Our next trip continued our travels around Greater Manchester, and our first stop was another Historical County Boundary, where the river Mersey runs through the town of Stockport…
Status: Stockport District, Greater Manchester (Historically Cheshire/Lancashire), Town, England
Travel: Metrolink (Anchorage – Piccadilly), Virgin Trains (Manchester Piccadilly – Stockport)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs
Attractions: Stockport Pyramid, Town Hall, Library, River Mersey, Merseyway Shopping Centre, Hat Museum, Air Raid Shelters, Market Place, Tourist Information, Stockport Village etc
As we left the station, we could already see the Clock Tower of Stockport’s impressive Town Hall. Walking down the road from the station to the main road, it was right there, sat on the other side of the road. It looked fantastic, and the sun was shining off it, highlighting the lovely colour of the stone. (This picture was actually taken on the way back to the station as when we arrived it was a bit cloudy).
It is a stark contrast to the more Gothic Town Halls in the rest of Greater Manchester in places like Manchester and Rochdale, with it being more akin to other cities such as Nottingham, Belfast and Portsmouth. The local council still use the building, which was designed by notable architect, Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas (1868 – 1948) who also designed Belfast City Hall in 1906.
His designs for Stockport Town Hall were put forwards in 1905, and it opened three years, with the Prince of Wales (George, later to become George V, 1865 – 1936) and Princess of Wales (Mary of Teck, 1867 – 1953) attending.The main feature of the interior are the oak panelled rooms that hold committee meetings, and there are three of these rooms. There is also a large Council Chamber with all the furnishings appropriate to a Government building. The most famous feature however is the Wurlitzer Organ, of which only 16 were ever made. This one was originally installed at the Paramount Theatre in Manchester, and then the Free Trade Hall, also in Manchester, in 1977. It was moved to Stockport in 1999, and is unique as the only one exported outside of the USA.
We started walking towards the centre of Stockport, following the main A6 which runs past the Town Hall, towards the M60 Motorway and then into Manchester itself. On the way we passed the Central Library, another beautiful stone building that is an important part of Stockports heritage.
The first Stockport Library was built in 1875, with the Central Library opening in 1913. It is still open today, and offers a range of services to tourists and locals alike. A heritage Library is also located up on the 1st floor. In here you can find histories of local buildings, along with historical maps, newspapers and censuses.
We reached the bottom of the small hill the road was running down, and at the bottom is one of many Historic County Boundaries around the country. This one no longer has an administrative function as Stockport is part of the much wider area of Greater Manchester, however before 1974, if you looked left you would be looking at Cheshire, and looking right you would see Lancashire, with the town effectively cut into two halves.
The border is marked by the river Mersey, which is formed by the Goyt and Tame Rivers meeting just east of here, where they form the Mersey which then runs all the way from here through Widnes/Runcorn to Liverpool and the Wirral, marking the Historic Boundary as it goes. It finally flows out into the Irish Sea just past Liverpool City Centre, with frequent sailings to Republic of/Northern Ireland from Liverpool and the Wirral.
At the back of the picture you can see the famous Stockport Viaduct, which we have crossed many times on our travels leaving Manchester for various destinations such as Sheffield, Birmingham, Lichfield, Stoke etc. The Viaduct has an incredible 27 arches, and took 21 months to built, using over 11,000,000 bricks. It stands 111 feet tall, and was built by the Manchester & Birmingham Railway, and designed by George Watson Buck (1789 – 1854, Engineer who also built the Montgomeryshire Canal in Wales). Construction was completed in 1840, and made the Viaduct the largest Viaduct in the world, and today it remains one of the largest brick structures ever built. The first trains ran in 1842, heading towards Crewe. The Viaduct was electrified in the 1960’s, allowing electric trains to run directly from Manchester to London. It originally held 2 tracks, but was expanded around 1900, to allow for four tracks to run across it.
In 1948 a tragedy occured, when a Buxton Service crashed into a Crewe/Disley Service that had stopped at a signal at the south end of the Viaduct whilst waiting for a platform to become free. It was foggy that night and the driver of the moving train is thought to have heard a shout from the Assistant Porter and thought it was the Guard telling him it was safe to set off. The Buxton train was coming from Heaton Norris, North of the viaduct and main Stockport station. Five people were killed, along with 27 serious casualties.
The main bus station for Stockport is located beneath the viaduct, and visible on the left.The Stockport Hat Museum is also located off the left, but out of shot, however we got a better view of it later in the day so I shall took about it later in this post.
