Wednesday, 18 May 2022



The very beginnings of a true Community Project in Middlewich. This triangular bed is the basis for a floral tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee in June.  The floral feature is being constructed at the URC in Queen Street, Middlewich. All building materials have been kindly donated by the local branch of JEWSON.

We'll be bringing you updates over the coming days and weeks as members of the local community step in to do their part and the  project develops.

Many thanks to:

Tim Rice of Jewson.

Middlewich URC.

The Middlewich Crazy Daisies:
Denise Appleton
Katie Mulhern

Special thanks to Kevin Appleton for his specialist construction skills.

Project Co-ordinator: Lynne Hardy

Friday, 13 May 2022

THE LIME BEDS by Frank Smith



by David Roberts, Editor.

The Middlewich limebeds, seen by most people as a large embankment alongside Booth Lane and the Trent & Mersey Canal, have long been a source of interest and speculation for the people of the town. They provide a very unusual environment, quite unlike anywhere else in the town, and many people have, over the years, wondered if that weird and wonderful man-made world could, in some way, be used to the advantage of locals, for wildlife conservation and as an area for leisure pursuits (it has, of course, long been used unofficially for the latter purpose).

The trouble with that idea, of course, is that an unstable mixture of chemical waste, coke and cinders, together with the salt waste contributed by British Salt, is hardly the kind of basis most would consider suitable for a picnic area.

More radical ideas have also been proposed for the limebeds over the years, including their complete removal to form yet another site for new housing. The area's proximity to the Trent & Mersey Canal has raised dreams of marinas, waterside restaurants and the like.

But - if you were to remove all those thousands of tonnes of waste, where would you put them? And just how hazardous would it be to do it? And what would happen to the flora and fauna which lives in the area?

Some refer to this area as the 'salt lagoons', a reference to the fact that when British Salt opened to the South of the site in 1969, the lime beds were used for the dumping of waste from the salt making process. This dumping commenced sometime after 1973.  Instead of pipelines British Salt used dumper trucks to transfer its waste to the limebeds, which necessitated the bulldozing of the original rather picturesque path through the site into something resembling a road.

The 'Jubilee Train' referred to by Frank was a small diesel (or petrol) driven loco hauling tiny dumper trucks which tipped clinker, cinders, ash and 'lime mud' over the edge of the limebeds, strengthening those walls as it went. Particularly memorable to me as the train was driven by my 'Uncle' Amos Hodgkinson. Sadly I only saw the train and the little railway after it had fallen into disuse.

You'll note that, from time to time, Frank refers to aspects of the lagoons which 'may be of interest to British Salt'. Possibly at the time the article was written, the company was assessing the lime beds for future use?

Poppityjohns in 1973, before the British Salt bulldozers changed it forever. In the background can be seen, on the left,  No 1, The Villa, in Cledford Lane, the home of the Farrington family at that time. To its right is the British Salt works, then only four years old. The brick chimney was part of Steventon's Pottery Works, later Ideal Standard, which was on the site now occupied by the ANSA waste recycling depot.

In fact, 'lagoon' is the correct term, and one that Frank uses in his article. 

The Griffith's Road Lagoons at Lostock, near Northwich, are still in use and still used for their original purpose. There have, over the years, been other limebeds in Middlewich. which is inevitable when you think of the various chemical works there have been here over the years. For instance, there was, up until the late 1970s, one in Brooks Lane, close by the three locks. There are (or were) also limebeds at the former ICI works at Winnington.

The public footpath which runs through the limebeds is known as 'Poppityjohns', a name whose origins are unknown, though it's thought that it may be a corruption of 'Poverty Johns' or possibly 'Property Johns', a reference to someone who once owned the land.

 If you want to establish your real Middlewich credentials, just tell everyone you're going for a walk 'across Pops'.

