A short history of Bollington
by Ken Edwards
For many thousands of years Bollington was blessed with no history
at all being an obscure part of the Parish of Prestbury. Exciting
and imaginative stories can be created about Archers at Agincourt
and wild hunts through the Forest of Macclesfield or visits from
the Black Prince. However, until the 17th century, our little valley
with its River Dean, fed by Harrop brook, running through rocky bank,
marsh and open fields saw the common activities of rural England:
sheep farming, domestic farm activities, wood cutting, charcoal burning,
and some stone cutting and surface coal mining.
The only outsiders were itinerant traders in salt, coal and peddlers
wares using ancient tracks dating from Roman times and before hard
now to define. The best attested is the one leading up Hedgerow in
Harrop Valley and out over the Hill to Kettleshulme and beyond. There
is another that possibly came into Bollington up Clarke Lane and
Redway and up the east side of Kerridge to Rainow and beyond. Traveling
preachers probably stopped at Bollington Cross on their way to the
north. The Cross has been seen in living memory but now has disappeared
and we are not sure where it was placed.
The earliest buildings to survive are all connected with day to
day agricultural living; the farmhouse which is now the Bridgend
Centre, Bollington Hall the white house next to the co-op with the
plaque with its remnants from the Tudor period and the low set house
opposite the new flats in Palmerston Street all have their origins
in the early post middle ages. The oldest is probably Sowcar Farm
opposite the Poachers Inn (actually in Rainow parish).
With the gradual clearances of the woodland and the extension of
arable and sheep farming over the centuries a pattern of farm ownership
grew up based on local large land owners. By the 17th century farms
such as Old Hollin Hall at the top of Hurst Lane and Stake End Farm
in Chancery Lane, Ovenhouse Farm on Henshall Road and the farms in
the Dean Valley above Ingersley Vale were all settled and thriving.
By the end of the 17th century Bollington was still a series of
farms with possibly a concentration of buildings at Bollington Cross.
Some ordinary cottages here have early remnants in their interiors.
The Great Civil War 1642-46 passed us by. There was a skirmish at
Adlington in 1643 between Manchester Parliamentarians and Royalists.
The Roundheads lost but soon after Cheshire was held for Parliament
and retained in spite of the incursions of Prince Rupert in 1644.
With the rise of the silk industry in the Macclesfield area in
the 18th century the picture of rural peace was shattered by the
beginnings of the mighty changes that were to bring to birth in
the 19th century the exciting industrial community whose architecture
surrounds us today. It is difficult to believe that Bollington’s
agricultural workers and quarry workers families were not involved
in the making of silk buttons throughout the 18th century as this
was a major village activity based on the merchants of Macclesfield.
What is clear is that during the later part of the century many
water mills began to appear in Rainow and Bollington. The Adlington
Estate made a complaint to the Court of Chancery in 1805 that
these numerous mills were taking all their water. But the industry
that changed the face of the town was cotton and the people who
changed the face of the town were the great cotton manufacturing
families such as the Swindells and the Gregs. The end of the Napoleonic
wars had brought about an industrial slump in the north of England.
Then the beginnings of free trade after an Act of 1826 brought
about another slump. In the early 1830’s business began to
revive and we see a spate of activity in the town.
Lowerhouse Mill built in 1818 by the Antrobus family and never used
was bought by Samuel Greg and opened
as a cotton mill in 1832. Samuel Greg was a social pioneer who created
a model industrial community from 1832 to 1846, that became known
as Goldenthal or Happy Valley. It was the fate of his community
that we think inspired the industrial novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary
Barton and North and South.
It was the Swindells family who dominated the cotton town. They
occupied or owned with various partners Ingersley Clough Mill
(now ruined) and Rainow Mill (long gone, but was where J. McNulty’s
is today) from 1821 to 1841, Higher and Lower Mills (disappeared
under Dyers Close and Tullis Russell respectively) from 1832
until 1859 and Waterhouse Mill (fragments left on the Kay-Metzeler
site) in partnership with Thomas Oliver from around 1832 until
The Swindells family made their lasting contribution to the town’s
architecture when, with partners the Brooke family, they built Clarence
Mill in 1834-38 and Adelphi Mill in 1856 taking full advantage of
the newly opened Macclesfield Canal in 1831 whose stone bridges,
aqueducts and wharves were engineered by William Crosley. Thomas
Telford had surveyed the route. These magnificent industrial buildings
are still with us, albeit metamorphosed by prescient developers into
flats and business units. The original owners brought raw cotton
in through Liverpool from the U.S. and exported it to the world through
agents in Manchester. They were the leaders of a globalised industry.
There are Swindells monuments in St. John’s graveyard including
a moving memorial to the wife of Martin Swindells.
