About the area

History and stories about the Underbanks

The Underbanks has a dramatic historic townscape of changing levels and memorable views, characterised by a dense concentration of nineteenth century traditional buildings, steps, brows and bridges.  

Early origins as a Market Town

Stockport was granted its Market Charter in 1260 and developed through the medieval period as a prosperous market town. The Market Place was served by a network of roads which converged on the Market Place. They also connected to a nearby bridging point over the river Mersey. Lancashire Bridge, which crossed the Mersey on Bridge Street, was one of only three along the entire length of the Mersey in the medieval period. A factor which must have contributed to the commercial success of the town.

Early industrial development

By the 17th century Stockport had become a centre of small domestic industries such as spinning, weaving, leather working, button making and hatting. Retail shops, stocking non-perishable goods and luxury items, grew in number while the market continued to thrive. It was famous for its local cheeses and cloth.

The town had even given its name to a type of linen called Stopport cloth. The town developed rapidly during the late 18th and 19th century and Stockport became one of the region’s first centres of the Industrial Revolution. Factories were established in close proximity to the town centre.

In 1732, the north-west’s first water-powered textile factory was built in the park below the Market Place. Cotton spinning, weaving and other industrial activities, notably including hat manufacture, followed.

During the 18th century, the town’s many inns remained a central part of its social life and economy with thirty-one inns recorded in the township in the mid-1750s. The principle hostelry at this time was the White Lion Hotel on Great Underbank, which was Stockport’s main coaching inn and the venue for the Court Leet banquets.



Winter’s Clock

‘Winter’s’ is a local landmark which is renowned for its famous automaton clock feature, which includes three figures – a guardsman, sailor, and father time, clock and three bells. In its heyday the building was a jewellers acquired by Jacob Winter in 1890, a clock repairer who had moved into the area from London. The building was well located at the time to capitalise from passing trade along the Old Road to London.

Jacob Winter was fascinated by technology and introduced electricity in to the building as early as 1898, one of the first to do so in Stockport. He then moved on to make use of the local water supply from a spring at the market place and engineered the shop window display to rise and fall, by hydraulic power, into a vault in the basement which he had hewn out of the local sandstone.

Jacob Winter then decided that a special clock would be a great advertising asset for his business. It had to be a magnificent automaton creation, of which there are only two non-secular in the country. The clock was made in 1903 and Mr Winter had three automatons carved representing a sailor, soldier, and between them and above old father time. The power to drive the mechanism comes from heavy metal weights, raised using a large iron crank handle.

From the clock mechanism drives are taken from to the clock itself and the three automaton whose arms moved to ring the bell located above their heads. The soldier and sailor rang the quarters and old father time the hours.

The figures themselves are made of timber, and are subject to the effects of weather and pollution. They have been repaired a number of times, the first time being in 1933, and again in 1972. Winter’s clock has a special place in the heart of generations of Stopfordian’s who have eagerly waited to see it chime.

St. Petersgate Bridge

Having invested in the mid-19th century improvements in the Market Place, the issue of access once again arose. It was addressed in 1864 with the construction of a bridge linking the Market with St Petersgate over Little Underbank. This was to provide an easier approach from the west of the town and from the railway station. St. Petersgate Bridge was built next to Turners Steps, an existing pedestrian link between the Market Place and Little Underbank. To make way for this, properties in the south-west corner of the Market Place were demolished. A grand new commercial building (the Bank of Stockport) was then erected.

The historic and architectural interest

Little Underbank is a natural continuation of the route of an historic thoroughfare that descends into Stockport towards the River Mersey. It has substantial historic and architectural interest and was recorded as a principle street of Stockport from the medieval period. Its character is defined by its street pattern and grain of development little altered for 300 years with characteristically long and narrow former burgage plots still being discernible in the present buildings. The overriding heritage significance of the area is the group value of historic buildings with continuous building frontages of mostly three-storey Georgian or Victorian, former houses, shops and workshops. These are situated within a dramatic townscape unique to the region of changing levels with views of key buildings and roofscapes and a series of steep brows, each with their own distinct character linking the Underbanks to the Market Place.

Old Road to London

It’s not clear when the roads of Great and Little Underbank came about. However, the increasing use of wheeled transport required a more practical route from the steep Brow to gain the old Roman Road in the Market place for the journey south. By skirting Stockport’s high outcrop and using the valley of the Tin Brook made for a gentler gradient rising out of the Mersey valley. We now know that this road as the Great and Little Underbanks and for over 400 years carried traffic through to London.

Late 18th century development
This rapid expansion in industry also led to an increased demand for land for new buildings by the late 18th century. This resulted in the passing of an act permitting the rector of Stockport to lease out much of the surrounding glebe land. This had previously been reserved for use by the church or as agricultural land, for building. The late 18th century town houses at 78 and 80 Churchgate were erected on land leased for building under this act. Other buildings in the area were increasingly sub-dived or extended to meet the growing need for domestic accommodation and business premises. There is evidence of buildings being extended backwards by hollowing out the soft sandstone cliffs which lay to the rear of some of the towns streets. At this time fashion for brick buildings were replacing the timber-frame tradition with many earlier dwellings being rebuilt or remodelled in brick. The core of the town then became a mixture of the two building types. The early timber framed rectory was replaced with the present brick building in 1743. The 17th century gabled façade of Staircase House was hidden behind a more fashionable brick frontage.
A Victorian Shopping Street
In the 19th century Little Underbank was probably the finest shopping street in Stockport. All the needs of the town were available on Little Underbank from its 30 shops with hosiers, milliners and curriers all plying their trade. Its prestige encouraged Jacob Winters to set up a jewellery shop at number 23. He installed a superb automaton clock with a soldier sailor and old father time marking the time. His ingenuity did not finish with the clock. By harnessing the power of water, he made a device for lowering and raising the window display which could be lowered into the basement for safe keeping.


The early houses of important locals

 The former Underbank Hall (now the Natwest Bank at 10 Great Underbank) and the Three Shires (at 30-32 Great Underbank), display distinctive timber framing and jettied upper floors. They date from the C16th and provide surviving evidence of early timber framed town houses within the area.  These buildings were originally the homes of important local families. Nos.30-32 Great Underbank, was the town house of the Leghs of Adlington, who owned the land on which it stands, and Underbank Hall was the town house of the Arderne family of Arden Hall in Bredbury. Both of these buildings are statutory listed in recognition of their historic and architectural interest, and are located within the Market Underbanks Conservation Area.


Market Underbanks Conservation Area

The designation of conservation areas is an important part of a Council’s overall approach to conservation planning and development. Conservation areas are areas of special architectural and / or historic interest, the character of which is desirable to preserve or enhance. They are special areas, where the buildings and the spaces around them interact to form distinctly recognisable areas of quality and interest. They can also be important mechanisms for securing regeneration through conservation, and the formal designation of such areas provides an opportunity to raise public awareness of the areas special character and historic development. The Underbanks are wholly located within the Market Underbanks Conservation Area, which was first designated in 1974, and extended in 2005. In line with advice from Historic England, the Market Underbanks Conservation Area has been periodically reviewed (in 2011, and most recently in 2018) and the Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plan, which sets out the history and special interest of the area, has been updated.


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