As we found out during the MLHS autumn walk round the streets of Stockport on Thursday 21st October 2021, the town centre provides plenty of evidence of its long history, dating from at least Norman times. Early Stockport developed around the market place with its steep ‘brews’ leading down to the narrow streets near the river. It is little wonder that as the Industrial Revolution gained pace in the early part of the 19th Century, bringing increased need for transport of goods and people, that traffic congestion was a problem even then. Far sighted action was taken in the 1820s to move the main north-south road from its route along Chestergate, the Underbanks and Hillgate to a bypass route through the then countryside on the western edge of town (now known as the A6). This improved things, but there were still problems and in the 1930s, the town council proposed an ambitious plan to bridge over a quarter mile long portion of the River Mersey from Lancashire Bridge to Mersey Square as a motor road to take traffic away from that side of the town centre. At this time the major retail hub was Prince’s Street (named for the Prince of Wales after he came to open the new Town Hall in 1908.) Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and British Home Stores all had premises fronting onto Princes Street. In 1968 another major change pedestrianised the road and turned it into a shopping precinct. The department stores were extended to have their main entrances on the precinct, while Stockport Coop provided itself with a new frontage on the opposite side, creating the beginnings of the very successful Merseyway shopping centre.
As a community we lost Marple Hall in the late 1950s. It was sad but inevitable as the fabric of the house had been deteriorating for years and many other country houses had met the same fate. However, on the bright side, we have been locating and, in some cases, reclaiming, a number of items from the house. There were two main periods which saw the wholesale distribution of artefacts across the country and, in some cases, worldwide.
The first period was the end of July in 1929 when the owner at that time, Henry Bradshaw-Isherwood, took the decision to sell the complete contents of the house as he was no longer interested in it. His timing was exquisite, if not perfect. The ‘Roaring Twenties’ ended in the United States on 4th September 1929 when stock market prices began to fall and reached a climax on ‘Black Tuesday’, 29th October. The British economy followed a similar pattern a few days later.
On Wednesday 10th November 2021 Frank Pleszak hosted a unique event for those interested or had experience of the colliery, with Rod Thackary as the guest of honour at the Oddfellows Pub in Mellor for an evening’s reminiscing.
Ludworth Moor Colliery
As a child Rod Thackray from Moor End Mellor was enthralled by stories told by his uncle Ivan Eccles about his exploits working at coal mines around Mellor after WW1. By the time Rod was a teenager he was an accomplished artist and had developed a passion for exploring old coalmine workings. He once fell down the shaft at Picky Wood Pit in Marple only to be saved from serious injury when his fall was broken by a dead cow that had previously fallen down.
Apart from his paintings and sketches (many of which were done using a series of small distinct dots known as the Pointillism technique) he also recoded interviews with local miners, also collected mining artefacts and memorabilia in which he was assisted by friends Bill Whalley, a tramway expert, and Chris Hesketh. Their extensive collection was shared, much of Rod’s artefacts eventually being donated to various mining museums and the documents and maps to Derbyshire Record Office. Bill Whalley’s part of the collection was acquired by Chris Hesketh and after his death has recently been donated to Marple Local History Society archives.
Ludworth Moor Colliery Tramway from SW on 19 October 1979. From Warwick Burton collection in Marple Local History Society Archives.
Marple and the surrounding area had lots of coal mines, some dating back as far as the early 17th century. Many were created during the industrial revolution to supply mills as they converted to steam to power their looms. Most mills and their coal mines had closed by the turn of the 20th century, and few survived past the First World War and the General Strike of 1926.
Rod though had discovered many undocumented mines some of which could be dated back to the early 17th century. By the late 1970’s Rod was helping the well-known character Alf Gee down the last colliery to the south of Manchester.
