Follow the brown signs
The Olympic torch makes another of it’s classic higgedly piggeldy journies today from Stoke-on-Trent to Bolton, including an eastward detour via Macclesfield (where I once sat in a KwikFit for 5 hours while my car exhaust got replaced after it fell off rather dramatically while ascending a steep hill in the peak district, not exactly the fondest of memories of Macclesfield I’m afraid).
Just up the road from Macclesfield though is Knutsford, somewhere I didn’t have the pleasure of visiting but from the sounds of it I’d happily have spent 5 hours. The town was recorded in the Doomsday Book and has what looks like the highest concentration of arts shops, galleries and antique shops anywhere in the UK. The town gets its name from the Danish King Canute who allegedly forded a river near here during the time he was caning it around western Europe and becoming king everywhere he went in the 10th Century.
The first brown signed destination to catch my attention was The Heritage Centre located right in the centre of town in a 17th century timber framed building known as Mugrave’s Yard, which over the years was used as a tinsmiths, ironmongers and braziers yard. The site was abandoned when ironmonger Musgrave went out of business and the yard fell into disrepair. However in 1988 funding and plans from GroundWork revitalised and preserved the yard and now the heritage centre exists to celebrate all things Knutsford. They organise events, exhibitions and activities on a variety of subjects by and for local people. Visitors can look around the museum and learn about the history of the town, including the unique Knutsford celebrations on May Day every year where the May Pole and May Queen traditions still reign supreme. The town also has a custom of “sanding the streets” every May bank holiday where coloured sand is sprinkled on the pavements and decorates the streets. Visitors can also book themselves onto a guided walk and get shown round by someone who knows the area inside out (and aren’t the people who want to share their knowledge with us just the most inspiring people ever?).
The really unique thing about the heritage centre though is that they have a rather amazing tapestry on show called The Knutsford Millennium Tapestry. This unbelievably detailed and beautiful woolly artwork is the combined effort of 3000 local people and was embroidered over the course of 4 years. It was a millennium project to record every inch of Knutsford through the medium of stitch. Over 53 miles of wool was used in its making and the whole tapestry stretches some 40 feet long. Every road, house, pub and zebra crossing has been mapped and over 500 everyday scenes are depicted in the minutest of detail, from children playing and mums chatting (ahhhh) to road workers filling holes in the road and tankers filling petrol pumps (accurate if not romantic). An excellent interactive tool where you can get an idea of how amazing it is without actually going and seeing it yourself is here.
When I spoke to the lovely lady, Val, at the heritage centre she told me that the tapestry is sadly not on display at the moment as it was found to be infested with carpet beetle. The larvae of these carpet beetles are commonly known as “woolly bear” (enormous and scary sounding larvae to me) which slowly eat through fabric, destroying it as they go. The only remedy for this was to take it down and put it in an industrial deep freeze for 3 weeks to make sure the larvae were properly dead and gone, then start the painstaking work to restore the tapestry. The appeal for the work to be carried out is called The Stitch in Time and anyone can donate to help restore this important and unique local work.
An impressive find along my alternative torch relay via the brown signs on Britain I think you’ll agree. I love big dedicated efforts to pull lots of people and communities together and when those efforts produce a unique artistic masterpiece then I like it even more. Well done the people of Knutsford, I wish you all the very best in your fundraising and fun at your clearly amazing May Day celebrations (I envy you, there’s never any Maypoles or sandy streets in Bromley let me tell you).