Congleton Town Hall, completed 1866
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Congleton is a town and civil parish in Cheshire, England, on the River Dane, 21 miles (34 km) south of Manchester and west of the Macclesfield Canal. At the 2011 Census, it had a population of 26,482.
The town's name is of unknown origin. The first recorded reference to it was in 1282, when it was spelt Congelton. The element Congle might relate to the old Norse kang meaning a bend, followed by the Old English element tun meaning settlement.
The first settlements in the Congleton area were Neolithic. Stone Age and Bronze Age artefacts have been found in the town. Congleton was once thought to have been a Roman settlement, although there is no archaeological or documentary evidence to support this. Congleton became a market town after Vikings destroyed nearby Davenport.
Godwin, Earl of Wessex held the town in the Saxon period. The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is listed as Cogeltone: Bigot de Loges. William the Conqueror granted the whole of Cheshire to his nephew the Earl of Chester who constructed several fortifications including the town's castle in 1208. In the 13th century, Congleton belonged to the de Lacy family. Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln granted the town its first charter in 1272, enabling it to hold fairs and markets, elect a mayor and ale taster, have a merchant guild and behead known criminals.
In 1451, the River Dane flooded, destroying a number of buildings, the town's mill and wooden bridge. The river was diverted, and the town was rebuilt on higher ground.
Congleton became notorious in the 1620s when bear-baiting and cockfighting were popular sports. The town was unable to attract large crowds to its bear-baiting contests and lacked the money to pay for a new, more aggressive bear. Legend tells that Congleton spent the money they were going to spend on a bible on a bear. This legend earned Congleton the nickname 'Beartown'. The chorus of 20th-century folk song "Congleton Bear", by folk artist John Tams, runs:
- Congleton Rare, Congleton Rare
- Sold the Bible to buy a bear.
During the Civil War, former mayor and lawyer, John Bradshaw, became president of the court which sent Charles I to his execution in 1649. His signature as Attorney General was the first on the king's death warrant. A plaque on Bradshaw House in Lawton Street commemorates him. Almost opposite the town hall, the White Lion public house bears a blue plaque, placed by the Congleton Civic Society, which reads: "The White Lion, built 16–17th century. Said to have housed the attorney's office where John Bradshaw, regicide, served his articles."
King Edward I granted permission to build a mill. Congleton became an important centre of textile production, especially leather gloves and lace. Congleton had an early silk throwing mill, the Old Mill built by John Clayton and Nathaniel Pattison in 1753. More mills followed, and cotton was also spun. The town's prosperity depended on tariffs imposed on imported silk. When tariffs were removed in the 1860s, the empty mills were converted to fustian cutting. A limited silk ribbon weaving industry survived into the 20th century, and woven labels were still produced in the 1990s. Many mills survive as industrial or residential units.
The Congleton parliamentary constituency is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It includes the towns of Congleton, Alsager, Holmes Chapel, Middlewich and Sandbach. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first-past-the-post system of election. The current MP is Fiona Bruce of the Conservative Party — the constituency has always been a safe Conservative seat. The previous incumbent was Anne Winterton, who sat in parliament alongside her husband Nicholas Winterton, the MP for neighbouring Macclesfield. After they were judged to have broken MPs' expense rules in 2008 by claiming for rent on a second home owned by a family trust, both stood down at the 2010 general election; their joint statement cited the hectic life of politics as part of their reason for standing down.
Congleton forms the central portion of the Cheshire East unitary authority, located in the south-east of Cheshire. Before the abolition of Cheshire County Council on 1 April 2009, Congleton had borough status (originally conferred in 1272). The neighbouring village of Buglawton was incorporated into Congleton borough in 1936. From 1974 to 2009, Congleton borough covered much of south-east Cheshire.
For representation on Cheshire East Council, Congleton divided into two wards returning three members, Congleton East and Congleton West. Three of the six seats are currently represented by Conservative Party Councillors, with one Liberal Democrat and two Independents.
Mossley is sometimes classed as the wealthier part of town. Hightown is located before Mossley between town and the railway station. West Heath is a relatively new estate built in the early 1960s to the early 1980s. Lower Heath lies to the north of the town. There is also the town centre.
In terms of physical geography, Congleton is located in the valley of the River Dane. To the south of the town lies an expanse of green space known locally as Priesty Fields which forms a green corridor right into the heart of the town – a rare feature in English towns. In terms of folklore, legend says that Priesty Fields gained its name as there was no priest performing services within the town. The nearest priest was based at the nearby village Astbury. It is told that the priest would walk along an ancient medieval pathway which ran between the fields at the Parish Church in Astbury and St Peter's Church in Congleton.
The principal industries in Congleton include the manufacture of airbags and golf balls. There are light engineering factories near the town, and sand extraction occurs on the Cheshire Plain.
