Who are we, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way. My post the other day on walking the Goyt into Stockport was long enough already, but I wanted to add something more about the town itself, because ambling around its streets that afternoon I was pleasantly surprised by the number of historic buildings and the general character of the place.
Stockport is where the Mersey begins and where, in medieval times, a hamlet with a market was established on a steep-sided promontary of red sandstone on the south bank of the River Mersey. The reason a settlement grew here was that Stockport was the most easterly point at which the Mersey could be conveniently crossed as a single ford before the confluence of the Goyt and Tame rivers.
The hamlet occupyied the valley bottom and spread up the steep slopes to the market place and medieval church. The dizzying changes in street levels can still confuse the pedestrian today, when suddenly emerging at roof top level on the iron bridge that crosses Little Underbank, for example.
Stockport has never been a port: It was that market that gave Stockport its name: There was a castle here by , situated where Castle Yard is now, and the market grew up around it.
The market place remains exactly where it was at the end of the 13th century, after it was established by charter in Today stalls selling all kinds of everything are housed in the Victorian covered Market Hall, one of the few remaining traditional street markets in the North West and a Grade II listed building that dates back to The rest of the present church, a Grade 1 listed building, is early 19th century.
As I explored the streets around the market place, I discovered several more historic buildings. It was once the town house of the prominent local family, the Leghs, who owned the land here.
It was home of the Arden family of Bredbury until when it became a bank. A banking hall was then added to the rear in The hall is still used as a bank today and currently houses the Natwest branch for Stockport. At the end of Great Underbank stands The White Lion, reckoned to be the oldest hostelry in the town, with a licence dating back to the 14th century. It was a coaching inn on the main coaching route into and out of Stockport, situated close to the only crossing point of the Mersey at Lancashire Bridge.
It was rebuilt in in mock Tudor. Unfortunately, when I passed by, the building was boarded up, and for sale signs displayed. Here, in , a local man, William Clayton, auctioned his wife to the highest bidder. She was handed over to the purchaser, J Booth, for five shillings with a halter around her neck, as if she were a piece of livestock. At the heart of the house is the cage newel staircase from which it takes its name. The first owner of Staircase House may have been the Mayor of Stockport in , William Dodge, whose family later helped found Dodge City, USA.
The first definite residents were the Shawcross family, who owned the property from to Part of the landed gentry, it was they who installed the elaborate Jacobean cage newel staircase in , one of only three surviving examples in Britain, which gives the house its name. Wikipedia explains what is distinctive about a cage newel staircase:.
The distinctive feature of a cage newel staircase is that each newel post extends throughout the full height of the staircase, the four posts and the banisters thus forming a stairwell which is not fully enclosed, but, rather, contained within a cage-like structure. In fact, at Staircase House, at some date before the first surviving descriptions of the staircase in nineteenth century, the newel posts were each sawn through, just below the stringer board and just above the handrail. That may have been done as a response to changing tastes, or possibly to overcome the practical difficulties of moving large objects, such as furniture, about the house.
The staircase visitors walk up today is the original — but much restored.
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Even though the value of Staircase House had been recognised in the s, when it was awarded a Grade 2 listing, the condition of the property had deteriorated sharply.
The fire in caused great damage, and the building was thought to be on the point of collapse. My time was limited, and I had to rush through some of the narration, but I took away with me a copy of the excellent guide book. The view from the staircase above shows the framework of the original part of the house, with the original wattle and daub filling.
To the rear, the windows and brickwork of the 18th century extension can be seen. The tour begins in the cellar storehouse above , laid out with objects to illustrate how, in the s, the area would have been used to store dry foodstuffs for the household. The restoration work on the house has been meticulous, employing traditional building techniques and specialist skills — the timber framework of the house was repaired with authentic English oak, while the historic technique of wattle and daub was used to repair the walls.
The rooms are furnished with a mixture of original and replica furniture, each room reflecting diffferent period styles from the s to the s to illustrate that the house had been continuously occupied for over years. In the Linen Chamber above , the replica linen press or cupboard seen on the left was modelled on a 17th century piece from Marple Hall. The 17th century Bed Chamber above houses a replica four-poster that has the emblem of the Shallcross family carved on the headboard.
On the wall beside the bed is a ventilated wooden cupboard called a livery cupboard. The guide notes that this would have contained food supplies — cheese, meat, wine and bread — for long winter nights, or even cold days when a great deal of time would have been spent in the warmth of the bed.
I liked the claret jars on the cupboard shelf. The 27 arches of the railway viaduct dominate the Stockport townscape as it spans the Mersey valley feet above the river, just to the north of the station at which trains from Manchester to London stop.
