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All signs positive for Poynton

PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:12 09 November 2016

Poynton St George's Church

Poynton St George's Church

Archant

Few signs remain of Poynton’s coal mining past, but they are there amid the pleasant residential areas and country lanes

Station Gardner, Chris Halsall, with Station Master, Glyn Derbyshire, and the colourful display admired by passengers Poynton Station Station Gardner, Chris Halsall, with Station Master, Glyn Derbyshire, and the colourful display admired by passengers Poynton Station

Few of the newcomers who have boosted the population of Poynton from 5,000 to 15,000 since the end of the Second World War would have guessed they were moving into a former coal mining village. Little sign remains of an industrial heritage that lasted the best part of 200 years. But clues are all around.

There’s a pub on the outskirts of town called the Miner’s Arms. Restored, white-washed colliers’ cottages nestle on the edge of woodland on the hill up to Higher Poynton. The Middlewood Way, bridleway, cycling and walking path, follows the route of the old Macclesfield - Marple railway built to carry coal to Manchester and the Potteries. And one of the most important locations on the Macclesfield canal, designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1831, was Poynton’s coal wharf.

Perhaps the mining heritage bequeathed Poynton’s keen sense of identity. For back in the early 1970s, Whitehall officials planned to put Poynton, along with Wilmslow, in the newly-created metropolitan county of Greater Manchester.

The campaign to remain in Cheshire saw a stage coach dispatched to Westminster carrying a petition bearing the names of 88.34 per cent of the local electorate. Town Clerk Malcolm Adams, now the custodian of the petition, opens a custom-made wooden box in his civic hall office and produces the document - a tribute to local people power - for inspection.

Railway artifacts at the Brookside Garden Centre Railway artifacts at the Brookside Garden Centre

The desire to maintain a distinct identity also fuelled Poynton’s decision, on the same day Cheshire was divided into two, to opt to become a town council.

‘The decision to rebadge ourselves and appoint a mayor came because we thought our voice would be heard better as a town rather than parish council,’ said Mr Adams. ‘Even so most local people still call Poynton the village - so we style ourselves “the small town with a village feel”,’

The current mayor, Councillor Rebecca Horsman will not be short of guidance during her term of office from the deputy mayor who just happens to be her mum Sandra, last year’s mayor.

Curiously, Poynton is now best known in some circles nationwide for its traffic roundabouts - the so-called concept of ‘shared space’ that saw most road signs removed from one of the busiest junctions in Cheshire. The scheme handles 26,000 traffic movements a day and motorists who use it have become the most courteous drivers in the country, giving way to each other and to pedestrians.

Founder, Geoff Challinor, at The Anson Engine Museum with  an 1883 Gas Engine Founder, Geoff Challinor, at The Anson Engine Museum with an 1883 Gas Engine

But Mr Adams stressed: ‘It is important to say that shared space is not about traffic management. The aim was to breathe new life into the retail sector following a report revealing that 70 per cent of local people did their shopping outside Poynton and there was a high proportion of empty shops. There was a lot of opposition to the scheme, but it works. There is now just one empty premises in Park Lane and many previous opponents have said to me “I was wrong”.’

With Waitrose and Asda anchoring the retail revival of Park Lane, attention is now turning to campaigning for the Poynton relief road and redevelopment on both sides of London Road South including the demolition of the old disused cinema at Brookfield Hydro. Poynton’s past may now be largely invisible, but its future is bright.

According to Bagshaw’s Directory of 1850, coal was discovered in Poynton when a tenant farmer begged his landlord, Sir George Warren, to sink a well. ‘But before they found water, they discovered a large vein of superior coal’.

It’s a charming story - like a local version of the Beverley Hillbillies’ discovery of ‘black gold’ (in their case it was oil) - but it cannot be true. Coal found outcropping on the surface along the line of the Red Rock Fault - which divides the fertile Cheshire plain from the gritstone of the Pennines - had been worked since mediaeval times. A lease dating from 1589 speaks of a coal pit in the area.

