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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
T.L. Dawson 1984.