It was the wealth of the cotton industry that created the mills
and cottages of upper Bollington and some of the splendid family
homes such as the Swindells family residence, now the Medical
Centre and a private residence. The Medical Centre has two wonderful
sculptures by Alfred Gatley, Bollington’s famous 19th century sculptor.
It was the crises in the cotton industry that brought hardship and
uncertainty into the lives of our townspeople in the nineteenth century.
There are the graves of young children in St. John’s Churchyard
who suffered and died due to poor public health provision and
lack of medical care that accompanied the growth of private wealth.
Outbreaks of cholera were not unknown.
The remaining distinctive characteristics of the town were created
by the 19th century transport revolution. The first canal into
Macclesfield was proposed by the Brocklehurst family in the 1760’s. Francis
Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater, put a stop to that wanting to maintain
his monopoly on water transport. The Trent & Mersey Canal
Co, were equally difficult in later years, thus the development
of the area was held back for 70 years until the canal was opened
Once the Macclesfield Canal, linking the Peak Forest Canal at
Marple to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Kidsgrove, was built
cotton, coal and stone could be more easily transported. A tramway
was constructed from Endon quarries on Kerridge Hill to the canal
side at Kerridge dry dock as well as the great mills being built.
The soaring aqueduct over Palmerston Street and its lesser brother
over Grimshaw Lane are testimony to the engineering skills of the
The railway took some time to come to Bollington and lasted a
century from 1870 to 1970. It is now the Middlewood Way cycle and
walking track and the goods station and sidings is now the Clough
Bank transport and industry park. The business units on Grimshaw
Lane replaced Joseph Wetton’s stone yard. The passenger station
was beside that.
As we have said, for much of its history Bollington has had a
corporate identity as part of the Parish of Prestbury but in the
19th century the town grew so populous it was decided it needed
its own Parish in 1834. The Methodists had built the first church
in 1807 followed by the present handsome church and manse opposite
the Town Hall. The Anglicans and Catholics followed in 1834 with
the church of St. John and the first St. Gregory’s Church (now gone) built on
land behind Church Street given by Sir William Turner. The present
St. Gregory’s is a handsome brick built building next to the
viaduct on Wellington Road. St. John’s Church was closed in
2003 and Anglicans worship at Holy Trinity in Kerridge and at St.
Oswald’s at Bollington Cross next to the Church of England
There was a primitive Methodist church in High Street on the right
facing up the hill now disappeared and replaced by houses. The Congregational
Church opposite the Drop-in Centre (now the Bridgend Centre) has
been cut in half and turned into offices and a close of modern houses.
There was a further Methodist church in Grimshaw Lane, at Rose Bank.
In the 20th century Bollington avoided war damage in the physical
sense. However Bollington experienced a long slow decline in
the textile industry, coupled with the rise of private transport
and out of town shopping gradually drained work and commercial
activity from the Town. Nevertheless, Bollington Urban District
Council had a proud history of providing community facilities such
as piped water and gas and the corporate life of the mills and
churches supplied ample excitement in fetes, parades, sporting
events and away days in Wakes Weeks. New houses were built of stone
in the 1930’s
and brick in the 1950’s.
However, from the 1990’s onwards Bollington has enjoyed
a renewal of life based on its picturesque position on the edge
of the Peak District surrounded by green belt, but in easy reach
of good employment centres like AstraZeneca, Manchester Airport
and large urban areas like Stockport and Manchester. There has
been a continuous inflow of people and the ever present blue boards
of Holmes~Naden are evidence of continuing mobility.
Some large businesses survive notably Slater Harrison at Lowerhouse
Mill producing specialist coated papers and Kay-Metzeler producing
foam products. New businesses have developed in the financial
sector, transport, printing and advertising. The internet revolution
has enabled home-working to grow. The stone cottages that used
to house large families of industrial workers now modernised, are
highly valued by single people and young couples. This pressure
is indicated by the price of an average cottage moving from £40,000 to £120,000
over the 10 years 1995-2005.
The town has been particularly fortunate in the input of the Coope
family in medicine and the arts. The late Dr. John Coope MBE was
responsible with a number of other talented individuals for the founding
of the Bollington Festival as well as the creation of the Arts Centre
in the former Methodist Hall.
The Civic Society has masterminded the creation of the Bollington Discovery Centre which
is dedicated to informing the people of the Town as well as our visitors
of the complex history of this small but vibrant community.
The Town enjoyed independent Civic Status from 1894 until 1974 as
the Bollington Urban District Council. Many of us regret its loss
of local powers. We hope to see its Civic Spirit continued as the
Bollington Town Council works to build a better future for a strong
and safe community through the implementation of the Parish Plan
adopted in 2004. The Discovery Centre itself
is an important part of that plan. In doing so the Town Council is
pledged to work with all the other groups in the community to ensure
that the 21st century like the 19th is one of enterprise, energy
and hope for the people of Bollington.