 In the early 1970s, when ERF Ltd established its service centre on part of the old ICI site and turned the northern end of Poppityjohns into the ghastly 'Road Beta' (an address they never actually used), Middlewich UDC Surveyor Donald Stubbs, who was a great upholder of Middlewich tradition, insisted on erecting a sign at the foot of the limebeds with the original name on it. The sign was only there for a short time, so we're lucky to have a photo of it.

The short-lived Poppityjohns sign in 1973. Does it still exist somewhere? The limebeds are in the background, and the public footpath can be seen climbing up to the left. The fence belongs to ERF's Service Centre which had been built on part of the ICI site two years earlier.

Frank Smith, of Ravenscroft, was a great source of information on the local salt and chemical industries, having spent most of his working life at ICI.

He was a member of the Middlewich Heritage Society and wrote many articles on Middlewich for them, including this one from 1996.

Frank himself describes it as 'a paper' and it's in the tradition of such dissertations, assuming that the intended audience has at least a little knowledge of the subject. There are some technical matters which may go over the heads of many of us. However, it's very accessible and answers many questions about this fascinating part of Middlewich. Additional information, in brackets, comes from my own (limited) knowledge.

If you should fancy following in Frank's footsteps and taking a look at the limebeds as they are today, please remember that this article was written twenty six years ago and in it Frank is remembering even earlier times. Much has changed. In particular, as can be seen from our title photo from Google Earth, vegetation has encroached on a lot of the area. And bear in mind also that much of the limebeds is private property and can be a treacherous and dangerous place to be.


by Frank Smith.

The source of all that chemical waste. ICI Middlewich. The limebeds were (and are) out of shot to the right. This is a souvenir photo given to all ICI employees when the works closed in 1962.
 Photo restoration by Bill Armsden and John Bailey. 

For the purpose of this paper assume that the limebeds run North to South, bounded on the East side by the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich railway, on the West side by the Trent & Mersey Canal, on the South side by Cledford Lane and on the north by the ERF workshops and research buildings (ERF is  long gone, but the buildings are still there, and still in the motor trade - Ed).

The lagoons were formed to accommodate the Distiller Blow Off liquor, usually referred to as D.B.O. This consisted of a clear liquid (Calcium Chloride) with various and varying calcium compounds and minute pieces of coke and cinder from the lime kilns. In the lagoons the sediment settled on the bed and the Calcium Chloride ran off as a clear liquor to discharge into Sanderson's Brook (Sanderson's Brook is a small stream which flows down from the Bradwall area to meet the River Croco near Brooks Lane. The Croco then flows alongside the T&M Canal through Middlewich to join the River Dane at one corner of Harbutt's Field, near the Big Lock. Calcium Chloride was far from the only pollutant to be chucked into poor old Sanderson's Brook and the Croco over the years - Ed.).

To me the 'old' limebeds lie to the East side, as they had acquired a sparse coating of grass and were home to numerous peewits and skylarks. There were also a few scrubby bushes of a variety of willow.

The beds seem to have been raised at different periods, since their inception, possibly while they were 'resting'. Initially the lagoons were built with clinker walls on the outside, with a backing of ashes. Thinking about this, the walls could have had an inner clinker wall with an infill of ashes, the whole thing being wide enough to allow the passage of horse-drawn carts to carry the materials used to raise the walls. The clinker would be supplied from the Finishing Machines (Chemical Roasting Furnaces) which converted the Sodium Bicarbonate at high temperatures. The fine ashes would come from the Babcock & Wilcox boilers used to raise the steam for the turbines and the chemical process.

It is interesting to note that later limebeds on the top of the old East limebeds did not have clinker walls; possibly the building of clinker walls was found not to be economically viable, but were built with cinders or earth. About this I am not sure, as these banks were grass covered. Core sampling could answer this.

On the 'new' limebeds on the West side: these may be of more interest to British Salt; I recall that the 'Jubilee train' hauled bogies of clinker and ashes along the top of the walls and discharged them down the outside of the walls. Thus the later walls relied on the natural 'slump' of the material to form the angle of the walls. I have a feeling that the bed of the Jubilee track was made of limestone chippings (2" to dust).

