MACCLESFIELD, a market-town, parochial chapelry, and newly-enfranchised borough, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the parish of Prestbury, and hundred of Macclesfield, and the head of a union, in the N. division of the county of Chester, on the road from London to Manchester, 36 miles (E. by N.) from Chester, and 167 (N. W. by N.) from London; the township containing 24,137 inhabitants, of whom 11,192 are in the east, and 12,945 in the west, division. Previously to the Norman Conquest, this place constituted a portion of the demesne of the earls of Mercia, who held a court here for the ancient hundred of Hamestan; thus, in the record of Domesday, it is represented to have been one of the seats of Earl Edwin. At the time that survey was made, it was comprised within the earldom of Chester, of which it continued to form part until the abolition of the jurisdiction, when the hundred, manor, and forest of Macclesfield lapsed to the crown. The forest was anciently protected by the same laws, and entitled to the same rights, as other royal forests, and a few of the executive offices under these laws survive; the grand serjeantcy of the hundred, and the mastership of the forest, have long been hereditary in the family of Davenport, and the office of bailiff of the manor and forest is vested in the noble family of Cholmondeley. After the territory came to the crown, parcels of the forest were granted away at different times, and the whole is now under cultivation; the last portion of the common and waste land having been inclosed under an act obtained in 1796, when an allotment was assigned to the king as lord of the manor, which, with the mineral contents of the soil, has since been alienated.
An ecclesiastical council was held at Macclesfield in 1332, and another in 1362, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whilst the town continued to be the residence of the earls of Chester, it was surrounded by a rampart, or walled fence, which had three principal gates, viz., Back-wall gate, Church gate, and New gate; and part of the wall and doorway of one of the gates is still remaining. In 1508, Thomas Savage, a native of the town, who became successively Bishop of London and Archbishop of York, founded a college of secular priests, of which the chapel, once communicating with the church of St. Michael by a door now blocked up, still remains, as the sepulchral chapel of the family. During the great civil war in the 17th century, the town experienced much injury from the parliamentarians, by whom it was besieged and taken, and who retained possession of it, under Sir William Brereton, commander-in-chief of the republican forces of this county, after an obstinate attempt on the part of Sir Thomas Acton to gain it for the king. On a hill to the east are vestiges of an encampment constructed by the parliamentarians, from which, during the siege, the spire of St. Michael's church was battered by the cannon of the assailants. After the decapitation of Charles I., a council was held here, at which it was resolved to raise four regiments, of 700 men each, for the service of Charles II., who was then at the head of an army in Scotland. In 1745, a party of 100 cavalry seized the town for the Pretender, who, on the evening of the same day, arrived with 5000 men and his whole train of artillery: after passing the night here, he held a council of war, and the day following marched towards Derby; but being alarmed at the approach of the forces under the Duke of Cumberland, he fell back upon Macclesfield, to which place he was pursued by the duke, whom the inhabitants received with every demonstration of joy.
The town is pleasantly situated near the southern extremity of the forest. The greater part stands on the acclivity of an eminence rising gradually from the western bank of the river Bollin, which flows through the lower part, hence denominated "the Waters;" these parts are connected by two bridges of stone, and one of wood. The rapid increase of population has created a proportionate augmentation of the number of buildings, and an extension of the town in every direction within a short period. Many improvements have been made, under the provisions of an act obtained in 1814, by the introduction of police regulations, by widening the streets, and removing unsightly objects; the streets are well paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. A public subscription library, established for more than half a century, contains a valuable collection of works, and a commodious house has been taken for the accommodation of the subscribers, and fitted up with reading and other rooms. A public newsroom is supported; there are a neat theatre, and a handsome suite of assembly-rooms. Macclesfield is noted for the manufacture of silk, which is carried on in all its branches to a considerable extent; the first mill here was erected in 1756, since which period the trade has rapidly increased, and at present there are not less than 70 mills for throwing silk, which is here manufactured into handkerchiefs and broad silks, the weaving of these articles, with the manufacture of twist, sewing-silk, and buttons, being the principal source of trade. In 1823, there were 3000 looms in the town, and the number has now increased to about 10,000. The cotton manufacture was introduced about the same time, and has progressively increased; there are several large dye-houses, and other establishments connected with these branches of manufacture. In the neighbourhood are extensive mines of coal; also quarries of slate, and of stone of a superior quality for building, of which great quantities are sent to Stockport, Manchester, Staffordshire, and other parts of the country. A canal passes by the east side of the town, and joins the Peak-Forest canal at Marple. The Macclesfield branch of the Manchester and Birmingham railway, opened in November, 1845, diverges from the main line about three miles south of Stockport, and pursues a picturesque and tolerably direct course of nearly eleven miles to Macclesfield. In 1846, an act was passed for a railway from Macclesfield to Congleton and the potteries of Staffordshire; and another act was obtained in the same year, for a railway to Uttoxeter and Burtonon-Trent. The market is on Tuesday; a market for vegetables is held on Saturday: the fairs are on May 6th, June 22nd, July 11th, October 4th, and November 11th, for cattle, woollen-cloth, hardware, and toys.