Large scale map showing the location of the colliery
Click on it to view a smaller scale map showing the area relative to Marple and Compstall
Ludworth Moor Colliery was right on the edge of Mellor. It operated continuously for almost 60 years from 1927, when a farmer from Sandhill Lane began to harvest coal from his land, until 1983 when it finally closed. It had existed in 3 counties: Derbyshire, then Cheshire but is now in Greater Manchester. A thin outcrop of what was known as the Big Smut Coal Seam was exploited by several enterprises with drift mines utilising ancient pillar and stall mining techniques. They used simple pickaxes, shovels and acetylene lamps with naked flames for lighting. The tubs (carts) of coal were manually pushed to the surface and graded into large chunks known as cobs, intermediate sizes called singles, or finer coal known as slack. Locals would wait at the mine entrance
to buy their coal which they called ‘holiday coal’ because it was considered to be so efficient, they could light a fire before they went on holiday, and it would be still burning when they got home!
It wasn’t until 1969 that the first compressor enabled the use of pneumatic picks but most of the owners failed to make any money. Alf Gee owned the colliery for almost 30 years 20 of which he worked single handed deep in the narrow and low tunnels. In the final years from 1978 to 1981 it was operated by Geoffrey du Feu with Rod as a full-time partner. Once all the underground coal that could be safely removed had been mined, they used opencast techniques with heavy machinery to move the topsoil to one side and the clay to another side before extracting the remaining coal.
The colliery finally closed in 1983 when the shafts and drifts were covered and the opencast diggings filled in with the topsoil and clay that had been separated and the land returned to upland pasture for cattle and sheep grazing. Today, unless you know the colliery had existed there is hardly any signs of the historic industry that once operated in the area.
Further Reading: Rod Thackray Paintings of the pit
Frank Pleszak - December 2021
More on the meeting in November 2021:
Some brought coal collected from Ludworth Moor and others brought various artefacts including an original acetylene lamp that was actually used below ground at Ludworth Moor. Rod brought an example of ‘bobbers’ which are heavy solid limestone concretions that looked like bowling balls which had been formed within the coal seam by a constant stream of water.
Among the guests were some with unique experiences:
- David Watson who as a child sat with his feet on bags of gelignite when his father Bob delivered to Alf Gee for blasting his tunnels,
- Paul Hudson whose grandfather was a local collier and featured in some of Rod’s recorded interviews,
- Ivor Dawson whose father Glyn from Mill Brow was a mining enthusiast and good friend of Alf Gee
- Dave Myers who turned up dressed as a miner and appropriately covered in coal dust, who remembers both Alf Gee and Rod working on Ludworth Moor, and
- Geoff Cusick, long-time friend of Rod’s who had taken many photos of Rod underground and even a cine film of the very last working day of the colliery, none of which had ever been seen before. Geoff's pictures illustrate this account.
Rod also brought along a selection of paintings and sketches of his time working the colliery. It was no ordinary boring presentation: everybody’s excellent contribution, lively debate, interesting questions, anecdotes, and especially the enthusiasm made it a really special evening capturing memories that will now be remembered for a long time.
Weirs have played a key role in the history of Marple and Mellor, providing a reliable source of power to the early mills and a steady flow of of water for washing to the mills engaged in bleaching and printing. We have already looked at the more modern weir built in Brabyns Park by the Environment Agency LINK; now we should look at the rather more historic weirs which have played an important role in our heritage.
Weirs are a common feature worldwide as the technology is simple and there are many examples in the UK because of the early evolution of the industrial revolution in this country. The environment agency estimates that there are 16,725 on major rivers in England and Wales alone though this figure ignores the many small weirs on feeder streams such as Mellor Brook or Mill Brook. There are at least 18 weirs within the boundaries of Stockport MBC along the Goyt, the Tame and the Mersey..........
For over a century, Strines was home to the Strines Calico Printing company, which became one of the leading companies printing not merely calico, but any and every sort of fabric. In the 19th century the Company owned much of the land and employed many of the inhabitants of Strines and the neighbouring villages. Now, in 2021, the works has been closed, demolished and replaced by a housing estate. The village has turned into a dormitory suburb, but it still has its church which (until the present hiatus) continued to serve the neighbourhood and the adjoining areas of Marple and New Mills. Services will resume as soon as present restrictions on meetings are removed.
The initiative for a church in Strines came from the owners of Strines Calico Print Works, Thomas Henry Nevill and later by his son, Charles Henry Nevill. In a speech at the Christmas party in 1853 one of the partners of the works proposed a toast to the Bishops and Clergy. He said “it had long been in contemplation to establish a place of worship in Strines”. At first services were held on the works premises. One of the owners of the works, Thomas Henry Nevill, bought a patch of land on the Marple to New Mills road from the Egerton estate (who owned most of the area), and erected four houses for their senior employees together with a corrugated iron church. At the time,
We don’t have floods like they used to!
