Stockport Navigation

Stockport is an ancient town (Note 1Originally called Stopford or Stockford, the origins of Stockport can be traced back to 1188.) and in a curious twist of fate the Stockport Navigation brought together two eminent men of their day who were separated from each other by over three centuries. The first was Sir Edmond Shaa and the second was Samuel Oldknow.

Sir Edmond Shaa KT. P.C. (c.1427 - 1488), founder of Stockport Grammar School
The Shaa family is of great antiquity in the county of Cheshire and of Sir Edmond himself, who was born in Stockport, it was said that he was:

---- of gentle birth, yet the artificer of his own great fortune, he was a man of outstanding ability and unmistakable piety, eminent in his profession, high in public office and esteem, the valued friend and coveted supporter of kings ----.

It is believed that Edmond was born in about 1427.

The youthful Edmond was apprenticed, in the City of London, to one Robert Botteler, a Goldsmith, who is known to have been flourishing by 1432 and dead by 1470. Edmond, by all accounts, succeeded brilliantly with his apprenticeship. He became the Court Jeweller for Edward IV (Note 2Following the death of Edward IV, he was succeeded by his 12-year-old son who became Edward V. His uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became Protector and he imprisoned Edward, together with his younger brother, Richard. The fate of the two Princes in the Tower is unknown. Consequently, Edward V was only King between April and June 1483 when Gloucester became Richard III.), Richard III and Henry VII.

Sometime before 1448, Edmond, and his kinsman Richard Shaa, distained upon the goods of a man living in the Peak of Derbyshire, an act which, apparently, aroused a qualm of conscience which remained with Edmonduntil his dying day.

When Edward IV died he was succeeded by the very young Edward V and one of his few acts was to confer on Alderman Edmond Shaa the rank of Privy Councillor.

However, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was patiently awaiting his chance to become King and, for unknown reasons, Edmond Shaa gave Richard his unreserved support. Edmond Shaa actually offered him the crown in Westminster Hall and the event was recorded in a painting.

Richard's coronation, to become Richard III, was on the 6 July 1483 and the day before he knighted Alderman Edmond Shaa for his support.

Sir Edmond received two commissions from the King. The first, on the 8 August 1483, was '---- to attend to the defences at the mouth of the Thames -----' and the second was of Oyer and Terminer. The latter appointment meant that he had become a Judge of the Assize (Note 3Oyer and Terminer was originally an Anglo-Norman term meaning to hear and determine. A commission was issued from the 13th century to justices to hear pleas of the crown (serious crimes). Formerly, special justices, outside the slow-functioning eyres (court circuits), were commissioned for this purpose but Oyer and Terminer gradually became a commission of the justices of assize (legislative enactments). By 1972 the assize courts had all been abolished, their criminal jurisdiction being exercised by the Crown Court and their civil jurisdiction by the High Court.).

On the 20 March 1488, Sir Edmond made his Last Will and Testament and exactly one month later on the 20th April 1488 he died. Fortunately, his very detailed Will has survived.

Sir Edmond lay in state in London at the Church of St Peter in Cheapside and he was buried at the Church of St Thomas of Acre.

In his Will, Sir Edmond did not forget the people or the town of Stockport where his roots lay and he left sundry bequests, one of which was for the Parisshe Church of Stopford (St Mary's) and another was for the founding of a school in the Parisshe of Stopford, in the said Countie of Chestre (Stockport Grammar School). Sir Edmond's parents were actually buried in the family tomb at St Mary's.

The centuries went by until eventually most folk were unaware of this great benefactor to the town of Stockport. In 1810 it was decided to demolish the Parish Church of St Mary and during this process the tombs were wantonly scattered, including the tomb of the Shaa family where generations of Stockport Grammar School boys had said the De Profundis (Note 4The 130th Psalm, expressing deep misery.). The Shaa family memorial stone, easily identifiable by its Coat of Arms, was taken with all the others to a tip that was in an area of Stockport to become known as Waterloo. It lay there for a while, to be eventually removed and embedded in the wall of an outhouse to a cottage that was being built in the vicinity. Eventually someone remembered that there was a memorial stone for the Shaa family but a local historian of the day failed to find this ancient relic.

The story might have finished there but there is an alternative ending to the fate of the memorial stone.


Samuel Oldknow's House

Samuel Oldknow, Businessman, (1756 - 1828)
Samuel Oldknow is better remembered today for his Mellor Mill and for being a Proprietor of the Peak Forest Canal Company and the principal promoter of the canal's construction but he also had extensive business interests in Stockport and his house stands on Higher Hillgate, a short distance away from Canal Street.

Oldknow decided that there was sufficient water flowing in Carr Brook, Stockport, to provide a power supply for three mills built in tandem. These mills became known as Lower Carr, Middle Carr and Upper Carr respectively. He did, however, require to build a reservoir to maintain a sufficient head of water for waterwheels (but it is not known how many there were). This reservoir was the Stockport Navigation. Its length was short, coinciding with the length of Middle Carr and Upper Carr Mills, and it was only as wide as the terrain of this narrow valley would permit. Oddly, it had a substantial embankment at its 'upper' end and there must also have been a weir by Lower Carr Mill. In any event, an embankment at the upper end meant that Carr Brook had to be culverted under Waterloo Road and then further upstream of the reservoir for some distance. This was necessary in order to ensure that the head of water in the reservoir was below the open water of Carr Brook. In other words, some kind of siphon action was required and a failure to get the levels of the culvert right would have resulted in the reservoir not filling properly.