The D.B.O. liquor was distributed to the lagoons along wooden troughs formed in 'U' section with 9" x 1½ " boards with the angles filled with triangular wooden fillets.

A worker was employed maintaining the limebeds. He removed gritty sediment from the troughs and spread this along the top of the walls. This dried out to become reasonably firm, perhaps due to rain washing the Calcium Chloride out of it.

A further waste product was used to a lesser degree in the construction of the walls. The burnt limestone from the kilns was dissolved in water in an almost horizontal rotary vessel. Any unburnt stone and grit was sieved out, the larger pieces returned to the kilns and the remaining grit and small pebbles of limestone, together with some lime mud, was sent in bogies to the lagoons. This was tipped down the face of the wall and eventually set quite hard. An example of this can be seen on the South wall of the West bed on Cledford Lane.

In 1939, just prior to WWII,  the direction of the path across the limebeds was altered. Before this time the path ran in a straight line from its present entry at the North end to No 2 Brine Shaft where it picked up the present path southwards. This was a sunken path and the east side carried the brine main from the shaft to the works. Just East of the brine main, and higher, ran the D.B.O. trough on trestles. By blocking off the ends of the sunken path it was easy to increase the size and capacity of the West lagoon at little cost.

On the top of the wall slightly North West of No2 Brine Shaft I recall, some twenty years ago (circa 1976 - Ed) finding a variety or orchid which I also found growing on the old Furey Limebeds at Winnington.

The limebeds in 1973. In the background can be seen British Salt, and the redundant chimney at Ideal Standard which was demolished not long after this photo was taken. In the foreground is one of the walls of the limebed along which the narrow gauge train ran, tipping waste products into the lagoon.

Just before the ICI had completed its tests on utilizing the empty borehole cavities on the brinefields at Holford for the disposal of D.B.O. mud (this site is between Middlewich and Northwich, and has an entrance on King Street. Many of the  brine cavities are currently being used by INEOS to store natural gas. The brine for Middlewich's British Salt works comes from Warmingham - Ed) they were in the process of constructing new limebeds at Dairy House Farm, Marbury (the result of this construction on the landscape can still be seen today. Please follow this link - Ed). The walls had been built around a field when work stopped. These walls still stand and may be of interest to British Salt. (Here Frank has been overtaken by events, and British Salt wouldn't have been able to consider using the site if they wanted to. The site was bought by Cheshire County Council and developed into a leisure facility - Ed).

Seepage through the walls of the limebeds was dealt with by an open drainage ditch round the whole area, discharging into Sanderson's Brook from the North end. It is possible there may be a drain at the South end, passing under the railway bridge on Cledford Lane and discharging into Sanderson's Brook below the road bridge.

In the 1950s ICI had complaints that Calcium Chloride was polluting the wild brine stream and it was attributed to No 2 Shaft. This was examined by a joiner who was lowered down the shaft in a tub. A similar tub is in the Salt Museum in Northwich! (Now the Weaver Hall Museum - Ed)

He inspected the whalings* around the side for leaks and also tested them for decay by trying to insert a knife blade into the timber.

*this is the one problem I've had with Frank's handwriting which, as you can imagine, is always neat and very legible. I can't find a definition for 'whaling' other than the one you'd expect. He's obviously referring to the wooden lining of the brine shaft and 'whaling' may be a term used exclusively in the chemical and/or salt industries. I can't think what else the word can be. We're sticking with 'whalings' for the moment, but if anyone knows differently, please let us know. - Ed.

The whalings were found to be sound and with no leakage. The soundness of the timbers could possibly be due to the chemicals inhibiting bacterial and fungal activity.

The whole area of the top of the shaft was covered with a concrete capping with an access manhole in the centre. This, in turn, had a locking bar across it.

The site was visited by the Outside Foreman from ICI Holford brinefield on a six-monthly basis to ensure that it was in a safe and good condition. The liquid that accrued in this area drained into the ditch at the South end of the 'old' East limebeds. In the vicinity of the shaft is a tall, circular, brick construction, mistakenly thought by some to be a brine shaft. It is an inspection manhole for the drains at ground level and has been extended as the limebeds were raised. There is a further, similar, manhole by the present path nearer the North end.

