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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.




Mark Olly  
After Domesday all Cheshire belonged to the Norman Overlord Hugh Lupus (Hugh 'The Wolf') who continued to allow Erchebrand use of the land but under the watchful eye of the Norman William Fitznigel.

By about 1290 AD it had passed to the Norman Overlord William De Tabley (under King Edward I) who in turn, granted Nether Knutsford to his vassal Sir Richard Massey of Tatton.

Knutsford over the moor

Richard applied for a market charter in 1292 AD which upset his Overlord William, who only reached agreement over it in 1294 AD, dividing manorial rights and profits at 38 burgesses to himself and 19 to Richard. This division continued right up to 1590 AD when the lands of Knutsford passed entirely into the ownership of the Lords of Tatton.

During the Medieval wars it is highly likely that Knutsford provided archers to the nationally renowned 'Cheshire Bowmen'.

Just after the battle of Agincourt a survey of the Bucklow Hundred taken in 1417 AD showed that almost a quarter of Cheshire bowmen came from this area making up 107 out of the 439 recorded.

Medieval Wars

Two chapels existed at Knutsford in early times. A 'Chapel-Of-Ease' by the old stocks (now removed) in King Street built in the 14th century (1300-1400 AD), and the 'Parochial Chapel' dating to the same period and with William Le Dene recorded as the first clergyman from 1316 to 1321 AD, Gilbert De Legh from 1321 to 1382 AD, Nicholas Mynchehull from 1382 to 1396 AD and Hugh De Toft from 1396 to 1427 AD.

Site of Medival "Parochial Chapel" Knutsford

For a full list of clergy to the Parochial Chapel I recommend P.J. Hunt's 1979 booklet "For All The People - The Story Of Knutsford Parish Church" in which it is also recorded:

"We have a list of incumbents (clergy) dating back to 1316; this is the date which is inscribed on the restored foundation walls of the Parochial Chapel to be found off Boothfields (near the junction with Higher Downs) on the north-east side of Knutsford."

"This site is a railed-off enclosure in which low walls, now somewhat overgrown, mark the outline of the church. There are several gravestones which were found in various positions all over the site, and these have been laid flat within the outline of the church. The inscriptions on many of these are still legible."

The railings and undergrowth have been cleared away but unfortunately so has most of the chapel, which is now on a grass field in the centre of housing estates and quite difficult to find.

It is generally thought that this ruined chapel was once dedicated to St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine who became the first Christian Emperor of Rome, but other authorities ascribe the dedication to "Blessed Marie of Knutsford" (in 1398 AD) or "St. Ellene of Knutsford" (in 1476 AD).

Sanding - Knutsford Traditions

The plinth and quoin stones from the church of St. Helena were reused in the building of the present St. John The Baptist church in 1742-44 AD and the four original bells recast into five with another added to be first rung in the new church in June 1749 AD.
Right: Site of Medival "Parochial Chapel" Knutsford

It is believed that the four original bells were badly made and in poor repair making them noisy and unsuitable for use at weddings hence, in his 'Knutsford: Its Traditions And History' of 1887, Henry Green observes that:

"The bells of the parochial chapel were too far off, and on occasion of a wedding the plan was introduced of announcing it to the neighbours and to the town generally, by sweeping the street before the door of the bride's father, and by garnishing it with a sprinkling of sand."

"At first the sanding was confined to the bride's house, but in process of time innovations crept in, and her friends in other houses, partaking in the neighbourly joy, partook also in the observance; their houses too put on the bridal adornments, and looking clean and bright shared the festivity of the day."

In his book of 1947 'Companion Into Cheshire' J.H. Ingram updates this account by adding that:

Right: Gaskell Tower, Knutsford
"Amoung the old customs which have fallen into disuse is that of 'sanding', or making pictures in coloured sand in front of the bride's house on her wedding day. When Queen Victoria, then still a Princess, came to Knutsford, the streets were sanded in her honour. Mrs Gaskell (the novelist 1810-1865 famous for 'Cranford') tells how verses were written in sprinkled sand when she was married (to Rev. William Gaskell in 1832). An old ballad describes how:

"The lads and lassies their tun dishes hanging,
 Before all the doors for the wedding were sanding,
 I'd ask Nan to wed and she answered with ease -
 You may sand for my wedding as soon as you please!'"

J.H. Ingram also observes that: "The May pole is set upon Knutsford Heath and the May Queen is crowned amid scenes of great joy. Does a man in armour, on horseback, still take the part of the 'Cheshire Champion' ?"

Unfortunately not since his armour rusted and he left the parade early in the 20th century !


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