Historically in Cheshire, the town lies along the Peak Forest Canal, containing the Marple Lock Flight and Marple Aqueduct. The Roman Lakes to the southeast of the town centre attracts anglers and walkers. Marple is served by two railway stations, Marple and Rose Hill, providing access to the rail network in Greater Manchester and beyond. It is also close by the Middlewood Way, a cycle path following the former Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple Railway line south from Rose Hill to Macclesfield.
The first reference to Marple in written history was to Merpel, believed to be derived from the Old English maere pill, meaning "The stream at the boundary".
Scientists estimate that the earliest residents of the area settled several millennia ago. There are clues to their existence around the Ludworth area where there are standing stones and tumuli. This was confirmed around 1998 when an archaeological dig in Mellor revealed many clues about the existence of Marple's earliest residents.
The area was predominantly within the Macclesfield Forest, and was omitted from the Domesday Book survey. The first mention of the area was in 1122 in a deed for the sale of land. In 1220 the land passed to the Vernon family where it remained for several generations. The pre-Industrial Revolution inhabitants of the village mostly worked on small farms and others specialised in linen weaving and hatting. After 1790, Samuel Oldknow transformed much of this lifestyle, with the construction of lime kilns and mills. This formed part of the Industrial Revolution. The population of the village began to rise with the construction of terraces to house mill workers and the formation of a village centre filled with private businesses.
Samuel Oldknow also played a large role in the development of the town in addition to his mills; there is still a street named Oldknow Road in Marple today. He built workers' cottages and churches, introduced aspen trees to the area, and assisted in the constructions of the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals. Marple Aqueduct, which opened in 1800, carries the Peak Forest Canals over the River Goyt, was designed by Benjamin Outram, a pioneer in the building of canals and tramways. Seven men lost their lives during its construction. Samuel Oldknow died in 1828; his mill was destroyed by fire in 1892. These navigations accelerated Marple's growth, but eventually declined into disrepair when the railway arrived in 1865. They have since been restored for use by leisure narrowboats, now forming part of the Cheshire Ring.