A return to Macclesfield, on the border that divides Cheshire from Derbyshire, always brings back many memories for me. I was born just outside the town in Bollington and we later moved to Henbury, a few miles away. Some of my earliest memories are of soldiers marching past our house, for those were the years when World War II was still being fought. I became a casualty of sorts as at the tender age of four or five (I forget which) I was knocked over by an American Jeep and afterwards saw my first banana when an American serviceman came to our house with a huge food parcel containing the exotic fruit!
My mother used to take me into town and I can still remember the delicious smell of baking bread emanating from Pimlotts bakery. That was seventy years ago when Macclesfield was still a silk town, an industry that disappeared many years ago. Macclesfield has not changed vastly in appearance over the past years and my recent visit to the Treacle Fair reminded me of days long ago.
The Treacle Fair is a fairly recent event which takes place in the centre of town in the streets around the splendid Town Hall. There are several stories as to how it came to be so named. One is that a carter hauling barrels of treacle met disaster when one fell from his cart and treacle flowed down the hilly main street. Thus Macclesfield became known as Treacle Town! Here are stalls of every description with a strong emphasis on local food. Fine cheeses, plump sausages, delicious pies and local wines are in abundance alongside numerous antique stands. I can’t resist rummaging through such places and came away with a fine old leather case. Far too heavy for taking with me on an aeroplane but ideal for storing items at home.
Outside the Town Hall a jazz band was entertaining the passers-by and it was here that I received my first surprise. When they had completed their turn one of their number approached me and I recognised him immediately. ‘Eric Newton!’ I exclaimed. Some years earlier when I was in Australia I saw a busker playing the clarinet in a shop doorway. He played exceptionally well and I stood to listen to him. When he had completed his repertoire we had a chat and he told me that for many years he had been visiting Australia in the English winter returning home in the spring. Lo and behold, here he was in Macclesfield! More about Eric in a moment.
The main reason for my visit to Macclesfield this time was to visit the Art Fair. There is a story behind that also. Some readers may remember the late Brian Redhead. Brian was prominent on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and would travel each week from Macclesfield to London, returning at the weekend to his home in the Derbyshire hills. He was a great enthusiast for the North having been editor of the Manchester Guardian and was also a patron of the East Cheshire Hospice. He invited me to open the Summer Fair for the hospice which I did and later became a patron, a position I have held for more years than I care to remember. Well, to cut a long story short, the Art Fair which was founded in 1999 generously decided to donate a proportion of the profits from sales to the hospice, and as patron I was there to thank them for this more than generous gesture. What a great exhibition it proved to be. Not only were there some lovely paintings for sale but there were many other examples of different forms of art which together formed a most impressive display. Would you believe it! When the organisers had done their sums some £57,000 was handed over to the East Cheshire Hospice. What a splendid effort by the artists and all the volunteers who organised the fair. I came away determined to return to the Art Fair again next year; to sample some more of the pies on sale in the Treacle Fair and to have another sort through the antique stalls. And as for Eric, a happy foot-tapping entertainertypical of his generosity of spirit he agreed to go into the day centre at the hospice and entertain the assembled. The East Cheshire Hospice is a cheery place and I know that he will receive a warm welcome and be hugely appreciated by both staff and patients.