The open ditch at the South end of the East lime bed continues, or starts, under the road at the West end of the ditch and can be walked in under the road. This is most probably the surface drain from the shaft.

Frank Smith


29th July 1996

Post Script

Since writing the above I have looked at Ordnance Survey maps dated 1909 and 1954. On the 1909 map the 'new' West limebeds are not shown and are fields. On the 1954 map the West limebeds are in existence, together with a long narrow bed on the West side and running the full length, North to South, of the limebeds. On reflection I think that this narrow bed would have to be built at the same time as the main West limebed to have access for the Jubilee train to raise the walls. I can only surmise that its purpose was to act as a 'buffer' in the event of a wall collapse or a large leak. The risk of flooding the Trent & Mersey Canal would be minimised as the main limebed would not drain into the small bed.

The land at the South end of the West bed belonged to EB & BP Ltd (Electro - Bleach & By-Products, the chemical company which stood on the Cledford Lane site later occupied by Steventon's/Ideal Standard and now the home of the ANSA recycling facility - Ed) and the limebed wall adjoining the property collapsed and flooded the field. Cynics said that it was an 'engineered' accident to enable Brunner Mond & Co (later to become ICI Ltd - Ed) to extend their limebed.

As I am now unable to verify if this occurred before 1920, when Brunner Mond acquired EB & BP, I don't know how true this is.


Sunday, 27 March 2022


by Dave Roberts
I'm sure most people won't object to a little self-indulgence today of all days. 
This picture first appeared on the Middlewich Diary on Mother's Day 2012 and has appeared every Mother's Day since.

Dad, incidentally, made his first appearance here on Father's Day 2011. 


And Mum, like Dad, played her part in Middlewich history at the height of our salt town days.
Mum was born in 1919 in neighbouring Moston and went to school in Elworth which she always said was  'a lovely place until Fodens ruined it'.
Her Mother, our Grandma Hodgkinson, was at one time in service with the Foden family.
Mum lived all her adult life in Middlewich and, like so many young women in the town, worked at Cerebos.
In 1936, when she was 17, she was crowned 'Salt Queen of Cheshire'* and our picture shows her wearing the beautiful dress which was specially made for the occasion and which, amazingly, still survives in the possession of the family.

* That was the title we were always told Mum held all those years ago, although there do not seem to be any records of any 'Cheshire Salt Queen' event. The 'Salt Queen of Middlewich' has proved equally elusive, although the local press has carried reports about a proposed revival of the 'Salt Queen of Winsford' title. Could that be the title that Mum held all those years ago?.

Whatever the truth of the matter, and whatever her actual Regal title was all those years ago, Mum, like all Mums, was a true Queen.

Mum passed away on Easter Sunday, April 16th 2006.

Mothers Day 2012

First published Mothers Day 2012. Republished Mothers Day 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

Wednesday, 16 March 2022


by Dave Roberts

We've taken the unusual step of splitting our coverage of the Middlewich canal breach into two parts (so far), simply because of the incredible amount of information available, both from official sources and from local people. Part One was in danger of becoming unwieldy because of its prodigious length. Thanks once again to everyone for their contributions.

In part two we'll be taking a look at the measures taken by the Canal & River Trust to secure the canal and towpath and to begin the process of restoration. Considering that it is still only a week since the breach occurred, the progress made is impressive.

To coin a phrase the Canal & River Trust seems to believe in 'action not words' and the organisation's reaction to the incident in Middlewich greatly impressed local people, so used to endless talking, consultations, surveys and opinion polls about anything and everything, followed by a lack of any constructive action.

 A week after the breach measures were in place aimed at sealing the lower section of the canal so that it could be filled with water, enabling the boats trapped in the de-watered canal to escape via Wardle Lock and the Trent & Mersey if they so desired.
Darren Roberts' photo shows the beginning of the construction of the dam - destined to become a familiar sight in the months to come - by CaRT engineers on the 22nd March. The breach in the canal can be glimpsed in the distance (underneath the label on the fencing panel, right centre).

