Widnes is an industrial town within the borough of Halton, in the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England, with an urban area population of 57,663 in 2004. It is located on the northern bank of the River Mersey where the estuary narrows to form Runcorn Gap. Directly to the south of Widnes across the Mersey is the town of Runcorn. Upstream and 8 miles to the east of Widnes is the town of Warrington, and downstream 16 miles to the west is the city of Liverpool. Historically part of Lancashire, prior to the Industrial Revolution Widnes consisted of a small number of separate settlements on land which was mainly marsh or moorland. In 1847 the first chemical factory was established and the town rapidly became a major centre of the chemical industry. Widnes continues to be a major manufacturer of chemicals and there has been a degree of diversification of the town's industries. Widnes lies on the southern route of the Liverpool to Manchester railway line. The Sankey Canal (now disused) terminates in an area of Widnes known as Spike Island.