Knutsford

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Knutsford is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority area of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, in North West England. It is located about 16 miles (26 km) south-west of Manchester, 25 miles (40 km) east of Liverpool and 11 miles (18 km) northwest of Macclesfield.

The town is close to the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which is a proposed World Heritage Site.

Knutsford is situated on the Cheshire Plain, between the Peak District in the South Pennines to the east and the Clwydian Range in the Welsh mountains to the west. Knutsford’s proximity to Manchester has both now and historically helped it become a commuter town for those employed in Manchester. Today the town’s location gives it easy access to Merseyside as well as Manchester.

Knutsford’s main town centre streets, Princess Street (also known locally as Top Street) and King Street lower down, and also known as Bottom Street, form the “hub” of the town. At one end of the narrow King Street is an entrance to Tatton Park. The Tatton estate was home to the Egerton family, and has given its name to Tatton parliamentary constituency, which also includes the neighbouring communities of Alderley Edge and Wilmslow. Former Parliamentary representatives include the BBC war correspondent Martin Bell, who stood as an Independent in 1997 to defeat the disgraced former Conservative Party MP, Neil Hamilton.

Knutsford was recorded in the William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086 as Cunetesford (“Canute’s ford“). King Canute (Knútr in Old Norse) was the king of England (1016–1035) and later king of Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden as well. Local tradition says that King Canute forded the River Lily, which was said to be dangerous then, though other reports say it was the Birkin Brook at or near Booth Mill. The English Place-Name Society gives the name as being derived from the Old English for Knutr’s ford or possibly hillock ford.

Knutsford was the place in which General George S. Patton, shortly before the Normandy invasion, delivered a speech perceived to be critical of the Soviets, and which nearly ended his career.

After the Second World War overspill housing estates were created in the town to accommodate families from Manchester. Later overspill estates were built in Over ward, which was named Longridge. At the end of the 20th century, all of the homes on the estate that had not already been sold to their occupants were transferred to Manchester Methodist Housing.

In 2005 Knutsford was named as the most expensive town to buy a house in northern England, followed by nearby town Altrincham. There is an extremely large range of house prices in Knutsford, currently varying from approximately £79,000 to £3,850,000.

Knutsford has been under the unitary council of Cheshire East since April 2009. Prior to that Knutsford was in the Borough of Macclesfield and before that Knutsford Urban District Council. Knutsford town council was created after the abolition of the urban district council in the local government reorganisation of 1974.

Knutsford has excellent access to the motorway network, with junctions to the M6 (Junction 19) and M56 (Junction 7) motorways. However, this can also have disadvantages as the A50 which runs through Knutsford town centre follows a similar route to the M6 between Warrington and Stoke-on-Trent, this means that if the M6 is closed due to an accident or roadworks then a large volume of traffic transfers to the A50 and causes major traffic jams in Knutsford.

Knutsford is served by Knutsford railway station which is situated on the Mid-Cheshire Line running from Chester to Manchester (via Altrincham). The station was built in 1862 by the Cheshire Midland Railway. The CMR was absorbed into the Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) in August 1867, this entity continuing to serve Knutsford until nationalisation on 1 January 1948. The train service to Manchester was re-routed via a slower route when the Manchester Metrolink trams took over the CLC direct line between Altrincham and Manchester, with the heavy rail service being re-routed via Stockport to Manchester Piccadilly.

Currently there is an hourly service to Altrincham, Stockport and Manchester to the north and Northwich and Chester to the south-west, with extra trains to and from Stockport at peak times on weekdays. On Sundays there is a 2 hourly service to Chester and a 2 hourly service to Southport via Manchester, Bolton and Wigan. The number of weekday peak trains to Manchester was controversially cut back in December 2008 to allow Virgin Trains to run extra services between Manchester and London.

Knutsford town centre has several restaurants and pubs, coffee shops, boutiques, antique shops and art galleries.

Knutsford has one large supermarket, the Preston based Booths Supermarkets, a Little Waitrose, a Sainsbury’s Local and two Co-op stores (one on Princess Street and one on Parkgate Lane).

Tesco used to have a small shop in the town centre, which closed many years ago. The retailer had hoped to open a larger store on the edge of the town on Mobberley Road, but councillors in Mobberley objected to the development, thinking it might result in more cars travelling through their village.

In 2008, Aldi announced plans to open a superstore in Knutsford, but not until September 2012 did construction work start.

Barclays has a large campus site at Radbroke Hall on Toft Road just outside Knutsford, employing several thousand staff in IT and support functions.

Every 10 years Knutsford hosts an international three-hour endurance race for Penny-farthing bicycles.

There are many events in and around the town each year including the May Day festivities, The RHS Flower show at Tatton Park and the Cheshire County Show in the parish of Tabley, near Knutsford.

The annual Knutsford Royal May Day festival is where hundreds of people parade through the streets, and the May Queen is crowned. During the May Day weekend there is also a funfair run on ‘The Heath’ (where the crowning of the May Queen also takes place) This is said to be one of the largest funfairs in the UK.

Local folklore claims that Edward “Highwayman” Higgins had a tunnel running under The Heath, where he hid his booty.

The Knutsford Guardian, established in 1860, is the only weekly paid for paper dedicated to covering the town and its surrounding villages. The newspaper is teamed with the Northwich, Middlewich, and Winsford Guardian.

There is a May Day custom, still observed today, of “sanding the streets” in Knutsford. The streets are decorated with coloured sands in patterns and pictures.

Tradition has it that King Cnut, while fording the River Lily, threw sand from his shoes into the path of a wedding party, wishing the newly wed as many children as the grains of sand at their feet. The custom can be traced to the late 1600s. Queen Victoria, in her journal of 1832 recorded: “we arrived at Knutsford, where we were most civilly received, the streets being sanded in shapes which is peculiar to this town”.

Knutsford was the model for Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford. She lived in the town for some time, on what is now known as Gaskell Avenue, and she is buried in the Unitarian Chapel graveyard. Many of the places and people described in her books can be identified as being based on places and people in the town. In 2007 the BBC adapted the novel and produced a popular TV series Cranford. Despite several references to Knutsford, including King Street and The Heath, the TV adaptation was actually filmed in Lacock, Wiltshire. Notably, in 1987 Legh Road in Knutsford, designed by Richard Harding Watt, doubled for Colonial Shanghai in the opening scenes from Steven Spielberg’s film Empire of the Sun.

Knutsford Amateur Drama Society was established in 1925 and moved to its premises in Queen Street, Knutsford shortly after the end of the Second World War. Now known by the name of the building it occupies, Knutsford Little Theatre continues to produce a selection of plays each year, including an annual pantomime.

Knutsford Heritage Centre is situated in a 17th-century timber-framed building just off King Street, which was a blacksmith’s forge in the 19th century. It has a museum, garden, shop and gallery featuring various exhibitions, talks and events, and walking tours are also available. On permanent exhibition are the May Queen’s dress shoes and crown from 1887.

Scenes from the George C. Scott film Patton were filmed in the centre of Knutsford, in front of the old Town Hall. The building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and for much of the 20th century was home to Knutsford Boys’ Club and latterly a furniture show room and post office. It now lies vacant.

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