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Macclesfield was the centre of the silk weaving industry in Britain for many years, renowned for the skill of its designers and for its richly patterned woven fabrics. Charles Roe (1715-1781) built the town’s first water-powered mill in 1774 and his entrepreneurship was the making of Macclesfield.
The Silk Town story unfolds across three of Macclesfield’s historic buildings, each within walking distance of the other, with costume and textile displays, working handlooms, interactive exhibits, video shows and guided visits.
The Silk Museum, Park Lane Galleries
This building was once The Macclesfield School of Art built in 1877 to train designers for the silk industry. It now houses collections of fabric and costumes, thousands of original pattern books, photographs of historic Macclesfield and a specialist textile reference library. Here you can delve into the world of silk production, design, weaving, dyeing and embroidery. The museum even has its own silk worms!
History of the Macclesfield School of Art
Art education in Macclesfield began in 1833 with the provision of evening classes for the benefit of the town's working population. Building on the success of these early classes the Useful Knowledge Society was formed in 1835 and continued to provide art education with the support of local manufacturers and benefactors. In 1851 the Macclesfield School of Design was opened in rooms rented from the Useful Knowledge Society on Park Green and by 1873 the school had trained 77 designers and 145 weavers. By 1879 the school had grown into the Macclesfield School of Art & Science, with its own purpose-built premises. It established an excellent reputation for training designers and by the turn of the century it was one of the top art schools in the country.
The Silk Museum, Paradise Mill
The mill was built in c. 1860 and was weaving silk right up until 1981. One of Macclefield’s most popular attractions, the atmospheric exhibitions and room settings have been set to illustrate life in Paradise Mill in the 1930s.
Knowledgeable guides demonstrate the intricate processes of weaving, using one of the 26 restored Jacquard handlooms. The tie silk made on such looms was some of the finest ever made in Macclesfield.
From this mill speciality ties were sent to America, labelled 'Pure Silk, made in Macclesfield, England and imported in the Queen Mary' .
The Heritage Centre
The Heritage Centre, a grade II listed building located in Roe St, at the heart of Macclesfield’s town centre, provides a focus for community and cultural events. Originally a Sunday School, erected by voluntary contributions to provide both a place of worship and an educational establishment, it was here that children employed in the Silk Industry received the only formal education available to them at the time.
The Silk Museum Heritage Centre Galleries
The Silk Museum within the Heritage Centre follows the story of silk from its origins in China, along the silk route to Britain and its establishment in Macclesfield.
An award winning audio-visual presentation tells of the development of the industry in the town from the perspective of various people involved in the silk industry.
Costumes, textiles and accessories from both the 19th and 20th centuries help to show how silk is used for some of the most important occasions in both the social calendar and family life.
On the ground floor, the Mulberry Tree Café is a lovely place to stop at any time of the day, for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or a glass of wine before a concert or film in the evening.
Music and Film at the Heritage Centre
The Heritage Centre houses a lovely, atmospheric 400 seater auditorium, which attracts a range of musical events from chamber music to jazz. The galleried hall is home to the renowned Northern Chamber Orchestra, Macclesfield Music Society , the independent Cinemac film theatre showing the latest movies and the Silk Screen Film Society. Check their websites for details of forthcoming events.