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Walking Back Through the Centuries

The name of Weylegh or Weyley appears in many documents from the early thirteenth century. It is of Anglo-Saxon derivation and means a clearing by a road. As it lay in the Macclesfield Forest, the settlement would be formed by clearing a space in this forest. By 1284 it was well established as a village as were nearby Hokerlegh and Urdislegh. In 1351 the lands of Wayley and Yeardsley were granted to William Jodrell for faithful service to the Black Prince.

The Jodrells continued for centuries to call their lands Yeardsley Whaley and when the first local government board was formed in 1863 it was known as the Yeardsley-cum-Whaley Local Board. When the area became an urban district, it was the Yeardsley-cum-Whaley Urban District Council, which was formed in 1894. However, the township had been known as Whaley Bridge for at least a hundred years before this time and the more popular name was finally adopted.

Stone monoliths and buriel sites indicate that there were settlements in this area in prehistoric days. In Roman times some roads were built, but the legend that the Roosdyche was a Roman racecourse is not tenable. In the Domesday Book there is no mention of any settlements in this area. However considering the Anglo-Saxon derivation of the place names as Weylegh, Hokerlegh and Urdislegh and many others in this area, it must be assumed that they were founded before the Domesday survey was made. It is known that the Northern English rose against William the Norman in 1068 and William and his army suppressed this rising. During the course of this suppression, many villages in East Cheshire were completely destroyed. Less than twenty years later when the Domesday Book was compiled it is perhaps not surprising that no settlements were recorded in this district.

Until the late nineteenth century the population of the area grew very slowly. For example, in the Diocesan census in 1563, Taxal is recorded as having 26 households, and Taxal and Yeardsley together only reached 55 households by the mid-18th century. In 1791 land at Whaley Bridge was advertised for sale in the belief that its waterpower would be of use in industry, particularly textiles, but the two townships remained very small and by 1841 had only a population of 853 between them. Up to this time agriculture and coalmining had been the main occupations. Coal mining must have taken place in the area from very early days because of a large fault, which traverses the Whaley Bridge basin from east to west resulting in the coal outcropping in various places. Documentary evidence of 1587 indicates a well-established coal industry in the “Towneshepp of Weley.”

By 1871, however, the industrial revolution had reached the area and the population had almost trebled, to 2322. By this time the textile industry had overtaken both agriculture and coalmining, and provided more than a quarter of the available jobs. The first cotton mill was built at Horwich End (now the Botany Bleach Works), and this mill and Carr Cottage (now Carr Lodge) are described in The Manchester Man by Mrs. Linnaeus Banks.

During this last century the population has more than doubled, to about 5,700. Coalmining has ceased, agriculture is less labour-intensive, and industry has increased and diversified. In addition many newcomers to the area commute to Manchester and elsewhere for employment.

When the Romans built their road from Buxton to Stockport, they used Whaley as the crossing place over the river. Research is still continuing into the Roman Road through Whaley Bridge and it is now believed that the River Goyt was forded near to the Botany Bleach Works. Later the road from Manchester to the South, which ran from Stockport over Jackson’s Edge into Disley, over Higher Disley and down Whaley Lane, swung right and forded the river by the White Hart Hotel. This crossing was later superseded by a bridge on Bridge Street. In 1782-3 a new bridge was built near the White Hart Hotel at a cost of £694. In the nineteenth century the main road north along the valley was developed and the bridge near the White Hart was later raised to a higher level. There was a tollhouse on Bridge Street until the road through Market Street was turnpiked and a tollhouse stood near the site of the National Westminster Bank.

In 1794 the building of the Peak Forest Canal received Parliamentary approval and Whaley Bridge became one of the two termini. The canal was built principally for the lime trade, and for the carriage of coal from Whaley Bridge to Bugsworth for the burning of lime. For geological reasons it was difficult to build a canal linking the Peak Forest Canal with the Cromford Canal, so railway, originally horsedrawn in 1831 but later using steam locomotives did this. The building of this railway again altered the shape of Whaley Bridge as a new bridge was built to carry the railway into the canal basin.

In 1857 the main line steam railway from Stockport came to Whaley Bridge. For six years this was the terminus and passengers to Chapel or Buxton had to transfer to coaches, but in 1863 the railway to these towns was completed. Up to 1894 the junction of the rail and road at the bottom of Whaley Lane was a level crossing. This was removed in 1894 when a new road was made by taking down some old cottages at the bottom end of Reservoir Road and excavating the ground behind. This connected Whaley Lane with Reservoir Road without the need for any bridge alterations.

The Toddbrook Reservoir was built in 1831 as a feeder to the waterways. Stockport Corporation built Fernilee Reservoir in 1933 covering the old gunpowder mills and several farms.

When the last member of the Grimshaw family of Errwood Hall died in 1930 Stockport Corporation bought their estate also and in 1968 completed the Goyt Reservoir, now called the Errwood Reservoir.

Street gas lighting was introduced in 1866, but owing to a long dispute about the method of payment the streets remained unlit from September 1873 to October 1875. It was not until 1929 that electricity was first supplied to this area by the Trent Valley and the High Peak Electricity Company. Many houses and factories, however, did not have electricity until after the 1939-45 war.

The first sewage works were built in Furness Vale in 1912, and piped water began tote available at about the same time.

A private house, 7 Canal Street, was the home of the first telephone exchange set up in 1906 by the National Telephone Company, but not many houses acquired telephones until after 1945.

The administration of the area, confused because of various allegiances to Cheshire and Derbyshire, was tidied up in 1936 when Whaley Bridge Urban District Council was formed from the urban districts of Yeardsley-cum-Whaley and parts of the parishes of Disley, Taxal, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Fernilee. This new U D C became part of Derbyshire. A further major change occurred after the Local Government Act of 1972, when Whale y Bridge U D C became part of the Borough of the High Peak, with administrative offices scattered between Chinley, Glossop, Buxton, New Mills and Whaley Bridge.