Saturday, 28 July 2012
“These old buildings do not belong to us only…they have belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false. They are not…our property, to do as we like with. We are only trustees for those that come after us.”
William Morris 1889.
Welcome to a new blog about the pre-industrial history of Macclesfield. The period this blog will be covering will range from prehistory to the post-medieval period before the industrial revolution took hold of the town. I am hoping this blog will lead to a greater understanding of our town and enhance our relationship with it, enabling us to be more involved in the future direction Macclesfield will take, and let both the good and bad in the town inform those decisions. We are a unique town, with many strengths and a very individual character.
Like many towns in Great Britain and Ireland, Macclesfield has a long history and has been an area of some importance since at least the Bronze Age and, with the exception of the Roman period for which little evidence survives, has been continually occupied for over two millennia.
Present day Macclesfield is very much a microcosm of modern England. Subject to modern planning practices and having suffered the degradations of 19th and 20th Century 'improvements', much of it's pre-industrial past has been lost and replaced with various structures ranging from the plain dull to the outright ugly. However, despite this the town still retains a unique character that is reflected in the diverse nature of it's architecture and people.
Macclesfield is best known for its textile industry, especially the throwing of silk which Charles Roe introduced into the town in 1743 when he built a mill in Park Green. Weaving was soon taking place too and cottages with weaver's garrets are found in many areas of Macclesfield. The silk industry shaped the modern town, allowing its expansion and contributing greatly to its character and identity. This history is well-covered elsewhere and will not feature in this blog.
However, under the industrial appearance of Macclesfield an ancient heart beats. The layout of the town centre is medieval and many of the streets still bear their old names, such as Chestergate and Jordangate. There are building in the town that date for the very early post-medieval period and of course the famous castle (actually a fortified manor house) once stood south of the church, indeed a section of the curtain wall is still extant on Backwallgate, itself a medieval street. The only visible remains of the Castle are currently housed in the courtyard of the current town hall, where they are rather exposed to the elements,
Macclesfield was a Saxon town, and a piece of Saxon stonework still stands in the Market Place, and the remains of Saxon crosses stand incongruously in the children's play area of West Park.
Prior to that, things are less clear. The Romans may have been here but no structures exist and other finds are few. The area was inhabited in the centuries before the Roman occupation and there are two barrows within the town and many more in the wider vicinity.
We will be exploring much of this evidence in future posts. Many people have worked on the pre-industrial heritage of Macclesfield but their work is widely spread and worth looking at closely. I am sure there is more to be found, and we need to protect what we have. The best way to do this is by gathering fact-based evidence and doing the research, and this blog will focus on that. Guest posts are welcome so drop me a line if you have an idea and would like to contribute.
I'll leave you with this quote from the 2000 publication by the Historic Environment Steering Group, Power of Place: The future of the historic environment, which could be a manifesto for this blog:
“People are interested in the historic environment. They want to learn about it…They want to be involved in decisions affecting it. They want to take part.
But many feel powerless and excluded…If the barriers to involvement can be overcome, the historic environment has the potential to strengthen the sense of community and provide a solid basis for neighbourhood renewal. This is the power of place.”
Historic Environment Steering Group. (2000). Power of Place: The future of the historic environment.
Come back soon!