MACCLESFIELD, a market-town and chapelry (parochial), having separate jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Macclesfield, county palatine of CHESTER, on the road from London to Manchester, 36 miles (E. by N.) from Chester, and 167 (N.W. by N.) from London, containing 17,746 inhabitants. Previously to the Norman Conquest it constituted a portion of the royal demesne of the Earls of Mercia, who held a court here for the ancient hundred of Hamestan; hence, in the record of Domesday, it is represented to have been one of the seats of Earl Edwin. When that survey was made, it was comprised within the earldom of Chester, of which it continued to form part until the abolition of that jurisdiction, when the hundred, manor, and forest of Macclesfield lapsed to the crown. The king is now lord of the hundred; about one-third of which, including the township of Macclesfield, and sixteen other townships, constitutes the manor and forest of Macclesfield. The forest was anciently protected by the same laws, and entitled to the same rights as other royal forests; some of these laws expired with the disafforestment of the tract to which they applied, but a few of the executive offices under them survive, and retain their privileges, although the duties attached to them, from the abolition of the feudal system, are. either no longer requisite, or have been superseded by other offices. Of this description, in particular, are the grand serjeancy of the hundred, and the mastership of the forest, of Macclesfield, which have long been hereditary in the family of Davenport, and are now held by Davies Davenport, of Woodford and Capesthorne, Esq.; and that of bailiff of the manor and forest, which has long been vested in the noble family of Cholmondeley. There were also eight subordinate hereditary foresters, who held office by grant from the Earls of Chester. When this territory lapsed to the crown, parcels of the forest were granted away at different times, and the whole is now under cultivation; the last portion of the common and waste land having been enclosed under an act obtained in 1796, when an allotment was assigned to the king, as lord of the manor, which, with the mineral contents of the soil, has since been alienated, Prior to this, a swainmote court was held at Macclesfield, and persons found guilty of misdemeanors against; the forest laws were committed to the prison within the town, whither also offenders were sent from the court leet for the forest and hundred. For some centuries these courts continued to be held before the Chief Justice of Chester, who presided as Justice in Eyre here, or his deputy, or before special commissioners, the king's steward, or his deputy, or the king's bailiff: in process of time they were constantly held under the presidency of the king's steward, or his deputy, to whose office many of the duties originally discharged by other functionaries have been annexed. This seneschalship, or stewardship, of the hundred and forest was given, in the reign of Edward IV., to Thomas, Lord Stanley, and heirs male; in which noble family, with a short intermission during the time of the Commonwealth, it has since continued, and is now enjoyed by the Earl of Derby.
An ecclesiastical council was held at Macclesfield in 1332, and another in 1362, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whilst the town continued the residence of the Earls of Chester, it was surrounded by a rampart, or walled fence, which had three principal gates. In 1508, Thomas Savage, a native of the town, who became successively Bishop of London and Archbishop of York, founded a college of Secular priests, of which the chapel, previously communicating with the church of St. Michael, by a door now blocked up, alone remains, and is the sepulchral chapel of the family. The building is an interesting structure, in the later style of English architecture, with a turret of three stages, through the lower of which an elegant arched gateway, highly enriched with shields and other architectural ornaments, leads into the chapel; above the entrance is a beautiful oriel window, the lower part of which is ornamented with the arms of England in the centre, and on one side those of the see of York, and on the other, those of the family of Savage, quartered with the arms of the sees to which the founder had been preferred; in the chapel are many family monuments, and deposited in an urn is the heart of the archbishop, whose body was interred at York. During the great civil war in the 17th century, the town experienced much injury from the parliamentarians, by whom it was besieged and taken; and who retained possession of it, under Sir William Brereton, Commander in Chief of the parliamentary forces for this county, after an obstinate attempt on the part of Sir Thomas Acton to gain it for the king. On a hill to the east of the town are vestiges of an encampment constructed by the parliamentarians, from which, during the siege, the spire of St. Michael's church was battered by the cannon of the besiegers. After the decapitation of Charles I., a council was held here, at which it was resolved to raise four regiments, of seven hundred men each, for the service of Charles II., who was then at the head of an army in Scotland. In 1745, a party of one hundred cavalry took possession of the town for the Pretender, who, on the evening of the same day, arrived with five thousand men and his whole train of artillery; after passing the night here, he held a council of war, and the day following marched towards Derby; but being alarmed at the approach of the forces under the Duke of Cumberland, he fell back upon Macclesfield, to which place he was pursued by the duke, whom the inhabitants received with every demonstration of joy.
