Macclesfield Heritage Trail
A Walk Around Macclesfield's Historic Buildings
Click on the blue dots for more detail. Use the pan and zoom buttons in the top left corner.
Printed Copies are currently out of print. March 2016
A Short History of Macclesfield by Dorothy Bentley Smith
Mentioned in Domesday as Maclesfeld, it stood along important salt routes for traders and their packhorses from Northwich and Middlewich in Cheshire, to today’s areas of Sheffield, Buxton and Chesterfield in Yorkshire and Derbyshire. This suggests its name, ‘mackler’ an old Germanic or Anglo Saxon word for trader, and ‘feld(e)’ for field; the field of the trader.
The survey records a hall and mill, with a small population of 20; a township of little worth, although of greater value earlier. Perhaps because of Norman reprisals in nearby Yorkshire, or extremely bad weather in the late 11th century, creating ruined harvest, plague and famine, it had fallen into ‘decay’ as people left the area. The Normans, however, were great forest administrators, and Macclesfield forest became of vital importance to the Crown and to the development of the township. The long bowmen, who practised their skills within the forest, later proved their worth at the battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt.
The foresters held significant positions, building lodges in their particular jurisdiction of the forest. Over the centuries, these developed into superb ancestral homes, some of which remain today within easy distance of the town, and attract hundreds of visitors.
Henry III, in arranging an important marriage for his son Prince Edward – later Edward I, ‘acquired’ the then wealthy Macclesfield Manor and Forest, to add to his son’s bargaining powers as Prince or Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester. He succeeded, and in 1254, as part of Edward’s marriage settlement with Eleanor of Castile, she became Lady of the Manor and Forest.
In 1261 Edward granted Macclesfield its first charter, probably with Eleanor’s approval and encouragement, and the borough was created. The aldermen and burgesses were obliged to own property, known as burgages, within its boundaries and pay an annual due. Over time a mayor was elected, and the foresters such as the Legh family, became town officials by purchasing burgages, these were rebuilt over time or ‘modernised’, referred to later as town houses.
Having returned from Crusade in the Holy Land, Edward, now king, and Eleanor began a tour of England, eventually visiting the area. And so it was that in 1278, Eleanor gained permission to establish a chapelry for the borough, but priority remained with the mother church of Prestbury. Parts of the original building are still incorporated within the Parish Church of St. Michael’s today.
During the 14th century the Black Prince had a hunting lodge in the forest, and his son, Richard II, was provided with a superb banquet on his visit early in 1399 to one of his court officials, John of Macclesfield. John had been busy building himself a small castle, and buying property near the King’s Highway (Mill Street) to establish his somewhat grand residential estate.
With Royal favour the town rapidly developed, and its trading likewise. From wool in earlier centuries, the influx of Spanish silk buttons in Tudor times dictated a change of direction, and by the mid-16th century the Cromwellian years produced the beginnings of an extremely lucrative trade, as mohair, silk and linen buttons were made in their thousands. This in turn created a class of wealthy merchants and prosperous mercers, who became more involved with the silk trade in general.
In 1744 Charles Roe, son of a Church of England vicar, built the first small spinning mill, and a larger version in 1748 complete with Italian machinery. Later still he created a nationally important brass and copper company, which undertook the production of copper sheathing for naval ships not long after his death.
His silk venture saw the town’s population increase from about four to seven thousand in the mid to late 18th century, and with further development by the Brocklehurst family and others, become world famous during the 19th. From a population of almost 9,000 in 1801, it had quadrupled by 1851!
Macclesfield’s success has been its ability to adapt to change, and today with the enthusiasm and interest in its once renowned silk industry; wonderful collections in its three silk museums, together with further excellent exhibits such as paintings, sculptures, curios, and even a famous Egyptian collection in its former Brocklehurst Museum, now known as West Park Museum, it has plenty to offer as it increases its tourist attractions.