Many people were intrigued by the sight of the dam, which seems to be a very lightweight, temporary looking structure, rather than the steel piles driven into the bed of the canal we might have expected.
It appears that the dam is purely a temporary measure designed to allow the canal to be filled with water and to allow boats to escape. So will a more substantial dam be built to replace it? Will there be a need for a dam once the boats are all out of the way?
The issue is by no means as simple as you might think. The draining of the bottom end of the canal revealed a lot of sub-standard brickwork, particularly around the bases of bridges (although the CaRT were, no doubt, already aware of the problems) and this is seen as an opportunity for repairs to be carried out. On the other hand, it's necessary to keep some water in the canal to prevent the bed cracking, particularly if there is a dry spell. So the pumps (see below) will stay on site to keep sufficient water in the section to prevent drying out, but the canal will be drained at some point to allow repairs to the brickwork. So it may well be that this temporary dam will suffice. Some in the canal world are of the opinion that when work starts to repair the breach the canal will be drained, as it would be unthinkable to have such a large body of water contained just above a working site.
On the other hand, Phillip Hancock says on Facebook: 'Those fabric dams are used quite regularly to hold the water back above work sites. There was a stoppage at Napton Lock 14 this winter and one was used there as the stop plank grooves were shot'
Stop planks are lengths of timber laid horizontally across the canal to 'stop' a short section of canal and allow maintenance to take place. They're usually stored in those little shelters with black corrugated roofs found at locks and other strategic points along the canal.

On  Thursday 22nd March powerful pumps from local firm Pump Supplies of Winsford were on site at Wardle lock ready to begin the task of filling the section between the  lock and the temporary dam so that the trapped boats could be refloated and those that wanted to could leave the canal via the Trent & Mersey. Wardle Lock Cottage can be seen on the left and  to its right can be seen the shelter where stop planks are stored.

Estimates for the time taken to fill the section varied from 10 hours to two to three days. Because of the close proximity of housing it was not possible to run the pumps at night.  In fact by three o'clock on Friday afternoon there was a respectable amount of water in the section, as observed from Flea lane Bridge.

First One Afloat:  23rd March 2018. The bottom section of the Middlewich Branch comes back to (temporary) life.

As Mike Jennings says, what a difference a week makes. The sight of the emptied canal on the morning of Friday 16th March brings the people of Middlewich out in force to take a look at the breach in the canal (a few yards behind the camera) and the stricken boats in the section. The bridge in the background is bridge no 28, which takes Flea Lane from Manor Lane on the left through to Eaton Drive and Hayhurst Avenue to the right.

On Friday afternoon a week later it's almost possible to believe that nothing ever happened and that nothing has changed. In fact appearances are deceptive. Only that temporary dam, again behind the camera, is preserving the illusion of normality.

The Canal & River Trust tweeted:

'We just wanted to say 'Thank you'. We are totally blown away with the support that the people of Middlewich have given us and the boaters affected by the breach'.

On Friday the 23rd march, the following information was released by Middlewich Town Council:

Middlewich Town Council is working closely with the Canal and River Trust to ensure that the Trust’s expertise and the Council’s local knowledge and contacts combine to find solutions and a way forward following the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union.
Already in our minds are the preparations for the Middlewich FAB Festival 15th to 17th June 2018. We want to make it clear that the issues on the canal will not put this year’s event in jeopardy.

The Show will go on!

Obviously, access to Middlewich will be an issue for some of our boating visitors, but we hope to have some helpful information to issue to boaters and indeed all stakeholders early next week.