"The river Goyt, which separates the counties of Derby and Chester, swelled to that degree at the confluence of three brooks, that it covered the highest battlements of Marple bridge, upwards of 22 feet from the surface of the water when at a common height. It washed away every thing on the Derbyshire side of the bridge, except the bare arch stones, which tho’ founded on a rock at each end, ’twas surprizing they were left, as much bigger were torn away.
The highway leading to the bridges guarded by a good wall upwards of three hundred feet in length, and founded on a rock nineteen feet higher than the river. The rock and wall for some roods were carried away and the roads rended impassable for any carriage. There was one stone torn away from the rock and carried several rood down the river that contained 169 cubital feet."
Gentleman’s Magazine 18 August 1748
Oldknow’s Seat is locally the stuff of legend, but it’s not a myth - it does still exist. Many of us will have heard of it, it is marked on old maps and over the years lots of locals have had their photo taken sat on it. Those that were children in the fifties and sixties remember it as the ‘Giants Chair’. Though it is now not easy to locate, some recent ‘intrepid explorers’ have managed to find their way to it.
It’s located on private land with no general public access, less than a kilometre to the south east of Mellor Mill on the side of the Goyt valley just below Mellor & Townscliffe Golf Club’s most westerly hole, the 14th which is appropriately named Oldknow’s Seat.
The rough moorland of the Pennine foothills is criss-crossed by tracks which were the main roads of early times when most people had to travel everywhere on foot, or if they were lucky, on horseback. These have become our public bridleways and let us walk and ride freely in the countryside, which has been doubly appreciated during these last few months. Nowadays junctions on these tracks are indicated by official signposts, but long ago most people couldn’t read so there had to be other kinds of markers.
HatherlowJust beyond Chadkirk the A627 climbs the long steep hill towards Bredbury and passes through Hatherlow, described by James Butterworth in his 1827 book History and Description of the Towns and Parishes of Stockport as ‘a small hamlet within the Parish of Bredbury’. It may be small but its mix of both old and elegant buildings gives it an aesthetic coherence to justify being designated as a conservation area by Stockport MBC.
Broadoak Moated House
On the edge of Stockport Golf Club, next to Broadoak Farm, is a squarish platform of land, surrounded by a moat on all sides. Although it is private property and well away from any roads it is adjacent to a public footpath running from Torkington Road to the Middlewood Way. It is quite a sizeable feature in the landscape but what exactly is it? The usual description for anything old and of unknown origin is ‘Roman’ - Roman Bridge, Roman Lakes etc. and the tithe map of 1838 would seem to bear this out - ‘Site of Roman Camp’. Not only that but it lies close to one of the most likely routes for the Roman road between Stockport and Disley.
There have been a number of times when county boundaries have been adjusted.
The biggest change locally, came about in 1936 when Furness Vale, most of Whaley Bridge and part of Newtown were transferred from Cheshire to Derbyshire. At the same time Mellor and Ludworth became part of Cheshire, becoming Marple Urban District Council’s responsibility. The original county boundary following the River Goyt had caused numerous administrative anomalies and duplications of offices.
Take a walk along Town Street, Marple Bridge, cross the end of Hollins Lane, pass the little pay and display car park, and below the bridge, at the beginning of Longhurst Lane, lies one of the oldest industrial buildings in the area, Spade Forge, formally known as Forge Bank Mill. Its earliest record dates from 1776, but was probably operating before that. Although it has now been converted into a house, its past remains for all to see. The waterwheel which drove its machinery is still in situ, with the millpond dam, 40’ wide and 20’ high, sluice gate seating and head race adjacent.
On December 4th, Marple’s new Co-operative Store opened on Church Lane, directly opposite Market Street; 146 years after the Compstall Industrial Co-operative Society opened its first Marple store in 1874. The first store was in Market Street, near the junction with Stockport Road. In 1898 a drapery store was built opposite the original store in the same architectural style. Today the drapery building is home to Helen Winterson Ltd.