Stockport is an ancient town (Note 1Originally called Stopford or Stockford, the origins of Stockport can be traced back to 1188.) and in a curious twist of fate the Stockport Navigation brought together two eminent men of their day who were separated from each other by over three centuries. The first was Sir Edmund Shaa and the second was Samuel Oldknow.
Sir Edmund Shaa Kt. P.C. (c.1427-20 April 1488), founder of Stockport Grammar School
The Shaa family is of great antiquity in the county of Cheshire and Edmund Shaa was born in the vicinity of Mottram-in-Longdendale to parents who came from Dukinfield. Little is known about his early life except that his family was of modest means, so as a young man he resolved to move to London. It was said that he was:
···· of gentle birth, yet the artificer of his own great fortune, he was a man of outstanding ability and unmistakable piety, eminent in his profession, high in public office and esteem, the valued friend and coveted supporter of kings ····
In 1450 the youthful Edmund Shaa was apprenticed, in the City of London, to one Robert Botteler, a Goldsmith, who is known to have been flourishing by 1432 and dead by 1470. Edmund, by all accounts, succeeded brilliantly with his apprenticeship. He became the Court Jeweller for Edward IV (Note 2Following the death of Edward IV, he was succeeded by his 12-year-old son who became Edward V. His uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became Protector and he imprisoned Edward, together with his younger brother, Richard. The fate of the two Princes in the Tower is unknown. Consequently, Edward V was only King between April and June 1483 when Gloucester became Richard III.), Richard III and Henry VII.
When Edward IV died he was succeeded by the very young Edward V and one of his few acts was to confer on Alderman Edmund Shaa the rank of Privy Councillor.
However, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was patiently awaiting his chance to become King and, for unknown reasons, Edmund Shaa gave Richard his unreserved support. Edmund Shaa actually offered him the crown at Baynard's Castle, City of London, and the event was recorded in a painting. Richard III became king on the 26 June 1483 and his coronation was on the 6 July 1483. The day before his coronation he knighted Alderman Edmund Shaa for his support.
Sir Edmund received two commissions from the King. The first, on the 8 August 1483, was '···· to attend to the defences at the mouth of the Thames ····' and the second was of Oyer and Terminer. The latter appointment meant that he had become a Judge of the Assize (Note 3Oyer and Terminer was originally an Anglo-Norman term meaning to hear and determine. A commission was issued from the 13th century to justices to hear pleas of the crown (serious crimes). Formerly, special justices, outside the slow-functioning eyres (court circuits), were commissioned for this purpose but Oyer and Terminer gradually became a commission of the justices of assize (legislative enactments). By 1972 the assize courts had all been abolished, their criminal jurisdiction being exercised by the Crown Court and their civil jurisdiction by the High Court.).
On the 20 March 1488, Sir Edmund made his Last Will and Testament and one month later on 20 April 1488 he died. Fortunately, his very detailed Will has survived.
Sir Edmund lay in state in London at the Church of St Peter in Cheapside and he was buried at the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre (aka Mercers Chapel). St Thomas is the martyred Thomas Becket. His widow and three children were later buried beside him. Sadly, the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre along with Sir Edmund’s tomb and little chapel.
In his Will, Sir Edmund remembered the people and town of Stockport and he left several bequests, one of which was for the Parisshe Church of Stopford (St Mary's in the Marketplace) and another was for the founding of a school in the Parisshe of Stopford, in the said Countie of Chestre (Stockport Grammar School). He also left a bequest for the building of the tower of the Church of St Michael & All Angels at Mottram-in-Longdendale. Sir Edmund's parents were actually buried in the family tomb at St Mary's Church.
The centuries went by until eventually most folk were unaware of this great benefactor to the town of Stockport. In 1810 it was decided to demolish the original Parish Church of St Mary and during this process the tombs were wantonly scattered, including the tomb of the Shaa family where generations of Stockport Grammar School boys had said the De Profundis (Note 4The 130th Psalm, expressing deep misery.). The Shaa family memorial stone, easily identifiable by its Coat of Arms, was taken with all the others to a tip that was in an area of Stockport to become known as Waterloo. It lay there for a while, to be eventually removed and embedded in the wall of an outhouse to a cottage that was being built in the vicinity. Eventually someone remembered that there was a memorial stone for the Shaa family but a local historian of the day failed to find this ancient relic.