In order to build an embankment, suitable materials were needed so what better than to have a look at the nearby tip where a plentiful supply of stone was to be found. Some of this consisted of grave headstones and memorial stones but his was of no importance. The people commemorated on the stones were certainly not within living memory and, especially as no-one seemed to know very much about them, it seemed reasonable to use them in the embankment and that is what happened. Additionally, few people at that time could have read the inscriptions on the stones anyway.

Eventually the memorial stone to the Shaa family was unearthed, resplendent with its Coat of Arms. It was not necessary to be able to read in order to understand that this particular stone was more important than the others as the Coat of Arms said it all. Seemingly, some consideration was given to saving the stone but the story goes that, in spite of its apparent importance, into the embankment it went. But did it?

Whichever ending one chooses to believe, the Shaa memorial stone was never found and the truth of the matter can never be known without its discovery. And so it was, in a twist of fate, that the histories of the two eminent men touched each other at the Stockport Navigation. Happily, the memorial stone for Samuel Oldknow has survived but it very nearly did not.

An old chapel, in what is now Church Lane, Marple, was demolished early in the 19th century and the construction of Oldknow's church (All Saints) is thought to have commenced on the site in 1808. At a meeting, following completion of his church, Oldknow remarked,

'---- gentlemen, I have made you excellent roads upon earth, and now I have made you an excellent road to Heaven.'

Following Oldknow's death, his memorial stone was placed inside the steeple of his church. Subsequently, it was decided to demolish his church to build yet another on the same site. Somehow, when it was demolished the steeple, with its memorial and peel of bells, was saved but it is not normally open to the public.


Samuel Oldknow

The memorial depicts Oldknow's head in relief, facing to the left, with carved drapes hanging on either side. Below is an inscription but, in Oldknow's case, there was no Coat of Arms to emblazon upon it. The inscription is quite lengthy and it reads:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF SAMUEL OLDKNOW ESQRE OF MELLOR IN THE COUNTY OF DERBY, WHO DIED SEPTR 18TH 1828: AGED 72. HE WAS THE ZEALOUS PROMOTER OF EVERY USEFUL AND BENEVOLENT MEASURE CALCULATED TO AID THE PROGRESS OF GENERAL CIVILIZATION, AND LOCAL IMPROVEMENT. TO ENCOURAGE THE PURSUITS OF HONEST INDUSTRY, TO INCREASE THE COMFORTS, AMEND THE MORALS, AND ENLARGE THE HAPPINESS OF THE PEOPLE AMONGST WHOM HE DWELT. ANIMATED WITH THE MOST DUTIFUL AND DEVOTED ATTACHMENT TO HIS KING, AND A ROOTED VENERATION FOR OUR GLORIOUS CONSTITUTION IN CHURCH AND STATE, HE REMAINED FIRM AND UNCHANGED IN HIS PRINCIPLES, UNDER EVERY POLITICAL VICISSITUDE; HE HELD A DISTINGUISHED COMMAND AMONGST THOSE WHO VOLUNTARILY ARMED THEMSELVES IN DEFENCE OF THEIR NATIVE LAND. NOR LET THIS MONUMENT FAIL TO RECORD, THAT TO HIS UNWEARIED EXERTIONS AND GENEROUS MUNIFICENCE THE INHABITANTS OF THIS CHAPELRY ARE CHIEFLY INDEBTED FOR THE ERECTION OF THIS SACRED EDIFICE: A BLESSING WHICH HE RENDERED STILL MORE VALUABLE BY THE INFLUENCE OF HIS EXAMPLE IN CONSTANTLY ATTENDING BOTH MORNING AND EVENING SERVICES OF DIVINE WORSHIP ON EVERY SABBATH DAY.

The final question concerns the existence of boats on the Stockport Navigation, otherwise the name of Canal Street would seem inappropriate. Seemingly, there were but it is a matter of conjecture as to what type of vessel they were, how many there were and what they carried. A clue may be found at the nearby Compstall Navigation where wrought-iron tub boats plied along the short mill reservoir there. In plan view, these boats were of rectangular shape and they were hauled by horses but, as they were not fitted with rudders, they were steered by a pole that could slot into any one of four rowlocks fitted to the gunnels. In the case of the Stockport Navigation it is considered that similar tub boats would have been used but, because of the smaller size of the reservoir, these were probably both propelled and steered using poles.

However, this was not the end of the story as far as the valley of Carr Brook was concerned. On Sunday, 4 June 1967 Harry Marlow, the pilot of a British Midland C4 Argonaut, was attempting to reach Manchester International Airport with his crippled aircraft when he realised that he could not make it and he was forced to make a crash landing. The site he chose was in the angle between Hopes Carr and Waterloo Road, more or less where Upper Carr Mill and the reservoir embankment of the Stockport Navigation had once stood.

Photographs: Author's Collection