on the Doorstep - Bollington
by Howard Boast
just three miles to the north of Macclesfield on Cheshire's eastern
fringe. It is a small town set against the spectacular backdrop
of the Peak District. Its position, lying at the base of the Pennines,
has done much to shape its development.
Until the eighteenth century Bollington was a peaceful farming community
made up of a string of hamlets. All this was to change with the
invention of power driven cotton machinery. The fast flowing streams
that pour down the hillsides of this valley provided an excellent
source of energy to run the water wheels of the new factories. One
such wheel measured a colossal 56 feet in diameter and was one of
the largest in the country. A number of these mills can still be
seen dotted about the area.
However, the real development of Bollington came during the Victorian
era when large steam powered cotton factories were established.
One such factory was Adelphi Mill. This huge stone building with
its ornate turret looms over Bollington. It was once one of the
main employers in the area. At the height of the town's prosperity
there were thirteen such mills packed into this little corner of
The old core of the town around Water Street and High Street has
remained remarkably intact. It is a charming area of terraced cottages
which cling to the sides of steep streets. Stone Steps lead down
to the pavement and narrow alley ways give access to back gardens.
In Queen Street there are some ancient cottages with tiny casement
windows. The river roars out of the end of this back lane under
a stone bridge. Many of these dwellings have retained the stone
roofing sheets and paving slabs that were mined from small quarries
in the town and nearby Kerridge.
This buff coloured stone gives Bollington the appearance of having
grown out of the surrounding hills. Thus although the town has seen
industrial development, in many ways it has retained the character
of a village.
Perhaps the best way to see Bollington is from White Nancy, a distinctive
bell shaped structure on top of Kerridge Hill built to commemorate
the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. From here there are magnificent
views across to Rivington in Lancashire and Shining Tor in Cheshire.
Bollington is laid out below like a map with its rows of terraced
cottages and tall mill chimneys. Above the town there is a patchwork
of meadows, isolated farm houses and narrow lanes snaking up the
The footpath along the top of Kerridge Hill leads down to the delightful
village of Rainow. Here the sound of rushing water is everywhere.
This river once powered a total of twenty four mills that were engaged
in cotton spinning, silk throwing, and calico printing. Towards
the end of the village one such mill can still be seen with its
distinctive rectangular chimney and large windows designed to give
as much natural light as possible.
A steep climb out of Rainow brings the visitor to the windswept
inn, the Highwayman. This fine pub is a maze of small bars with
low ceilings and oak doors. The customer can sit by a real fire,
sample the malty taste of Thwaites mild and take in the breath taking
views over Nab's Head.
For those who wish for a less strenuous walk, the towpath alongside
the Macclesfield Canal gives easy access to some interesting scenery.
Lying over five hundred feet above sea level, this is one of the
highest navigable waterways in Britain. It crosses deep valleys
on high embankments which give glorious views over the foothills
of the Peak District. Indeed, from the stone aqueduct which carries
the canal over Bollington, the spectator can enjoy a bird's eye
view of the town.
The canal was built between 1826 and 1831 and was a hive of activity
in its day. Waggons of coal from Poynton arrived at the canal bank
and disgorged their contents by means of a tilting device known
as a tippler. Opposite Adelphi Mill was a wharf for Kerridge stone.
An unusual opportunity to catch fish from the canal at Bollington
arose in March 1912. On this occasion the canal burst its banks
with such force that thousands of fish were hurled from its high
embankments down to the roads and fields below.
A refreshing way to see Bollington is to hire a bicycle and pedal
along the Middlewood Way. This cycle way and footpath uses the trackbed
of a former railway line and is completely free of other traffic.
It crosses over the River Dean and cuts through the town by means
of a splendid viaduct of twenty arches.
The Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple Railway was opened in 1869
and took coal from the mines at Poynton to the mills of Bollington
and Macclesfield. Poynton once had as many as sixty working pits.
Today, there is little to remind us of all this activity except
the inclined planes which were used to take the coal to the railway
line. The gradient was as steep as 1 in 19 in places. The loaded
waggons going down the slope would pull the empty ones back up the
incline by means of a loop of rope.
Obviously, accidents did occur. In February 1884 a locomotive ran
away down one of the slopes with eight full waggons. The brakes
having failed, the driver set the whistle blowing, jumped for his
life and the engine was miraculously turned safely into a siding.
Although three of the waggons were wrecked, the locomotive, surprisingly,
was only slightly damaged.
Bollington and its surrounding districts has a wealth of industrial
relics for the visitor to investigate. But now that the pits are
closed and the mills have ceased production, the canal is used for
pleasure craft and the railway line for walkers and cyclists. As
the remains of Bollington's industrial past have weathered, so the
settlement seems to be melting back into the Pennines. It is this
blend of industrial past and pleasant rural surroundings which gives
Bollington its distinctive character and makes it one of Cheshire's
most attractive towns.
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