Samuel Oldknow (1756-1828), Businessman
Samuel Oldknow is better remembered today for his Mellor Mill and for being a Proprietor of the Peak Forest Canal Company and the principal promoter of the canal's construction but he also had extensive business interests in Stockport and his house stands on Higher Hillgate, a short distance away from Canal Street.
Oldknow decided that there was sufficient water flowing in Carr Brook, Stockport, to provide a power supply for three mills built in tandem. These mills became known as Lower Carr, Middle Carr and Upper Carr respectively. He did, however, require to build a reservoir to maintain a sufficient head of water for waterwheels (but it is not known how many there were). This reservoir was the Stockport Navigation. Its length was short, coinciding with the length of Middle Carr and Upper Carr Mills, and it was only as wide as the terrain of this narrow valley would permit. Oddly, it had a substantial embankment at its 'upper' end and there must also have been a weir by Lower Carr Mill. In any event, an embankment at the upper end meant that Carr Brook had to be culverted under Waterloo Road and then further upstream of the reservoir for some distance. This was necessary in order to ensure that the head of water in the reservoir was below the open water of Carr Brook. In other words, some kind of siphon action was required and a failure to get the levels of the culvert right would have resulted in the reservoir not filling properly.
In order to build an embankment, suitable materials were needed so what better than to have a look at the nearby tip where a plentiful supply of stone was to be found. Some of this consisted of grave headstones and memorial stones but his was of no importance. The people commemorated on the stones were certainly not within living memory and, especially as no-one seemed to know very much about them, it seemed reasonable to use them in the embankment and that is what happened. Additionally, few people at that time could have read the inscriptions on the stones anyway.
Eventually the memorial stone to the Shaa family was unearthed, resplendent with its Coat of Arms. It was not necessary to be able to read in order to understand that this particular stone was more important than the others as the Coat of Arms said it all. Seemingly, some consideration was given to saving the stone but the story goes that, in spite of its apparent importance, into the embankment it went. But did it?
Whichever ending one chooses to believe, the Shaa memorial stone was never found and the truth of the matter can never be known without its discovery. And so it was, in a twist of fate, that the histories of the two eminent men touched each other at the Stockport Navigation. Happily, the memorial stone for Samuel Oldknow has survived but it very nearly did not.
An ancient chapel, on Church Lane, Marple, was demolished early in the 19th century and the construction of Oldknow's church (All Saints) is thought to have commenced on the site in 1808, opening in 1811. At a meeting, following completion of his church, Oldknow remarked:
'···· gentlemen, I have made you excellent roads upon earth, and now I have made you an excellent road to Heaven.'
Following Oldknow's death, his memorial stone was placed inside the steeple of his church. Another church was built alongside Oldknow’s church in 1880. The disused church survived until 1964 when it was demolished with the exception of the steeple with its memorial to Samuel Oldknow and peel of bells. It is not normally open to the public.
The memorial depicts Oldknow's head in relief, facing to the left, with carved drapes hanging on either side. Below is an inscription but, in Oldknow's case, there was no Coat of Arms to emblazon upon it. The lengthy inscription reads:
Boats on the Stockport Navigation
Another question concerns the existence of boats on the Stockport Navigation, otherwise the name of Canal Street would seem inappropriate. Seemingly, there were but it is a matter of conjecture as to what type of vessel they were, how many there were and what they carried. A clue may be found at the nearby Compstall Navigation where wrought-iron tub boats plied along the short mill reservoir there. In plan view, these boats were of rectangular shape and they were hauled by horses but, as they were not fitted with rudders, they were steered by a pole that could slot into any one of four rowlocks fitted to the gunnels. In the case of the Stockport Navigation it is considered that similar tub boats would have been used but, because of the smaller size of the reservoir, these were probably both propelled and steered using poles.
However, this was not the end of the story as far as the valley of Carr Brook was concerned. On Sunday, 4 June 1967 Harry Marlow, the pilot of a British Midland C4 Argonaut, was attempting to reach Manchester International Airport with his crippled aircraft when he realised that he could not make it and he was forced to make a crash landing. The site he chose was in the angle between Hopes Carr and Waterloo Road, more or less where Upper Carr Mill and the reservoir embankment of the Stockport Navigation had once stood.