Thank you to everyone for your perseverance and patience. Thank you to the residents who have offered to help in so many ways and special thanks to the Canal and River Trust team for their positive and professional response to this major incident.
Jonathan Williams
Town Clerk

Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council
Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council
Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council


Bob Shoosmith
Charlotte Pinney
Jonathan Stringer
Mike Jennings,
Darren Roberts
David Groves
Canal & River Trust

Text © Salt Town Productions 2018

See also:

Stanthorne Lock to Wardle Lock
UPDATE 19th March 2018


You can help the Canal & River Trust in its repair work on the  Middlewich Branch  by contributing to this appeal. The appeal was set up by the Trust following requests from several Middlewich residents.

FIRST PUBLISHED 23rd March 2018
RE-PUBLISHED 16th March 2022



by Dave Roberts

In fact, a very serious breach indeed, of the bank of the Shropshire Union's Middlewich Branch in the early hours of Friday 16th March 2018. 

The breach occurred where the canal crosses the River Wheelock, close to Nantwich Road. Early reports described the breach as 'a huge sinkhole' in the bed of the canal, suggesting that  the aqueduct had collapsed and the  water from a three-quarter mile stretch of the canal from Wardle Lock in Middlewich to Stanthorne Lock* had poured through it into the river beneath, causing it to burst its banks and flood the surrounding fields. Local farmers were at one point forced to move their livestock to safety. Some of this flooding can just be made out to the left of the photo.

What really seems to have happened is that the almost 200 year old aqueduct  remained intact and the canal bank collapsed, causing the water to flow around the side of the aqueduct into the river below. A tribute to the design and construction skills of the canal builders of the early 19th century, towards the end of the canal building era.

Eoin Anderson's drone shot of the breach dramatically shows the extent of the damage to the canal. This photo spread like wildfire throughout the internet on the Friday after the incident. It's reproduced here with Eoin's permission. 

Towards the top of the photo, away in the distance, can be seen the accommodation bridge which marks the position of Stanthorne Lock.* Beyond the lock the canal is intact.
There were 'up to twenty' boats in the affected section of canal but, fortunately, no one was injured. Those boats, though, will remain stranded for the foreseeable future.

* sometimes known locally as 'Sherrif's Lock'

Paul and Emma Westmacott who live on Nantwich Road, close to the canal, were first on the scene.

Paul writes:

'We were lying in bed and heard strange noises outside, so went to investigate.
Believe me, you have never seen or heard anything like the sight and sound of that canal water going through that hole in full flow.
We called 999 and were told by the police that they would pass a message on to the Canal & River Trust.

While we were waiting for the police patrol car to arrive, it became apparent that the situation was even more serious than at first thought. We could see the stranded boat on the other side of the breach and tried to make contact with the boat owner, but we couldn't make him hear because of the noise. 
So we called the police again. They arrived shortly afterwards, followed by quite a few more. Lights were shone on the scene and the full scale of what had happened became clear. It's a night we will never forget.'

Note: Emma is the grand daughter of the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, who would, no doubt, have had a lot to say about this incident, and would also have some great ideas on how the damage should be repaired. -Ed.

Photo: Vision Aerial Photography
The massive size of the breach can be seen even more clearly in this photo from Vision Aerial Photography, as can the proximity to the houses in Nantwich Road, which can be seen coming in from the right (the white building is Manor Lodge). The town of Middlewich is at the top of the photo and the canal can be seen veering to the right to join the Wardle Canal and, ultimately, the Trent & Mersey in the distance at Booth Lane.

Vision Aerial Photography
Here the damage caused to the River Wheelock and the garden of the house on the bank above Nantwich Road can be seen. That's Nantwich Road on the upper right as it passes Manor Lodge before running under the canal via the road aqueduct which is the twin of the one where the breach occurred.

Photo: Vision Aerial Photography
The aqueduct itself, showing how the breach in the canal caused massive amounts of water to pour down into the river valley, overwhelming it and causing massive flooding in the fields on either side. At the top of the photo Nantwich Road can be seen coming down from Stanthorne and running past the trees (top middle). The river at this point is very often flooded after heavy rain, but not usually to this extent.  Brynlow Drive which runs from Nantwich Road up into the 'Manor Estate' is top left.

