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Whaley Bridge is a small town and civil parish in the High Peakmarker district of Derbyshiremarker, England, situated on the River Goytmarker. Whaley Bridge is approximately south of Manchestermarker, north of Buxtonmarker ( ), east of Macclesfieldmarker and west of Sheffieldmarker, and had a population of 6,226 at the 2001 census. This includes the village of Furness Valemarker, which falls within the boundaries of Whaley Bridge. Other districts of 'Whaley', as it is known locally, include Horwich End ( ), Bridgemont ( ), Fernilee ( ) Stoneheads and Taxal. The town attracts walkers and tourists because of its natural beauty - waterways, woodlands and attractive hills.


The canal basin in Whaley Bridge on a summer's day
There is evidence of prehistoric activity in the area, including early Bronze Age standing stones, burial sites and the remains of a stone circle. A bronze-age axe head was discovered in 2005. There has long been speculation that the 'Roosdyche', a complex of banks and ditches on the eastern side of the town, is of prehistoric human origin, but investigations in 1962 concluded that it was formed by glacial meltwater.

The name of Weyley or Weylegh appears in many 13th-century documents and is derived from the Anglo Saxon weg leah meaning a clearing by the road. In 1351 the lands of Weyley and Yeardsley were granted to William Joddrell for his faithful service to Edward, the Black Prince. In the fourteenth century, it housed the residence of William Jauderell and his descendants (the name also spelt Jodrell). The Jodrells continued to call their lands Yeardsley Whaley for centuries and when the first local government board was formed in 1863 and the area became an urban district, the town adopted its popular name of Whaley Bridge and the town has been called so ever since.

The River Goytmarker formed the historical boundary between Derbyshiremarker and Cheshiremarker. The present town of Whaley Bridge was divided into smaller towns in both counties. Historical records show that in 1316 on the Cheshire side there were Taxal, Yeardsley and Whaley with the last two being combined into one district of 'Yeardsley-cum-Whaley'. The Derbyshire side consisted only of Fernilee which included the villages of Shallcross and Horwich. This side was in the Parish of Hopemarker and was part of the Forest of High Peakmarker, while the Cheshire side was part of the Forest of Macclesfieldmarker. From 1796 Taxal and Yeardsley were effectively joined in that the Jodrell family was the main landowner in both towns, although the administration of these remained separate until 1936.

Up until the late nineteenth century the population of the area grew slowly. For example in the Diocesan census in 1563, Taxal is recorded as having 26 households, and by the mid-18th century Taxal and Yeardsley together only reached 55 households. In 1791 land at Whaley Bridge was advertised for sale, the owner believing that its waterpower would be useful in the textile industry, but the two townships remained very small and only had a population of 853 between them by 1841. Up to this time agriculture and coal-mining had been the main occupations.

The town expanded greatly in the Industrial Revolution and the population almost trebled to 2322 people. Although there had been coal-mines from earlier times, by 1871 cotton mills had become the dominant industry. Coal-mining took place in the area from its very early days because of a large geographical fault which traverses the Whaley Bridge basin from east to west resulting in the coal outcropping in various places. Documentary evidence of 1587 indicates a well-established coal industry in the "Towneshepp of Weley" known today as Whaley Bridge. Today, there is less intensive agriculture labour and there is no coal-mining in the area.

Whaley Bridge continues to expand as new housing is built, but it retains the character of a small town. As the self-styled 'Gateway to the Goyt' it attracts tourists, mainly walkers, but it has not become dominated by the tourist industry, unlike some other local towns and villages. With a good commuter railway service to Manchestermarker many people travel to work in Greater Manchestermarker or in Cheshiremarker. With the introduction of ADSL broadband internet services increasingly people work from home.

The town has been twinned with Tymbarkmarker, Poland since June 1994.

Cromford and High Peak Railway

The Cromford and High Peak Railway was granted Parliamentary consent in 1825. It was fully opened for passenger and goods traffic on 6 July 1831. The railway linked the wharf at the head of the Whaley Bridge Branch of the Peak Forest Canalmarker to the Cromford Canalmarker at Cromford Wharfmarker. It had seven inclined planes, the first being situated within the town of Whaley Bridge itself. Unlike the other six inclined planes, which were operated by stationary steam engines, this one was operated by a horse-driven gin, which remained operational until 9 April 1952. This plane was much shorter than the others, being only 180 yards (165 m) long and rising at 1:13.5. Approach to the top of the plane was under a very low bridge and, because of this, waggons had to be hauled to and from the top of the plane by horses.

Horses also worked the bottom section of the line and the tracks ran onto a wharf and into two mills. Another notable feature on the bottom section is an iron bridge that carries the line across the River Goytmarker.

