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Stalybridge Coat of ArmsTownship Information - Stalybridge

 


Early History

 The name Stalybridge derives from 'Staef' - a stave - and 'leah' - a clearing in the wood, the full meaning of 'Staley' being 'a wood where staves are collected'. The 'bridge' was added in the early 19th century. Prior to 1750, the population of Stalybridge was sparse. Between 1700-1750 the villagers numbered no more than 140 at any one time, earning a living in a dual capacity as farmers and weavers. They lived in cottages such as those still existing at 'Bohemia', constructed in 1721. Some of them would have had loom-house attached where as many as six to eight spinners worked to supply one weaver.

a photograph of Bohemia Cottages, StalybridgeBy 1750 there were already a few, small woollen mills in Stalybridge, based along the river to take advantage of the ready supply of water-power. The first cotton mill was erected by Edward Hall, whose mill in Wood Street was also the first to acquire a steam engine, in 1796, together with a chimney to carry away the smoke, which earned it the nickname of the 'Soot-Poke Mill'. These chimneys soon became a dominant feature of the landscape as Hall was followed by other cotton pioneers such as John Cheetham (1802 - 1886) the great cotton master and reformer, and Abel Harrison (1793 - 1865) who bought the Staley Mills, and built Highfield House, whose grounds make up the present Stamford Park.

Industrialisation

The impact of industrialisation led to a rapid increase in the town's population which rose in the years 1823-1825 from 5,500 to 9,000 and, by 1851, had reached an immense 20,760. In 1828, the Stalybridge Police and Market Act made Stalybridge an independent town, with a board of commissioners; the Stalybridge Gas Company was formed and given the contract for lighting the town, and three years later, the Town Hall and Market were officially opened on December 30, 1831. The town was made a borough on March 5, 1857.

Social Unrest

an illustration of William ChadwickWilliam Chadwick, in his 'Reminiscences of a Chief Constable' declared: "The people of Stalybridge have immortalised themselves in the way of strikes, or turnouts."

As early as 1817, an association later known as the 'Blanketeers' arose with the aim of marching to London to lay the grievances of the people before the government. It was a Stalybridge band which was engaged to play at Peterloo in 1819 and the Chartist sympathiser JR Stephens found a great many supporters in the town for his liberal ideas. There were riots in the town in 1842 when attempts were made by the mill-owners to reduce their operatives' wages to combat a slight depression in the trade.

These riots had to be dealt with by volunteers but, by the 1830s, Stalybridge had two full-time policemen and a number of special constables, known as 'Old Charlies'. In 1857 Stalybridge acquired a Borough Police Force of which William Chadwick became Chief Constable in February 1862. Born at Mottram on July 24, 1822, Chadwick had joined the London police force at the age of 29 and was later stationed at Dukinfield. He was promoted to Inspector at Ashton-under-Lyne and held the record for conviction of criminals there when he left for Stalybridge where he was to be Chief Constable for 37 years. During this time there were again serious riots in the town; in 1863 when unemployment caused by the cotton famine was rife and the Relief Committee attempted to supply the destitute with vouchers instead of money, and again in 1868 when the anti-catholic 'Murphy Riots' broke out. The police were aided by the military in subduing these outbreaks.

Despite the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, there were steady improvements in the social conditions of the town. The Mechanics' Institute, formed in 1825, moved to new and larger premises in the High Street in July 1862. The first School Board was elected in Stalybridge in 1871 and the first public park opened by Lord Stamford in 1873. Since 1867 Stalybridge had had the right to return an MP to Westminster. Her first representative was James Sidebottom JP and one of his most distinguished successors was John Frederick Cheetham whose family owned Bankwood Mills and Eastwood House, since demolished, the grounds of which now form Cheethams Park. In 1880 he was elected MP for North Derbyshire and in 1905 and 1906 was returned for Stalybridge.

A public library service had been opened in the town on September 21, 1889, but was soon seen to be outgrowing its accommodation. J.F. Cheetham offered to build, equip and present to the town a new building, large enough to provide future development and, in collaboration with the architect J Medland Taylor, he planned the Astley Cheetham Public Library. Mrs. Astley Cheetham laid the foundation stone on October 9, 1897, and beneath the stone were placed copies of local newspapers and coins. The new library was officially opened on October 16, 1901, when Mrs Astley Cheetham was presented with a gold key. Her husband continued to make generous donations to the upkeep of the library. He also presented his art collection to the town which is housed in the Astley Cheetham Library.

The Twentieth Century

a photograph of the Thorn House potico, Stalybridge 'Stalybridge' an illustration by R. BaldwinIn 1901 an Act of Parliament set up the Joint Electricity and Tramways Board for Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield, and the first electric train ran from Stalybridge to Hyde in 1904. The electric works in the Tame Valley were replaced in 1926 by the Hartshead Power Station.

The character of Stalybridge altered over the 20th century. At the turn of the century the cotton industry was still strong and the population of the town reached its peak in 1901, at 27,623, but as trade dwindled the population began to decline and, despite the intensified employment of the war years, the main industry of Stalybridge continued to fail. By 1932, seven of the town's largest mills had closed and unemployment reached 7,000. In 1934 an Industrial Development Committee was set up to encourage new industries to settle in the town. New housing estates were built to replace the slums and, gradually, redundant mills were occupied by firms in the various light industries. New applications of engineering principles, the manufacture of rubber goods, plastics, chemicals and packaging materials were all introduced, as well as the addition of synthetic fibres to the textile trade. Unemployment declined and, for the first time since 1901, there was an increase in the population of Stalybridge. In 1991 it was 22,295.

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