Macclesfield Castle and its undiscovered tunnels?
This story came about when a recent acquaintance of mine who is a colourful character and tends to be fairly elusive told me that he knew where a number of tunnels could be found, which he said had been used as escape routes from Macclesfield castle, which sadly no longer exists.
I decided to do some research into the castle and the possibility that these tunnels may exist and so I travelled to Macclesfield on the 16th of November 2015 to see if there was any truth to the claims my friend had told me about. Before I travelled to Macclesfield I came across the following information which appeared in the Macclesfield Express on 26th of March 2008 and may support the possibility of the existence of these tunnels, the article is as follows:
An antique dealer has become the gatekeeper to 600 years of Maxonian history after buying nine ancient keys.
And King of the Castle Garth Brewood believes an adventure is just starting as he sets out to discover the true story behind the heavy-duty set – which already features characters from Wales, and as far as Chicago.
Garth, who runs Aladdin’s Cave antique shop on Old Park Lane, Macclesfield, believes all nine are the original keys to the town’s long-disappeared medieval castle.
Garth, who opened the store six years ago, said: “There is nothing written down about the castle, and what I’ve got and since found out is just scratching the surface.”
None of the original castle, or castellated mansion as it has been described, remains, but it once proudly stood on the site of Marks and Spencer on Mill Street and is thought to date back to the 14th century.
“I believe there is a piece of the castle within the town hall, but nothing else,” says Garth.
It was built by John de Macclesfield, an aid to the then English King, Richard II, with a walled garden and grounds of a quarter-acre. At one point it also boasted a brewery, pharmacy, kennels, stables and servants’ quarters.
When John de Macclesfield died, the castle passed to his son, before the line of Dukes of Buckingham took possession until the late 16th century, when the Earls of Derby took ownership.
Falling into a state of some disrepair in the 17th century, the medieval mansion was divided into tenements.
According to Garth, one of the remnants of this became a workshop – now 30 Mill Street, which today is Marks and Spencer – called J Cutts.
“At the back of his shop in 1933 there were still the remains of one of the castle towers. They say there were eight turrets and nine castle gates.
“When Mr Cutts was negotiating to sell the site to Marks and Spencer, an association was formed to save what was left.”
Much of the rock was unfortunately taken away and crushed in a lime pit, but the association, led by local history enthusiast Christine Wragg, persuaded the shopping chain to let them excavate the foundations before they built there – which they did for three solid months.
“M&S were so impressed with what they found that they gave Christine Wragg the nine keys, which I presume they got when they bought the land.
“She died in 1976 and left them to her niece, Ann Wragg, who came into my shop with them a few weeks ago. She remembers playing with them as a child and listening to the stories about Macclesfield Castle.”
Now living in Wales, she gave a scrapbook of cuttings on the castle to her brother, giving the story a transatlantic touch – he lives in Chicago.
Garth, who in a colourful career has appeared on TV makeover show Grand Designs, said: “They’ve had card games and lotteries to try to raise the money to rebuild it.
“Another thing I know for sure is that when they started building Victoria flats in the Sixties, they found stonework from the castle and this was crumbled up and was used as hardcore when they were building Green Street.
“They say there are still tunnels under some of the shops which once linked to the castle and maybe some of the keys were to internal doors.”
Chestergate, Jordangate, Backwallgate and Churchwallgate are just some of the names once home to keys and still familiar to Maxonians today.
He plans to exhibit the keys, which he claims to have paid “a lot” for, in a special box with a gold leaf and glass frame but says he won’t leave them in the shop at night. They stored at a local bank instead.
“When you can pick up a set of keys that goes back to the 14th century like this it is scary.
“They’re permanently cold. They make me shudder; they’re like ice. It’s exciting though and I’m not looking to sell them. I can’t can I?
“I own them but they’re not mine. The business man in me says put them on ebay for a millionaire in America to buy but I can’t do that.
“I just want to find out more and would love anyone who knows more about their history to get in touch.
“I believe there are only nine keys but there could even be more.
“If they can come all the way from Wales and there’s a scrapbook in Chicago, there must be more things out there.”
The keys can be viewed at Aladdin’s Cave, 9am-4pm, Monday to Saturday.
