Chapter IV from "Bygone Altrincham" by Chas Nickson, 1935, pages 35-42.
We shall now attempt to describe Altrincham as it was in 1800, and for most of the information upon which we found the story, we are indebted to the late Mr. John Balshaw, a well-known tradesman, born in the early part of the nineteenth century. He was at one time postmaster, and his close and intimate knowledge of local topography gives his outline a special and peculiar interest and its authenticity is beyond question. The little town, in Mr. Balshaw's day, consisted of two parts, one distinguished as Higher Town and the other as Lower Town. In the Higher Town were the Market Place and the three streets leading into it-Church Street, High Street (now known as Market Street, and Well Lane a narrow thoroughfare of ancient cottages, which at a later period adopted the name of Victoria Street. Lower Town mainly comprised George Street and the few cottages that straggled into Chapel Walks, and on towards the Downs. At this time George Street, which was destined to become one of the principal thoroughfares, was no more than a narrow lane of cobbles bounded by a few thatched cottages of wattle and daub, two or three farmsteads and a number of market gardens. The Axe and Cleaver Hotel, then a homely country tavern, lay at the bottom of the hill up which one climbed to the Market Place. Close by the front of the inn, ran a stream, which emptied itself into a still wider brook on Hale Moss not far from the spot where, when the railway from Manchester was constructed in later years, the present level crossing was laid. The tiny stream was known in the vernacular as " Th' Gutter," and if one ventured to cross the stream from the Higher to the Lower Town, he was said to have gone "O'er th' Gutter." Moreover, there was a wide diversity in the characteristics and customs of the two localities, and a sharp line of distinction was drawn between them. The Higher Town was the proud dwelling-place of the professional and prosperous trading classes, who, it was said, affected a somewhat lofty and superior air towards their humble neighbours on the other side of the stream. Their Georgian houses in Market Street had a solid and substantial appearance and they were often alluded to as "Quality Corner," which was no doubt a tribute to their exclusive and opulent air and a friendly recognition of the social standing of the residents in this pleasant and peaceful quarter.
The ground on which Stamford Street (now known as Kingsway) was shaped in the middle part of the century, fell steeply to the stream at the foot and then went by the name of Hollow Bank. On the opposite side of the stream in George Street, were several houses with gardens, all of which were removed in 1881 to give a direct means of approach to the new railway station. Hollow Bank dropped into George Street at a right angle and was so full of peril to both pedestrians and horse drivers, that many of its dangerous features were cleared away as opportunity offered. On the right side of the Hollow, where big shops were subsequently built, was a bobbin turner's shop side by side with a small bakehouse to which the villagers used to convey their home-made bread. Above the Hollow, on the left side, was the entrance to Market Street. At the corner where, about 1880, a new Post Office was put up, were three cottages, and adjoining them was the tall and somewhat dignified house of red brick owned by Mr. William D. Nicholls, of the legal firm of Nicholls, Worthington and Harrop.
Next to the house of Mr. Nicholls was a school for young ladies, conducted by Mr. Herford, grandfather of the Rev. Brooke Herford, Unitarian Minister. Adjoining it was the residence of Mr. Hugo Worthington, solicitor. This was taken down in 1890, and the site, together with the spacious garden, whose boundary wall formed one side of Shaw's Lane, was utilised for building purposes. A new street (High Street) was constructed to connect Market Street with George Street and the whole of the adjacent land was rapidly absorbed by the builder. Market Street, at the time of which we are writing, did not extend beyond the present estate offices of the Earl of Stamford, where it turned abruptly into Dunham Road.
Where the new Market Hall now stands cattle were pastured and crops of grain were gathered. Opposite to the corner where now stand the Estate Offices, was the fine residence of Mr. Samuel Holker Norris, whose French windows opened on to a smooth-shaven lawn and an ornamental garden of great beauty in the summer. Several thatched cottages stood between Mr. Norris' house and Dunham Road -a quaint survival of old Altrincham. A portion of Mr. Norris' house and part of his garden were swept away in 1880 when Market Street was continued to Regent Road. The old cottages remained until 1899, when they were pulled down to permit of the erection of a new Town Hall by the Altrincham District Council. The cottages were some of those referred to by Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak. In that famous work the novelist describes the journey of Julian Peveril from Liverpool to Derbyshire, and says :-" At length near Altringham, a halt became unavoidable, and a place of refreshment presented itself in the shape of a small cluster of cottages, the best of which united the characters of an ale-house and a mill, where the sign of the Cat (the landlord's faithful ally in defence of his meal sacks) booted high as Grimalkin in the fairy tale, and playing the fiddle for the more grace, announced that John Whitecroft united the two honest occupations of landlord and miller; and doubtless took toll for the public in both capacities. Such a place promised a traveller who journeyed incognito safer, if not better accommodation than he was likely to meet with in more frequented inns; and at the door of the Cat and Fiddle, Julian halted accordingly."
