A Railway Runs Through It
By Colin Barnsley
First Published 14/5/2021
Last Updated 10/1/2022
Heald Green has experienced periods of rapid growth in the last century - what caused them?
What does that tell us about where we might be going?
Fig. 1 Heald Green Railway Station shortly after opening, 1909
From Cheadle & Gatley Picture Postcards, C. Makepeace
© European Library 1988
Click On Image To View
The location of most of our great towns and cities was chosen based on the quality of the land, and to be close by a source of water in rivers. At first, people needed water to drink and to help grow their crops. Flowing water let them power mills to make flour or weave cotton. It connected them to other places along the riverbank and allowed them to transport goods there, in far greater quantities than a horse and cart could move along early roads. When steam engines began to power large mills, did any set up in Heald Green? Well, no - there wasn't enough water (though enough in a brook for a tanyard and up the road, a mill at Styal). So whilst more people lived in neighbouring Long Lane, according to censuses from 1841 to 1901, there were just a few dozen people living in the rural hamlet of Heald Green. You'll find many longer articles and books in our museum library, but one in particular, The Making of Heald Green , explains our early history.
The First Growth Wave
Water did eventually impact on Heald Green - through the development of steam trains and the railway system. It wasn't until 1909, that a train arrived at our very own railway station on the new Styal line . Once we were connected to Manchester, the first period of significant growth began. Wealthier people realised they could enjoy the benefits of living in the country, whilst commuting from Heald Green to the city. Houses began to be built, and shops and other businesses began to grow along the road in the village. You can read memories of some of our early 20th Century residents who recall the development of shops and businesses here , in our museum library. We'll talk more about the station itself in a forthcoming museum article.
Long Lane; running from Schools hill down to the Waggon and Horses; was eventually subsumed into Heald Green as a consequence of the growth caused by the railway. Though never a formal administrative area, it was part of Stockport Etchells, and older residents still include Long Lane in their address (I was certainly taught to). There is little else to remember the name now, apart from the Post Office. It has been suggested that the new homes being built on the fields owned by the Seashell Trust might be named Long Lane estate, but at the time of writing no decision has been taken. The history of Long Lane is documented in a book in our museum library, Long Lane Cheadle Remembered
The Second Growth Wave
If Heald Green's relationship with water hampered the village's early development, the clay soil in the area led indirectly to its second wave of growth.
Before World War II, there were a number of airfields around Manchester. In looking for space for a new, larger airfield, the others were dismissed as too small to expand on. A new site at Ringway was selected not only for its size, but its clay soil, which made a good surface to be flattened for a runway .
Construction began in 1934. The first plane landed at Ringway in 1937. Between June 1940 and and March 1946, over 60,000 paratroopers were trained by No 1 Parachute Training School RAF, based at Ringway . I wonder if they knew how water and clay had indirectly influenced the selection of Ringway as the location for their parachute training? Making parachutes requires a lot of material and sewing too - who better to create and sew them than the workers in Lancashire's cotton industry, perhaps?
During World War II, many servicemen were billeted in Heald Green. The Ministry of Defence built a series of buildings and hangars in the area called Maintenance Units (MUs) which were used in the support of wartime functions at the airport. These can be seen on this OS Map from the mid 1950s, before they were demolished. We'd love to write an article about the MUs and their functions - but we need help to find the hush-hush materials! Please get in touch if you can assist. Joan Heinekey's book, Heald Green In Wartime , is available to read in our museum library, detailing local life in wartime.
Eventually in the 1950s, the Ministry of Defence began to dismantle the MUs and sell off the land to developers. The Ratepayers' Association quarterly Contact Magazines in our museum library provide an excellent record of how our councillors fought for relevant amenities to support the sudden increase in Heald Green's population throughout the 1960s. A short history of the Ratepayers' Association stored in our museum library provides another way to look at the changes over almost 100 years.
The Next Growth Wave
I moved to Heald Green as a child in 1971 (older residents still regard me as "just settling in"). Heald Green appeared static to me then, as if the houses, schools and other amenities had grown up together in an integrated and orderly way. Our historical records show this was not the case at all. It took a long time for all the estates to be built, and the amenities always followed as a reaction. As is human nature, changes have to have an impact before the need for further ones is accepted. Try as our councillors might to warn of the coming issues, additional amenities were generally only approved once the impact of the new residents was felt in our schools, doctors surgeries and shops. The changes associated with growth are bound to be explored as the museum expands its articles relating to public buildings and peoples' experiences over time.
The excellent connectivity afforded Heald Green today, with proximity to roads, rail and air travel make its remaining green spaces very desirable to developers. Past history suggests the necessary amenities will only follow after the houses are built and the families move in to them. However there is one crucial difference this time - there may be no green spaces left to build another shop, school or health centre. There may be little green left in Heald Green at all.
From the perspective of our history museum, this is the time therefore to capture the details of the rapid changes in our village from the first two growth waves, and bring our records right up to date. Please help us collect those memories before they are lost, and we become absorbed in reacting to the changes resulting from this third major wave of growth in Heald Green's history.
In conversation with Ian Morris, 2021
Search Our Museum Library (Google Drive account users only)
Can You Help Us Improve The Museum?
Do you have any related personal memories, photos or documents that you can share with us on this topic?
Are any of our facts incorrect?