Many thanks to Vision Aerial Photography for permission to use these photographs.

 Patrick Hough walked up the canal early on the morning of Friday 16th March and took some photos of the breach from ground level. 

Many people have commented that photographs can't do justice to the enormity of the crater which this breach caused in the canal.

Seemingly the drone shots from Eoin Anderson and Vision Aerial Photography (above) come closest to showing just how catastrophic this incident was.

Looking back towards Middlewich from the site of the incident, the canal looks curiously unlike a waterway, with only a small trickle of water evident.

The enormous amount of silt found in all canals these days can be seen, making the canal  much more shallow than it ought to be, particularly at the sides.

This silt, together with the rubbish which people still, for some reason, feel justified in throwing into the water, can sometimes make boating difficult and even hazardous.

This carp was one casualty of the collapse. It was later rescued from the  confines of the very much reduced canal water.

The flooded River Wheelock. 

This is the 'Nantwich' side of the aqueduct where, passing under Nantwich Road, the river flows down from the village to which it gives  its name and heads towards its meeting with the River Dane near Croxton. The village was named after the river, and our main street was named after the village. The name 'Wheelock' comes from ancient Welsh and simply and appropriately means 'winding river'.

The meadowland in the river valley was extensively flooded by canal water. Mud, silt and other material falling into the river from the canal above made matters worse by effectively 'damming' the river and causing the water to spread widely over the fields on either side.

Note the trees actually growing in the bed of the river. 

The profusion of trees in the area is a legacy of William Boosey the nurseryman who planted thousands of them along the Wheelock before the Great War.

The start of hostilities meant that the trees were abandoned to their fate and have run riot ever since.

Work to repair the canal may mean that at least some of these trees are cleared, giving us a better view of this early 19th century structure.

Geoff Edwards' photo shows us what really happened to the canal during the early hours of Friday morning.

The bank above the aqueduct burst, spilling the canal's water into the river. 

Superficially at least the only damage to the aqueduct itself seems to be the loss of a few coping stones. But we can't, of course, second-guess the Canal and River Trust's engineers who will be making a thorough investigation into the structure and its surroundings prior to repairing the canal.

What would have happened if the breach had occurred in a place where there was no river to take the excess water?

What if it had happened, for example, at the nearby aqueduct over Nantwich Road, which causes much anxiety each time it's hit by a truck following  a faulty  satnav?

(Note: Since this Diary entry was first published we have heard intriguing suggestions that there was indeed a breach of the canal at the Nantwich Road aqueduct many years ago. Given that the Middlewich Branch is getting on for two hundred years old - which doesn't stop older Middlewich residents referring to it as 'The New Canal' - this would appear to be well within the realms of possibility. If you have any information on this, we'd love to see it - Ed)

This incident caused an almost unprecedented amount of interest in the canal from local people, and a great deal of speculation as to what was going to happen to it.

Foremost in many people's minds were the problems likely to hit the boating community, the  FAB Festival and the local economy.

Probably understandably, many local people assumed that repairing the breach would be the responsibility of Cheshire East council and feared the worst.

Given that council's perceived  appalling record when it comes to 'doing anything for Middlewich' people were assuming that there would be the usual delays, prevarication, switching of funds to other purposes etc. 

Thankfully, though, the repairs to the canal are not the responsibility of the council, but of the Canal & River Trust, successor to British Waterways, who will have to fund the project. 

Good news for Middlewich, but terrible news for the boating community. The Trust has only so much money to spend on repairs to the system and other projects may have to be postponed or abandoned altogether to pay for the repair of this important part of the network.

Others reasoned that the majority of boats visiting Middlewich did so via the Trent & Mersey canal, which is unaffected by this incident; that there are alternative routes (albeit much longer ones) into the town from the Shropshire Union; that the success of the FAB Festival is not entirely dependent on people visiting by boat and that canal breaches 'come with the territory' when you live in a canal town. 

Bob Shoosmith, who moved to Middlewich from Surrey nine years ago,  took to the town and its canals like - if you'll pardon the expression - a duck to water.