The town is pleasantly situated near the southern extremity of the forest; the greater part stands on the declivity of an eminence rising gradually from the western bank of the river Bollin, which flows through the lower part, hence denominated "The Waters:" these parts are connected by two bridges of stone, and one of wood. The rapid increase of population has created a proportionate augmentation of the number of buildings, and an extension of the town in every direction, within a short period. Considerable improvements have been made, under the provisions of an act obtained in 1814, by the introduction of police regulations, widening the streets, and removing unsightly objects; the streets are well paved, and lighted with gas; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water brought from springs to the east of the town, and conveyed by pipes to their houses. A public subscription library has been established for more than half a century, and contains a valuable collection of works; a public news-room is supported by subscription; and there are a neat theatre, and a handsome suite of assembly-rooms. The races, which formerly took place here, have been discontinued for many years, but it is at present in contemplation to revive them. Macclesfield was formerly noted for the manufacture of twist buttons, which was introduced at a very early period, and for the regulation and promotion of which, several legislative enactments were procured; many of these, with other ware, were carried through the country by itinerant chapmen, of mean principles and reputation, denominated " Flash-men," from residing in and around the hamlet of Flash, just beyond the verge of the county, and within that of Stafford, whose name and occupation still remain, although their number has decreased from the decline of the trade. To this succeeded the manufacture of silk, which is carried on in all its branches to a considerable extent. The first silk-mill in this town was erected by Mr. Roe, in 1756, since which period the trade has rapidly increased, and at present there are not less than seventy mills for throwing silk, which is here manufactured into handkerchiefs and broad silks, the weaving of which, with the manufacture of twist, sewing-silk, and buttons, is now the principal source of trade. In 1823, there were three thousand looms in the town, which number had increased in 1828 to six thousand, but in 1829 there were only four thousand. The cotton manufacture was also introduced about the same time, and the first mill for that purpose was erected in 1758; since that period it has progressively increased, but with less rapidity, and with less fluctuation, than the silk trade: there are several extensive dye-houses and other establishments connected with these branches of manufacture. The copper and brass works, formerly carried on here, have been discontinued. In the neighbourhood are extensive mines of coal, and quarries of slate, and of stone of a superior quality for building, of which great quantities are sent to Stockport, Manchester, and into Staffordshire, and other parts of the country. A canal is at present being constructed, which will pass by the east side of the town, and join the Peak Forest canal at Marple, opening a communication with Manchester, and, by a junction with the Grand Trunk, on the confines of Staffordshire, with the midland and southern counties, and with London. The market, formerly held on Monday, is, by act of parliament obtained in 1814, now held on Tuesday; a market for vegetables is also held on Saturday. The fairs are, May 6th, June 22d, July 11th, October 4th, and November 11th, for cattle, woollen cloth, hardware, and toys. The town, which had been constituted a borough by Ranulph, third Earl of Chester of that name, was first incorporated by Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, in the 45th of Henry III., who conveyed additional privileges, but imposed the usual obligation of grinding at the king's mill, and baking at his oven: the latter continued in the possession of the crown until 1818, when it was sold; the building exists, but the practice has, though not long since, fallen into disuse. Various other charters have been granted: under that of Charles II., the government is vested in a mayor, recorder, and twenty four capital burgesses, assisted by a town clerk, coroner, Serjeant at mace, and other officers; the mayor, chosen annually from among the capital burgesses, and three of that body annually elected for the purpose, are justices of the peace within the borough. The freedom is inherited by all the sons of a freeman, or acquired by purchase or gift. The corporation hold half-yearly courts of session for the trial of misdemeanants, and the mayor and justices hold daily meetings for the despatch of business connected with the police. A court of record for debts to any amount, arising within the liberty of the hundred, is held twice a year by the Earl of Derby, as hereditary steward. This nobleman appoints a deputy-steward, who must be a barrister; a resident deputy-steward, and a clerk of the courts; the duties of the last are similar to those of a prothonotary. A similar court, called a halmote court, for the manor and forest, is held at the same time and place, and before the same officers; yet each of the separate jurisdictions possesses its own bailiff, who nominates a jury within that peculiar liberty. The manor chiefly comprises the townships of Bollington, Disley, Hurdsfield, Kettleshulme, Pott-Shrigley, Rainow, Sutton, Wincell, and Yeardsley cum Whaley, being of copyhold tenure. These courts are held monthly, or weekly, by adjournment, before the resident deputy-steward, for the convenience of hearing motions in civil causes, and passing surrenders of copyholds. Courts leet for these several jurisdictions are held annually, within a month of Michaelmas, in the same manner, at which constables are appointed for the different townships. The guildhall was taken down in 1826, and handsomely rebuilt in the Grecian style of architecture, at the expense of the corporation; it is a spacious and commodious edifice, containing, in addition to the court-rooms, handsome assembly and concert rooms: attached to it is the town gaol, which was rebuilt at the same time.
