The recently completed ‘Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy Project’ had three parts: restoration of the Peak Forest Canal Aqueduct, investigation of the industrial archaeology and landscaping of the lime kiln complex off Strines Road, and furtherance of the industrial archaeological excavations of the Mellor Mill site, which had started in 2011 prior to granting of Heritage Lottery money in 2014.
Standing on Bridge No 1, the first bridge on the Macclesfield Canal, with your back to the old toll house, Marple Marina is spread out before you. The open water of Top Lock with the branch beyond, lined with boats of every size and shape and colour, present a very peaceful scene but it was not always thus. Just like Black Wharf at Lock 12, in its heyday Top Lock was the centre for various activities all centred around the canal.
Brabyns Brow marks an obvious division in the Marple flight between the lower eight and upper eight locks. It is approximately halfway, not just in the number of locks but also in the distance covered. Another distinction is that this is the point at which the towpath crosses over the canal. The towpath is on the eastern side for the lower eight locks but crosses over to the western side for the upper eight. Hence the adjective “crossover” for bridges such as the one at Brabyns Brow. The siting of the towpath was not an incidental decision taken by the builders. The 1794 Act incorporating the canal company specified that the towpath was to be on the west bank where it passed Samuel Oldknow’s land. He might be the motive force behind the canal but he did not want any rough bargees traipsing over his land.
In the last three hundred years Marple has changed from a rural community to an industrial neighbourhood and now to a post-industrial commuter area. However, although gradual, these changes have not been mutually exclusive - there were early signs of industry well before Samuel Oldknow chose Mellor as the site of his new mill and even today, the Romiley Young Farmers Show demonstrates that the agricultural tradition lives on. Even so, it is difficult to believe that Marple had a regular weekly cattle market as recently as 1968.
Familiarity breeds contempt but it can also lead us to looking at our surroundings quite casually. How much do we really notice? One of the favourite parts of our local heritage is the Peak Forest Canal and particularly the locks. How many times have you walked up (or down) the locks? You must know every inch. Or do you? Let’s take a walk up the flight of locks and look at some of the aspects that together make our canal so interesting. Some are well known, some might be new to you and a few are mysteries to almost everyone.
It is easy to forget that we have two bridges over the Goyt into Low Marple. It is the aqueduct that gets all the attention. This is the Grade 1 listed monument, the popular walking path to Romiley, the one that gets all the publicity and the heritage grants. However, alongside it and in some ways overshadowing it, is the railway viaduct. It might only be a Grade 2 listed monument but it is higher and longer and more massive than our favoured aqueduct.
So, the Albert Schools will soon be no more. Its familiar facade has been a part of this community for 150 years so perhaps we should learn a little about it before it is gone forever. It has only been a school for less than half that 150-year history but why the name “Albert” and why “Schools” (plural)?
To answer that we need to look at the way we educated our children in centuries past.
Pear Tree Farm in Mill Brow recently came up for sale. Grade II listed, it was originally a seventeenth century farm house, complete with mullion windows and a stone roof. This makes it distinctive though not unique, but what really makes it stand out is the adjacent barn. As with the main house, this has been given a thorough twentieth century ‘makeover’ but it is not difficult to envisage its original function as a barn. Local legend has it that John Wesley preached there on one of his visits though the authentication is not as reliable as Bongs.
Our local heritage does not have to be old. Nor does it have to be architecturally distinguished. What it does have to do is to play or have played a significant part in the life and culture of the area at some time. One such building is Marple Baths. Right in the centre of Marple, it has been there longer than almost everybody living and it has played a significant part in the community for almost ninety years.
So why is it part of our local heritage? Architecturally it has been described as “a simple industrial building, built to a budget but modified and extended over the years.”
The clue is in the name - Fold. It means an enclosure from waste land or moor land, either for people or for animals. It still survives in the word ‘sheepfold’ but originally it had a much wider application.
The enclosure of common land has been a continuing process for centuries in England, but at first it was an occasional movement though it did become more systematic under the Tudors and the Stuarts. The early enclosures were mainly in southern and eastern England, south of a line from the Severn to the Humber but by the eighteenth century the Enlightenment was suggesting new approaches to agriculture as well as other fields such as transport and industry.
There is much in Mellor that is ‘special’ - the views, the church, Mellor Mill - but very little that is genuinely ‘unique’. One feature that is truly unique is the Masonic grave of Thomas Brierley, the eccentric printer from Brookbottom, near Strines. A very enthusiastic, though somewhat eccentric, mason, he arranged for a gravestone to be prepared for him in anticipation of his death. Parts of the inscription were written in cipher and other parts left blank because information of the date of his death were not known when the memorial was made.
Two bridges on the Macclesfield Canal in High Lane are “listed” by English Heritage. They are both interesting but not particularly noteworthy. Bridge Eleven carries the A6 over the canal so it is wide enough to almost be described as a tunnel. About 150 metres to the south Bridge Twelve curves gently as it carries the towpath over the entrance to High Lane wharf, a much more interesting feature. This is a particularly attractive bridge with a gentle curve taking the towpath over the entrance to the canal arm. The canal itself is important as one of the last narrow canals built.