One of the most prominent industries during the nineteenth century onwards was Berisfords Ribbons, established in 1858. It was founded by Charles Berisford and his brothers Francis and William. The brothers leased part of Victoria Mill, on Foundry Bank, owning the entire factory by 1872. By 1898, the company had offices in London, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.
Congleton Market operates every Tuesday and Saturday from the Bridestones Centre.
Until about 2000, "Super Crystalate" balls, made of crystalate, were manufactured by "The Composition Billiard Ball Company" in Congleton. The company was then sold by its owner to Saluc S.A., the Belgian manufacturer of Aramith Balls. The name Super Crystalate was retained, but the manufacturing process was integrated into the standard process used for Aramith balls.
Congleton Park is located along the banks of the River Dane just north east of the town centre. Town Wood on the northern edge of the park is a Grade A Site of Biological Interest and contains many nationally important plants. Congleton Paddling Pool was built in the 1930s and is open in the summer months. Astbury Mere Country Park lies just to the south west of the town centre, on the site of a former sand quarry. The lake is used for fishing and sailing and despite its name, is actually in the West Heath area of Congleton, with the boundary between Congleton and Newbold Astbury parishes lying further to the south.
The independently run 300-seat Daneside Theatre is on Park Road. The 400-seat Clonter Opera Theatre is based in the village of Swettenham Heath, 5 mi (8 km) north of Congleton. Founded in 1971, Congleton Choral Society is a mixed voice choir which regularly performs choral works at Congleton Town Hall and other venues around the town
Congleton Museum is on Market Square in the centre of town. It was established in 2002 and is dedicated to Congleton's industrial history. It also contains an ancient log boat and gold and silver coin hoards. Congleton Tourist Information Centre is on the town's High Street.
The town also annually hosts a food and drink festival promoting locally sourced produce/cuisine and a jazz and blues festival which showcases acts from across the UK. In 2019, Congleton held its first annual pride event.
There is one weekly local newspaper: the locally owned paid-for Congleton Chronicle. The evening newspaper The Sentinel, based in Stoke-on-Trent, also covers the town, although less so than in the past. Local radio is broadcast from nearby Macclesfield-based Silk FM, Signal 1 and Greatest Hits Radio Staffordshire & Cheshire from Stoke-on-Trent and BBC Radio Stoke, as well as Moorlands Radio in Leek and Canalside Community Radio in Macclesfield, both community radio stations. Congleton did have its own community radio station, the internet-only Beartown Radio, but this has now closed.
Congleton is home to the third oldest rugby union club in the country, dating back to 1860. Currently fielding a mini and junior section and three adult sides, the club held the world record for the longest continuous game of rugby ever played, at 24 hours, 30 minutes and 6 seconds. The club has also pioneered the development of 'walking rugby' for more senior players and has re-established a ladies' team, having previously had two of its women players represent England.
There are also two cricket clubs, Congleton CC and Mossley CC. There are two golf clubs in the town— the historic Congleton Golf Club, which is an undulating nine-hole course with views over the Cloud End, and the 18-hole parkland course at Astbury. There is also a running club, Congleton Harriers, which meets weekly at Congleton Leisure Centre. The club organises the Congleton Half Marathon and in 2012 re-introduced the Congleton Quarter Marathon.
Congleton is 7 miles (11 km) east of the M6 motorway, connected by the A534. It is on the A34 trunk road between Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester, and the A54 to Buxton and the Peak District. The A536 links the town with Macclesfield, with the A527 linking the town to Biddulph and providing an alternative route to Stoke-on-Trent.
Congleton railway station was opened by the North Staffordshire Railway on 9 October 1848. The line is now part of the Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent branch of the West Coast Main Line. The Biddulph Valley line used to terminate in the town. The railway, which terminated at Brusnwick Wharf on the River Dane, carried freight traffic between Congleton and Stoke-on-Trent. The entire line was closed in 1962.
The Macclesfield Canal, completed in 1831, passes through the town. It runs 26 miles (42 km) from Marple Junction at Marple, where it joins the Upper Peak Forest Canal, southwards (through Bollington and Macclesfield), before arriving at Bosley. Having descended the 12 Bosley Locks over the course of about a mile (1.6 km), the canal continues through Congleton to a junction with the Hall Green Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal at Hall Green. The canal is renowned for its elegant roving bridges, locally known as 'Snaily Bridges'. Congleton is one of few places in Britain where a road, canal and railway all cross each other at the same place. The nearest airport to the town is Manchester Airport, 20 miles (32 km) away.
Policing in Congleton is provided by Cheshire Constabulary. The main police station is on Market Square.
Congleton has a small hospital, Congleton War Memorial Hospital, which was built by public subscription in 1924. The town is also served by Leighton Hospital in Crewe, Macclesfield District General Hospital and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke-on-Trent.