Peak Forest Canal

The Peak Forest Canal and basin were built in the 1790s and opened on 1 May 1800. An important building at the head of the Peak Forest Canal was the Transhipment Warehouse, built in 1832. In this building goods and minerals were transferred to and from the many working canal boats servicing local industry. The building straddles the head of the Canal which is fed by Combs, Derbyshiremarker Combs and Toddbrook Reservoirsmarker to the south.

A new joint project between British Waterways and several Whaley Bridge community groups to bring this important building back to life, and to serve as a centre of the Whaley Bridge community, was envisaged in 2007 and is the subject of a grant application to The East Midlands Development Agency under their Waterways Regeneration Funding offer in 2008.


Local government

Whaley Bridge is a civil parish with the status of a town. At the lowest level of local government is Whaley Bridge Town Council, consisting of 12 councillors. Three councillors are elected for each of the four wards of Fernilee, Furness Vale, Taxal and Yeardsley.

The next tier of local government is High Peak Borough Council. Whaley Bridge constitutes one of the borough's 28 wards. It returns 3 of the 43 borough councillors. At the last council elections in May 2007, two Liberal Democrat and one independent councillor were elected.

The top tier of local administration is the 64-member Derbyshire County Council. The town is included in the electoral division of Whaley Bridge and Blackbrook, electing one county councillor.

Civic history

The township of Yeardsley-cum-Whaley, Cheshire, was part of the ancient parish of Taxal. The township adopted the Local Government Act 1858 and formed a local board to govern the town. Under the Local Government Act 1894 this became Yeardsley-cum-Whaley Urban District. On the Derbyshire side of the Goyt, the parish of Fernilee was included in Chapel en le Frith Rural District. In 1936 a county review order merged the urban district with the built-up part of Fernilee to form Whaley Bridge Urban District, with the new district placed in Derbyshire.

In 1974 the Local Government Act 1972 came into force, abolishing all urban and rural districts in England and Wales, and replacing them with non-metropolitan districts. Whaley Bridge became part of the district of High Peak, with a successor parish formed for the area of the urban district. The parish council resolved that Whaley Bridge should have the status of a town.


The town has two primary schools, Whaley Bridge Primary School and Taxal and Fernilee Church of England Primary School, although for secondary education children travel further afield, typically to Chapel-en-le-Frithmarker, New Millsmarker, Hope Valleymarker, Buxtonmarker, Macclesfieldmarker or Stockportmarker.

Religious sites

The Church of England parish of Whaley Bridge has two churches. St James, Taxal stands on a site a mile from the town centre and was established in the twelfth century. Parts of the tower may date back to that time, although much of the church was rebuilt in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Holy Trinity, Fernilee was established near the town centre in 1905. Parts of the town are included in the Cheshire parish of St John Disley, and are served by the Church of St John the Divine, Furness Vale.

The Roman Catholic Church of The Sacred Heart, Whaley Lane, serves the parish of Whaley Bridge and Disley.

The United Reformed Church and Methodists formed a local ecumenical partnership, the "Whaley Bridge Uniting Partnership" in 1983, subsequently joined by the Baptists. The Partnership has three places of worship: Whaley Bridge Uniting Church, Fernilee Methodist Church and Kettleshulme Chapel.

The Good News Church is an evangelical church based in the Gospel Hall, Old Road.

Whaley Hall is a large detached Victorian house near Toddbrook Reservoir. Since 1979 it has been a retreat house and conference centre run by the "Community of the King of Love": an ecumenical community of men and women.

Festivals and traditions

Whaley Bridge has an annual carnival week during which the 'Whaley Water Weekend', started at the Millennium, is followed by traditional well dressing and terminates with the popular 'Rose Queen procession' in June each year.The Water Weekend (W3) initially started out as a minor community event based directly on the canal basin. In 2009 the tenth W3 Weekend was held. The event attracted 1,400 visitors and included short canal boat rides and a heritage trip with commentary to Bugsworth Basinmarker. As of November 2009 the future of the event is in doubt. The weekend W3 is followed by the well dressing, in which local wells are decorated at the end of a week of hard work by local people with large collages of fresh flowers. The events are terminated with The Rose Queen procession where groups of local young people from the town parade around the area in their finery and on decorated floats.

The annual event of switching on the Christmas tree lights by the chair of the Town Council is accompanied by seasonal music from members of Whaley Bridge Brass Band early in December. Father Christmas traditionally arrives by canal boat and processes to the Mechanics' Institute accompanied by his helpers. Businesses put up their contribution to Christmas decorations by way of small fir trees and small bright lights over their shop fronts.

Notable residents

Literary references

Whaley Bridge features in the novel The Manchester Man (1876) by Isabella Banks.

See also

In the travel section of The Sunday Telegraph, a headline article 'My Top Ten Train Trips' by Tony Robinson writes of the Manchester to Derby journey, "It is not a trip to do all in one go; stop off at the dramatic little town of Whaley Bridge and have a stroll around the historic Peak Forest Canal Basin".


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