The oldest maps of the Macclesfield area show an area marked out as the ‘common’. Common land was a feature of all communities. It belonged to the crown, but there were certain rights to it – for example the right of ‘turbary’ – to cut turf. The common land included the area of Windmill Street, Blakelow, Black Road, Gunco lane and Byrons Lane, stretching right up towards Teggs Nose. A former inhabitant, writing in 1948, mentions people still referring to the area as ‘the commin’. He was brought up in the church but was writing from York where had been elevated to the position of canon of York Minster. Nevertheless, he said of the area:-
Smoky old common
I always thought it the best part of the town to live in. It had its own individuality; it gave place to nobody; it could literally ‘look down’ on the lower parts of the town from its superior heights; and it was the way that led to the hills that Macclesfield folk ought to be thankful to have so near to their homes – hills that a dweller in this vale of York pines for every day’
The ‘commin’ was seen as a wild and remote place by the townspeople – it was separate from the main market town, still rural and wooded. However, as well as agricultural uses, the ‘commin’ was increasingly used for coal mining. The mines were simple – cut into the side of the hills. Several were up around Blakelow for example. Miners would clamber into shafts as little as 50cm in diameter to pick out the coal by hand.
As industrial development gathered pace, there was increasing pressure to make use of the land. The clay which was being extracted (for instance from the ‘tip’ field area) was used to make bricks; there was pressure to provide housing. Finally, in advance of the General Enclosures Act, the land was divided into plots which could be sold off and large scale development started.