Discover Stockport Old Town's rich and varied history, from 1260 - 1967.
In 1260, Prince Edward, Earl of Chester, gave Robert de Stokeport rights to hold a market weekly and a fair annually on St Wilfrid’s Day.
The charter sealed the commercial success of Stockport, which now rivalled the markets of Macclesfield and Salford.
The charter also gave important rights to the free traders who lived and worked within the borough. In return for a rental of one shilling annually to the lord of Stockport, they each received a perch of land to build a house, usually around the Market Place or Underbanks on a long narrow strip of land.
The first mayor of Stockport was William de Baggilegh in 1296 who, with other land barons, governed over the town by punishing all crimes in the neighbourhood.
The stocks were situated near the church gates on the Market Place, but the unruly language of the detainees, secured by their legs for disorderly behaviour, offended churchgoers and they were moved closer to the dungeon on Mealhouse Brow.
The dungeon itself consisted of a number of chambers, some made out of solid rock and one at a considerable depth down the Brow.
Following the death of the last de Stokeport in 1292, the barony passed through marriage to the de Etons, whose double-headed eagle came to be incorporated in the Stockport heraldic coat of arms.
Scottish raids into Northern England continued to worry the inhabitants of Stockport until the 1330s.
It is most likely that the wall around the Castle Hill and Market Place was constructed at this time.
Trade in medieval Stockport is known to have included weaving cloth, baking bread and brewing.
The Dodge family became wealthy merchants and in 1478 ‘Oliver Dogge, of Stockport’ is recorded as buying three packs of woollen cloth worth £40 and hiring a ship to carry them to Ireland.
In 1483 the Dodges held six plots of land around the town, and centuries later their descendants founded Dodge City in America.
The century continued and with it archers departed for the Hundred Years’ War with France. The decimating plague the Black Death appeared and the Peasants’ Revolt occurred, shaking the nobility and undermining the feudal system.
Merchant classes and freemen formed themselves into powerful trade guilds, gaining great wealth and influence in the process.
The War of the Roses, from 1455 to 1487, did not disrupt trade and business in Stockport and everything went on as usual.
This was represented by the building and growth of Staircase House, a merchant’s warehouse, workshop and home, fronting the Market Place.
Various trades were carried out at Staircase House including cheese factoring and wine importation. From a simple rectangular building, the house grew and prospered, expanding out down the hill at the rear with courtyards and extra wings.
The freemen of Stockport were exercising their right to become rich.
In 1707, the English and Scottish Parliaments passed the Act of Union which led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Forty years later, the last of the Stuarts, Bonnie Prince Charlie, came marching through Stockport with his army of Highland Scots.
By 1769 it was estimated that 2,000 people worked in Stockport’s silk industry, after hatting, button-making and silk-yarn spinning were established.
The Castle Mill, built to an elaborate and eccentric design by Sir George Warren, lord of the manor of Stockport, was erected on the remains of the old castle mound in the Market Place.
It was built to look like a battlemented tower and was oval in shape with an open inner courtyard.
The eighteenth century was occupied by a series of wars against France and America, who declared independence in 1783.
The high taxes imposed to pay for the wars caused resentment in Stockport and one local farmer protested by riding his cow, saddled and bridled, to and from Stockport Market in 1784.
This was his protest against the tax on saddle horses and was made the subject of a famous cartoon which reached the hands of the prime minister of the time, William Pitt.
In 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, however the peace did not bring prosperity.
The Corn Laws kept the price of corn artificially high, to the benefit of the wealthy landowners and farmers and to detriment of the poor working-class.
Radicalism in Stockport emerged out of these social conditions and in 1817 a mass rally of weavers, hatters and other radicals gathered in Manchester intended to march on Parliament with a petition.
When the marchers got to Stockport, many were arrested and herded into the yard of the Castle Inn in the Market Place.
In 1819, radical orator Henry Hunt addressed crowds from an upper window of the Bull’s Head in the Market Place, and a tin cup filled with ale was passed around the crowd, who drank to liberty.
A great meeting was called by the radicals at St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester and about 2,000 people from Stockport attended.
As soon as Henry Hunt mounted a platform to address the crowd, a troop of Manchester Yeomen attempted to force its way through the 80,000 strong crowd to arrest the leaders.