Macclesfield, which was constituted a borough by Ranulph, third earl of Chester of that name, was first incorporated in the 45th of Henry III., by Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, who conveyed additional privileges, but imposed the usual obligation of grinding at the king's mill, and baking at his oven; and various other charters were subsequently granted till that of Charles II., according to which the town was until recently governed. The corporation now consists of a mayor, 12 aldermen, and 36 councillors, under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; and the borough is divided into six wards, including the townships of Sutton and Hurdsfield. The freedom is inherited by all the sons of a freeman, or acquired by servitude. The borough sends two representatives to parliament, the boundaries comprising 3145 acres; the mayor is returning officer. The mayor and other magistrates hold meetings three times a week; and the county justices meet as often at the police-office, for offences committed out of the borough. The powers of the county debt-court of Macclesfield, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Macclesfield. A court of record for debts to any amount arising within the hundred, and a similar court called a halmote court for the manor and forest, are held twice a year by the Earl of Derby, as hereditary steward; and courts leet for these several jurisdictions occur within a month of Michaelmas, when constables are appointed for the different townships. The guildhall, taken down in 1826, and rebuilt in the Grecian style, at the expense of the corporation, is a spacious edifice, containing, in addition to the court-rooms, handsome assembly and concert rooms.
The parochial chapelry consists of the nine townships of Hurdsfield, Kettleshulme, Macclesfield, Macclesfield-Forest, Pott-Shrigley, Rainow, Sutton, Wildboar-Clough, and Wincle. The township of Macclesfield comprises 2210 acres. The living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £214, in the patronage of Simeon's Trustees. The parochial chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, is an ancient structure, founded by Eleanor, queen of Edward I., about 1278, and made dependent on the mother church at Prestbury: the tower was formerly surmounted by a spire, which was battered down in the parliamentary war; the north side of the edifice was rebuilt in 1740, and the whole has recently undergone a thorough repair and embellishment. Christchurch, a spacious structure of brick, with a square tower, was erected in 1775, at the expense of Charles Roe, Esq., who endowed it with £100 per annum, and to whose memory is a monument on the south side of the chancel: the living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £259, exclusively of rents of pews; patron, C. S. Roe, Esq. St. George's church, in Sutton, erected as a dissenters' place of worship, was purchased for the service of the Established Church, and consecrated on the 8th of June, 1834: the same township contains a church dedicated to St. James. A neat church of stone was lately built in the township of Hurdsfield; and there are other incumbencies at Macclesfield-Forest, Pott-Shrigley, Rainow, and Wincle. In the year 1844, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners endowed two church districts under the act 6th and 7th Victoria, cap. 37, namely, St. Paul's and St. Peter's, Macclesfield; churches were subsequently consecrated, and the districts then became ecclesiastical parishes, St. Paul's being the first parish, though not the first district, formed under the act. The church of St. Paul, consecrated October 10th, 1844, is built of white stone, and has a tower 71 feet high, surmounted by a spire of 70 feet; the interior is 120 feet in length, and has a fine organ by Nicholson: the cost of the edifice was £5500. St. Peter's church, raised in 1847, was erected at an expense of about £2600, and is in the early English style: corresponding with it is a beautiful school-house, completed at a cost of £1200. Each of the two livings is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £150; St. Paul's is in the gift of the Bishop of Chester, and St. Peter's in that of the Crown and the Bishop, alternately. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive Methodists, Socinians, and Roman Catholics.
The free grammar school was founded in 1502, by Sir John Percival, lord mayor of London, who was born near the town; but the endowment lapsing to the crown, the school was refounded by Edward VI., in 1552, and more amply endowed, under the designation of the "Free Grammar School of King Edward VI.:" the income exceeds £1100 per annum. The school enjoys a high reputation, and in the list of masters appear the names of Brownswerd, a celebrated grammarian and Latin poet, and Brancker, a philosopher and mathematician, both of whom lie interred in the chapel of St. Michael. In 1838, an act was passed enabling the governors to establish a commercial school. An almshouse was founded in 1703, by Mrs. Stanley, for three widows; and various bequests have been left for the poor. The union of Macclesfield comprises 41 parishes or places, containing a population of 56,018. Near the road to Congleton is the Castle-field, supposed to have been the site of the palace of the earls of Chester; and some slight vestiges still exist of an ancient mansion said to have been the residence of the celebrated Duke of Buckingham. Macclesfield gives the title of Earl to the family of Parker.