High Lane Arm

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The High Lane Arm, Macclesfield Canal

Alongside the A6, between Bridges 11 and 13 on the Macclesfield Canal lies the High Lane Arm, an L-shaped side-arm some 300yds long, which since 1943 has been the home of the North Cheshire Cruising Club. Along both sides of the Arm cluster a variety of boathouses, which many suppose have only existed since the formation of the Club. Surprisingly, however, pleasure craft existed on the ‘Macc’ certainly before World War I and there were several boathouses on the opposite side to the towpath along the approach to the wharf (so as not to impede tow-ropes) back in 1900 when the work area was in commercial use. Boathouse rents in those days were half a guinea (52.5p) per annum, this being. collected by the L.N.E.R., the canal owners since 1923 as successors to the Great Central Railway. It was also necessary to purchase a ‘privilege’ licence from the railway company to operate a pleasure boat on the Macclesfield Canal. This cost eight shillings, although to traverse the arm Hall Green to Hardings Wood junction with the Trent and Mersey was one guinea.

Incidentally, the licensing of pleasure craft for the use of the Macclesfield Canal alone lasted well into the 1950’s at which time the fee had risen to around £3. Most pleasure boats of that period were so called ‘cabin boats’ launches with forward steering and an aft cabin and two of these survived in the ownership of two members of the North Cheshire Cruising Club until relatively recent times.

Excavating the remains of the boat that brought coal from Baden’s Wharf, circa 1956.


The main purpose of the High Lane Arm was, however, for commercial use involving the loading of coal and the trans-shipment of other goods brought to the wharf by road. As it was originally dug in 1830, the Arm was T-shaped i.e., after the short entrance ‘leg’ there was a branch to right and left. The right hand branch ran alongside quayside with a crane and a large warehouse (now the Clubhouse of the N.C.C.C.) and the Wharfinger’s Cottage. The left hand branch ran towards Middlewood and Norbury pits, where coal was loaded from tubs, running on a rail track to the quayside, directly into narrow boats (called at that period on the Macclesfield barges at least locally). This arm was still in existence in 1910, but all the mines in the immediate vicinity were now disused, so around 1914- it was filled in with pit spoil. However, for many years its old bed could be discerned during rainy periods as a series of shallow ponds alongside what is now the High Lane Cricket Club field.

Coal was always the main cargo on the Macc, from the very many collieries around Poynton, which numbered around 20 during the hey-day of production between 1850-75. Output during this period was considerably influenced by prosperity in the cotton industry and much of the coal carried was delivered direct to canalside mills or to wharves in mill-towns such as Bollington and Macclesfield. The High Lane Arm also received coal by water from the quayside at Middlecale Pit (known as Baden’s Wharf) in special deck-loaded tubs. For many years the wreckage of one of these special narrow boats used to trans-ship the tubs, lay in the mud of the Arm as a memorial to this somewhat odd traffic. The distribution of coal from the High Lane Wharf was by a firm named Potts and the horse- drawn carts were checked out via the weighbridge, situated at the entrance to the yard opposite Windlehurst Road. Incidentally, the weigh-house, which was demolished only a few years ago, became in 1944 the first clubhouse of the N.C.C.C.

Besides the coal traffic at the Arm, several general cargoes were handled by public carriers, such as Kenworthy & Co., J. P. Stanwick & Co., and the renowned Pickfords, who at their peak owned around 400 canal boats, but withdrew from canal carrying to concentrate on road transport in 1845. One local cargo handled by Pickfords via the wharf was barrels of hats bound for London, from Christy’s factory in Hillgate, Stockport. Pickfords was founded by James and his son Matthew, originally based in Poynton but later with branches in Manchester and London. Around 1790 Matthew became involved with canal transport at the time that a canal was being proposed and surveyed to transport coal from the Norbury mines, this proposal never went to Parliament, but recognising the advantage of integrated canal and road transport systems, he invested in boats plying on the Bridgewater and Trent & Mersey Canals.

NCCC Entrance, circa 1969, showing the Weigh-House (L) and present club house.  

Matthew’s sons eventually managed the Poynton branch and for a short period ran boats on the Macclesfield Canal, with a major depot at Macclesfield wharf (indeed their boats were in the procession at the opening ceremony there in 1831).

Commercial use of the Arm ceased between the wars and various buildings appeared (e.g., light engineering workshops and an estate agent’s office), which was the situation when the N.C.C.C. was formed.

The High Lane Arm of the Macclesfield. Canal has been a base for pleasure cruising since World War I, but it was not until a few years before W.W.II that the first moves were made for boaters in the area to form some form of association. The catalyst to this reaction was a move by the local Rating Officer to levy rates on boathouses in 1937 (history seems to be repeating itself now that we hear that open moorings may be rated). A meeting of boaters was held and legal advice sought. This action did not prevent the collection of rates then and ever since, but it did prevent a proposed 6-year back dating. More importantly, however, this association led ultimately to a more formal proposal to start a cruising club based in the Arm (which up to this time had been used free of charge) by renting part of it from the L.N.E.R.

The inaugural meeting was held in May 1943 in the open air and the sixteen boaters present elected four officers and five committee members. The Chairman, Harry Downs, having had much to do with the North Cheshire Water Board, suggested the Club be called the North Cheshire Cruising Club and this was carried.’ A prize of 5/- (25p) was offered for the best design submitted for a club burgee and was won by Bill Axon. Bill is now the only surviving founder member and last year at the Club’s 40th Anniversary, he was presented one of the original burgees which now takes pride of place on the Clubhouse wall.

The first Clubhouse was the old weighhouse next to the weighbridge by the entrance to the yard. The weighbridge was broken up for scrap and much DIY renovation work (the first of much voluntary demolition and construction work to be done by members in the years to come) carried out to make the place habitable. Despite its tiny size (14 x l2ft) it once held 40 members for a hot-pot supper. With the growth in the membership, however, it became necessary to hold meetings in the local Conservative Club, and later in the High Lane Village Hall.

Around 1953 an Estate Agents office in the yard became vacant and was purchased as a new Clubhouse. This was a small asbestos building to which was added over the years, a kitchen and a “powder room” for the ladies (the gents still had to go across the yard to an outside loo). Many happy social events were held on these premises and although we often said the rotting floorboards would collapse one day under the stamping feet, they never did. 1975 was the next milestone in the Club’s history when a longer lease was negotiated with B.W.B. and the large stone warehouse on the quayside was acquired. With the aid of a grant from the Cheshire County Council and Loan Bonds from the members, the place was gutted and transformed into the Clubhouse you see today and which was officially opened by General Sir Hugh Stockwell in October 1976. The new premises were certainly needed as membership had grown to around L where it stands today. Although only a limited, number of moorings and boathouses are available in the Arm to Club members, it offers a crane, slipway, hard standing, storage and workshop facilities (with showers, toilets and Elsan disposal) for all.

Dr. T.L. Dawson 1984.

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This page was last updated 06 December, 2007