Marple remembers the work of Samuel Oldknow
PUBLISHED: 13:55 12 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:55 12 February 2016
The history and character of life in Marple is being brought to life. Emma Mayoh reports
Walking around Marple, the effect of one man’s legacy can be seen everywhere. From the names of the streets, the Peak Forest Canal and some of the town’s most historic buildings, the impact that cotton manufacturer Samuel Oldknow had on this corner of Cheshire was immense. Before the cotton magnate started to build in the area – most notably Mellor Mill which was the largest cotton spinning mill - this pretty part of the county had been a small, rural place with nothing resembling big industry.
As well as the mill, Oldknow’s other achievements included the Marple Aqueduct, which carried the canal 100 feet over the River Goyt and the Marple Lime Kilns, which provided lime to many parts of Lancashire. It was also used in farming and local bleaching houses, calico printers and for building operations.
Despite the huge influence he had in the area, Oldknow is not as well-known as you might expect. Now, there is a group dedicated to changing that and putting Marple on the map as a visitor attraction. The Canal and River Trust, along with the Mellor Archaeological Trust, are working on a £2.3 million project to celebrate and bring more attention to the work of Samuel Oldknow. Funding worth £1.5m has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The three-year Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy programme will uncover, conserve and interpret his work through archaeology, learning and volunteering opportunities.
Fiona Turpin, project officer said: ‘Mellor Mill, Marple Aqueduct and Marple Lime Kilns are all great historical treasures and this project aims to preserve them for future generations. We have that responsibility.
‘We also want to raise the area’s profile as a place to visit and explore the wonderful heritage on our doorstep.’
Some of the work has already been done. Last year Marple Aqueduct, the highest masonry-arch aqueduct in Britain, underwent renovation work. Vegetation was removed to restore the full vista of the Grade I listed monument and workmen abseiled down the structure to repair and repoint the stonework.
Excavations are also underway at Mellor Mill, which was built between 1790-92. Around 550 people worked here, mostly women and children. It was burnt down in 1892 but work is going on to try and discover what may have been left behind. Marple Lime Kilns are now a Scheduled Ancient Monument which convey a fascinating insight into the town’s industrial past. The site will be tidied up and it is hoped historical talks and events will take place here to bring the tale of the building to life. There has also been excavation work on the old Peak Forest Canal Tramway which provided a crucial link between the upper and lower Peak Forest Canal during the early 1800s when the canal supplied limestone and coal. The project will also include the development of walking routes and interpretation to help visitors understand how the sites would have looked at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Pamela Pearson, learning and interpretation officer for the Canal and River Trust, said: ‘It is so crucial we look after these important sites that are such a big part of Marple’s history. But we also want Marple to be known for its connections with Samuel Oldknow.
‘We want visitors to come specifically to find out more about him. It is important people know what an important figure he was. We’re hoping to get projects in place and then, gradually, the community can start taking more ownership. We want Marple to be proud of Samuel Oldknow and celebrate what he has achieved.’
A short distance away in Strines there is another group working hard to celebrate the heritage of their home village. The Strines Recreation Ground group have for several years been carrying out various works on the old Strines Printworks site. The group helped save the land that was once part of the old facility – which was once earmarked to be totally taken over with a new housing development. They have also smartened it up and turned it into a fantastic community facility, including restoring a little building. It is one of the only remaining parts of the printworks, which first started up in 1794 doing block printing.
Their attentions are currently focussed on the restoration of an old works clock. Some missing parts have had to be made by a conservationist and restorer as part of the project, which is being funded through lottery money as well as cash raised by volunteers. The work is almost complete and it is hoped the new clock, which will be in its own tower, will be officially unveiled in the spring.
Mel Smith, chairman of Strines Recreation Ground who also restored Strines Hall 30 years ago when he moved into it, said: ‘It was always known where the clock was - it was in my back garden which was once part of the printworks. A lot of the physical history of the printworks has been lost so it is very important we preserve what there is.
‘Strines Printworks would have once dominated the area around here and there was a huge chimney that could be seen from some way off. When that was brought down, thousands came to watch. As the years went on, the site spread further across the village and it became a huge operation. It was very important to the area.’
The group also discovered a six volume, hand written journal, written for the workers’ educational benefit. It is currently being restored at John Rylands Library in Manchester. The journal features beautiful drawings and discussions on several topics.
Rosemary, a member of Strines Recreation Ground who is passionate about local history, said: ‘It was a journal made in the 1850s that is hand written and it would have been passed around the works. It was a self-educational journal that was written by two men, one was Joel Wainwright. We know he later became the manager.
‘It is quite incredible that people dedicated time to this for the benefit of the workers. The illustrations are quite beautiful and there is information on such a wide variety of topics. It would have taken a real effort to do this. We have a facsimile copy of it and the original is being kept at John Rylands.’
The group members, who have also been working with local schools as a way of teaching them about the printworks history, are now looking forward to arranging an official unveiling of the clock tower.
Mel said: ‘It is so important to involve young people from the community. Children from the local school designed a mural and they also went to John Rylands and had a fascinating visit.
‘We want the unveiling to be a fun day for the whole community. We hope to have a big celebration.’
Just up the hill from the centre of Marple, a popular local pub has been given a makeover. The Crown at Hawk Green has been welcoming people for many decades and now the tenant, Simon Hood, hopes to welcome many more following its transformation.
Inside, obstructing pillars were removed and a new low level snug area has been created. There is a new bar area and original wooden beams and masonry have been exposed. Outside there are new seating areas with views over a village green.
The new menu, created by The Crown’s head chef Neil Hobson, also champions fresh produce and features everything from 28-day aged steaks to classic British pub favourites.
‘This has always been a cracking pub, which is why I took it on five years ago,’ said Simon. ‘I used to come here a lot in the eighties and I always had a great time. But when I got the opportunity to refurbish it, I knew it would be a really good thing for the pub and the local community.
‘This is the biggest thing to happen in Marple. So many people know The Crown and now we have a fantastic place for people to come and spend their time.
‘The transformation is breathtaking. We are all delighted with the outcome and so are our customers.’w