Whether the ‘R’ in R.I.P. stands for Rest or Regeneration is for the future to tell, I try to look at things as they are today, I record the visual and let the images tell their own story. I will try to add to my list of visual stories as time passes, I may even update the content of existing stories as I get chance to take new pictures or time changes the physical world and/or our perspective of it.
The history of Congleton is there for all to see, from the pre-historic sentinel - The Bride Stones - a burial or ceremonial site-high on the Bosley Cloud, to the Bear, Book and Candle heritage still reflected in the traditions of the local news sheet and brewery.
Congleton has long been a town of manufacture. Sixteenth century Congleton was noted for its manufacture of fine leather wear just as the eighteenth century town saw the large silk mills and then the cotton spinning mills and ribbon weaving mills flourishing. By 1867 the silk trade was in a depressed state and the introduction of velvet cutting was welcomed as a major earner.
Industry brought a level of affluence that afforded the town a new architectural heritage. Agricultural cottages gave way to palladian mill architecture. The Silk industry, imported from mainland Europe, mixed the red brickwork of the Black Country with the classical arts revival of the Italian 18th century. Terraced houses grew doorways -columned porticoes complete with architrave, windows that let light into rooms for the first time and gardens that were cultivated for ornamentation. Fashion and status were important.
The towns central Cattle Market flourished throughout the industrial comings and goings, the wars -Civil, Napoleonic and 1st World War, through good time s and bad. The lowlands of the Cheshire plain mixed with the uplands of the Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire borderlands. The hostelries kept open house for all on market day, the community was made whole by the balance of Industrial and Agricultural interests. It was only the march of the modern developer that has succeeded in driving away the market - the need for new civic buildings and car parks outweighing hundreds of years of the market community.
Industrial development introduced the ‘canal’ to Congleton. With its own architecture of wharves, towpaths, bridges and aqueducts. The canal is a feature that Congleton could be proud of... but are we, as Congletonians, even remotely interested? ... as with the River Dane and its history of river side developments - the flint working Washford Water Mill, the lost Havana Tobacco Mills and the recently destroyed Rolldane and Lowes mills and fabric dyeing houses - one wonders whether Congleton will ever get to grips with its heritage.
Today, in Congleton, we are witnessing a new revolution, the mix of dormitory townships with their red brick estates and the new era of Regeneration, when we as a community try to save the remnants of the eroded past and convert them into symbols of modern life. Concepts such as the warehouse apartment and loft living are being distilled from the major urban projects of Manchester, Birmingham and London and are either being shoehorned systematically into every vacant building ...or, where conversion doesn’t fit the bill , then renovation is replaced by reconstruction ...we knock down a mill building and build a modern, new life style, replica (and failing that - something similar).
But as I said - I do not want to be judgemental, I am interested in presenting the visual clues and perhaps a few words, in the hope that they will provoke you to make your own judgements.