Underbanks history and heritage
Last updated 27 October 2023
1. Early origins and development of the Underbanks
The Underbanks’ name comes from the lie of the land. Whilst Stockport's Market Place sits on a peninsular of high ground at a meander of the River Mersey, the Underbanks, as its name implies, lies on the lower ground.
The creation of the Great and Little Underbank roads
It is unclear exactly when the Great and Little Underbank roads were established. However, after the emergence of wheeled transport, people needed a more practical route from the steep brow to the old Roman road.
Skirting Stockport's high outcrop and using the valley of the Tin Brook offered a gentler gradient rising out of the Mersey Valley. We now call these roads the Great and Little Underbanks. For over 400 years, people have used them to carry goods and traffic to London and beyond.
The Underbanks and Market Place
The historic centre of Stockport is known as the Market Place, which is situated on a 240 million year old red sandstone cliff. This overlooks what was once an important ford over the River Mersey.
The Market Place and Underbanks area of Stockport are of great historic, architectural and archaeological interest. The area contains physical evidence, both above and below ground, of the growth and development of the Market Place from a defensive settlement to an important commercial centre from the early medieval period up to the present day.
The existing street pattern and grain of development in Stockport’s historic core has remained little altered for over 300 years. A dense concentration of historic buildings has survived and the area possesses a dramatic townscape of changing levels and memorable views and vistas.
For a detailed history of the area, read our conservation area character appraisal.
Stockport's emergence as a market town
Stockport was granted its Market Charter in 1260 and became a prosperous market town through the medieval period.
The network of roads which converged on the Market Place also connected to a nearby bridging point over the river Mersey. Lancashire Bridge, which crossed the Mersey on Bridge Street, was one of only 3 bridges along the entire length of the Mersey in the medieval period. These transport links likely contributed to Stockport's commercial success.
Stockport's early industrial development
By the 17th century, Stockport had become a centre of small domestic industries such as spinning, weaving, leather working, button making and hatting. Retail shops, stocking non-perishable goods and luxury items, grew in number whilst the market continued to thrive. It was famous for its local cheeses and cloth. The town had even given its name to a type of linen called Stopport cloth.
Stockport developed rapidly during the late 18th and 19th centuries and became one of the region's first centres of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, factories were established close to the town centre.
In 1732, the north west's first water-powered textile factory was built in the park below the Market Place. Cotton spinning, weaving and other industrial activities, notably including hat manufacture, followed.
During the 18th century, the town's many inns remained a central part of its social life and economy, with 31 inns recorded in the township in the mid-1750s. The most popular place to lodge at the time was the White Lion Hotel on Great Underbank, which was Stockport's main coaching inn and the venue for the Court Leet banquets.