The earliest evidence of human activity in Stalybridge is a flint scraper from the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age. Also bearing testament to the presence of man in prehistory are the Stalybridge cairns. The two monuments are on the summit of Hollingworthall Moor, 153 yards (140 m) apart. One of the round cairns is the best-preserved Bronze Age monument in Tameside, and is protected as a scheduled monument. A branch of the Roman road between the forts at Manchester (Mamucium) and Melandra Castle (Ardotalia) is thought to run through Stalybridge to the fort of Castleshaw.
flowing under Staley Bridge, constructed in 1707
The settlement was originally called Stavelegh, which derives from the Old English staef leah, meaning "wood where the staves are got". The medieval Lords of the manor took de Stavelegh as their name, later becoming Stayley or Staley. The lordship of Longdendale was one of the ancient feudal estates of Cheshire and included the area of Stalybridge. Buckton Castle, near Stalybridge, was probably built by one of the earls of Chester in the 12th century. William de Neville was the first lord of Longdendale, appointed by the Earl of Chester between 1162 and 1186. The lordship of Longdendale included the manors of Staley, Godley, Hattersley, Hollingworth, Matley, Mottram, Newton, Tintwistle and Werneth; the manor of Staley was first mentioned between 1211 and 1225.
The first records of the de Stavelegh family as Lords of the Manor of Staley date from the early 13th century. Staley Hall was their residence. The present hall was built in the late 16th century on the same site as an earlier hall of the Stayley family which dated from before 1343.
Sir Ralph Staley (descendant of the de Stavelegh family) had no male heirs but an only daughter, Elizabeth Staley, who married Sir Thomas Assheton and united the manors of Ashton and Staley. Elizabeth and Thomas had two daughters and no sons. Margaret, the eldest of their two daughters, married Sir William Booth of Dunham Massey. The younger daughter Elizabeth was widowed and without children, and continued to live at Staley Hall until her death in 1553. In her will her share of the lordships of Staley and Ashton were left to the Booths.
The manor of Staley remained in the possession of the Booth family until the death of George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington on 2 August 1758. Upon his death, the Earldom of Warrington became extinct. His only daughter, Lady Mary Booth, the wife of Harry Grey, 4th Earl of Stamford, inherited all the Booth estates. The manor of Staley was owned by the Grey family until the extinction of the Earldom of Stamford on the death of Roger Grey, 10th Earl of Stamford in 1976. At this point, the family estates were dispersed. Stamford Street, Grey Street, Groby Street, Stamford Park, Stamford Golf Club and the two Stamford Arms public houses in Stalybridge are all named after the Grey family.
Bohemia Cottages: weavers' cottages in Stalybridge dating from 1721
As Stayley expanded in the 18th century, it reached the banks of the River Tame. After the construction of a bridge in 1707, the settlement was commonly referred to as Stalybridge, meaning the bridge at Stayley. By the mid-18th century Stalybridge had a population of just 140. Farming and woolen spinning were the main means of subsistence at this time.
In 1776 the town's first water-powered mill for carding and spinning cotton was built at Rassbottom. In 1789 the town's first spinning mill using the principle of Arkwright's Water Frame was built. By 1793 steam power had been introduced to the Stalybridge cotton industry; by 1803 there were eight cotton mills in the growing town containing 76,000 spindles. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was completed in 1811 and still runs through the town.
The rapid growth of industry in Stalybridge was due to the introduction of machinery. This was, however, met with violent opposition. After the arrival of the Luddites in the area the doors of mills were kept locked day and night. Military aid was requested by the mill owners and a Scottish regiment under the Duke of Montrose was sent to the town. It was led by Captain Raines who made his headquarters at the Roe Cross Inn. The Luddite disturbances began in November 1811. Gangs of armed men destroyed power looms and fired mills. The disturbances in Stalybridge culminated with a night of violent rioting on 20 April 1812.
The social unrest did not curb the growth of Stalybridge. By 1814 there were twelve factories and by 1818 the number had increased to sixteen. The Industrial Revolution led to a rapid increase in the town's population in the early part of the 19th century. The population of the town by 1823 was 5,500. In the following two years, partly because of an influx of Irish families seeking better wages, the population rose to 9,000. Stalybridge was among the first wave of towns to establish a Mechanics' Institute with a view to educating the growing number of workers. Only a year after the establishment of Manchester Mechanics' Institute, Stalybridge founded an Institute of its own. Its doors opened on 7 September 1825 on Shepley Street with a reading room on Queen Street.