When built in the viaduct was the largest in the world and remains one of the biggest brick-built structures in Western Europe. Between and , cotton spinning and weaving was the dominant industry of the region, powered first by the fast-flowing waters of the Goyt, Tame and Mersey, and later by coal mined locally.
In the s Stockport was second only to Manchester in the amount of cotton being produced. Three quarters of the inhabitants were engaged in cotton manufacture.
Mills sprang up along the banks of the Mersey. By , there were 40 large cotton mills in the town. In , in The Condition of the Working Class in England , Frederick Engels vividly described what a desperate place Stockport had become:. There is Stockport, too, which lies on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, but belongs nevertheless to the manufacturing district of Manchester.
It lies in a narrow valley along the Mersey, so that the streets slope down a steep hill on one side and up an equally steep one on the other, while the railway from Manchester to Birmingham passes over a high viaduct above the city and the whole valley.
Stockport is renowned throughout the entire district as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes, and looks, indeed, especially when viewed from the viaduct, excessively repellent. But far more repulsive are the cottages and cellar dwellings of the working-class, which stretch in long rows through all parts of the town from the valley bottom to the crest of the hill. I do not remember to have seen so many cellars used as dwellings in any other town of this district….
Secure and decently paid jobs had gone, and with them the community pride created by a tradition of skilled work in a local mine or factory. An Oxbridge-educated lad, Owen Jones, had attended a Stockport primary school starved of resources and was the only member of his class to reach university.
In his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class , published last year, he has no doubt that he made it only because his family was middle class. To be working class was no longer something people felt that they could be proud of. The demonisation of working-class identity has, he claims, had an impact on the attitudes of not only middle-class people but also both those who are working-class.
With a political consensus that we should aspire to become middle-class, and with few positive representations of working-class people how many MPs from a trade union or working class background are left in the House Commons, even on the Labour benches? With reference to Stockport, the truly despicable website Chavtowns has this example of the kind of contemptuous attitude that Owen Jones is on about:.
Our town is so bad, many people are even considering relocating to Milton Keynes…. Stockport is also the only town in the world where the local demolition experts are the kids…. Today Stockport is in denial. Instead of valuing the extraordinary resources the town possesses — principally its river and its history—these are ignored, old buildings are demolished and the river is even built over as it is in Merseyway Precinct in order to provide more shops for the addicts of tat.
A river is a living thing, not a drain. Unfortunately, however, Stockport is now attempting to shed its past, industrial and otherwise, and transform itself into another soulless and indistinguishable conurbation.
This supposedly new economic plan is of course death to the real identity of Stockport, to its long-cherished individuality, to those features and customs and landmarks which have made it what it is. Until they pull down the Merseyway shopping centre and reclaim the Mersey for the centre of the town, little can be done to reverse the decision to culvert the Mersey — a decision that was actually made back in the s.
Local historian Coral Dranfield, a member of Stockport Heritage Trust, gave this interview about the town to the Mersey Basin campaign in I was born and brought up in Stockport, mainly in the Cheadle area.
My first recollection of the river is when we used to get off the bus, just outside Mersey Square and the river was right near the bus stop and it was all very threatening and fast and you know I was always pleased that there was a railing between me and this big gorge. There was also a place where you could stand at the side of the shopping area before Merseyway was built and look down underneath Merseyway Road and the river looked very black and again it looked a dangerous, threatening place.
Most people of my age remember that. Yeah us kids we would stand there and look at it. Travellers used to pay the little man who lived underneath for a safe crossing.
So that was the start of it really and like a lot of towns, the river became part of the history of the area, right from very early Medieval times, corn milling brought in a big income for the Lord of the Manor and in Stockport, he had two corn mills and he ran them with water wheels, off the river. But again, the Mersey is very unpredictable, it can be very dry, it can be in flood, it would wash the wheels away and he actually built tunnels to control the river and to make more money out of his corn mills.
Stockport is also full of springs which all drain into the Mersey.
You could virtually dig a well anywhere I think in Stockport and find water. It was definitely built on water, springs, brooks. We have the Tin Brook which still runs underneath the shopping areas.
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And discharges under Merseyway. Cotton needed a lot of water. And people will remember working in places like that. Water was very important to a lot of activity, a lot of industry and wealth.
Certainly when it was built over and Stockport tried to forget it was there. I think by opening it up and getting people to re-use the river and to celebrate the river, rather than hide it, far from dividing the town, like it used to, it can reunite the two sides and bring people down to the river to do things. Well the river became a divider to the town. North of the river became part of Stockport, although it used to be part of Manchester, it joined to Stockport and the river was in the way.
