‘and thus it so happened’ The story of the Friends

A short town walk will take you past key places in the story of the Silk Museum.

Start in the Market Square. St Michael’s Church (click text for more info) hosted an exhibition of articles that had been collected by the team of ladies who had been tasked with researching the history of silk in the town.

Walk down towards Sunderland Street and look at the view beyond the railway station and the Silk Road – This was the site of the town’s swimming baths and the bath’s manager’s house. They became redundant when the Leisure Centre was opened; the Council allowed the emerging Silk Museum to use the house as office space.

Go to the Park Green end of Sunderland Street and look up at the attic windows of the house that is now occupied by an undertaker. It was once the residence and surgery of Dr John Clandillon (click text for more info) the silk memorabilia went into the attics for safe keeping when the church exhibition closed.

Now move on to Park Street where you will find the Silk Museum established in what was once the School of Art and part of the Technical College (with the grand title of “the Useful Knowledge Society”, hence the name of Weatherspoon’s pub that occupies the rest of the site.)

Go along Churchill Way and turn into Roe Street to find yourself at the Old Sunday School. The founders of the Silk Museum had saved from demolition when the Sunday School trustees could no longer afford to maintain the building and there was every likelihood that a supermarket would be built in its place.

Nicholas Winterton MP toasting the opening of the Silk Museum with Ruth Southworth, Joan Gibbs, Joyce & John Clanillon

If you feel like an extended walk, then go to the Leisure Centre, where major fund-raising events were held. Otherwise, return to the Town Hall. When the Silk Museum was coming into being, the responsibility for local government was divided between Macclesfield Borough and Cheshire County Councils. Both councils did a great deal to help the silk project forward so a respectful nod in the direction of the Town Hall would be a good way to express thanks. Sir Nicholas Winterton who, as the town’s MP, gave tremendous support to the project – and still does so in his retirement.

The Macclesfield Civic Society had long campaigned for the establishment of a silk museum in the town, but had never been able to put their ideas into effect until Margaret Thatcher came on the scene. Her government was anxious to reduce the numbers of unemployed and was particularly concerned with those who had been out of a job for some time. The Manpower Services Commission (MSC) set up various schemes. One was the project to “research the history of silk in the town and record what remained of the industry”. Employed on the task were Mary Hampton, Marjorie Latham, Maria Murtagh, Jill Norris and Lilian Swindells; it was they who presented the exhibition in St Michael’s Church.
It was John Clandillon who urged members of the Civic Society to carry on their good work. The Friends of Macclesfield Silk Heritage was set in motion and is still going strong these many years later. So, in the beginning were “The Friends” and it was they who, with the help of the Borough and County Councils, established the Silk Museum.

John Clandillon was the chairman and meetings were held in the sitting room of his house on Oxford Road. His wife, Joyce, provided tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits to keep everyone spurred on with enthusiasm. And enthusiasm was certainly needed, as there was so much to do, both physically and mentally.

A fundraising coffee morning hosted by Sue Hardern
How to raise money? A sub-committee did an enormous amount of work to organise such money-spinners as a Marks & Spencer fashion show, auctions, car boot sales, art shows, coffee mornings, a flower festival, golf tournaments, making silk articles for sale and much more. When the Sunday School and Paradise Mill came into the possession of the Silk Museum, they had to be thoroughly cleaned, and there is nothing like spending a week scrubbing stone floors to wash away the cares of one’s paid job.
It was decided early on that there should be a newsletter, and its production has continued unbroken so that you are now reading edition number 100. Friends, not necessarily committee members, went out to give talks to various groups and societies to spread the good news of the Museum. Many people have served as volunteers to help with the running of the various facets of the Silk Museum. The Friends were always concerned that the Sunday School building should be more than ‘just a museum’ but should contribute a role in the social life of the community, as it did from its foundation in the late eighteenth century; that is why they gave the building the name of ‘Heritage Centre’.

The committee in 2019 including Beryl Footman (left) and Olive Ambrose (sitting).
Olive with Peter De Figueiredo produced the first newsletters starting in the summer of 1980.
Some of the original committee members are still serving. I think that all who have served or are now serving will agree that there are times when it is exhausting, infuriating, annoying, but above all it is fun and, when one realises how much the Friends of Macclesfield Silk Heritage have contributed to the life of the town, they have reason to be proud and to be thankful to those who had the foresight, courage and enthusiasm to ensure that what the MSC started should go on and develop into a truly great organisation.

This piece is being written during the COVID 19 pandemic. This is evidence that the Friends are still alive and, yes, kicking. Today’s committee members are, like the original members, not to be deterred by setbacks. As a Friend yourself, please join them in keeping the Friends going so that, when we can all meet together safely, the Friends will be even more active and a force to be reckoned with.


Beryl Footman.