We walked down underneath the A6 to a small square next to the Mersey, with the Merseyway Shopping Centre located off to the left, behind our current position. The Mersey runs underneath it, re-emerging on the other side of it as the River Goyt, and it is here that the Tame meets it to form the Mersey.
Elsewhere in the square are various old Victorian Buildings, as well as the famous Plaza Cinema, shown above. Designed in 1929, it took three years for building to start, in 1932. The following year it opened, and is one of only a few of these buildings completed in the area. After a stint as a Bingo Hall from 1967, it was restored as a cinema in 2000, and is one of so many historic buildings we would see throughout the day.
We started exploring the local area, and followed the signs for Stockport Village, the ancient centre of the town. On the way, just round the corner from the Plaza Cinema we found the Stockport Air Raid Shelters, and a plaque on the wall (shown on the right) elaborated on their use:
“Air Raid Shelters. Excavated 1938 – 1939. Accommodated 4,500 people during World War II air raids which reached their peak at Christmas 1940. Re-opened for public visits in 1989.”
The Shelters run for around a mile underground, and were a key part of the towns defence, although Stockport wasn’t as heavily bombed as Manchester City Centre, which was devastated during the war.
I should point out at this point that we visited on a Monday, and the Museums, Air Raid Shelters and Tourist Information Office seem to be shut one day a week, typically a Monday, so if you are planning to visit then Monday isn’t the best day.
Our next stop was the “Three Shires” one of the oldest buildings in Stockport. There are many plaques all over the town telling bits of history, and there is one on the “Three Shires” as well:
“The Three Shires. Built c. 1580 Cheshire half-timbered town house formerly belonging to the Leghs of Adlington Hall. Shopfront inserted in 1824. At various times has housed a confectioners, bakehouse, surgery, solicitors, restaurant and wine bar.”
It’s fantastic that this building has survived so long, and when we first decided to go to Stockport we didn’t really have this view of it as being a really old place but it turns out there is lots of history everywhere. There are a few other similar looking buildings in the area, of varying sizes.
This area is cobbled and leads into the main Stockport Village area, which is on two levels.
This is the main street in the Stockport Village area and contains a variety of old shops, and further down, around the corner is the brewery, Frederic. Robinson Unicorn Brewery. They began production back in 1838, and they own over 330 pubs in the North West of England and Wales. You can visit their website here.
Going across this area of Stockport is a metal bridge, just up behind us at this point. There are steps up to it on either side of the street and you get great views over Stockport when you climb up.
So this is the top of the bridge and you can see down through Stockport Village, the “Three Shires” is located at the end of this street, down a little road off to the left at the end.
This area of Stockport is the historic centre, and over on the left, you can see the Merseyway Shopping Centre, the rectangular white building with the blue banner at the top.
At this point, up above most of the houses we were entering the Historic Market Area of Stockport, and the Market Hall itself is shown here on the left, the large metal, white building.
The Hall was built in 1860, although originally there were no sides, so it was called “The Glass Umbrella” locally as it was just a roof supported by pillars. The sights were enclosed later, and this had been allowed for in the original design. By the 2000’s it was in a poor state, so a restoration project was set up, and new stalls laid out and designed. The Hall reopened in 2008, with the then mayor of Stockport, Pam King in attendance.
Behind the Market Hall is the local Church, St Mary’s, built in the 19th century (1770 – 1853, British Architect), to a design by Lewis Wyatt . The first Church here was built in 1190, and some parts of this building survive today, including the chancel from the 14th century. It’s a grand structure, and due to it’s position here on top of the main town it really stands out, especially travelling through Stockport on the train as it is clearly visible when you cross the viaduct, travelling both North and South.
Stockport Market originated in the 13th century, when Prince Edward (1239 – 1307, later to become Edward I) granted Stockport a market charter in 1260. This is the original market place where traders set up their stalls. Stockport Castle was in this area, making the market well protected. The Castle was demolished in 1775, and the earliest recorded mention of it was in 1173.
Stockport Market is one of the last outdoor markets in the North West of England, and also the only one in Greater Manchester still using it’s original location. The buildings around here are superb and you can really tell that this is the historic quarter as there are various stone buildings all over the square, including one of the most notable, the Stockport Market Produce Hall. This Grade II listed building was also known locally as the Hen Market, and built out of Yorkshire stone. There was once a balcony as part of the building, and proclamations were made here, including the announcement of the Coronation of George V (1865 – 1936) in 1910.
