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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.
 

 

The River Lily in Knutsford's History
by Joan Leach
 

I am often asked whether King Canute 'forded' the River Lily , thus giving his name to the town: my answer is that no one will ever know!

The spelling in the Domesday Book of 1086 CUNETESFORD could be interpreted as 'Cnut his ford'. The anglo saxon chronicle records warfare between the Danes and the King of Cumbria around 1014, so he may have passed this way BUT fording our River Lily , as we know it, could surely not have made history !! Any Viking could jump across it!!

However the whole area was probably marshy and would have been more of a challenge to an army.19th century maps show a ford across the Knutsford end of Tatton mere. (left: 'old ford' across Tatton Mere)

Also it should be remembered that Knutsford got its town charter in 1292 and before that the community probably lived around the old church of St Helena's or St John's, where old grave stones can still be seen, so it may have been the Birkin that Canute's army forded. (below: The Birkin Brook, Knutsford)
 
 
I have often thought of asking The Guinness Book of Records if our River Lily qualifies as the smallest or shortst river but it would be difficult to measure its course. All that can be seen is the stretch along Moorside, now sadly neglected. Many of us can remember a walk along its bank from the bottom of Drury Lane right up to the Tatton Wall where the 'river' disappeared into a bright orange bog , no doubt draining into the mere. That is its end, so where is its beginning?

It arises from the small valley between Legh Road and Toft Road. Watt called this area Sanctuary Moor, for its bird life; earlier it was known as Moorhead and so named on Bryants 1831 map.

 
A 1910 ordnance survey map still shows some open stretches of water behind Legh road ( plus drains) and in the garden of Brook House with a foot-bridge. When the house was sold in 1829 the River Lily was a selling point: These premises might, if required, be converted into a manufactory as there is a constant supply of good water flowing through the garden and yard sufficient to supply a steam engine. (left: 1910 OS map showing R.Lily behind Legh Rd.)

The house was pulled down after suffering war time occupation and Holford Crescent has replaced it. It would be interesting to know where the River Lily is culverted :on very wet days water can be heard gushing through drains near the library.

The 1879 map shows how the River Lily made a natural boundary for the town and, no doubt, provided water for all sorts of purposes over hundreds of years.It still has water cress but we are too fastidious to eat it and no lilies have been seen in it recently . Generations of school children enjoyed fishing its length for sticklebacks or redbreasts or tried to walk across the small waterfall . There were also a number of bridges , including one by Watt to the back of Drury Lane;others were convenient for allotment gardeners to water their plots, where Hillside is today.

 


 

   
 
 

 

The Moor
by Joan Leach
 

This name refers to the water and the land here. The map shows how the area had been drained to provide a rifle shooting range. Prizes were awarded annually to the best marksmen and it was considered patriotic to train to make good and ready soldiers.

It must have been an expense to the town to drain the land in this way for when an infant school became necessary by a new education act there were complaints that the Moor still had to be paid for and there was no money to spare.

Later maps show the central drain into Tatton Mere still kept open.

It was the late 1870's when negotiations with the Egertons allowed some town sewerage drains to be laid despite their fears that it might pollute Tatton Mere. Later they agreed to sell the land beyond the central path which had been common land but they had the rights as Lords of the Manor.The town council bought it for a recreation ground though Watt complained that the horses ate the trees he planted as landscaping and the council later used the land as a rubbish dump.! When the M6 was built surplus soil was tipped on the Moor and helped to raise the water table.