The Changing Face of the Common

The Victorian era and the industrial revolution changed the face of the common, as it did of the whole town. Macclesfield was transformed from a market town to a hub of the silk industry. Mills straddled the town, initially following the watercourses to provide power, and then turning to coal and steam. First the canal, and then the railways arrived. The common was covered with factories and houses, and its rural nature was little but a memory by the 1850s. Bricks and pots were still made due to the abundant clay. Local historian Wynn Greenwood says her mother remembers watching clay being bucketed out of the tip from her weavers cottage; which stood at that time in the terrace above the Dolphin.

Eventually the tip – the King George field – was filled in. But the changes continued. Much of the change is in recent memory and pictures from the 1960s provided by Ken Bailey, and from the 1970s provided by Matthew Hyde show very different streets to those of today. Windmill Square, below the Institute, disappeared, as did Richmond Place. The dyeworks behind the Dolphin, and Backhouse and Coppock’s factory to the west of the field eventually went too. Not only the factories, but the houses were disappearing at a great rate. Pictures from the sixties and seventies show whole terraces on Windmill Street and Black Road that have been demolished now.

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However the residents of the area were responsible for saving and salvaging many houses that were due for demolition. Faced with the loss of whole terraces and courtyards along Black Road they enlisted the help of a young architect, Rod Hackney, to work out how they could combine together and renovate their homes. The Black Road self-help schemes were born. Bernard and Gillian Rushton took on one of the houses when they got married – not knowing whether it would

be renovated or demolished. They still live there today. The project gradually attracted wider attention as part of wider community movements, and Rod Hackney himself became famous for his part in the scheme. One of his fans was Prince Charles, and this led to the royal visit at which Bernard and Gillian Rushton, among others, got to chat to our future king.

Bernard and Gillian Rushton meet Prince Charles

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What will become of the area – today, as in the seventies – it’s for the local people to decide . . .