The cottages were then on the fringe of the Market Place and would be the first habitations to meet the eye of the traveller on his entrance to the town from the main highway. The Cat and Fiddle was only another name for the Red Lion Inn, an old-fashioned hostelry in the Market Place, and it was no doubt in this quiet lodging place that Julian spent the night. The row of old cottages referred to stood opposite to the present offices of the Earl of Stamford, and they were not removed until the site was required for the new Town Hall and a Fire Station when they, as well as the remaining portion of Mr. Norris' picturesque house, with its walled orchard, disappeared. The offices now occupied by the Earl of Stamford were in 1835, the headquarters of the noted firm of Nicholls, Worthington and Harrop, solicitors (now Messrs. Nicholls, Lindsell and Harris). On the same side was an eighteenth century house which eventually became the home of the Local Board of Health and, more recently still, the habitation of the Catholic Institute. Several shops of modest shape, one or two of which still remain, also formed part of this side of the street. One of them was used as the Post Office. Dunham Road had not then been cut through into the Market Place, and what is now the throat of that great avenue of traffic, was the site of the Waggon and Horses Hotel-in its time of no mean repute. It was a plain, flat-fronted building, unimposing in appearance but renowned for the liberality and solidity of its old-English fare.
Here the blast of the horn of the Chester coach used to be heard every morning at seven o'clock as it drew up for a change of horses on its way from Manchester. The inn was also a favourite billeting place for soldiers, who in those far-off times frequently marched through Altrincham. Next to the Waggon and Horses was the grocery establishment of Mr. John Barrett, and between it and the Unicorn Hotel was a row of private houses and shops. The Unicorn was a place of importance as a posting station, and every morning its postillions in red jackets, laced hats, white plush breeches, brown top boots and spurs were to be found waiting for travellers. In 1851, Mr. James Byrom established an important drapery business in a shop whose site is now covered by the imposing premises of Lloyd's Banking Company. His partner was Mr. John Brownell, of Stockport, and the business was carried on under the style of Byrom and Company. The partnership continued until 1862, and in March, 1868, the business was transferred to new premises in Stamford Street which were built from plans prepared by the late Mr. Peter Pons. When direct communication between Market Place and Dunham Road was subsequently made the old shop and the Waggon and Horses Inn were taken down. In the public life of the town, Mr. Byrom took an active part, and besides occupying a seat on the Local Board, he served the ratepayers for several years in the capacity of guardian. He was Mayor of Altrincham in 1880, and remained in business until his death in February, 1886, when he was succeeded by his son, Mr. John William Byrom, by whom the best traditions of an old established and well managed house were maintained. Mr. Byrom was for many years the honorary secretary of the Literary Institute, and on the transfer of the institution to the Local Board, in 1893, he became a member of the Free Library and Technical Instruction Committee. He filled the office of Mayor in 1900-01, and on the 3rd August, 1901, with the burgesses of the Court Leet, had the honour of extending a public welcome to the Lord Mayor of London and the Sheriffs of the City of London, on the occasion of their visit to Altrincham for the purpose of laying the foundation stone of a proposed extension of the Linotype Company's works. In passing, we may note that Mr. Byrom's business premises were the first in Altrincham to be lighted by electricity.
The construction of Dunham Road and its connection with the Market Place, besides effecting a radical topographical change opened up a large area of land for building purposes. A site was obtained on the spot occupied by Mr. Byrom's shop, by Messrs. Cunliffes, Brooks and Co., for the erection of a bank, and here sprang up a noble structure in the black and white style of architecture from the designs of Mr. George Truefitt, of London. Other changes quickly followed. The land on the opposite side of the road was secured by the late Mr. James Southern, for many years Registrar of the County Court, and here he erected a pile of offices. Just across the road was a private dwelling-house, set in a fair garden adjoining the business premises of Messrs. Bowden and Parkes. This was pulled down in 1878, in order to make way for the new Post Office and several imposing shops, which the late Sir William Cunliffe Brooks felt to be more suited to the growing needs of the increasing population. Lower down, the late Mr. W. H. Parkes also built a fine block of shop property, which still remains as a striking testimony to his energy and enterprise. Among other changes which may be noted as the result of the opening out of Dunham Road, were the erection of the new police offices and court room, and on the opposite side of the spacious premises of Messrs. I. T. and J. Gaskarth, wine and spirit merchants, whose connection with the Market Place dates back for more than a century and a half.