History of Alderley Edge
Discover centuries of history of Alderley Edge. The area is home to some of the most historically significant sites in the north-west of England, from Roman mineshafts and an alert beacon to one of the oldest metal-mining sites in the country. And learn more about its legend, a mysterious tale featuring a wizard and an underground army.
The mines below Alderley Edge
Alderley Edge is the oldest known metal-mining site in England. There has been mining activity at Alderley Edge for over 4,000 years, from early in the Bronze Age right through to the early 20th century.
Various prehistoric tools such as stone hammers and mauls have been found and in the 1870s an oak shovel was discovered. It was carbon dated to around 1,750 BC.
The Engine Vein
The best concentration of prehistoric mining features is to be found at the Engine Vein. Here you can see the remains of shallow shafts cut using simple tools by prehistoric miners on the surface.
The Roman mineshaft and coins
Alderley Edge also has a Roman mineshaft, believed to date from the 1st century AD. A pot of Roman coins was found in this shaft that dates from the 4th century AD.
In 1804, James Ashton built a sail-driven mill. It was a unique, though unsuccessful, way to use wind power to crush lead ore. The foundations of this structure remain in Windmill Wood.
In the mid-19th century, the Alderley Edge Mining Company leached copper from the low-grade ore, and as a by-product produced vast amounts of sand steeped in hydrochloric acid. This was dumped in an area that became known as The Sandhills until much of it was sold in the 1960s for use in the construction industry.
The Armada Beacon
During the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Armada Beacon was used as a warning across the Cheshire Plain.
In Tudor times, beacons were built as a form of communication in chains up and down the country to act as alarm systems in case the country was invaded. They were placed on elevated positions to make them easily visible for miles around. It’s said that it took 12 hours for the news that the Spanish Armada had been sighted to travel from the south coast of England all the way to York.
The Armada Beacon at Alderley Edge was built on top of a Bronze Age ‘bowl barrow’ or burial mound and is almost the highest point of the Edge. The spot is now marked with a memorial stone at the summit.
The Legend of Alderley Edge
Since the 19th century, Alderley Edge has been associated with the legend of an underground sleeping army, guarded by the Wizard of the Edge. The legend goes like this:
'There was once a farmer who had a milk-white mare. He decided to sell it and set off to Macclesfield Fair. As he reached Alderley Edge, the horse stopped and refused to move, no matter what the farmer did. He saw an old man standing by the side of the road, holding a staff in his hand.
The old man offered to buy the horse, but the farmer refused, thinking that he would get a better price at the market. The farmer went on to Macclesfield and although everyone praised the mare nobody would buy it. The farmer set off for home.
When he arrived at Alderley Edge the old man was waiting for him. This time he did agree to sell and the old man told the farmer to follow him.
He led the farmer along many paths until they came to a big rock. He touched the rock with his staff, and the rock split open to show a pair of iron gates. The old man told the farmer not to be afraid, but to come with him. The iron gates opened, and beyond them a passage went down into the hill.
The farmer followed the old man into the hill, leading the horse, and they came to a cavern. Inside the cavern were 140 knights in silver armour and beside all but one was a white horse. The old man said that the knights were waiting to fight the last battle of the world, but they needed one more horse.
The old man took the farmer’s mare and laid it down in enchanted sleep; then he showed the farmer into another cavern, which was filled with gold and silver and precious stones. He told the farmer that he was to take as much of the treasure as he could carry.
The wizard, as the farmer now knew him to be, led him back up the passage to the iron gates. When the farmer turned round, the wizard and the gates were gone.'
– One version of the legend of Alderley Edge
The Legend of Alderley Edge provided some inspiration to Alan Garner when he wrote The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Various focal points including the Druids Circle and Engine Vein are still visible for visitors to see and are part of the Wizard Walk.
Saving Alderley Edge
Lord Stanley, a local industrialist, recognised the health benefits of visiting the countryside and enjoying fresh air. He planted several trees here, including the majestic Beech Cathedral, and opened his estate during the 1840s and 1850s so that the general public could enjoy it.
Acres of the estate were sold off in 1938. Many feared that the land would be used for housing and a campaign was launched to save the Edge. In 1946, thanks to the efforts of Cheshire Council and the Pilkington sisters, the Edge was saved from further development and over 200 acres of woodland was generously donated by the Pilkington sisters to the National Trust.
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Discover the beauty of Cheshire’s countryside on a stroll through its woodlands, see rich birdlife on its marshes and explore historical sites such as the folly at Mow Cop.