Altrincham

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Altrincham (/ˈɒltrɪŋəm/ ol-tring-əm) is a market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, in Greater Manchester, England. It lies on flat ground south of the River Mersey about 8 miles (12.9 km) southwest of Manchester city centre, 3 miles (4.8 km) south-southwest of Sale and 10 miles (16 km) east of Warrington. As of the 2001 UK census, it had a population of 41,000.

Historically a part of Cheshire, Altrincham was established as a market town in 1290, a time when most communities were based around agriculture rather than trade, and there is still a market in the town today. Further socioeconomic development came with the extension of the Bridgewater Canal to Altrincham in 1765 and the arrival of the railway in 1849, stimulating industrial activity in the town. Outlying villages were absorbed by Altrincham’s subsequent growth, along with the grounds of Dunham Massey Hall, formerly the home of the Earl of Stamford, and now a tourist attraction with three Grade I listed buildings and a deer park.

Altrincham today is an affluent commuter town, partly because of its transport links. The town has a strong middle class presence; there has been a steady increase in Altrincham’s middle classes since the 19th century. It is also a centre for sport, home to Altrincham F.C. and an English Premier League ice hockey club, Manchester Phoenix.

There is evidence of human activity in the area during prehistoric times in the form of two Neolithic arrowheads. Aside from a concentration of artefacts around Dunham, there are few finds from the prehistoric period in Trafford. There are the remains of a Roman road running through the Broadheath area of the town. It is part of one of the major Roman roads in North West England, and is linked to the legionary fortresses of Chester (Deva Victrix) and York (Eboracum). It was in use for a considerable period of time, as it shows signs of having been repaired. After the Romans retreated from Britain in the early 5th century, the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain. The name Altrincham first appears as “Aldringeham”, probably meaning “homestead of Aldhere’s people”. The name evolved into the modern spelling, but as late as the 19th century, it was spelt both Altrincham and Altringham.

Until the Norman invasion, the manors surrounding Altrincham were owned by the Saxon thegn Alweard; after the invasion they became the property of Hamon de Massey. Altrincham was not mentioned in the Domesday Book. The earliest documented reference to the town was in 1290, when it was granted its charter as a Free Borough by Baron Hamon de Massey V. The charter allowed a weekly market to be held, and it is possible that de Massey established the town to generate income through tolls, dues, and taxes from trade, suggesting that Altrincham may have been a planned market town. That would have been unusual during the Middle Ages, when most communities were agricultural. Altrincham was probably chosen as the site of the planned town, rather than Dunham which would have been protected by Dunham Castle, as it had good access to roads, allowing ease of trade.

Altrincham Fair became St James’s Fair or Samjam in 1319 and continued until 1895. Fair days had their own court of Pye Powder (a corruption of the French for “dusty feet”), presided over by the mayor and held to settle disputes arising from the day’s dealings. On the extinction of the Massey family in 1340, the lands of Altrincham passed to the Earl of Stamford. By 1348, the town had 120 burgage plots – ownership of land that can be used as a measure of status and importance in an area – putting it on a par with Macclesfield and above Stockport and Knutsford. The earliest known residence in Altrincham was The Knoll, on Stamford Street near the centre of the medieval town. An excavation in 1983 by South Trafford Archaeological Group on the demolished building discovered evidence that the house dated from the 13th or 14th century, and that it may have contained a drying kiln or malting floor. During the English Civil War, men from Altrincham fought for the Parliamentarian Sir George Booth. During the war, armies camped several times on nearby Bowdon Downs.

The extension of the Bridgewater Canal to Altrincham in 1765 stimulated the development of market gardening, and for many years Altrincham was notable for its vegetables. By 1767, warehouses had been built alongside the canal in Broadheath, the first step in Altrincham’s industrialisation and the development of Broadheath as an industrial area. When the canal was completed in 1776, it provided a water route from Manchester, through Altrincham, to the Irish Sea. In July 1845, the Act of Parliament allowing for the construction of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway (MSJAR) was passed. At 8:00 am, 20 July 1849, the first railway train left Altrincham, carrying 65 passengers. The MSJAR had two stations in the town: Altrincham on Stockport Road, and one called Bowdon – though not actually in Bowdon – on Lloyd Street/Railway Street. They were both closed in 1881, and replaced by Altrincham & Bowdon station on Stamford New Road. Broadheath Railway Station, at the northern edge of the town, on the London and North Western Railway line, was opened in 1854. The Cheshire Midland Railway (later the Cheshire Lines Committee) opened from Altrincham to Knutsford on 12 May 1862.

