Stockport Town Hall
Stockport is a large town in northern Cheshire. It stands at the county's border with Lancashire on elevated ground on the River Mersey, where the rivers Goyt and Tame meet to become the infant River Mersey, 6 miles southeast of Manchester.
Stockport has begun to spread over the river with some streets in Lancashire and in the centre of Stockport the Mersey, which forms the boundary, has been culverted and the main shopping street, Merseyway, built above it.
Stockport in the 16th century was a small town entirely on the south bank of the Mersey, and known for the cultivation of hemp and rope manufacture and in the 18th century the town had one of the first mechanised silk factories in the United Kingdom. However, Stockport's predominant industries of the 19th century were the cotton and allied industries. Stockport was also at the centre of the country's hatting industry which by 1884 was exporting more than six million hats a year. In December 1997 the last Stockport hat works closed. The town's hatting heritage is preserved at 'Hat Works – the Museum of Hatting'.
Dominating the western approaches to the town is the Stockport Viaduct. Built in 1840, the viaduct's 27 brick arches over the River Mersey carry the mainline railways from Manchester to Birmingham and London. This structure featured as the background in many paintings by LS Lowry. Lowry often visited the Stockport War Memorial Gallery on Greek Street especially during the annual exhibition of paintings and sculpture.
Stockport was first recorded as "Stokeport" in 1170. The currently accepted etymology is Old English stoc, a market place, and port, a town. Older derivations suggest stock as a stockaded place or castle, referring to Stockport Castle, a 12th-century motte-and-bailey castle first mentioned in 1173.
Other derivations suggest that "port" was originally "ford" and there is evidence that a ford across the Mersey existed at the foot of the town centre street now known as Bridge Street Brow.
There is little evidence of a Roman military station at Stockport, despite a strong local tradition. It is assumed the road up to Ardotalia fort and that from Manchester (Mamucium) to Buxton (Aquae Arnemetiae) crossed close to the town centre, but the preferred site is at a ford over the Mersey, known to be paved in the 18th century, but it has never been shown that this or any of the roads in the area are Roman. Hegginbotham reported (in 1892) the discovery of Roman mosaics at Castle Hill (the area around Stockport market) in the late 18th century, during the construction of a mill, but noted it was 'founded on tradition only'; substantial stonework found in the area has never been dated by modern methods. However, Roman coins and pottery were probably found there during the 18th century. A cache of coins dating 375–378 may have come from the banks of the Mersey at Daw Bank; these were possibly buried for safekeeping at the side of a road.
Six coins from the reigns of Kings Edmund (939–946) and Eadred (946–955) were found during ploughing at Reddish Green in 1789. There is contrasting source material about the significance of this; Arrowsmith takes this as evidence for existence of a settlement at that time, but Morris states the find could be "an isolated incident". This small cache is the only Anglo-Saxon find in the area. However, the etymology Stoc-port suggests habitation.
Stockport does not appear in the Domesday Book of 1086. The survey includes valuations of Cheadle and neighbouring areas for the times of Edward the Confessor (which is to say just before the Norman invasion of 1066) and those at the time of the survey. The reduction in value is taken as evidence of destruction by William the Conqueror's men in the campaigns generally known as the Harrying of the North. The omission of Stockport was once taken as evidence that destruction was so complete that a survey was not needeed (see e.g. Husain). Arrowsmith argues from the etymology that Stockport may have still been a market place associated with a larger estate, and so would not be surveyed separately.
The first borough charter was granted in about 1220 and was the only basis for local government for six hundred years.
A castle held by Geoffrey de Costentin is recorded as a rebel stronghold against Henry II in 1172–3. There is an incorrect local tradition that Geoffrey was the king's son, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, who was one of the rebels. Dent suggests the castle was similar in pattern to those at Pontefract in Yorkshire and Launceston in Cornwall. The castle was probably ruinous by the middle of the 16th century, and in 1642 it was agreed to demolish it. Castle Hill, possibly the motte, was levelled in 1775 to make space for Warren's mill, see below. Nearby walls, once thought to be either part of the castle or of the town walls, are now thought to be revetments to protect the cliff face from erosion.