On 9 May 1828 the Stalybridge Police and Market Act received Royal Assent, establishing Stalybridge as an independent town with a board of 21 Commissioners. Every male over the age of 21 who was the occupier of a rateable property under the act was entitled to vote at the election of the Commissioners. On 30 December 1831 the town hall and market were officially opened. In 1833 the Commissioners set up the Stalybridge Police Force, the first of its kind in the country. By this year the population of the town had reached 14,216 with 2.357 inhabited houses.
In 1834 a second bridge was built over the Tame. It was downstream of Staley Bridge and constructed of iron.
The second Chartist petition was presented to Parliament in April 1842. Stalybridge contributed 10,000 signatures. After the rejection of the petition the first general strike began in the coal mines of Staffordshire. The second phase of the strike originated in Stalybridge. A movement of resistance to the imposition of wage cuts in the mills, also known as the Plug Riots, it spread to involve nearly half a million workers throughout Britain and represented the biggest single exercise of working class strength in 19th century Britain. On 13 August 1842 there was a strike at Bayley's Cotton Mill in Stalybridge, and roving cohorts of operatives carried the stoppage first to the whole area of Stalybridge and Ashton, then to Manchester, and subsequently to towns adjacent to Manchester, using as much force as was necessary to bring mills to a standstill. The movement remained, to outward appearances, largely non-political. Although the People's Charter was praised at public meetings, the resolutions that were passed at these were in almost all cases merely for a restoration of the wages of 1820, a ten-hour working day, or reduced rents.
In writing The Condition of The Working Class in England (1844), Friedrich Engels used Stalybridge as an example:
... multitudes of courts, back lanes, and remote nooks arise out of [the] confused way of building ... Add to this the shocking filth, and the repulsive effect of Stalybridge, in spite of its pretty surroundings, may be readily imagined.
John Summers first established an iron forge in Stalybridge in the 1840s. Later, he and his sons developed this into a major business, and employed over 1,000 local men in their factory, the largest in the town.
The Ashton, Stalybridge and Liverpool Junction Railway Company was formed on 19 July 1844 and the railway was connected to Stalybridge on 5 October 1846. On 9 July 1847 the company was acquired by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. On 1 August 1849 the Manchester, Stockport and Leeds Railway connected Stalybridge to Huddersfield and later to Stockport. This line later became part of the London and North Western Railway.
The cotton famine
On the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, the Stalybridge cotton mills rapidly ran short of cotton. Thousands of operatives were laid off. In October 1862, a meeting was held in Stalybridge Town Hall that passed a resolution blaming the Confederate States of America and their actions in the American Civil War, rather than U.S. blockades of seaports, for the cotton famine in Lancashire. By the winter of 1862–63, there were 7,000 unemployed operatives in the town. Only five of the town's 39 factories and 24 machine shops were employing people full-time. Contributions were sent from all over the world for the relief of the cotton operatives in Lancashire; and at one point three-quarters of Stalybridge workers were dependent on relief schemes. By 1863 there were 750 empty houses in the town. A thousand skilled men and women left the town, in what became known as "The Panic".
In 1863 the relief committee decided to substitute a system of relief by ticket instead of money. The tickets were to be presented at local grocery shops. An organised resistance was organised culminating on Friday 20 March 1863.
In 1867 Stalybridge was disturbed by the arrival of William Murphy. Records of this man indicate that his sole interest was to sow the seeds of dissent between Roman Catholics, who by this time had grown to significant proportions, and Protestants. He succeeded in this goal only too well for a full year. During 1868 there were a number of violent disturbances and rioting created by this man who described himself as a "renegade Roman Catholic". In his lectures to the public, "pretending to expose the religious practices of the Roman Catholic Church", he became a master at whipping up a crowd into a frenzy. Newspaper reports of the time told of his common practice of waving a revolver in the air in "a most threatening manner". On one occasion, he incited a riot of such proportions that Fr. Daley, the parish priest of St. Peter's, took to the roof of the church to defend it. A man was shot. The parish priest was tried but eventually acquitted at the Quarter Sessions. Following this incident, the community began to settle down, and Murphy chose to extend his political activities elsewhere.
In 1867, the Victoria Bridge on Trinity Street was built. Victoria Market Hall was constructed in 1868, and the public baths were opened in May 1870. The baths were presented as a gift to the town by philanthropists and benefactors Robert Platt (1802–1882), born in Stalybridge, and his wife Margaret Platt (1819–1888), born in Salford.
Stalybridge Borough Band was formed in March 1871, holding its first rehearsals and meetings at the Moulder's Arms, Grasscroft Street, Castle Hall. The band was known as the 4th Cheshire Rifleman Volunteers (Borough Band) until 1896. The founder and first conductor was Alexander Owen, who conducted the band until at least 1907.
The character of Stalybridge altered over the 20th century. At the turn of the century, the cotton industry was still strong, and the population of the town reached its peak in 1901, at 27,623, but as trade dwindled the population began to decline, and despite the intensified employment of the war years, the main industry of Stalybridge continued to fail.