In the late 19th century Altrincham became a base from where professionals and industrialists commuted to Manchester. A notable early commuter was the calico printer William Neild, who travelled daily by coach from High Lawn in Bowdon in the 1840s; however the less well–to–do would commute by express or “flyer” barges from Broadheath. With the coming of the railway the areas in and around Altrincham became very desirable places for the middle classes and commuters to live. Between 1851 and 1881 the population increased from 4,488 to 11,250.

The industrial area of Broadheath, spanning an area of 250 acres (1.0 km2), was founded by Harry Grey, 8th Earl of Stamford, in 1885 for the purpose of attracting businesses. By 1900, Broadheath had its own docks, warehouses and electricity generating station. The site’s proximity to rail, canal and road proved attractive to companies making machine tools, cameras and grinding machines. The presence of Tilghmans Sand Blast Co Ltd and the Linotype and Machinery Company established Broadheath as an industrial area of national standing. By 1914, there were 14 companies operating in Broadheath, employing thousands of workers. One of those was the Budenberg Gauge Company. A direct result of the industrialisation of Broadheath was a population boom and the creation of 172 workers’ homes by Linotype near the factory; between 1891 and 1901 the population of Altrincham increased by 35% from 12,440 to 16,831.

There was little change in Altrincham from the turn of the 20th century to the start of World War II. Although experiencing some bombing as part of the Luftwaffe’s raids on Greater Manchester, the town emerged from the war relatively unscathed and, along with the rest of Britain, experienced a boom period shortly after. This manifested itself in the construction of new housing and the rebuilding of the town centre in the 1960s. However, the boom period was followed by a depression in the 1970s, during which time employment at Broadheath fell by nearly 40%. In 1974, Altrincham became part of the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Trafford.

Altrincham became a Free Borough, a self governing township, when it was granted a charter in June 1290 by the Lord of the Manor, Hamon De Massey. The charter allowed for the creation of a merchants’ guild, run by the town’s burgesses to tax people passing through the borough. Burgesses were free men who lived in the town. The borough was ruled by a Court Leet and elected a mayor since at least 1452. Amongst the court’s responsibilities were keeping the public peace and regulating the markets and fairs.

The borough was not one of those reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and continued to exist under the control of the Lord of the Manor and the Court Leet until its final abolition in 1886. Altrincham’s growing population led to unsanitary conditions in the town and the Public Health Act of 1848 led to the creation of Altrincham’s Local Board of Health in 1851 to address this problem, ahead of the rest of Trafford. The local board was reconstituted as an urban district council in the administrative county of Cheshire under the Local Government Act 1894.

Altrincham Urban District was expanded in 1920 when parts of Carrington and Dunham Massey Civil Parishes were added. A further expansion took place in 1936; Timperley Civil Parish was abolished and most of its area incorporated into Altrincham UD. At the same time, there was a minor exchange of areas with Hale Urban District; a minor addition from Bowdon Urban District; and a further substantial portion of Dunham Massey Civil Parish was added. In 1937 the urban district was granted a charter of incorporation and became a municipal borough. The new borough was granted armorial bearings which featured heraldic references to the Masseys and Earls of Stamford. With the passage of the Local Government Act 1972, the administrative counties and municipal boroughs were abolished and Altrincham became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester on 1 April 1974.

Altrincham was in the eponymous parliamentary constituency which was created in 1885. This lasted until 1945 when it was replaced by Altrincham and Sale. In 1997, this in turn became part of the newly created constituency of Altrincham and Sale West. Since its formation, Altrincham and Sale West has been represented in the House of Commons by the Conservative MP, Graham Brady. This is one of a small number of seats in the North West held by the Conservative Party, and one of only two Conservative seats in Greater Manchester.

The town is within Trafford Metropolitan Borough.

Altrincham is on the southwestern edge of the Greater Manchester Urban Area, immediately south of the town of Sale, 8 miles (13 km) from Manchester city centre. It lies in the northwest corner of the Cheshire Plain, just south of the River Mersey. The Bridgewater Canal passes through the Broadheath area of the town. Altrincham’s drinking water is supplied by United Utilities and sourced from the Lake District, about 90 miles (145 km) away. The local bedrock consists mainly of Keuper Waterstone, a type of sandstone, and water retrieved from those rocks is very hard and often saline, making it undrinkable.

