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Macclesfield Canal Conservation Area

This principally includes the canal corridor but also extends through Bollington to provide protection for Clarence Mill and Clarence Terrace, all of the property between the canal and the Middlewood Way as far south as Clough Bank. On the east side of the canal it also includes the wharf at Hurst Lane and that at Grimshaw Lane opposite Adelphi Mill. Also included is Bobbin Cottage just south of bridge 28.

The following text is taken with kind permission from Macclesfield Borough Council’s Conservation Area Guide for Owners & Occupiers.


The Industrial Revolution could never have gathered pace without improved transport. In the early stages of industrialisation, that transport took the shape of canals, which at first tended to link navigable rivers, but soon developed to form a comprehensive route network which transformed the movement of bulk goods, fuel and building materials within that area of central England which was destined to become the industrial heartland of the nation. In Cheshire, we have the first of these waterways, the Bridgewater Canal, and one of the last, the Macclesfield Canal.

Historical Background

Early canals tended to be “contour canals”; in other words, they meandered across the landscape following, as far as was possible, the natural level of the land to avoid the necessity for locks. However, by the end of the canal age engineers such as Telford had anticipated later railway engineering by moulding the landscape to the canal; the waterway would run deep into hills by way of cuttings or tunnels and would be carried high above plains or valleys on embankments or aqueducts. The Macclesfield Canal is a fine example of a late canal for, apart from a flight of twelve locks at Bosley in the south of Macclesfield District, the canal runs for over fifteen miles at over 500 feet without a change in level, a feat achieved only by considerable landscape reformation and impressive works of engineering.

The Macclesfield Canal was cut to shorten the journey between Manchester and the Midlands. For fifty years, traffic has had no alternative but to use the Bridgewater Canal to reach the Trent and Mersey Canal, a considerable dog-leg. Telford surveyed the line of a new canal in 1825, conceived to link the Trent & Mersey with the Peak Forest Canal, but the actual construction and the detailed design was supervised by William Crosley. The canal was opened in 1831 during the earliest dawn of the railway age.

Despite the subsequent rapid development of railways, the Macclesfield Canal enjoyed many years of brisk trade, especially in coal and cotton. A railway company took it over in 1846 and ran it efficiently, but after the Great War the narrowness of the canal led to an inability to compete with more modern forms of transport and resulted in an inevitable commercial decline.

Today the canal carries almost no freight, but has become an important component of a circle of canals known as the “Cheshire Ring”, which are heavily used for cruising, walking and other recreation. Along with most other British canals, it has been recognised as an historic environment of considerable importance and the entire length within Macclesfield Borough was designated a conservation area in June 1975 [and those parts of the canal in other areas are also designated]. Conservation areas are designated to protect those parts of our environment which possess architectural or historic character, or which evoke a sense of the past life of the nation. The Borough Council has an obligation to protect and enhance such areas, but British Waterways, as well as other owners and occupiers of building along the length of the canal, also have a responsibility towards the part of our heritage which is under their care. Together we must all ensure that our successors can enjoy the heritage which we have been fortunate enough to inherit.

The Character Of The Macclesfield Canal

Because the waterway is a “cut and fill” canal, open vistas on embankments are interspersed with a sense of enclosure in cuttings. To the east lie the Peak Park hills and to the west the Cheshire Plain, over which the canal offers many panoramic views. The overall character of most of the canal is rural, and even in the urban stretches through Macclesfield and Bollington, the backcloth of hills and expansive views ensure that good countryside never feels far away.
There are a great many canalside structures of historic interest and aesthetic appeal within the Macclesfield Canal conservation area. For example, the twelve locks at Bosley are attractive single locks, unusual in that they have two pairs of lock gates. There are thirty nine bridges within the conservation area, two of which are particularly beautiful “roving bridges”. These bridges, characterised by sweeping, curved flans were so designed as to allow a towing horse to follow the tow path across the canal without unhitching the tow rope. There is a dry dock and, perhaps most impressive, two aqueducts at Bollington one of which, crossing Palmerston Street (left), is a particularly fine work of engineering and architecture.

It is conspicuous that earlier generations erected buildings and other ancillary structures so as to face the canal. Its importance dictated this for it always provided the life-blood of transport for which the buildings existed and by which they prospered. Typical of such buildings are three vast mills, the Clarence Mill, and the Adelphi Mill at Bollington and the Hovis Mill at Macclesfield. In the 20th century, in contrast, we have tended to build with our backs to the canal, a tendency which must now be challenged and reversed. When considering the development of sites adjacent to the canal, it is important to bear in mind the visual opportunities offered by directly relating new buildings with the waterway and the canalside scene.

