KNUTSFORD

Grid Ref. SJ 752 785
27 May 2005 and 14 May 2014 & 3 March 2015

 

Church spacer Gaskell Tower
St. John the Baptist   Gaskell Memorial Tower
Mrs. Gaskell   Gaskell Tower
Bust of Mrs Gaskell in a niche of the tower   Gaskell Tower from the west side
Holland's House   Kings Coffee House
The house on King Street where Sir Henry Holland was born.   Part of the inscription on a pillar of the King's Coffee House
Court   Plaque
Court Building   The memorial plaque for Sir Henry Holland
Angel Inn   School
The Angel, King Street   Former Egerton School
White Bear   Townhall
White Bear, King Street   Former Market Hall

 

Knutsford has many interesting buildings from the 18th century and earlier but like many small towns it has changed as a result of the activities of supermarkets and the accessibility by road of much larger shopping areas in the Manchester conurbation. Now Knutsford is full of cafes, bistros and specialist boutitques. It used to be possible to photograph old Court without cars parked in front.

In Cheshire Notes and Queries Vol 2, page 121 there is a short article on Knutsford in the 1830s. It was written in 1897.   It is drawn from the autobiography of the Rev. John H. Beech, published by James Dean of Burslem. The following notes have been adapted from this source:

"Knutsford mainly consisted of two parallel narrowish streets, a brick church, a blind looking house of correction, a handsome courthouse, a square open market place, one or two rows of dwellings, which would now be dignified by the name of terraces, and a few larger mansions, which were occupied by solicitors, surgeons, retired military and naval officers, and aristocratic spinsters, of doubtful, or in some cases, undoubted age, who were generally the sisters, aunts or cousins of the seigneurs of the great families in the neighbourhood. Among these were the families of Lord de Tabley, Lord Egerton of Tatton, Sir Thomas Stanley, whose son became Lord Stanley of Alderley, Sir Harry Mainwaring, the Leicesters, Cottons, Cholmondleys and others.

Mr. Beech was apprenticed to a the business of a chemist and druggist. At this time, the business day began seven o'clock in the morning and continued until ten at night during the week and until 10.30 p.m. on Saturday. The employer did a considerable trade with the county families resident in the neighbourhood. At the close of the London season and proroguing of Parliament the great families spent the autumn and winter months at their country seats. The shop where Mr. Beech was employed adjoined the George Hotel. At this time, before the advent of railways, it was the chief posting house of the town. Mr. Beech was able to see many celebrities coming to the hotel such as Lord Derby, Lord Brougham and Daniel O'Connell. He saw the Princess Victoria, then in her teens, during her prolonged visit at Tatton Park.

In those days Knutsford had a number of common lodging houses for the accommodation of tramps and beggars. Knutsford, being situated on the main road from Liverpool to London, thousands of Irish reapers passed and returned through the town before and after the harvest."

Sir Peter Leicester in his Historical Antiquities, published in 1673, stated that Nether Knutsford, which included Cross Town, had a parochial chapel, a daughter of the mother church at Rostherne. It was situated towards Booths. In addition there was a chapel of ease within the lower town of Knutsford with an adjoining school room. Raymond Richards in Old Cheshire Churches, reports that these chapels have been lost and little is known of their early history. In January 1740/41 the steeple and part of the chapel in Cross Town fell down. An Act of Parliament of 1741 created the new parish of Knutsford, independent of the ancient parish of Rostherne. The old chapel, which dated from the early 14th century had been dedicated to St. Helena. The replacement, St. John's, was built on a new site and consecrated on 24 June 1744. The parish registers go back to 1581 and there is a list of priests from 1313.

Nikolaus Pevsner, in writing about King Street comments that "it is an attractive street, though without highlighs, unless one is prepared to call the Gaskell Memorial Tower and King's Coffee House of 1907-1908 a hightlight". Richard Harding Watt was the designer and one has to say that the tower, whatever its merits, is not in keeping with rest of the architecture in King Street. Pevsner calls it a remorseless imposition of crazy grandeur on poor Knutsford. In describing Watt's style he says, "It is at best a parallel to Barcelona at the same time. Stonework is heavy, fenestration random, and motifs may be Italian, Spanish or just Watt."

A feature of the King's Coffee House is the list of the Kings and Queens of England with dates of accession, carved on a pillar from Egbert, first King of All the English, 827. Mrs. Gaskell and her husband are buried at the Unitarian Chapel in Brook Street, which is shown as part of my article on her cousin, Sir Henry Holland.

The row of cottages at the west end of King Street, sometimes known as the Tudor Cottages, were thatched until a fire in 1937. The court building bears a plaque with following inscription, erected by the Rotary Club of Knutsford to mark the 75th anniversary of Rotary International.

The Market Hall, built in 1870-71, was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, perhaps best known in the north of England for his Rochdale Town Hall tower and in Manchester for the Refuge Assurance Building on Oxford Street and the Town Hall. In London he is best known for the Natural History Museum.

Knutsford County Gaol.

The Knutsford Criminal Prison with its perimeter walls, covered the whole area of the present Stanley Park behind this sessions house. It was built in 1818 to plans by the architect, George Moneypenny. It was extended to accommodate 700 prisoners in 1847 and further extended in 1867. At least seven executions took place here. It ceased to be used as a criminal prison at the end of 1914 but was further used to house internees and then for conscienctious objectors during the war. Thereafter it was used as a test school for prospective Church of England ordinants and was demolished in 1934.

At about the same time the Rotary Club also placed a plaque on the Egerton School in Church Street, which reads:

Egerton School.

The school was built by Lord Wilbraham Egerton (1st Earl) in 1893 as a Church of England School for Boys and Girls. It continued as such for 80 years, being closed in 1973.

The former town hall, now a furniture emporium, was designed by Waterhouse, perhaps best known for his design of Manchester Town Hall, and built 1870-2. The Estate Cottages on the outskirts of Knutsford bear a plaque:

In Memory of our Brave Knutford Lads, who fell in the Great War, these cottages were erected by Alan 3rd Baron Egerton of Tatton, 1919.

chapel

Knutsford Unitarian Chapel from an old postcard

 

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Cheshire Antiquities
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