Suddenly mad panic erupted when the Yeomen charged with drawn sabres, killing 11 and injuring over 600 people.
Of these 600, forty-six were believed to have come from Stockport, with eight of them being women. One man from Stockport had part of his skull cut away with a sabre slash but survived and kept it as a memento. It was later exhibited by Henry Hunt to the House of Commons.
The Reform Act of 1832 made Stockport a parliamentary borough with two seats in the House of Commons. In December of that year, a massive gathering of 12,000 people packed the Market Place to hear the candidates nominated.
In 1835 Stockport had become a Municipal Borough with a Town Council and forty-two local councillors.
The Chartist Movement was gathering momentum at this time as they worked towards establishing the six points of their Charter, which included votes for all adult males, secret ballots, equal-size constituencies, annual parliaments, payment of MPs and an end of a property qualification for members.
Another reform movement had gained momentum with the backing of manufacturers. This was the Anti-Corn Law league which had two charismatic leaders, John Bright and Richard Cobden, who believed that the removal of restrictions on imported corn would help the poor by reducing the price of bread and boost the market for their own commodities.
‘Modern’ Stockport could be said to have arrived with the railway.
The construction of the viaduct in 1839 was the largest civil engineering project yet, utilising eleven million bricks in twenty-six arches which spanned the Mersey Valley.
In 1841, Richard Cobden was elected as MP for Stockport. In that year he told fellow members of the House of Commons: “You must untax the people’s bread!”
Cobden warns the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, that there were 60,000 people starving in Stockport and “If you were not prepared with a remedy, they will be justified in taking food for themselves”.
This was not parliamentary language and the Prime Minister accused Cobden of inciting the people to kill him.
Soon afterwards the Plug Riots in Stockport saw starving mill workers break into the workhouse and distribute bread among themselves.
Grenadier Guards marched with fixed bayonets through Manchester to quell Chartist riots.
In 1846, famine in Ireland increased pressure on the prime minister.
The Corn Laws were repealed and free trade was introduced.
In the twentieth century Stockport was affected by the General Strike of May 1926 when workers came out in support of the miners.
For nine days the country was almost at a standstill, with volunteers manning buses, delivering goods and even driving trains!
Cobden left a strong mark on the people of Stockport who remembered him in 1886 when, twenty-one years after his death, cheering crowds in St. Peter’s Square attended the unveiling of a bronze statue in recognition of his legacy.
The statue was carved with the simple inscription ‘Cobden’ and is still the only public statue in the town.
Burrowing through Stockport’s native red bunter sandstone rock are the miles of tunnels which sheltered thousands of citizens from Nazi air raids in the 1940s.
First excavated when the threat of war became apparent in 1938, they were started after it was discovered that a tunnel could be dug without the need for props.
Some houses had been demolished on Chestergate revealing cellars cut into the sandstone cliffs. These were extended at very little cost and two main parallel tunnels linked by nineteen shorter cross tunnels were opened which could accomodate 4,000 people.
They attracted so many people that they were extended when the Blitz began in October 1940. The tunnels stretched all the way from Lower Hillgate to Mersey Square.
Violent clashes between police and strikers made headlines in national newspapers during the Roberts-Arundel dispute in 1967.
An American company took over the Chestergate textile engineering firm of Arundel Coulthard and proceeded to ride roughshod over workers’ privileges.
The AEU declared an official strike and pickets blockaded the factory.
A mass march of 3,500 supports resulted in many arrests and the deputy chief constable, Tom Walker, was among the injured. Lorries carrying goods were chased and stopped at the docks.
The strike was over by May 1968 and the firm closed.
On Sunday 4 June 1967, a Canadair C-4 Argonaut aircraft carrying vacationers back from the Balearic Islands to Manchester Airport crashed in Hopes Carr, a small open area near the centre of Stockport, killing 72 of the 84 passengers onboard.
The aircraft became uncontrollable and crashed at 10:09 am local time. Despite the crash occurring in an overwhelmingly urban area, there were no fatalities on the ground.
Members of the public and police risked harm to save 12 people from the mangled debris, but within minutes the wreckage was entirely engulfed in flames, killing those remaining on board who had survived the impact.