Knutsford (St. John the Baptist)

KNUTSFORD (St. John the Baptist), a parish, in the union of Altrincham, E. division of the hundred of Bucklow, N. division of the county of Chester; containing, with the townships of Bexton, Over Knutsford, Ollerton, and Toft, 4006 inhabitants, of whom 3235 are in the town of Nether Knutsford, 24¾ miles (N. E. by E.) from Chester, and 172½ (N. W. by N.) from London. This place, which is of great antiquity, is situated on the banks of a small stream, across which was formerly a ford. Canute, the Dane, is said to have passed over the ford with his army for the conquest of the northern parts of the kingdom, in the reign of Ethelred I., or that of Edmund Ironside; and it may thence have been called Canute's Ford, from which the town is said to derive its name. This, however, is doubtful: in old deeds and writings, and in Jolly's Mise Book of the County, the name is spelt Knotsford; according to tradition, several generations of the name of Knott had a mill on the stream, and as the working of the mill mainly regulated the depth of water at the ford, the place was called after them Knot's ford. At the Conquest, Knutsford formed part of the barony of Halton, but in the reign of Edward I. it came into the possession of Sir William de Tabley, who obtained for it a charter of incorporation and various privileges, all of which are become obsolete. It appears by documents now in the hands of the Bridgewater family, that the royalty of Nether Knutsford was shared afterwards equally between Sir R. Massey, of Tatton, and the said Sir William de Tabley; and that, on the death of the son of the latter, his share being divided among his daughters, was sold in small parcels. The share of Sir R. Massey is now vested in the Egertons, of Tatton; Richard Brereton, of Tatton, the purchaser of it, having, 32nd of Elizabeth, settled all his estates on Sir Thomas Egerton, lord chancellor of England.

The town consists principally of two long streets, and is well paved, and supplied with water. The houses are in general indifferently built and of mean appearance, but in the immediate vicinity are several handsome seats; the environs are pleasant, and near the town is a good race-course, where races are held in October. The manufacture of thread, which formerly flourished to a considerable extent, has, since the introduction of machinery, given place to the weaving of cotton and silk, in which part of the population is employed, working with hand-looms, for the manufacturers at Manchester and the adjacent towns. The Trent and Mersey canal and the Manchester and Birmingham railway pass within five miles of the town, affording a communication with Liverpool and Manchester, and various other parts of the kingdom. The market is on Saturday; and the fairs, to which a small number of cattle are brought from the neighbouring villages, are on April 23rd, July 10th, and November 8th. A cattle-fair is held at Over Knutsford, on the Tuesday in Whitsun-week. Constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of Wilbraham Egerton, Esq., lord of the manor, who also holds a court baron; and the hundred court, and quarter-sessions for the county, are held in the town. The powers of the county debt-court of Knutsford, established in 1847, extend over the sub-registration-districts of Knutsford and Wilmslow. The sessions-house and house of correction for the county were erected in 1817; the former is an elegant edifice, comprising spacious court-rooms, and the latter is also commodious. The town is the place of election for the northern division of the shire.

The parish was formerly included in that of Rostherne, from which it was severed by act of parliament in 1744. It comprises by measurement 3912 acres, whereof about 150 are wood, nearly 1000 arable, and the remainder good pasture and meadow land: 499 acres are in the township of Nether Knutsford. The living is a vicarage; income, £245; patrons, the Lords of the four Manors of Over Knutsford, Nether Knutsford and Ollerton, Toft, and Bexton, in rotation; impropriators, the Dean and Chapter of Christ-Church, Oxford. The church, erected in 1744, is a neat edifice of brick. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Presbyterians. The free grammar school was founded, and endowed with sixteen marks per annum, in the reign of Edward VI., by Sir John Legh, and several sums were subsequently added; a new schoolroom has been built, and some waste land inclosed, which now lets for £24 per annum. A girls' school is supported by Mrs. Egerton, of Tatton, and a parochial school for boys, by subscription; there are various bequests, also, for distribution among the poor, amounting to about £100 per annum. A curious custom prevails in the town; that of strewing the streets with sand in various forms and devices on the occasion of weddings or other festivals: it is peculiar to the place, and to strangers has a very singular appearance.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.