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A brief history of Congleton

Congleton lies at the eastern edge of the Cheshire plain at the foot of the southern reaches of the Pennine Hills. Most of the town lies between two and four hundred feet above sea level, but rises gently eastwards towards the hills.

A Neolithic chambered tomb known as the Bridestones is the archaeological monument that ranks first in time and importance in the Congleton area. It belongs to the "megalithic culture" characterized by the practice of collective burial in stone-built chambers beneath mounds of earth and stone. It lies approximately three miles east of Congleton at a height of nine hundred feet above sea level and is the oldest megalithic structure in the whole of Cheshire.

Early Bronze Age axe hammers have been found in and around Congleton too. More significance of Bronze Age settlement though are the barrows or burial mounds of the area. Unlike the collective burials of the past, in these tombs we find single inhumations.

There is no evidence in the area of any late Bronze Age burials. What have been found though are occurrences of weapons and implements from this period. The most notable of which was a small personal hoard belonging to a hunter of warrior and consisting of two bronze spear-heads and their bronze butts and a socketed bronze axe.

During the Iron Age there is nothing that can be claimed with any certainty in the area. This too can be said of the Roman occupation.

Congleton is first found mentioned in the Domesday Book. Before the Norman Conquest Congleton was held by Earl Godwin but in 1068 it was in the possession of a lay tenant of Earl Hugh, one Bigot de Loges. Bigot was a Norman who came from Les Loges, Calvados, arr. Vire, cant. Aunay-sur-Odon, and was in all probability a member of the family of Roger Bigot, earl of Norfolk and lord of Les Loges. Bigot also held Farndon, Lea, Thornton, Mobberley, Norbury, Alderley, Siddington, Rode, Sandbach, Sutton, Wimboldsley, and Weaver. Bigot’s lands were never recognized as a barony and its subsequent history is somewhat confused. It seems that afterwards the lands formed the basis of the fee of Aldford which was created about 1130 and included the manor of Gawsworth. In the period 1136-1146 there is a reference to Hugh, son of Bigot receiving the grant of Gawsworth. In the reign of Henry II (1154- 1189) the lord of the fee was Robert de Aldford. Nothing of the fee is known then till the early thirteenth century. When the manor of Gawsworth was in the possession of Richard de Aldford who then granted it to Herbert and Lucy Orreby. Congleton was apparently part of the Aldford fee until the reign of King John.

In the subsequent years the owners of the fee were:

Sir John de Arderne, Walkelyn Arderne, Peter Arderne, John Arderne

Henry de Lacy Earl of Lincoln who granted the first borough charter to the burgesses of Congleton.

Joan de Lacy. One of Joans sub-tenants at the time was John de Porta who granted his property in Buglawton and Congleton.

Thomas of Lancaster, Gilbert Singleton, Henry (brother of Thomas of Lancaster), John de Gaunt and The Crown

As the years past, Congletons size grew, as did the diversity of its people. Its clear that the local men liked their ale though. In 1584 42 Alehouse Keepers recieved licences. This was for a population of about 1000 people. Records show that in 1595 several people were caught illegally ploughing town land at Fol Hollow, Banky Fields, Padbridge Lane and West Heath. This may suggest that people were cutting down woodlands because the population was getting to large for the land available in the town. Two areas of the town that were strictly controlled were the Town Wood and Overwestfield. It was ordered that no timber could be cut and no animals could stray there.

In the 1600's local will's show that the town had grown even more. Farming was well established be it as a sole occupation or part time. Documents show that innkeepers, mercers, shoemakers and glovers all kept either livestock or utilised land for the growing of food. The ruling class in Congleton was in the main engaged in trade. More often than not in the leather trade. By 1660 the more substantial tax payers were drapers, mercers, skinners and tanners.

