Wednesday, 17 March 2021

WARDLE LOCK COTTAGE and 'AUNTIE' MAUREEN

(THIS DIARY ENTRY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED on 19/02/2012)
Wardle Lock Cottage is, as its name suggests, situated at Wardle Lock at the very end of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.
In fact there are those who would argue that the lock, and the cottage, are not on the Shropshire Union at all, but on the Wardle Canal (also sometimes called the Wardle Lock Branch or the Wardle Green Section) which is often touted as 'the shortest canal in Britain'. The whole length, including the lock, is around 50 yards.
A stone set into the bridge over the junction between this short section of canal and the Trent & Mersey gives its name and date as WARDLE CANAL 1829.




Canal enthusiasts still argue for and against the Wardle Canal's claim to fame as the shortest canal in Britain; some say it is a fully fledged canal in its own right, while others say it is an extension of the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch
Photo: British Waterways
The Heritage Society appears to be in no doubt, and British Waterways seem to agree, if this plaque attached to the other side of the  junction bridge is anything to go by.
What is certain is that before it was built much transhipment of goods had to take place between the Trent & Mersey and the Middlewich Branch.
The Wardle Canal brought about a big improvement, but was not the perfect solution, due to the high tolls levied on cargoes travelling over it.
The cottage at Wardle Lock is a Grade II listed building, and is one of the treasures of the waterways.
A scale  model of it was a great attraction at a National Waterways Exhibition some years ago, and we know of at least one other small-scale representation of the building, on a model railway in Sandbach.
Part of the attraction until a year or so ago was the much-missed presence of 'Auntie' Maureen Shaw who lived there for many years after 'coming ashore' following  a lifetime of working on the boats.
Her late husband Jack was a lengthsman on the canals.
Maureen knew all there was to know about the waterways, and gave talks on the subject to local organisations.
She tells her own story in the Tales of Wych & Water CD produced by Salt Town Productions for Middlewich Vision in 2009.
During her time at Wardle Lock Cottage Maureeen made countless friends among the pleasure boaters who travel through Middlewich every year, and was always ready to give advice (and the occasional 'rollicking') to the novice holiday helmsmen and women who passed through 'her' lock.
Maureen was taken ill in 2011 and had to leave the cottage. She lived in sheltered accomodation for a while but, sadly, passed away on March 17th, 2012.
Maureen's knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the canals of Middlewich and the world of canals and canal boats in general was unsurpassed, and she will be greatly missed by everyone  in Middlewich and also by all her friends on the waterways.
Kate Nicholls Fletcher says:
'As someone who has both lived and worked on waterways for over 25 years, I had the pleasure of meeting Maureen a number of times, but I really got to know her as the ex MFAB boating director.
I had the pleasure of listening to many of Maureen's stories about the old working way of life on the boats and she gave talks for us at the festival on numerous occasions. I can never thank her enough for encouraging me to 'go for it lass' when I told her about going for a job on the waterways and subsequently, after getting that job, she used to love it when when I brought a boat full of young people to her lock, to be taught the correct way of going through...a truly inspirational lady.'
Former Director of  the original MFAB Festival Liz Rosenfield says:
'She was everyone's Auntie! She told me wonderful stories of her life when we'd while away the hours in the Kings Lock - and in her evenings she'd come and talk to rooms full of people about her life...an amazing person - I am lucky to have known her and to have spent time with her.'
Robert Sheckleston remembers Maureen from the time she worked away from the canals at RHM Foods. 'She was a lovely lady,' he recalls.
When we appealed for a suitable photo of Maureen in order to pay our own small tribute to 'a true character of the waterways', our old friend Ian Murfitt, himself something of a scholar when it comes to canals, did us proud with this picture:
Ian writes: The picture shows Auntie Maureen and my daughter Charlee at a fund raiser for Anderton Lift about 12 years ago. Charlee lived with us on the boats for many years. There was much excitement amongst old boaters when her birth was announced and many visited and put silver (coloured) coins in her hands.

Wardle Lock Cottage remained empty for a year and then, on Wednesday 15th February 2013, was sold at auction at the Boar's Head Hotel by Frank Marshall of Knutsford.