By the late 1700s the Warrens of Poynton, with the Leghs of nearby Lyme, had sunk deeper shafts and put steam engines to use and by 1859 the collieries reached their peak production of 243,673 tons - by which time the estate and coal rights had passed to the 4th Lord Vernon. Poynton miners joined the General Strike of 1926 but by then the end was nigh. The last mines closed on 30th August 1935; Anson Colliery is now the site of the Anson Engine Museum and all the other shafts have been capped.

The most tangible link between Poynton old and new is the fascinating Anson Engine Museum, developed into a collection of national importance on the site of the former Anson Colliery. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the museum’s existence and continuing expansion is owed entirely to the passion of curator Geoff Challinor MBE, his long-time friend and fellow enthusiast, the late Les Cawley, and a group of dedicated volunteers.

Said Geoff: ‘I have tinkered with engines since I was a child and while I was still at school I met Les Cawley at a steam traction engine rally at Astle Park in Chelford. He was a tree feller who rescued old engines from all over the place as a hobby. He was looking for somewhere to set up his own timber business and bought the site of Anson pit. The mine spoil heap had a lot of red shale, which Les sold, and we started building the museum in 1986 and opened in 1989; the rest is history.’

It is indeed; the history of technological advance, from demonstrations of wood “bodging” and lathe turning to nationally important exhibits of steam, gas and internal combustion engines. Many of the engines, rescued from local mills and factories, bear the names of legendary local makers like Crossley, Mirrlees, Lawrence Gardner and Bentley and can be seen working. The engine of a World War I tank has special resonance in the centenary year of the war’s outbreak.

‘We have many engines on loan from science museums elsewhere including London and Bristol,’ said Geoff, who served his apprenticeship at the ERF lorry factory in Sandbach, “so we really do have something for everyone.”

That something includes a giant model of Poynton circa 1900, when coal mining was in its heyday....and it was among Poynton’s pits that one of the premier brass bands in the region originated. The precise date is unknown but records from 1832, stating that new uniforms had been purchased by Lady Vernon, suggest that it has existed for well over 160 years.

Gary White, the chairman of what’s now the Vernon Building Society Poynton Brass Band - the society has been a sponsor for 26 years - and player of first baritone for 11 years said the band is looking to the future by building relationships with the Poynton Youth Band. “We have staged joint concerts and we’re also getting involved with local schools to nurture talent for five and ten years down the road.”

Among the band’s recordings is The Anson, a CD dedicated to the engine museum, for whom another of Poynton’s best known characters served as a trust director. Chris Halsall founded the pioneering Brookside Garden Centre in 1962 and though he sold it in 2009, still operates Cheshire’s “premier” miniature railway and its collection of 7¼ inch gauge steam locomotives on the half-mile track around the centre.

‘I drive the trains and have a loyal band of helpers,’ said Chris who started the railway in 1979 and progressively extended the route. ‘As you can see from all the memorabilia around Brookside station and track I’ve always had a keen interest in railways.’ When he was boss at Brookside, Chris “adopted” Poynton’s Victorian railway station and its floral displays regularly won best-kept station awards. He and stationmaster Glyn Derbyshire still keep up the tradition.

If there is national concern about girls’ reluctance to take up sports, Kelli Longman may have an answer...cheerleading. She’s taken the activity into two Poynton primary schools - Lostock Hall and Vernon - and seen pupils as young as six win national competition medals. ‘It’s an athletic discipline that girls are definitely more drawn to than they might be to other sports. It’s changed here in the last few years from America-style routines with pom-poms to a more gymnastic discipline, faster paced with impressive tumbles and jumps.’

Kelli, who makes all the elaborate sequin encrusted kit for her teams said: ‘In the recent national schools championships at Manchester Velodrome Lostock Mini Pixies and Vernon Pixies both took second places and the Lostock Pixies took a third. They did very well and the girls were all thrilled.’

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