Progress Since Conservation Area Designation

The Borough Council, in conjunction with the Groundwork Trust, have been active in works to upgrade the canal towpath as part of a wider ambition to make the “Cheshire Ring” a greater attraction to walkers. Work has also been done to widen and develop this programme to include the provision of small car parks and picnic areas to improve public access, better hedgerow and tree husbandry along the length of the canal and occasional interpretive panels to enhance public understanding of the canal and it history.

In the mid 1980’s many of the canal structures, ranging from bridges and aqueducts to the dry dock and locks were “listed” by the Department of the Environment following a survey of their architectural and historic value carried out by Cheshire County Council. This offers these structures considerable protection against unsympathetic alteration and greatly assists the Council in its objective to protect the canalside scene.

However, much work still remains to be done. Wherever new development is contemplated, it should not only be designed so as to relate to the canal, but should be constructed of materials which blend with or complement established buildings of quality or interest in the immediate surroundings of the proposal.

Because of the historic importance of the canal, British Waterways carries a great responsibility for the conservation of its essential character during day-to-day works of maintenance and repair. For example, bridges should be treated carefully and sensitively during repair and maintenance work. In particular, stonework should be left unpainted, and necessary repointing should be undertaken using lime mortar with a flush or slightly recessed mortar joint. Joints should never be struck for that finish is visually intrusive and detracts from the character of the structure.

There should be careful control of advertisements seen from the canal and where possible, the co-operation of statutory undertakers shall be sought in order to place overhead lines and other unsightly clutter underground.

Listed Buildings In The Conservation Area

The Department of the Environment maintains statutory lists of buildings of architectural and historic interest, documents which legally protect included buildings from demolition or unauthorised alteration.

Once a building becomes “listed” any works involving demolition or extension and any alteration which affects the character or appearance of the property externally, internally or within its curtilage requires LISTED BUILDING CONSENT from the Borough Council.

Quite modest alterations can require consent. For example, an application may be required for the painting and rendering of bridges, or external stone or brick walls, the replacement of lock gates with gates of a different design or material, the repair of stone copings or other stonework with concrete or reconstructed stone, or the replacement of doors and windows with doors or windows of a new design. Owners who ignore their responsibility to obtain listed building consent when undertaking such alterations commit a criminal offence and could be liable to prosecution. Additionally, the Local Authority have the power to serve a Listed Building  Enforcement Notice to ensure that the building or structure is returned to its original condition.

Responsibilities Of Owners Within The Conservation Area

Even if your building or structure is not listed, there are a few rules you must follow if you wish to undertake certain works to property within the boundary of the Macclesfield Canal conservation area.

You will require CONSERVATION AREA CONSENT for most works of demolition or partial demolition; this can include the demolition of outbuildings and, in some cases, boundary walls. Such structures can sometimes make a contribution to the canalside scene disproportionate to their size and importance.

You are also obliged to give six weeks notice, in writing, to the Borough Council before lopping, topping, felling, uprooting or otherwise destroying any tree within the conservation area. This is to give the Planning Authority an opportunity to raise a Tree Preservation Order for the affected tree, should that be considered necessary in the interests of visual amenity.

Because they offer insufficient information on which to judge a proposal’s visual impact on its surroundings, applications for outline planning permission are not usually accepted for development within conservation areas. However, although you will be required to apply for full planning permission for those works which require it, advice regarding appropriate building materials and acceptable design is always available from conservation staff on the Borough Council. It is often best to consult them before you make necessary planning or listed building consent applications, for their guidance at an initial stage can often speed matters later.

How Can The Borough Council Help You?

As a wide cross-section of people are concerned about the character of the waterways, applications for listed building consent and planning applications for development within the Macclesfield Canal conservation area are advertised in the local press and “on the spot” in the form of site notices so that ordinary residents or other interested people may voice their opinion concerning the proposals. In this way you can help the Council protect the canalside environment from inappropriate or damaging development.

The Macclesfield Canal Society is a voluntary body which works to increase public awareness and knowledge of the canal. Its activities in the fields of research, publicity and practical assistance are of acknowledged value and the Council pays due regard to observations it makes regarding proposals for towpath improvement as well as developments which affect the canalside scene.

Macclesfield Borough Council offers grant assistance towards the cost of enhancement schemes which improve the character and setting of the canal and towards the cost of repair and restoration work on listed buildings. Leaflets giving full details of these schemes are available from the conservation staff.

If you require forms, conservation advice, further information or assistance please contact:

The Chief Planning Officer
Cheshire East Council
Westfields, Middlewich Road, Sandbach CW11 1HZ
Tel: 0300 123 5500
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