Situated in the ancient Hundred of Hamestan, the town is recorded in the Domesday Book as "Maclesfeld" and in 1183 it was referred to as "Makeslesfeld". The English Place-Name Society gives its name as being derived from the Old English name, Maccel, and field, yielding the meaning "Maccel's open country".
Although "Silk Town" seems to be its preferred nickname, the traditional nickname of Macclesfield is "Treacle Town". This refers to an historical incident when a horse-drawn wagon overturned and split its load of treacle onto the street, after which the poor scooped the treacle off the road.
Macclesfield was granted a borough charter by Earl Ranulf III of Chester, in the early 13th century, and a second charter was granted by the future King Edward I, in 1261. The parish church of All Saints was built in 1278, an extension of a chapel built in approximately 1220.
The borough had a weekly market and two annual fairs: the Barnaby fair, was on St Barnabas day (11 June), the other on the feast of All Saints (1 November). In recent years the Barnaby fair has been reinvented as the Barnaby Festival, a cultural festival in mid-June. The weekly market no longer happens but on the last Sunday of each month the Treacle Market is held, a large market selling locally produced food and handmade items such as clothing, handmade goods and pottery.
Macclesfield was the administrative centre of the Hundred of Macclesfield, which occupied most of east Cheshire. The Earl of Chester's manor of Macclesfield was very large, and its boundary extended to Disley. The manor house was on the edge of the deer park, on the west of the town.