- St John's
- St Stephen's
- St Peter's
Congleton Town Council lists eleven other places of worship in the town:
- Congleton Community Baptist Church
- Brookhouse Green [Methodist] Church
- New Life Church
- Congleton Pentecostal Church
- Rood Lane Methodist Church
- Spiritualist Church
- St James' Anglican Church
- St Mary's Roman Catholic Church
- Trinity Methodist Church
- Congleton United Reformed Church
- Wellspring Methodist Church
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Historically Congleton has seen a wide range of Christian church denominations.
- The Friends' Meeting House closed in 1741.
- The Wesleyan Methodist Trinity Chapel, in Wagg Street, was founded in 1766 and was rebuilt in 1808 and again in 1967; the Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1821 on Lawton Street, and rebuilt in 1890 on Kinsey Street; the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion Methodist chapel was founded in 1822; the Congleton Edge Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built in 1833 and rebuilt in 1889; the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Brook Street was built in 1834; the New Connexion Methodist Chapel in Queen Street was built in 1836 and closed in 1969; the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Biddulph Road was built in 1840; the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Rood Lane was founded in 1861 and rebuilt in 1886.
- The Unitarian Chapel in Cross Street was founded in 1687 near the Dane Bridge and in 1733 moved to Cross Street, with the present building constructed in 1883 and closed in 1978.
- The United Reformed Church (Independent/ Congregationalist) was built in 1790 on Mill Street, and then rebuilt in 1876 on Antrobus Street.
- Astbury St Mary's C of E School
- Black Firs Primary School
- Buglawton Primary School
- Daven Primary School
- Havannah Primary School
- Marlfields Primary School
- Mossley C of E Primary School
- Smallwood C of E Primary School
- St Mary's RC Primary School
- The Quinta Primary School
High and secondary schools
- Emma Bossons (born 1976 in Congleton), ceramic artist and designer for Moorcroft Pottery
- Mark Edwardson (born 1967), TV presenter, BBC North West lives in Congleton
- Alan Garner OBE (born 1934), novelist best known for his children's fantasy novels
- Jackie Oates (born 1983 in Congleton), folk singer and fiddle player
- Louise Plowright (1956–2016), actress
- Stanley Unwin (1911–2002), also "Professor" Stanley Unwin, comedian, actor and comic
- Tim Brown (born 1981), New Zealand international footballer, born in Congleton
- Ian Brightwell (born 1968), former Manchester City footballer and England U-21 international; grew up in Congleton
- Tommy Clare (1865–1929), international footballer (right-back) and football manager
- George Clawley (1875–1920), professional goalkeeper who played for Stoke City F.C., Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, born at Scholar Green, near Congleton
- Bill Fielding (1915–2006), goalkeeper for Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United
- Hugh Moffat (1885–1952), professional footballer who played for Burnley F.C. and Oldham Athletic F.C.
- Laura Newton (born 1977), cricketer
- Ann Packer (born 1942) and Robbie Brightwell (born 1939), husband-and-wife Olympic Gold Medal athletes
- William Yates (1880–1967), racewalker, competed in the 10 km walk at the 1912 Summer Olympics
- Gibbs Crawfurd Antrobus (1793–1861), diplomat and politician, long-established family in Congleton
- John Blundell (1952–2014), Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs
- John Bradshaw (1602–1659), judge, sat as President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, Mayor of Congleton 1637–1638
- George Harold Eardley VC MM (1912–1991), received the Victoria Cross in 1944
- Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy (1833–1918), suffragist, essayist and poet
- Dawn Gibbins MBE, entrepreneur, started flooring company Flowcrete with her late father
- Rear-Admiral Gerald Cartmell Harrison (1883–1943), Royal Navy officer and cricketer
- Robert Hodgson (1773–1844), priest, great-great-great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II
- Frank Kearton, Baron Kearton OBE FRS FRSA (1911–1992), life peer, scientist and industrialist
- William Newton (1822–1876), trade unionist, journalist and Chartist
- Sir John Parnell, 2nd Baronet (1744–1801), Anglo-Irish Member of Parliament, his family originally migrated to Ireland from Congleton
- Theodora Turner OBE ARRC (1907–1999), born in Congleton, nurse and hospital matron.
- Saint Margaret Ward (died 1588), the "pearl of Tyburn", English Catholic martyr executed during the reign of Elizabeth I for assisting a priest to escape from prison
- Hewett Watson (1804–1881), phrenologist, botanist and evolutionary theorist
- John Whitehurst FRS (1713–1788), clockmaker and scientist, member of the Lunar Society
- Captain Percy Wilson MC (born Congleton, 1895; date of death unknown), World War I flying ace
- Ann Winterton (born 1941), politician, MP for Congleton 1983–2010
Bluebells at Dane-in-Shaw Brook SSI.
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Media related to Congleton at Wikimedia Commons