They also probably thought this would make a great road from East to West through the middle of the town, so they built over it and this amazing structure for the s covered the river completely and made a dual carriageway. If they happen to look over a railing and see something dumped, everybody complains you know, dirty River Mersey and it would be so nice to change all that and bring it back to something that people want again.
You know that Stockport is where it all began. But it was the Mersey Valley that they were looking at. So you have the link there, the caves are by the river and the navvies were working to build the bridge over the river for the railway and were very much in danger of being on top of it, of falling in while they were working and it was apparently a shanty town, which is what they used to do. They would be mainly Irish and they would travel around with the railway wherever they were being built, with their families as well, not just the men.
So it had been passed down through the family and everyone else had forgotten about it. I do have a spot that I would like to see celebrated. We want to bring it back, we definitely want to make people proud of the fact that Stockport has a river, not keep it all hidden, celebrate it really, yes be proud of it.
Very much enjoyed this post on Stockport — my family comes from the Wirral and Congleton so we are now all reading your blog even though we are scattered over the world. More to come as I make my way down the Mersey. Thanks for reading, Pam. I recognised where you took the images from. However where did you take the viaduct picture from? I usually see it from the A6, with the bus station in front. The photo which is a Wikimedia Commons image, not mine — though all the rest of the photos are is taken from the Trans-Pennine Trail path on the north bank of the Mersey just below the King Street bridge which is in the foreground.
Excellent topic, photos and articles. In I recorded a five minute radio news report on Stockport Market and it being the first market in the United Kingdom to use the Euro. I want to upload the documentary to Youtube and so I need an accompanying photograph of the market to illustrate it. I was wondering if you I could have your permission to use the photograph at the top of your article. I will of course give you full credit.
Many thanks in advance. Very much enjoyed this post. I very much enjoyed reading this post and hear that others have the same view as me about the river that runs through Stockport.
It is a shame the river is now hidden when today a riverside walk and linear park would really enhance the town. I really do enjoy reading your posts regarding Stockport. I am an architecture student at Manchester Uni and currently working on a project about Stockport.
My agenda is to build a Green School-cum-Refuge Centre nearby the Lancashire Hill road and the confluence. I am also planning to restore the rivers give new life to it and make it a valuable asset just like the one in Seoul http: I think your idea is a great one — I looked at the Seoul example, and if that sort of thing could be done in Stockport — opening up the stretch off the Mersey currently buried beneath Merseyway shopping precinct — it would be great.
I Work at staircase house for heritage education and I really enjoyed reading your blog, I have lived here in Stockport all my life, my family came from Ireland like many others in the mid 19th c , regarding your views on opening up the river I agree wholeheartedly, what a beauty spot Stockport could be, imagine that! And thanks for the link — lots of interesting photos for old Stockportians to browse! What a wonderfully detailed piece of writing, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
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It just shows how much we would love to have our river and the linear walk,. Not sure if this page is still active however. I recently cleared out an old garden shed and found a 2 gallon pot flask with the following embossed on the top. Many thanks for this, Gerry.
BTW I have just linked your recent selection of uplifting poetry to my own blog. What an informative article.. Why then did I feel nostalgic reading your article.. I must have walked past these beautiful buildings a hundred times with my eyes closed.. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account.
Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Skip to content Home Menu Stockport: Books, exhibitions, films, music, places - anything that inspires. Here so I don't forget. The intoxicating scent of lime trees. That's how the light gets in. Paul Nash and World War One: Walking the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Little Underbank from the bridge The bridge from Little Underbank Stockport has never been a port: Wikipedia explains what is distinctive about a cage newel staircase: In , in The Condition of the Working Class in England , Frederick Engels vividly described what a desperate place Stockport had become: With reference to Stockport, the truly despicable website Chavtowns has this example of the kind of contemptuous attitude that Owen Jones is on about: See also Where two rivers meet: Click to print Opens in new window Click to email Opens in new window Share on Facebook Opens in new window Click to share on Twitter Opens in new window Click to share on Pocket Opens in new window Click to share on Pinterest Opens in new window.
Tagged River Mersey Staircase House Stockport Underbank Hall walks Gerry Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK. July 31, at August 28, at August 31, at January 19, at June 4, at It is a lovely valley to walk in.
Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. September 23, at September 24, at January 1, at March 19, at Very interesting read ,my Dad worked in the Hatting trade ,. April 5, at March 23, at July 30, at November 1, at August 16, at Leigh Wine Merchant 40 Great Underbank Stockport.
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