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REMAINS OF THE TOWN WALL
BY THOMAS KAY.
N July last (1896) it was my privilege to conduct a few members of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society through Stockport. I tried to interest them in the few antiquities contained in that picturesque frontier town of Cheshire, and in order that they might form an idea of what it probably was, in or before the Tudor period, I took them up into the large room of the free library above the Market Hall, and through the north window asked them to gaze as from the town walls of ancient Stockport. Anyone can do this, but it is required in imagination to clear away from the Great Underbank, which lies eighty feet below, all its buildings, including the magpie Elizabethan house of the Arderns, until the fissured red sandstone beside the river is visible. The whole of the houses of Heaton Norris and its factories, with the Lancashire bridges, must be swept away, the richly-coloured rock must be surmounted with verdure, and the ravines filled with trees plus thick undergrowth of bramble and honeysuckle. The view of the park is obstructed by the buildings on the castle yard.
From the south the great northern road from London, after winding amongst Derbyshire or Staffordshire hills, trends to Stockport, which place gave security to the travellers within its walls. An early morn may see the company of merchants, with a string of horses or mules, crossing the ford below the park, and, after the packs have been re-adjusted, the cavalcade in picturesque disorder ascending the step-padded rock of the old Roman road on Lancashire Hill. Night may see them hurrying down the declivity homewards, having been set upon by thieves in the almost deserted town of Manchester, where but a few huts exist beside the ruins of its ancient fort in Campfield. In the cloughs and
dells of its brooks and rivers the Brigantes still conserved their marauding spirit which gave so much trouble to the Romans, and these wooded dales in later times afforded shelter to refugees, as the valley of the Roach is said to have done to the Earl of Tyrone.
From this free library window may also be seen below and to the left the red sandstone rock upon which the town walls were built. It has been sheared into almost a straight line, and runs parallel with the Great Underbank, about twenty feet above it and inclining downwards with the stratification to the corner of Little Underbank. Above the rock and projecting through the masonry of the ancient wall is to be seen a rough hewn stone gargoyle, which formerly drained the ramparts and serves to show us that the original warders' walk within the walls was about thirty-six feet above the modern Great Underbank, and that while it might have been higher in those days it could not have been lower. Alongside this gargoyle there is an old sandstone buttress built upon the solid rock. Photographs of the two are shown; they were taken from behind numbers 17 and 19,
Great Underbank. Behind number 13, Great Underbank, three large stones of the old wall remain upon the rock. These may conveniently be observed from the wooden steps in the yard.
At the corner of the Great and Little Underbank Streets a turret-like building of brick is built upon a projecting piece of rock behind number 1, Little Underbank, the upper portion of which is entered from Astley's Yard, behind the offices of the School Attendance Committee. This remarkable feature of the ancient ramparts, now used as a common warehouse, was probably in ancient days a bastion or turret some sixty feet high, which would command a view of everyone approaching from the west by Brinksway, the way on the brink of the Mersey to Chester, and of all who had to ford the Hempshaw Brook, coming from the south to make the ascent by the Mealhouse Brow into the town walls.
In the yards behind the shops in Little Underbank the escarpment base of the wall may be observed as far as Mealhouse Brow, and upon this the houses and shops in the Market Place, fifty to sixty feet above, have been built.
Passing across the Mealhouse Brow, a trace of the old wall above the rock escarpment may be observed behind numbers 9 and 11, but it is best inspected from a small window built in an angle behind the yard of number 4, Market Place, by looking down upon it. All traces terminate behind the Hare and Hounds Inn on Rostron Brow. This quaint old gabled hostelry seems to have been part of the old priests' house, traditionally so called, which stood opposite the south porch of the parish church. When this was taken down to make room for a more modern building, it was re-erected in Vernon Park, where its beautiful old oaken design enriches the lawn beside the river Mersey.