There is evidence of prehistoric activity in the area, including earlyBronze Age standing stones, burial sites and the remains of astone circle. A bronze-age axe head was discovered in 2005.There has long been speculation that the ‘Roosdyche’, a complex of banks and ditches on the eastern side of the town, is of prehistoric human origin, but investigations in 1962 concluded that it was formed by glacial meltwater.
The name of Weyley or Weylegh appears in many 13th century documents and is derived from the Anglo Saxon weg leah meaning a clearing by the road. In 1351 the lands of Weyley and Yeardsley were granted to William Joddrell for his faithful service to Edward, the Black Prince. In the 14th century, it housed the residence of William Jauderell and his descendants (the name also spelt Jodrell). The Jodrells continued to call their lands Yeardsley Whaley for centuries and when the first local government board was formed in 1863 and the area became an urban district, the town adopted its popular name of Whaley Bridge and the town has been called so ever since.
The River Goyt formed the historical boundary between Derbyshire and Cheshire. The present town of Whaley Bridge was divided into smaller towns in both counties. Historical records show that in 1316 on the Cheshire side there were Taxal, Yeardsley and Whaley with the last two being combined into one district of ‘Yeardsley-cum-Whaley’. The Derbyshire side consisted only of Fernilee which included the villages of Shallcross and Horwich. This side was in the parish of Hope and was part of the Forest of High Peak, while the Cheshire side was part of the Forest of Macclesfield. From 1796 Taxal and Yeardsley were effectively joined in that the Jodrell family was the main landowner in both towns, although the administration of these remained separate until 1936.
Until the late 19th century the population of the area grew slowly. For example in the diocesan census in 1563, Taxal is recorded as having 26 households, and by the mid-18th century Taxal and Yeardsley together only reached 55 households. In 1791 land at Whaley Bridge was advertised for sale, the owner believing that its waterpower would be useful in the textile industry, but the two townships remained very small and only had a population of 853 between them by 1841. Up to this time agriculture and coal mining had been the main occupations.
The town expanded greatly in the Industrial Revolution and the population almost trebled to 2,322. Although there had been coal mines from earlier times, by 1871 cotton mills had become the dominant industry. Coal mining took place in the area from its very early days because of a large geographical fault which traverses the Whaley Bridge basin from east to west resulting in the coal outcropping in various places. Documentary evidence of 1587 indicates a well-established coal industry in the “Towneshepp of Weley”, known today as Whaley Bridge. Today, there is less intensive agriculture labour and no coal mining in the area.
Whaley Bridge continues to expand as new housing is built, but it retains the character of a small town. As the self-styled ‘Gateway to the Goyt’ it attracts tourists, mainly walkers, but it has not become dominated by the tourist industry, unlike some other local towns and villages. With a good commuter railway service to Manchester many people travel to work in the Manchester or Cheshire areas. With the introduction of ADSL broadband internet services increasingly people work from home.
Cromford and High Peak Railway
The Cromford and High Peak Railway was granted Parliamentary consent in 1825. It was fully opened for passenger and goods traffic on 6 July 1831. The railway linked the wharf at the head of the Whaley Bridge Branch of the Peak Forest Canal to the Cromford Canal at Cromford Wharf. It had seven inclined planes, the first being situated within the town of Whaley Bridge itself. Unlike the other six inclined planes, which were operated by stationary steam engines, this one was operated by a horse-driven gin, which remained operational until 9 April 1952. This plane was much shorter than the others, being only 180 yards (165 m) long and rising at 1:13.5. Approach to the top of the plane was under a very low bridge and, because of this, waggons had to be hauled to and from the top of the plane by horses.
Horses also worked the bottom section of the line and the tracks ran onto a wharf and into two mills. Another notable feature on the bottom section is an iron bridge that carries the line across the River Goyt.
Peak Forest Canal
The Peak Forest Canal and basin were built in the 1790s and opened on 1 May 1800. An important building at the head of the Peak Forest Canal was the Transhipment Warehouse, built in 1832. In this building goods and minerals were transferred to and from the many working canal boats servicing local industry. The building straddles the head of the canal which is fed by the Combs and Toddbrook Reservoirs to the south. The Canal splits just outside Whaley Bridge turning east to end at Buxworth basin and turning west to Marple, the Cheshire ring and Manchester.
A new joint project between British Waterways and several Whaley Bridge community groups to bring this important building back to life, and to serve as a centre of the Whaley Bridge community, was envisaged in 2007 and is the subject of a grant application to the East Midlands Development Agency under their Waterways Regeneration Funding offer in 2008.
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