When the first people settled in Disley is not known although it is likely that Jackson’s Edge Road and Buxton Old Road formed part of the road built by the Romans to link Manchester and Buxton. The earliest evidence for settlement in Disley comes from the name “Disley”, thought to be the combination of a personal name and that for an early English word meaning a “clearing”, possibly in a wooded area. The first people to live in Disley are believed to have settled close to Disley Hall in Higher Disley. Disley is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and little is known about the village until the early 16th century although it formed part of the extensive Macclesfield Forest. In addition, there were several farmsteads in the Disley area. One was at Disley Stanley, where Disley Golf Club is situated. The cruck-framed barn from this farm, erected in either the 15th or early 16th centuries, is still in existence today and used by the Golf Club groundsmen.
In 1524, Sir Piers Legh of Lyme Hall built and endowed a small chantry chapel in the village after the death of his wife. The chapel, later to become St Mary’s Church, was consecrated in 1524, thus providing the village with its own place of worship. Previously, it had been necessary to walk to Stockport to attend church. As the population grew in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the original building proved to be too small and so extensive rebuilding took place in the 1820s and 1830s. Most of the original structure was destroyed, only the tower remaining from the original building.
Around 1640, the facilities of the village were enhanced with the construction of the Ram’s Head Inn, that was to become an important coaching inn on the road between Manchester and Buxton with a good reputation for its food and hospitality. The present building dates from 1840, when it was not only a coaching inn, but also a place where visitors could stay to sample the delights of the Peak District. With the arrival of the railway in 1857, the Ram’s Head lost its coaching trade, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became a popular venue for those visiting the area to enjoy scenery around Disley. The other popular place for visitors at the end of the 19th century, was the Ring o’ Bells, which had become a coffee tavern in 1850 after losing its license to sell alcohol.
In the century following the construction of the Ram’s Head, England went through a period of unrest, but appears to have had little effect on Disley. Of more importance was the changing status of the main road through the village. In 1724, the Manchester to Buxton road became a turnpike road and was gradually improved. In the early 19th century, the original line of the road along Jacksons Edge Road and Buxton Old Road was re-routed to the present line of the A6, making the journey as far as Whaley Bridge less of a challenge to horse drawn traffic.
The opening of the Peak Forest Canal in 1797 brought the era of modern bulk transport to Disley. This encouraged the development of industry including Waterside Cotton Mill. In the early years of the 19th century the village grew rapidly with many of the new comers being employed at the mill. The mill survived the problems of the Cotton Famine between 1862 and 1865 but its location, relying on water transport to get its raw materials to the mill and the yarn to market meant that it could not compete with rivals in the large towns. By 1890, the cotton mill had ceased production and in its place a paper mill had opened up, an industry which is still carried on today at Waterside.
When the first census was taken, Disley had 995 residents. By 1851 it had reached 2225 and in 1881 the census reported that there were 3312 inhabitants. As a result of boundary changes, when part of Newtown was taken over by New Mills, the population fell to 2260 in 1891. However, the population had started to recover and, with new housing development taking place in the 1960s and 1970s, reached 4600 in 2001.
The 1820s and 1830s saw further changes in the village. Thanks to the generosity of the Leghs and the Orfords, a school room was built in the centre of the village in 1825, which was extended in 1837 to include an infants’ department. These buildings continued to serve as the village school until 1911 when the school moved to a new building, with facilities more suited to the demands of early 20th century educational requirements. The Orfords also generously donated the Fountain in Fountain Square to provide the village with clean water. The stone for the fountain came from a quarry on Jackson’s Edge Road.
By the middle of the 19th century, the railway network was spreading throughout the country. The first proposals for a line were made in 1852 and in the following year, the Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge Railway was authorised by Parliament. Work on constructing the line started in 1854 and by the summer of 1857 it opened as far as Whaley Bridge, reaching Buxton in 1863. The arrival of the railway provided Disley with a fast, reliable link to Manchester, although initially the trains were irregularly spaced throughout the day and catered for the businessman rather than the average traveller. A second railway line was built through Disley in 1902 by the Midland Railway Company but for most of its length in Disley it is in a tunnel, the vents of which can be seen on the golf course.
The last few years of the 19th century saw further changes in the village. Apart from the boundary changes in the 1880s, Disley became a rural district council within Cheshire in 1894, bringing with it a certain amount of self-government for the village. Disley lost its status as a rural district council when local government was reorganised in 1974, the village becoming part of Macclesfield, although it did retain some independence with the creation of Disley Parish Council.
As the population grew, Disley also began to have more facilities for its residents. A horticultural society had been in existence since the middle of the 19th century. 1889 saw the establishment of Disley Golf Club, which was followed eleven years later by the formation of Disley Amalgamated Club. By 1902, the village had not only permanent police presence, but also its own volunteer fire brigade.
It was during the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century that new housing began to be erected close to the station to cater for the increasing number of people who wanted to live in the country, yet be able to travel into Manchester to work. Gradually, the commuter began to settle in Disley, but it was not until the 1960s and 1970s, with the construction of houses on Chantry Road and Ridgeway, that the commuter population rapidly increased, encouraged by a regular train service and the growing level of car ownership which made people less dependent on public transport.
The history of Disley is a long and varied one. Beginning as an agricultural village, it became a village whose residents were employed in the cotton industry as well as in agriculture. Gradually, as the village became more residential, services began to develop to meet the needs of those who had made their homes in the village. In the 20th century, Disley has become a commuter village with many of its residents travelling to work in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Derbyshire. It is a village whose history is not always obvious but, for those who take the trouble to look for it, Disley’s history is a fascinating one that deserves to be better known.
For those who want to discover more about the history of Disley, there are several books available in Disley Library.
History of Disley. 1903
“Disley, the story of a village”. Susan Marshall. 1954
“Disley Ancient and Modern”. Susan Marshall. 1967
“Disley Remembered”. McCaldon, Pashley and Taylor. 1986
Township pack No 13. Disley. Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service. 1991.
“The story of our church: St Mary’s Disley”. 1987
“Disley 1907”. Old OS maps (Godfrey edition). Notes by C E Makepeace
“New Mills Newtown”. Old OS maps (Godfrey edition). Notes by D Brumhead