In 1649 John Bradshaw, former Mayor of Congleton was appointed Lord President of the Court which tried and condemned Charles I to death. so his signature is the first to be seen on the king's death warrant. When King Charles II was restored to the English throne he decided that Cromwell and his followers, who had executed his father Charles I, should be exhumed and by Royal Warrant dated September 9th l661 the bodies were dug up. Cromwell, Henry Ireton (his son-in-law) and John Bradshaw were hanged and decapitated at Tyburn gallows (where Marble Arch stands today). The heads were set up on poles outside Westminster Hall.

By 1730 a large percentage of the population lived on or below the bread line. The council decided that the old Lower Chapel should be converted into a workhouse. It was in the grounds of the workhouse in 1752 that John Clayton erected the first silk mill in Congleton.

Ribbon weaving started in the town in 1755. This was followed by a cotton spinning mill in 1785.

In 1847 Congleton secured the railway within half a mile of the town. Giving it the advantages of being on the line between Manchester and London.

Waterworks were officially opened in the town in 1881. By 1885 there were 1,830 houses that were supplied with town's water. In 1888 the health officer reported a considerable decrease in the death rate and the virtual elimination of typhoid. For a few facts on what was killing the population of the Distrrict of Congleton during the second half of the 1800's have a look here

Between 1864-1914 Congleton changed dramatically. Mill Bridge was reconstructed and widened at a cost of £800. There was a sewerage works built in 1902, though not all the sewers were connected to it. Sewers, water-mains and gas-mains were laid throughout the town. The streets were widened, paved and lighted.

In 1864 the foundation stone of a new was laid. The town hall was ceremoniously opened on 11 July 1866

The years following the First World War saw the town council having to deal with many problems from housing to traffic. For example they had to erect a lighthouse (the only one of its kind in Britain) at the top of Rood Hill on a very dangerous corner to try to stop the increasing number of traffic accidents. The lighthouse measured 28 feet high and was 6 feet square. On its two windows at night were illuminated the words "Dangerous Hill, change to lower gear" It was demolished in 1939.

1924 saw the opening of the War Memorial Hospital by H.R.H. the Duke of York. It replaced Congleton Cottage Hospital which was established in 1866.

1931 saw the urban district of Buglawton abolished.

1936 saw the opening of the public swimming pool in Park Road. Two years later a public library was opened in temporary premises in North Street.

During the Second World War children from Manchester (Link 1, 2, 3) were evacuated to Congleton. Also at this time Congleton saw large amounts of Dutch and United States troops (Link 1, 2, 3, 4 ) stationed in the town. On the 11th of January 1941 The Royal Netherlands Brigade "Princess Irene" was formed in Congleton. For this reason there is an inscription on Congletons War Memorial dedicated to these brave men. For the Dutch speakers out there Richard van de Velde has put together a great site relating to the Brigade. The main page relating to Congleton can be found on the menu bar on the left on his site.

On 16 October 1944 George Harold Eardley from Congleton was awarded the Victoria Cross (The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces). A digest of his Citation reads: On 16th October 1944 east of Overloon, Holland, Sergeant Eardley's platoon was ordered to clear some orchards where a strong opposition was holding up the advance, but 80 yards away from the objective the platoon was halted by automatic fire from machine-gun posts. Sergeant Eardley spotted one of these posts and moving forward under heavy fire killed the officer at the post with a grenade. He went on to destroyed two more posts single-handed under fire so intense that it daunted those who were with him, but his action enabled the platoon to achieve its objective and thus ensured the success of the whole attack. On the 18th of April 2004 a statue to Seargeant Major Eardley VC, MM was unveiled in the community garden in Congleton.

Congleton's War Memorial can be found on Lawton Street.

After the war housing proved to be a difficult problem due to the high demand for building materials in the bombed cities.

Roads were further improved to cope with the increasing amount of traffic throughout the 1950's. This time saw the opening of Clayton by-pass in October 1956.

In 1962 Congleton became the "twin" of Trappes, a town not far from Paris and Versailles. (Twinning is when a town enters into a close association with a similar town from another country)

1972 saw the town celebrate the granting of its charter. This was accompanied by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II.