"At this place poverty is not much felt except by those who are idle, for all persons capable of tying knots may find work in the silk mills … children of six years earn a shilling a week and more as they grow capable of deserving it." Anon, 1769.
Stockport was one of the prototype textile towns. In the early 18th century, England was not capable of producing silk of sufficient quality to be used as the warp in woven fabrics. Suitable thread had to be imported from Italy, where it was spun on water-powered machinery. In about 1717 John Lombe travelled to Italy and copied the design of the machinery. On his return he obtained a patent on the design, and went into production in Derby. When Lombe tried to renew his patent in 1732, silk spinners from towns including Manchester, Macclesfield, Leek, and Stockport successfully petitioned parliament to not renew the patent. Lombe was paid off, and in 1732 Stockport's first silk mill (indeed, the first water-powered textile mill in the north-west of England) was opened on a bend in the Mersey. Further mills were opened on local brooks.
Silk weaving expanded until in 1769 two thousand people were employed in the industry. By 1772 the boom had turned to bust, possibly due to cheaper foreign imports; by the late 1770s trade had recovered. The cycle of boom and bust would continue throughout the textile era.
The combination of a good water power site (described by Rodgers as "by far the finest of any site within the lowland" [of the Manchester region]) and a workforce used to textile factory work meant Stockport was well-placed to take advantage of the phenomenal expansion in cotton processing in the late 18th century. Warren's mill in the market place was the first. Power came from an undershot water wheel in a deep pit, fed by a tunnel from the River Goyt. The positioning on high ground, unusual for a water powered mill, contributed to an early demise, but the concept of moving water around in tunnels proved successful, and several tunnels were driven under the town from the Goyt to power mills. In 1796, James Harrisson drove a wide cut from the Tame which fed several mills in the Park, Portwood. Other water-powered mills were built on the Mersey.
Hatmaking was established in north Cheshire and south-east Lancashire by the 16th century. In the early 19th century the number of hatters in the area began to increase, and a reputation for quality work was created. The London firm of Miller Christy bought out a local firm in 1826, a move described by Arrowsmith as 'a watershed'. By the latter part of the century hatting had changed from a manual to a mechanised process, and was one of Stockport's primary employers; the area, with nearby Denton, was the leading national centre. Support industries, such as blockmaking, trimmings, and leatherware, became established.
The First World War cut overseas markets off, which established local industries and eroded Stockports eminence. Even so, in 1932 over 3,000 people worked in the hat-making industry, making it the third biggest employer, after textiles and engineering. The depression of the 1930s and changes in fashion greatly reduced the demand for hats, and the demand that existed was met by cheaper wool products made elsewhere, for example the Luton area. By 1966–7 all the major companies merged to form Associated British Hat Manufacturers, leaving Christy's and Wilson's (at Denton) as the last two factories in production. First Wilson's, and then (in 1997) Christy's closed, bringing to an end over 400 years of hatting in the area. The industry is commemorated the UK's only dedicated hatting museum, "Hat Works".
Since the start of the 20th century Stockport has moved away from being a town dependent on cotton and its allied industries to one with a varied base. It makes the most of its varied heritage attractions, including a national museum of hatting, a unique system of underground Second World War air raid tunnel shelters in the town centre, and a late mediæval merchants' house on the 700-year-old Market Place.
Sights of the time
Staircase House is a Grade II* listed mediaeval townhouse in the Market Place. The building has been modified several times, but is probably the oldest secular building in Stockport. Staircase House is the home to the Stockport Story Museum. The museum claims to detail over 10,000 years of Stockport's history.
Located in the centre of Stockport, Underbank Hall is a Grade II* listed late 16th century timber framed building. It was built as the townhouse of the Arderne family from nearby Bredbury. The family occupied the building until 1823. Since 1824, it has been used as a bank. The current main banking hall lies behind the 16th century part and dates from 1915.
- Stockport Art Guild
- Arrowsmith 1997, p. 23
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