The climate of Altrincham is generally temperate, with few extremes of temperature or weather. The mean temperature is slightly above average for the United Kingdom; whereas both annual rainfall and average hours of sunshine are slightly below the average for the UK.

Altrincham is one of the four major urban areas in Trafford, the other three being Sale, Stretford and Urmston. The Altrincham area, as defined by Trafford MBC, comprises the south of Trafford. In addition to the town of Altrincham, it includes the villages of Timperley, Bowdon, Hale and Hale Barns. The Broadheath area of the town was a light industrial centre until the 1970s, but is now a retail park. The most densely populated part of the town is around the town centre, with the less populated areas and more green space further from the centre of town in villages such as Bowdon and Hale. The Oldfield Brow area lies on the outskirts of the town beside the Bridgewater Canal and close to Dunham Massey.

Historically, Altrincham was a market town and the two main areas of employment were agriculture and market trade. Although the town went into decline in the 15th century, it recovered and the annual fairs lasted until the mid-19th century and the market still continues. During the Industrial Revolution, Altrincham grew as an industrial town, particularly the Broadheath area, which was developed into an industrial estate. In 1801 there were four cotton mills in Altrincham, part of its textile industry, although they had closed by the 1851 census. The decline of the textile industry in Altrincham mirrored the decline of the industry in the Trafford area as a result of a lack of investment and the development of more established industrial areas such as Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne, and Oldham. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, heavier industries moved into Broadheath, providing local employment. The area steadily declined during the second half of the 20th century, with employment at Broadheath falling from 8,000 to 5,000 between 1960 and 1970. Despite the presence of retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in the town, and redevelopment schemes costing over £100 million, Altrincham’s 15.5% level of employment in retail is below the national average of 16.9%. Altrincham, with its neighbours Bowdon and Hale, is said to constitute a “stockbroker belt”, with well-appointed dwellings in an area of sylvan opulence.

The historic market town developed as a residential area in the 19th century although it retains its retail heritage in the Old Market Place (a conservation area) and a new pedestrianised shopping centre. The retail districts of the town have more recently fallen victim to decline due to competition from the nearby Trafford Centre and a regenerated Manchester city centre. However the empty shop facilities and run-down sections of the town, are being redeveloped. The Trafford Revised unitary development plan, which guides and controls all development in Altrincham, was adopted in June 2006. In 2006 Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council unveiled plans for a £1.5 million face lift for the town centre. The most noticeable current development is the £40m redevelopment of Altrincham’s Stamford Shopping Centre, scheduled for completion in September 2009. The redevelopment will create 146,000 square feet (13,600 m2) of new retail space and 203,000 square feet (18,900 m2) of refurbished space, providing 349,000 square feet (32,400 m2) in total.

Another development, costing £150m and nicknamed “Station Location”, is scheduled for completion in 2011. The 4.5-acre (18,000 m2) site, bordered by Oakfield Road, Moss Lane and the railway station platform, will include an extreme sports centre, an ice rink (the home of Manchester Phoenix ice hockey club) with a 3,000-seat capacity, an 85-bedroom hotel, two new public squares, restaurants, shops, flats, 25,000 square feet (2,300 m2) of office space and a 960-space car park. A temporary ice rink was opened in February 2007, near to the site, to house Manchester Phoenix until the new, larger rink, is completed. A 2010 survey found that despite being in one of the country’s most affluent areas, nearly a third of the shops in Altrincham were vacant; Trafford council attributed the high number (78) to the effects of the recession and plans to refurbish Stamford House, which left most of its shops unused.

According to the 2001 UK census, the industry of employment of residents in Altrincham was 18.4% property and business services, 16.0% retail and wholesale, 12.1% manufacturing, 10.7% health and social work, 8.3% education, 8.3% transport and communications, 5.8% finance, 5.7% construction, 4.2% hotels and restaurants, 4.2% public administration and defence, 0.8% agriculture, 0.8% energy and water supply, 0.2% mining, and 4.6% other. This was roughly in line with national figures, except for the town’s relatively high percentage of workers in property and business services. The census recorded the economic activity of residents aged 16–74, 5.3% looking after home or family, 4.3% permanently sick or disabled, 3.2% students without jobs, 2.2% students were with jobs, and 2.4% economically inactive for other reasons. The 2.2% unemployment rate of Altrincham was low compared with the national rate of 3.3%.