I decided to see if I could track down Garth Brewood at Alladin’s Cave, I called in at Macclesfield Visitor Centre and they gave me a map of where the shop is located on Old Park lane and then I set off towards the other
side of the town centre. On the way I passed Marks and Spencers which was where the castle would have been located back in the 14th century. Unfortunately I was unable to find Alladin’s Cave on Old Park Lane so I assume it must have ceased trading sometime between 2008-15. As this trip was more of a fact finding mission I headed back towards the visitor centre where Macclesfield library can be found and where I hoped more information could be found regarding the castle.
Unfortunately the library had very little information regarding the castle, however they were able to provide me with a scrapbook which someone had created over the years and which contained newspaper cuttings and some photographs of the remains of the castle before it had completely disappeared.
From what I can ascertain the castle was on land owned by a Mr J. Halstead Cutts who was a local ironmonger and who sold the site to Marks and Spencers. He gave the castle to the town many years ago. Section by section the remains of the castle were removed from the town’s shopping centre. Each piece was numbered, placed in packing cases and taken to the town yard.
The Diocesan Chancellor, however dropped a bombshell when he refused perm
ission for such a plan.
My elusive friend claims that one of the tunnels which are said to exist connect with the Castle Inn, and he claims that after hours drinking has taken place in this tunnel. I did make my way to the Inn, however it was closed around midday, so it may perhaps only open in the evenings.
From what I have been told I needed to head for the unlikely start of my search at the Tesco car park in Macclesfield where the river Bollin flows, and, after having done my weekly shopping I spotted some steps in the car park which lead down to a footpath which follows alongside the river Bollin. I followed this footpath
which took me to a busy junction and a set of traffic lights. After crossing the road here I once more started following the river Bollin, after a short distance the river disappears into a tunnel underneath a flyover and I presume it then flows beneath Macclesfield railway station.
It is somewhere along this tunnel where the Bollin flows that I have been told there are a number of tunnels which once connected to the castle. How much truth there is to these claims remains to be seen. There is a problem getting down to the same level as the river as it flows around 10ft below the level of the footpath. The other problem is that I will need to invest in a pair of waders and a powerful torch before I go in search of these tunnels, so watch this space as I will be updating this story accordingly.
UPDATE.It has now been over a month since I was once again able to attempt to try to wade up the river Bollin, mainly due to the vast amount of rain we have been enduring lately. It was the 15th of February 2016 when I arrived and parked in a nearby car park and drew curious glances from passing pedestrians as I donned my waders and crossed the road before descending down to the Bollin which had now returned to its former level.
I would estimate the length of the tunnel to be around a quarter of a mile in length. However I had been told that I would be unable to access the full length of the tunnel by approaching it from downstream. I decided to try this approach as trying to access the tunnel from upstream meant having to wade about half a mile through business premises which meant that it was difficult to find an access point to the river.
I had recently purchased a powerful torch (9800 lumens) which was more than adequate to pierce the blackness as the daylight rapidly disappeared. I picked my way cautiously through the many rocks and items of debris which had banked up in parts of the river tunnel. There was no evidence to suggest that any one had been down here for years as I came across a number of drainage tunnels which appeared to have small stalagmites growing in them. It did not take long before I came across what may or may not be a large drainage tunnel, or, perhaps a tunnel which may have served another purpose. This tunnel was maybe around 250 yards into the river tunnel on the right hand side, and after negotiating a deeper part of the river for which I was thankful for the waders, I managed to get a photograph of it.
After pushing on further into the tunnel I was forced to duck down for twenty feet or so as a part of the tunnel became very low, and a sign warned of deep water on the left so I stayed on the right hand side of the river as I worked my way under the obstacle. After continuing along the tunnel for another 100yards or so I came across what may be another access point to the river from a building on the surface. There appeared to be a door or hatch which was partially open as I could see daylight coming through the gap in the doorway. I tried to take a photograph of it but it didn’t really do it justice.
After carrying on picking my way up the river I eventually saw daylight ahead and emerged at the far end of the tunnel where I took a few more photos before turning around and
making the return journey.
On reflection I tend to be unconvinced whether or not a tunnel exists, this is partly due to knowing someone who works for the planning department for the local council. He was involved with helping to excavate a lift shaft at Macclesfield Town Hall, when I presume a lift was being installed,the Town Hall is located quite close to where the castle would have stood. It was his opinion that the ground was too sandy for the construction of a tunnel of any great length. So although there still seems to be an urban myth surrounding this tunnel, unfortunately this article doesn’t prove one way or the other its existence.