The History of Macclesfield
With three Roman roads meeting nearby, and the river Bollin providing water, though little is known about the early history of Macclesfield we can suppose that the district was populated well before our written history began. The settlement that became Macclesfield is, however, of Saxon origin, a manor there being owned by the kings of Mercia, doubtless attracted by the forested surroundings which provided good hunting grounds.
In the Domesday Book of 1086 the town features as Maclesfield; in a document of 1183 as Makeslefield. Two suggestions are made as to the meaning of the name Macclesfield: the most probable is that Maccle is a corruption of Michael, the local church being dedicated to that saint, the spot thus being Michael’s field; alternatively the old English maccels, meaning cleared lands, may be its root.
Before the Conquest Macclesfield belonged to the Saxon Earl Edwin; after it the Norman Earls of Chester controlled the settlement, extending the hunting grounds of Macclesfield Forest which also offered good grazing for cattle. Eventually the area became Crown property.
The town was chartered as a borough by Prince Edward, Earl of Chester (the future Edward I ), in 1261. His Queen, Eleanor, founded the church of St Michael , still standing in the town, in 1278. The rights granted under Edward I were confirmed by Edward III among other later monarchs. The place became the administrative centre for the eastern part of Cheshire, growing in significance accordingly: it had a weekly market, and fairs in June and November; and was chosen as the site of ecclesiastical councils in 1332 and 1362.
Although history’s most useless leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie , brought his army through the town both going to and retreating from Derby in 1745, the only martial moments experienced by Macclesfield were during the Civil War (even in WWII the Luftwaffe bypassed the town). A Royalist stronghold, Macclesfield was taken for Parliament by Brereton, whose force in turn was attacked by Charles I ’s local commander Acton.
War may have largely avoided Macclesfield; industry did not. In 1743 Charles Roe established a water-powered textile mill there; in 1756 the first silk-mill followed. Soon the town was England’s and at one time the world’s primary silk-producer. What began as largely hand-loom work was transformed by mechanisation: broadloom silk was woven there by the 1790s. The prosperity that came with the silk industry is reflected still in the number of Georgian houses in the town.
In common with many primarily industrial towns, Macclesfield did not have the right to send MPs to Parliament until 1832, when it was allowed two.
The surrounding hills that provided the water power helpful in establishing the textile industry were a problem for its communications. Various plans were made over many years for a canal there, the one proposed and surveyed by Thomas Telford , approved by Parliament in 1826, was eventually completed in 1831, one of the last in the British network. At a cost of £320,000 it was a major investment in the town. Its impact, however, was temporary, given its completion on the eve of the railway age elsewhere – Macclesfield, again hindered by its undulating terrain, did not get a station until 1873.
Silk remained economically important to Macclesfield well into the 20th century, an employer of consequence until the 1960s when cheap imports from Asia, in particular China, proved impossible to counter. Some silk manufacture – ties and similar items – remains to this day, though the tourism brought by the working silk museums probably brings more income to the town now.
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