Bob was called to the scene of the incident on Friday

He says,

 'My connection with the Canal & River Trust (CaRT) is as a volunteer lock keeper on our three locks.* Out of season we do other tasks such as cutting back vegetation on the non-towpath side, crewing work boats, painting and maintaining locks etc. on our area of the system.

That is why I was called in on Friday to help block off the towpath along the drained section of the canal, and to put up warning signs. Other staff members of the CaRT were also in attendance, and it was from them that I gleaned a little information as to what would be likely to happen going forward.

As I'm sure you can understand at that time the full scale of the undertaking was still being assessed, so the information I could pass on to the public was limited.

The incident created a lot of interest in Middlewich and I was impressed by the concern expressed by a lot of the people I spoke to, and their obvious desire to help.

People were very interested in the possible time-scale for repairs, and all I could tell them was what I had been told by the CaRT, citing the land-slip above Croxton Flashes taking seven months to repair, and that I imagined it would take a similar length of time to repair this breach.

Many people were voicing their concerns about the effect on this year's FAB Festival, and the other detrimental effects this will have on Middlewich.'

* These are the three locks on the Trent & Mersey just off Brooks Lane, where the canal makes an abrupt left turn to drop down into Middlewich town centre. They're sometimes known locally as 'The Big Three', but their official name is, simply, 'Middlewich Locks' -Ed

Many thanks to Bob for getting in touch, and allowing us to use this account of his involvement in the incident on Friday.

He's promised to keep in touch with the CaRT offices at Red Bull Wharf and to forward any additional information to us.

So this is a particularly bad example of a canal breach which has caused additional concern to local people because of its close proximity to Nantwich Road.

 But it's by no means the first such calamity in the area,

As Bob Shoosmith says, there was, for example, one  at Croxton on the Trent & Mersey in 2012

To add a little perspective to our 21st century 'disaster' we should point out that, as mentioned in our earlier Diary entries (links above) the original Croxton Aqueduct, built by James Brindley in 1777, had to be replaced at the end of the nineteenth century due to that familiar Mid-Cheshire problem, brine subsidence.

In 1935 the replacement viaduct collapsed into the River Dane after flooding in the area caused by excessive rainfall and was then replaced by the current narrow structure, putting paid to any idea of wide boats ever reaching Middlewich. 

When the bridges on the Middlewich Branch were constructed in 1827, just at the beginning of the railway age, construction techniques had improved so much that, as we have seen, these later structures can withstand a lot of rough treatment.

So, here as elsewhere on the network, this canal breach is far from unprecedented.

We will be adding to this Middlewich Diary entry in the coming weeks.

See also:

Stanthorne Lock to Wardle Lock
UPDATE 19th March 2018


You can help the Canal & River Trust in its repair work on the  Middlewich Branch  by contributing to this appeal. The appeal was set up by the Trust following requests from several Middlewich residents.

The Middlewich Diary's 2018  Festival Quiz raised £80 towards the cost of the re-building. A drop in the ocean (or the canal?) perhaps, but a nice way for local people to be involved in helping the appeal.

Rescuing the fish, 17th March 2018                                    Photo: Canal & River Trust


Eoin Anderson

Patrick Hough
Dominic Devaney
Geoff Edwards
Bob Shoosmith
Paul and Emma Westmacott
Vision Aerial Photography
Josh Pennington (Middlewich Guardian)
BBC News (North-West)

Canal & River Trust
All serene. The first boat on the re-opened SUC Middlewich Branch,
 21st December 2018.                                           Photo: Bob Shoosmith

Text © Salt Town Productions 2018

First published 17th March 2018
Updated, expanded and re-published 18th March 2018, 19th March, 21st March
Updated and re-published 21st December 2018, the day the SUC Middlewich Branch re-opened to traffic after repair work was completed. This was nine months to the day since this entry was first published.
Re-published 16th March 2019, the first anniversary of the breach.
Re-published 16th March 2022.