the overdraft had reached £20,000, when all eleven shares were valued at only £22,600.

Greenall, a confirmed tory, contested one of the Wigan borough seats unsuccessfully in 1837, but he was returned in 1841. He then used his influence as an MP to get the St Helens Waterworks Bill through parliament in 1844 and, in 1845, the St Helens Improvement Bill, which gave the town's population, then just under 12,000, its first effective local government. Greenall died soon afterwards, on 18 September 1845, at his own house in St Helens, of 'apoplexy—first attack of five minutes duration', according to the death certificate. The shops half-closed their shutters. On the day of the funeral six days later at the parish church, the shops closed altogether. Many people flocked into the town to pay their last respects to the man who had so dominated the town's early growth and had died so unexpectedly, before his fiftieth birthday. His great reputation, however, was entirely local: the very brief notice in The Times merely drew attention to a tory vacancy in the Commons.


  • T. C. Barker, Pilkington Brothers and the glass industry (1960)
  • Liverpool Mercury (19 Sept 1845)
  • Manchester Guardian (20 Sept 1845)
  • Manchester Courier (20 Sept 1845)
  • The Times (22 Sept 1845), 56
  • Liverpool Mercury (26 Sept 1845)
  • Annual Register (1845), 296–7
  • d. cert.
  • will of Peter Greenall, proved Chester, 2 March 1846
  • parish register (burials), St Helens, Lancashire, 24 Sept 1845
  • private information (2004)
  • Greenall brewery, St Helens, Lancashire, Greenall MSS


  • Spindler, portrait, St Helens town hall, Lancashire

Wealth at Death

under £35,000: will, proved, 2 March 1846

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J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)