The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Chester, endowed with £800 private benefaction, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation. The parochial chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, is an ancient structure, founded by Eleanor, Queen of Edward I., about 1278, and made dependent on the mother church at Prestbury: the tower was formerly surmounted by a spire, which was battered down in the parliamentary war; the north side of the edifice was rebuilt in 1740, and the whole has, in many respects, undergone considerable alteration and repair; there are some sepulchral chapels, of which that of the family of Savage has been previously noticed; the chapel of the Legh family, and other portions of the structure, contain several altar-tombs and monuments of great antiquity. Christchurch, a spacious edifice of brick, with a square tower, was erected in 1775, at the sole expense of Charles Roe, Esq., who endowed it with £100 per annum for the minister; on the south side of the chancel is a handsome marble monument to the memory of the founder, ornamented with devices emblematical of his mechanical genius, and bearing an inscription commemorative of his acquaintance with the mineral strata of the county, of his having discovered the valuable mine in the Isle of Anglesey, and of having established the copper-works in this neighbourhood; the living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of William Roe, Esq. St. George's church, lately erected as a dissenting place of worship, has been purchased by the corporation for the service of the established church. There is a place of worship for the Society of Friends, three for Independents, one for Primitive Methodists, one for those of the New Connexion, three for Wesleyan Methodists, two for Socinians, and a Roman Catholic chapel. The free grammar school was founded in 1502, by Sir John Percyvale, born near this town, and lord mayor of London, who endowed it with lands at that time worth £ 10 per annum, which lapsing to the crown, the school was refounded by Edward VI., in 1552, and more amply endowed, under the designation of the " Free Grammar school of King Edward VI." The government was vested in fourteen trustees, inhabitants of Macclesfield and the parish of Prestbury, who appoint the masters. The scholars are gratuitously instructed in the classics, but pay for instruction in the French language, writing, and arithmetic; the income arising from the endowment exceeds £800 per annum, of which sum, £200 per annum is paid to the head master, who has a spacious house rent-free, £ 150 to the second master, £100 to the writing-master, and £50 to the French master. This school enjoys a high reputation: in the list of masters appear the names of Brownswerd, a celebrated grammarian and Latin poet, and Brancker, a philosopher and mathematician; both lie interred within the parochial chapel of St. Michael. A National school is supported by subscription; and there are Sunday schools in connexion with the established church, and the dissenting congregations. An almshouse was founded, in 1703, by Mrs. Stanley, who endowed it with £6 per annum, for three aged widows; it is now under the patronage of the family of Thornycroft. A dispensary was established in 1814, and is liberally supported by subscription. There are various charitable bequests for clothing and apprenticing poor children, and for distribution among the indigent. Near the road to Congleton is a place called the Castle-field, supposed to have been the site of the palace of the Earls of Chester; and there are some slight vestiges of an ancient mansion, said to have been the property and residence of the celebrated Duke of Buckingham. Macclesfield gives the title of earl to the family of Parker.
From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) ©Mel Lockie