Down the next street, heading towards the Church, down the other side of the Market Hall, we passed the Staircase House, a Grade II listed building, built back in 1460 containing it’s original timbers. It is thought that the building was originally the home to Stockport Mayor, William Dodge around 1483, although new residents moved in over the following centuries, including the Shallcross Family from Derbyshire in 1605, who installed the famous Jacobean staircase.
It passed into private ownership by the 1900’s and was a cafe in 1989, before becoming a storage facility in the 1990’s, and then a tourist attraction open to the public after a lot of restoration by Stockport council. Inside you can see the historic building as well as find out about much of the history of Stockport. Next door to the building is the Tourist Information office, for any other information you might need about the town.
We left the historic centre and looked around some of the newer sections of the town, and we found a large square located on a road that comes out at the Library and onto the A6.
It’s a large open space with numerous benches around the outside, and some pleasant stone buildings across the road, one of which you can see behind the statue of Richard Cobden (1804 – 1865, Manufacturer from Sussex). The square itself is called St Peter’s Square, named after the large Church on the other side of the square.
St Peter’s Church is the 2nd oldest church in Stockport, after the previously mentioned St Mary’s. Completed in 1888, this fine Georgian building was started in 1768 when the main part of the building was put up, a gallery being added later in 1838 and the apse in 1888. It is an unusual Church of the period as it is made out of brick, in contrast to the many stone Churches in various towns and cities, however it’s still well built and at the heart of the square.
Stockport is also on the flight path of air traffic on it’s way into nearby Manchester Airport, so as we were stood in the square various large planes flew overhead, low enough to make out their logos, so it was quite something. The building also contains a cafe and a shop, making it the perfect place to relax, or you could sit out in the square and admire the architecture on all sides.
We started walking back towards the train station, and we got a much better view of the Stockport Hat Works Museum, located inside the old Wellington Mill building from 1828, built by Thomas Marsland (1777 – 1854) and in 1872 it was leased to a spinning and cotton firm. The mill was built between Thomas’s printworks and the local turnpike road, which was built in 1826 and is now called Wellington Road.
The chimney was added in 1860, and stands at a grand height of 200 feet. The building was taken over by the Ward Brothers in 1895, and a Hat business was set up, making all kinds of hats from tweed caps to velvet hats. The remaining hat makers in 1966 merged together and created the Associated British Hat Manufacturers leaving only two factories left in production Christy’s and Wilson’s, although these closed in 1997 and 1980 respectively. 400 years of hatting ended, and the museum was set up, as the only dedicated Hat Museum in the country. The tower proudly announces the buildings function, and it is visible from miles around.
Hat making itself began in the 16th century in Lancashire and North Cheshire, and was an important part of the local economy, along with the mills.
That was our last stop, and we boarded a train bound for Manchester Piccadilly. On the way over the viaduct you can see one another landmark, the well known Stockport Pyramid, designed by a firm of Manchester Architects called Michael Hyde & Associates (based in both Manchester and Sheffield) in 1987 and completed in 1992. Sadly the developers went into administration so the building lay empty until 1995 when the Co-Operative Bank took it over, and it is now a call centre for their operations. The design is staggering and there is nothing else like it in the North West. The original plan was to build 5 of them, in a large development called “Kings Valley” after the Egyptian equivalent “Valley of Kings”. The fate of the developers ended this plan and only one of the buildings was completed.
Stockport is a really interesting town, and one of the most historic in Greater Manchester. It is easy to get too, with trains from Manchester Piccadilly calling almost every 10 minutes, on their way to various destinations from Sheffield to Birmingham, London and Bournemouth in the South. Manchester Airport is only 8.4 miles away, and the M60 Motorway runs through the town, giving good road connections to Manchester, Salford, Rochdale etc and also to other regional motorways.
Stockport has a lot of history and some of the oldest buildings we have seen in a long time. There is plenty to see, and you could spend all day looking around the various museums and attractions. You can traverse two historic counties as you explore the riverside, so if you get chance to visit the area around Manchester take some time out to see Stockport, which is only 10 minutes out of Manchester by train. We had lots more to do on our day out, and we changed at Manchester Piccadilly for a tram to Piccadilly Gardens, and a short walk took us to Market Street Tram Stop in Manchester, where we boarded a tram bound for the town of Bury…