Think of the River Mersey and one place naturally comes to mind. Yep, that’s right… what? …No, Liverpool?! Are you mad? …No, we’re of course talking about Stockport, where the Mersey is formed by the merging of Tame and Goyt, a particularly underwhelming sounding solicitors, but also more crucially, the river’s two tributaries.
The date at which Stockport was founded is disputed, but it’s believed there was a castle here in the late 12th century, which was said to be similar to the one at Pontefract, albeit less liquoricey. Like many a northern town Stockport expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution when it became a prototype ‘textile town’, a move which brought a lot more jobs, but also meant for decidedly soggy buildings.
Thankfully the town’s planners saw sense and it soon became a thriving brick town, with a number of mills using the water from the Mersey, Tame and Goyt to power their machinery. The mills were initially used in the silk trade, before becoming central to Stockport’s thriving hat industry. More than 3,000 people were employed in the hatting industry in the town until changes in fashion saw less of a demand for hats. If only they’d foreseen the popularity of the baseball cap! Or the rise of hipster trilby. Or Jamiroquai’s career!
In 1784 Stockport was the scene of a famous protest against Pitt the Younger’s saddle tax on horses, in which Cheshire farmer Jonathan Thatcher rode to the town’s market on an ox to avoid the levy. On an ox! Instead of a horse! Typical Jonathan Thatcher! What a legend! That this tale is still recounted almost 250 years on really does highlight how little has happened in Stockport.
One of Stockport’s most notable landmarks is Stockport Viaduct, a 22-arch brick viaduct that carries the railway line above the town and the Mersey. Completed in 1840 it remains one of the world’s largest brick structures and, sidestepping the fact that the town’s most remarkable building was designed to carry people away from here, it’s incredible height means that on a clear day, from its top you can see a pyramid… the Stockport Pyramid, home of a Co-op call centre. This glass pyramid has been labelled as an ‘incongruous structure’, although the local Manchester Evening News took issue with that description, as they say it’s more of a ziggurat than a pyramid.
Stockport County were formed in 1883 as Heaton Norris Rovers, which we think was a type of early hatchback. In 1946 County and Doncaster Rovers contested the longest professional football match; a League III North Cup replay at Edgeley Park that lasted three hours and 23 minutes before finally being brought to an end by the fact it was too dark to see anything. Imagine turning up for a Rovers game and not being able to see anything? Sounds heavenly doesn’t it?
What’s it famous for?
Hats. For no discernible reason, other than perhaps a particularly cold climate, or a lack of decent barbers, Stockport became a prominent site for hat-making in the UK. This was back in the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when rather than nip to a specific shop for an item, you had to go to a specific town. Looking for a new carpet? Off to Kidderminster you go. Need some nails to put it down? Call by Belper on your way back. Want a chair to rest on once you’ve put it in? You’ll need to head to Wycombe to get one. Imagine losing your gloves and having to trek all the way to Yeovil for a new pair.
Beyond the manufacture of headwear, Stockport boasts quite a number of famous faces from television including antique fiddler David Dickinson, ghost botherer Yvette Fielding, and fictional crown-wearer Claire Foy. The town’s proximity to Manchester also means it has produced many a Coronation Street dweller over the years, including Sally Lindsay and Michelle Keegan. Among the less ITV Stopfordians are parliamentarian Angela Rayner and presenter turned peer Joan Bakewell.
Stockport’s most famous sporting sons include the man with the cheapest looking haircut in international football, Phil Foden, one of Britain’s greatest basketball players John Amaechi, and racket-wielding fashion trailblazer Fred Perry.
How to blend in
Coat yourself in a fake-tan the colour of an Edwardian wardrobe, wear an immaculately pressed polo shirt and slightly underwhelming trainers, but paired with a magnificent hat. Prop up the bar in the Rovers Return, from either side, whilst espousing watered-down socialist ideals.
What’s the stadium like?
Edgeley Park opened in 1891, but johnny-come-latelys Stockport County only pitched up there in 1903 as for its first 12 years it was home to the town’s rugby league club. The ground’s original Main Stand burned down in 1935 in a fire that also destroyed all of the club’s records. A devastating moment, but by way of consolation, the following season of 1935-36 saw County enjoy their most successful campaign since records began. And also, simultaneously their least successful.
The stand which replaced the one lost in 1935 is now known as The Danny Bergara Main Stand. It’s a simple enough structure, but it takes forever to find your place as all the seat and row numbers are jumbled up, still you’ll get there before half-time if you just remember the famous Winston Churchill quote. No, not that one. No, not that one either. No… No… ‘Never give up’. …yeah, apparently.
In 1978 Edgeley Park was the venue for the World Lacrosse Championships, and there was us expecting them to be held in La Church (thank you, Robin Williams). The majority of Rovers fans will be positioned in the open Railway End which was ‘converted’ from a terrace to all-seater in 2001, in much the same way you’ll see front gardens in the rougher parts of Doncaster converted into sitting rooms through the presence of a discarded sofa.
Still, it’s not all bad, as The Football Ground Guide points out ‘If you are a plane spotter then this is the ground for you, as during the game many large airplanes fly over Edgeley Park having taken off from nearby Manchester Airport!’. There’s an argument to be made for plane spotters to maybe just go to the airport instead of paying £20 to have their day spoiled by some bloke in red and white hoops occasionally hoofing a Mitre Delta into their field of vision, but I suppose it gives the rest of us something to look at and dream of other places to be.