There were floods in Millbrook in May 1906.
Mrs Ada Summers was elected first woman mayor of Stalybridge in November 1919. At that time mayors of boroughs were justices, as well as chairmen of borough benches, by right of office. However, it was not until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force on 23 December 1919 that women could become magistrates. Sitting ex-officio Ada Summers became the first woman magistrate in the country and was sworn in on 31 December. Ada Summers was, probably, the first woman to officially adjudicate in court. Ada Summers photo appeared in the weekly journal Great Thoughts, 5 June 1920, alongside an interview on "The First Woman JP" on her work. Ada Summers was the widow of a local ironmaster. She was an active suffragist and Liberal and used her wealth and position to support a number of schemes designed to improve conditions in the town. These included a maternity and child welfare clinic, clinics for the sick and poor and an unofficial employment centre. She later became an alderman and was appointed MBE. On 31 May 1939 she was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the Borough.
In 1929, with no room for expansion at Stalybridge, the Summers sheet rolling and galvanising plants were transferred to Shotton in North Wales, having devastating effects on local employment; the new plant later became a component in the British Steel Corporation. By 1932, seven of the town's largest mills had closed and unemployment reached 7,000. In 1934 the borough council set up an Industrial Development Committee for the purpose of encouraging new industries to settle in the town. The committee purchased Cheetham's Mill and rented it out to small firms engaged in a wide variety of enterprises. By 1939 unemployment in the town had almost disappeared.
Stalybridge experienced intensive black-out periods and frequent air-raid warning during the Second World War. Bombs dropped by enemy aircraft mainly landed in open country and there were no civilian casualties. On 19 July 1946 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Stalybridge. The town's war memorial was extended after the war, to bear the names of an extra 124 men from the town; it was unveiled on 23 April 1950.
In the post-war period council housing was provided by the local authority as separate council estates. The Buckton Vale estate was built between January 1950 and March 1953 and the Stamford Park estate between January 1953 and January 1955; the Copley estate commenced building in August 1954 and the Ridgehill estate in January 1956.
In 1955, after the adoption of the first post-war slum clearance plan, new housing estates were built to replace the slums and, gradually, redundant textile mills were occupied by firms in the various light industries. New applications of engineering principles, the manufacture of rubber goods, plastics, chemicals and packaging materials were all introduced, as well as the addition of synthetic fibres to the textile trade, reducing unemployment.
The early 1970s saw the development of private semi-detached and detached housing estates, particularly in the Mottram Rise, Hough Hill, Hollins and Carrbrook areas; the redevelopment of Castle Hall was also completed. The construction of the Buckton Vale overspill estate also took place in the early 1970s.
The early 1980s saw the closure of the public baths after the completion of Copley Recreation Centre. One of the symbols of the late-19th century civic improvement, the baths were subsequently demolished.
In 1991, for the first time since 1901, there was an increase in the population of Stalybridge to 22,295. The 1990s saw the proliferation of Mock Tudor style estates at Moorgate and along Huddersfield Road, close to Staley Hall; this continued into the 21st century with the completion of the Crowswood estate in Millbrook.
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which had been culverted in the early 1970s, was reinstated to the town centre between 1999 and May 2001 as part of a two-year, multimillion-pound refurbishment. The canal now runs under the legs of an electricity pylon.
Stalybridge - Market Hall
The market hall closed on New Year's Eve 1999 and became the Civic Hall in 2001. Four years later, the area designated for retail space became exhibition space. There were plans to reopen the market and let the retail hall out to private contractors, though this came to naught.American Pie 3: The Wedding. The cinema has since been converted to become Rififi Nightclub and Amber Lounge Bar & Restaurant, which itself was closed down late in 2012 after two violent incidents on the same night.
The town's cinema, the Palace, closed on 31 August 2003, with the last film being
In 2004 the Metropolitan Borough Council announced that they had granted permission for a developer to build 16 homes next to Staley Hall. A condition of the planning consent was that the hall be restored. As of 2008 the hall is still deteriorating. It is now listed as being in "very bad" condition on the English Heritage buildings at risk register. As of 2015 Staley hall has been renovated and redeveloped into apartments.
Stalybridge suffered from the Storm Angus, 21 November 2016 when 3 inches (7.6 cm) of rain fell on Tameside in five hours. Mottram Road and Huddersfield Road, Millbrook were flooded by waters from a stream leading from the Walkerwood Reservoir.
In late June 2018, many properties in Stalybridge were threatened by a large wildfire advancing from Saddleworth Moor. 50 properties in the Carrbrook area of Stalybridge were evacuated on 26 June as the wildfire advanced towards them.