Knutsford is a Georgian market town famous for its distinctive Italianate architecture, its historic heritage and diverse range of independent shops and restaurants.
Knutsford has been home to many famous people including the author Elizabeth Gaskell who wrote Cranford and many other novels, Henry Royce the engineer who in partnership with Charles Rolls created Rolls Royce Motor Cars, Richard Hardy Watt responsible for the towns Italianate buildings, Trumpet Major Smith of Charge of the Light Brigade fame, and quite a few others. The notorious Highwayman Higgins also lived in Knutsford.
The towns Italianate buildings include the Gaskell Tower and adjoining early Council Offices now The Belle Epoque restaurant, the Ruskin Rooms and many others especially in Legh Road where Richard Hardy Watt and Henry Royce lived. The town has over 100 listed buildings including the Unitarian Church (Grade 1 listed) where Elizabeth Gaskell is buried. Also of special note is the Old Town Hall (Grade 2),the Sessions Court House (Grade 2) and St Johns Parish Church (Grade 2*).
The highlight of the year is Knutsford ‘Royal’ May Day which has been running now for 147 years. The procession winds its way through the town narrow streets finishing on the Heath where the crowning takes place. It takes place on the first Saturday in May each year when thousands of visitors descend on the town.
Knutsford Heritage Centre has an extensive archive of life in early Knutsford and a comprehensive record of Knutsford ‘Royal’ May Day and its May Queens dating from 1864.
Did You Know?
- Knutsford’s Origins were recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
- It is the childhood home of Elizabeth Gaskell who immortalised Knutsford in many of her works, particularly Cranford.
- Knutsford Royal May Day Parade has taken place every year since 1887 (with a small break during WW1 and WW2).
- Home to the Millennium Tapestry created by 3,000 members of the local community, each road, street and lane can be seen on the tapestry along with over 500 everyday scenes. The three panels measure 12 metres in total, using 53 metres of canvas, 52 miles of wool and 150 needles were used in its creation.
- Famous residents have included Henry Royce, co-founder of the Rolls Royce Motor Company.
- Knutsford’s Great Penny Farthing Race takes place every ten years. A 3 hour endurance race on all shapes and sizes of penny farthing, featuring teams and individuals from all over the world.
- Richard Harding Watt was a wealthy glove manufacturer with a great love of the northern Italian lakes. The legacy of his many buildings around the town, although slightly eccentric helps to make Knutsford the attractive market town it is today.
- America General George Patton was associated with Knutsford in 1944 when he set up HQ at nearby Peover with his troops based at Toft. He lunched with General Eisenhower at the Bells of Peover, where the table they dined at is still laid with fresh flowers today.
- “Squire” Higgins, as he was known to his friends of the local gentry, appears to have been of good birth, although much of his origin is obscure. Taking residence in Knutsford about 1756 and accepted by the community as a gentleman. Such a life enabled him to become familiar with the layout of the houses of his hosts so that at a later date he was able to sneak back for a spot of burglary. Local folklore claims ‘Highwayman’ Higgins had a tunnel running under ‘The Heath’ to hide his booty. Higgins and his wife dined with their neighbours and he hunted, fished and shot with them.
- Near the end of the 18th century Lady Jane Stanley, daughter of the 11th Earl of Derby, paid for pavements to be installed in Knutsford. She was a spinster who disapproved of any contact between men and women, even walking side-by-side. She therefore stipulated that the pavement must be so narrow that people could walk only in single file.