Macclesfield

Macclesfield from the town’s train station.

Macclesfield is a market town in Cheshire.

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Macclesfield is located where the Cheshire plain gives way to the Peak District. It was first recorded under the name “Maclesfeld” in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its name is probably from a local landowner of the time. Two centuries later it was granted a charter. The Church of All Saints was built shortly afterwards, where St Michael’s Church now stands in the centre of town.

The Earls of Chester established the nearby Forest of Macclesfield, much larger than its present-day counterpart, as their private hunting preserve. Most of it was cut down after population increased in the mid-14th century. Throughout the Middle Ages it was fortified, probably by some sort of ditch and palisade. The names of streets such as Chestergate and Jordangate, contrary to popular belief, are unlikely to refer to the former presence of gates or portals in now-vanished walls; the term ‘gate’ is derived from ‘gata’, Scandinavian for road, which became gate in Middle English, and thus the term simply means to the road to Chester, or to the river Jordan, which was once a name for the Bollin.

During the Civil War, in 1642 the town was occupied for the King by Sir Thomas Aston, a Royalist. A century later, during the Jacobite Uprising, Bonnie Prince Charlie marched through on his effort to reach London.

Later in the 18th century Macclesfield, like much of that region of the country, began developing as a centre for textile manufacture. By the 1830s it was the world’s biggest producer of finished silks; some of the 71 mills that were in operation are scattered around today’s Macclesfield. Fashions changed, however, increasingly preferring French silk and the cottons coming out of Manchester to the north, and many of those mills closed down. So little industry was left in town that it was the only English mill town not bombed by the Germans during World War II.

During the 19th century many Macclesfield silk-workers followed the lead of John Ryle in emigrating to the USA. Ryle settled in Paterson, NJ, establishing a silk industry there. Hundreds of workers followed him across the Atlantic, and the two towns were very closely linked for many years, with the Macclesfield press reporting news from Paterson and vice versa. A section of the Macclesfield Silk Museum is devoted to Paterson and silk items produced there. Macclesfield is also the original home of Hovis flour and bread, established in 1886 and produced by Thomas Fitton in a mill near Buxton Road next to the Macclesfield canal, which still stands today, now converted into apartments.

The pharmaceuticals conglomerate Astra-Zeneca has a large manufacturing site in Macclesfield, though its research centre at nearby Alderley Edge was closed in 2014. The biotech and pharmaceutical industry is a significant source of local employment.

Macclesfield regained some measure of international fame in the late 20th century as the home of members of the late 1970s rock band Joy Division, which evolved into popular 1980s dance band New Order after lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself in his Barton Street home in 1980. Fans of Joy Division come to Macclesfield from all over the world, especially every 18 May, the anniversary of his death, to pay their respects at his grave marker in Macclesfield Cemetery. Control (2007), a film about Curtis’s life and death based on his widow’s memoirs, was filmed using many of the same Macclesfield locations in which he lived.

This association with the depressing songs of a suicidal musician has not been the only thing Macclesfield has had to live down. In 2004 The Times called the town England’s least cultured, due to its lack of theatres and other cultural institutions. That led the town to establish the Barnaby Festival in 2010, a modern take on ancient customs of celebrating St Barnabas’s Day. (By local custom, “Barnaby Week” in June was when the mills closed and many of the townspeople went to the seaside in North Wales.) The performance-centred Winterfest in November and December has brought even more people to Macclesfield.

So, if you come listening to Joy Division on your headphones and expect a correspondingly grim Northern town to match, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Pay your respects to Ian, of course, but if you take the time to see more of Macclesfield you’ll probably understand why it’s a popular home for many top earners in Liverpool and Manchester, including some of City’s and United’s finest.

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