The first settlements in the Congleton area were in Neolithic times, and archaeological finds tell us people lived here in both the Stone and Bronze Ages. A number of neolithic and bronze age artefacts have been found in the town, and these can be viewed at Congleton Museum.
There is little evidence of Roman occupation, but the Vikings made their mark by destroying nearby Davenport which allowed Congleton to become the local market town.
In Saxon days Earl Godwin of Wessex held the town, but by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, William the Conqueror had made his nephew Earl of Chester and granted him the whole of Cheshire. He in turn passed ‘Cogletone’, which had been laid waste by the king’s army, to his man Bigot.
In the 13th century Congleton belonged to the de Lacy family and Henry de Lacy, granted its first charter in 1272. This made it a free borough with the right to elect a mayor and ale taster, have a merchant guild and behead known felons.
The people were allowed to travel throughout Cheshire without paying tolls, dig turves, keep pigs and get their corn ground at the town mill ‘on payment of the twentieth grain”. This provided the Corporation with its main income.
Disaster struck in 1451 when the River Dane flooded and destroyed the wooden bridge, the town mill and half the timber framed buildings. The town centre then grew up on higher ground, where the present day High Street is, and the river was straightened and diverted away from the town.
Congleton soon became prosperous again, with much of its wealth derived from leather working and lace making. Congleton “points” were leather strips with a silver tip, similar to modern shoelaces, which were used for fastening clothes. Many Tudor buildings are still evident today.
Congleton was also well known for its cockfights and bearbaiting. Once the town bear died just before the annual wakes fair. The town had been saving to buy a new bible, but spent the 16 shillings from the fund to buy a new bear. Congleton is still known as Beartown.
Congleton was ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. In 1641 it was believed to have reached the town in a box of clothes sent from London. The town became deserted and poor – but was still expected to provide for bands of soldiers as the Civil War began. The townsfolk’s loyalties were divided, but a former Congleton mayor and lawyer, John Bradshaw, was president of the court which sent Charles I to be beheaded in 1649, and his signature as Attorney General was the first on the king’s death warrant. There is a plaque commemorating him on Bradshaw House in Lawton Street.
The first silk mill in Congleton was built by John Clayton in 1752, and by 1771 this industry had restored the town’s prosperity. Ribbon weaving began in the 1750s and cotton spinning in 1784.
By the end of the 18th century, there were numerous textile mills in the town, and better communications were needed. Turnpike Trusts improved the state of the roads, the Macclesfield Canal was opened in 1831 and in 1848 the railway arrived.
In 1860 a treaty with France allowed its silk to be imported duty free. The English silk trade began to decline and Congleton suffered accordingly. Its fortunes were revived when fustian and velvet cutting were introduced in 1867, and different aspects of the textile trade continued to be important through the twentieth century. Congleton’s ribbons and tapes are particularly well known.
More information about the history of Congleton can be found in the excellent Congleton Museum, which is behind the Town Hall
The Town Hall
The impressive Town Hall was designed by E.W. Godwin and built on the site of at least two earlier structures. It was built in 1864 at a cost of £8,000 and embodies Italian and French Gothic influences. On the outside were three ornamented sculptured figures in Bath stone; representing Queen Victoria, Henry de Lacy, who gave Congleton its first charter in 1272; and King Edward I who reigned in 1272. These have currently been removed for safety reasons.
At the top is the belfry there are three bells. Below is a row of 31 shields, left blank for the introduction of heraldic bearings of the principal families. Above the belfry is the clock tower.
In 1996 the Town Hall benefited from a £975,000 Single Regeneration grant, which enabled a major refurbishment. Many of its interior features were restored to their original design. In 2008, the freehold and management transferred to Congleton Town Council, which is currently undertaking a £750,000 refurbishment including full DDA compliance, 10 years backlog maintenance, energy measures, and improvements including De Lacey’s café and reinstatement of more original features.
More proactive management and promotion will make the Town Hall not only the civic hub, but the focal point for musical and charitable community events, weddings and corporate events. The Grand Hall accommodates up to 370 people for concert style events or 220 for dining. A magnificent stone staircase leads up to the Bridestone Suite, balcony, Spencer Suite and Town Council, Congleton Partnership and Community Projects offices.
Definition of the name Congleton & Buglawton
What does Congleton mean? The following is not definitive, but is Quite Interesting we feel!
Wikipedia says: The element ‘Congle’ could relate to the old Norse ‘kang’ meaning a bend followed by the element the Old English ‘tun’ meaning town or settlement.
The latter is almost certainly true, but a more likely meaning for ‘Congl” is, in the opinion of J Colin Jones, of Celtic origin. In late Celtic, ‘Congl’ means ‘bend’ which allows us to arrive at a reasonable definition for the name of our town:
‘Town on the Bend of the River’
It does seem plausible, doesn’t it?
Trivia: Definition of Buglawton
Congleton History Society published a book called ‘History of Congleton’ edited by W. B. Stephens in 1970. This was to celebrate the forthcoming 700th anniversary of the granting of the towns Charter in 1972.
In this, Mr Jones goes on to say, that ‘Buglawton’ again consists of two words, one being Celtic, and the other being Anglo-Saxon. The prefix ‘Bug’ (bwg) is Celtic for ghost or goblin; this survives to this day in words such as ‘bogey’ and ‘bugbear’. The ‘Lawton’ element is Anglo-Saxon for hillside settlement. Thus Buglawton could mean:
‘Ghost of Lawton’