On the outskirts of Altrincham is the 18th-century Dunham Massey Hall and its 250-acre (1 km2) deer park, both now owned by the National Trust. The hall is early Georgian in style, and it, along with its stables and carriage house, are Grade I listed buildings. Another of Altrincham’s attractions is the historic market, set up over 800 years ago when the town was first established.

Stamford Park is a 16-acre (65,000 m2) park designed by landscape gardener John Shaw. It was opened to the public in 1880, as a sports park with areas for cricket and football and is now owned and run by Trafford Council. The land was donated by George Grey, the 7th Earl of Stamford. The park is listed as Grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England, as well as having won a bronze award from the Greenspace award scheme. Trafford council intend to build a £7,000 skate park in Stamford Park as part of a scheme to reduce crime by providing youths with activities. CCTV will be installed to monitor the skate park.

The clock outside the main transport interchange was built in 1880, and has been a Grade II listed building since 1985. Royd House was built between 1914 and 1916 by local architect Edgar Wood as his own residence. It has a flat concrete roof and a concave façade and is faced in Portland red stone and Lancashire brick. It is regarded as one of the most advanced examples of early 20th-century domestic architecture, and is referenced in architectural digests. The house has been a Grade I listed building since 1975, one of six such buildings in Trafford.

The Old Market Place is thought to stand on the site of the original town settlement. Now a registered conservation area it consists of a series of part timber-framed buildings echoing the wattle and daub constructions of the original houses and burgage plots. The cobblestone paving was replaced in 1896. The Buttermarket which stood in the area near the Old Market Place from the 17th century until the late 19th century was also the site for dispensing early local justice. A courtroom, stocks and whipping post saw public floggings take place there until the early 19th century. The whipping post and stocks were restored as a tourist attraction by local traders in the 1990s. However the Buttermarket area was also a site of religious importance, since prospective brides and grooms are thought to have declared their intentions here. In 1814 Thomas de Quincey described the Old Market Place in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater while travelling from Manchester to Chester. He noted how little the place had changed since he had visited 14 years earlier, when he was three, and that “fruits, such as can be had in July, and flowers were scattered about in profusion: even the stalls of the butchers, from their brilliant cleanliness, appeared attractive: and bonny young women of Altrincham were all tripping about in caps and aprons coquettishly disposed”.

In 1754, a stretch of road south of Altrincham, along the Manchester to Chester route, was turnpiked. Turnnpikes were toll roads which taxed passengers for the maintenance of the road. Further sections were turnpiked in 1765 from Timperley to Sale, and 1821 from Altrincham to Stockport. The maintenance of roads passed to local authorities in 1888, although by then most turnpike trusts had already declined.

Construction on the Bridgewater Canal began in 1759, and on its completion in 1776, it provided a link by water between Manchester and the Irish Sea, via Altrincham. Canals were a quicker and more economical means of travel than roads. The Bridgewater Canal is still in use, although now by leisure craft rather than commercial.

After a bill was passed in Parliament in 1845, construction of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway began. It was opened in 20 October 1849 and ran services from Manchester London Road via Sale to Altrincham. In 1931, the MSJAR line was electrified (1500 V DC OLE), one of the first electrified railway lines, supplied by overhead current, in Great Britain. At the same time a further Altrincham station was opened on that line, at Navigation Road, to serve the housing developments in the area. By 1937, there were 130 train services daily between Manchester and Altrincham. The line was renovated in the early 1990s and is now part of the Metrolink. Broadheath railway station served the northern part of Altrincham between 1853 and 1962, on the line from Manchester, via Lymm to Warrington.

Altrincham railway station is the southern terminus of one of the lines of the Manchester Metrolink light rail system, which connects it with the centre of Manchester and locations in Greater Manchester such as Sale and Bury. The Metrolink service also serves Navigation Road railway station. Metrolink services leave around every six minutes between 7:15 and 18:30, and every 12 minutes at other times of the day. National Rail services link Altrincham and Navigation Road stations with Chester via Northwich, and with Manchester via Stockport. Altrincham Interchange, next to the railway station, is a hub for local bus routes. Manchester Airport, the largest in the UK outside London, is 4 miles (6.4 km) to the southeast of the town.

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