P.S. The houses seen behind the cottage in our picture are on what was formerly known as Back Field, as discussed here

Facebook comments:


Geraldine Williams Always a good stopping point for my family on Sunday afternoon walks along the canal. I remember Maureen having an unusual flat-backed goldfish bowl fastened to the outside wall with two hemispheres and a connecting tube for the goldfish to swim from one to the other. I also remember how concerned she was by the lack of safety procedures shown by some of the new breed of boaters using the lock and their seeming unawareness of the dangerous undercurrents when the locks were being operated.

SEE ALSO: 'A TRIBUTE TO AUNTIE MAUREEN'
                      'MAUREEEN AND HER LOCK'
                    'MAUREEN'S FUNERAL, MARCH 30th 2012'

Originally published 19th February 2012
Amended and re-published 18th March 2012
Re-published 17th March 2021 (Maureen's 9th Anniversary)

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

MIDDLEWICH FOLK & BOAT FESTIVAL POSTPONED UNTIL 2022



UPDATE (JANUARY 2021). THE FESTIVAL
HAS NOW BEEN POSTPONED 'UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE' AS THE SITUATION
REGARDING COVID 19 IS NOT YET CLEAR.  WHEN A NEW DATE IS ANNOUNCED, WE'LL LET YOU KNOW.

FINAL UPDATE (MARCH 2021) A DECISION HAS NOW BEEN MADE TO POSTPONE THE FESTIVAL UNTIL JUNE 2022





 Editor's note: You will see from this Middlewich Diary entry  that we intend to tell everyone the date for the next festival when it is known. But given the current situation there is no way that anyone can predict, even vaguely, when that will be. What would be disastrous for all concerned would be for the council to adopt the same methods as H M Government and keep on setting prospective dates for the next festival, only to have to cancel them as events unfold. The situation outlined in the Middlewich Diary is exactly as the council has explained it - in fact much of the entry is based on press releases and statements from the council itself. The festival will continue, hopefully this year, but no one is in a position to say just when that will be. DR

Festival organisers say that this is a postponement rather than a cancellation. Plans to move the festival to September 2020 were abandoned as the crisis worsened. The next plan was to stage what would, in effect, have been the 2020 festival in June 2021, but it very soon became clear that this too was unlikely.
We are continuing to add material concerning the festival to this diary entry as it becomes available from the Town Council.
Below are the statements issued by
festival organisers between 17th March
and 15th June 2020 when the cancellation was announced. These are included here for historical purposes.

MIDDLEWICH FOLK AND BOAT FESTIVAL STATEMENT

17th MARCH 2020

Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival - Covid 19 Update
A decision has not yet been taken as to whether the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival will take place in June. Postponement of the event is being investigated to reduce the losses that will be suffered by the Council and a wide range of local businesses should the event require full cancellation on the current dates. Whilst this is investigated tickets will be taken off sale. If you have already purchased a ticket should we postpone it will be transferred to the new date or refunded in full if the event is ultimately cancelled.
Please bear with us at this time …


Note: This statement has been taken from the official Folk & Boat Festival Facebook Group.

UPDATE: 20th APRIL 2020:

Today the council has announced that it intends to postpone the Folk & Boat Festival until a later date in 2020 rather than cancel it for this year.

An announcement of the new date will be made 'this week' and the revised date will appear here once it has been announced.

Below is a link to the Town council on Facebook, where the April update can be read in full - Ed.

MIDDLEWICH TOWN COUNCIL ON FACEBOOK

UPDATE: 23rd April 2020:

Here's the Folk & Boat Festival's Statement from April 20th 2020, again taken from the Festival's Facebook Group:

As the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival cannot take place in June, we have been working on postponing the festival until later in the year. A decision has now been made on this and we will be announcing the postponed date for Folk and Boat festival this week.
It’s not as easy as you might think to reorganise this but we know how important this event will be to help a number of businesses and the Town recover. It is for this reason that we have chosen not simply to cancel the 2020 event.

UPDATE: 23rd APRIL 2020:

NEW DATE ANNOUNCED:

25th - 27th SEPTEMBER 2020
(This date has now been abandoned)

UPDATE: 7th MAY 2020:



Added 7th May 2020



Added 20th May 2020





Added 8th May 2020

Statement from Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival, 26th May 2020:




IMAGES: BRELAND PHOTOGRAPHY




MIDDLEWICH FOLK AND BOAT FESTIVAL LAUNCHES COMMUNITY SUPPORT SCHEME

Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival is pleased to announce its new Community Support Initiative, aimed at making the event more accessible to local businesses and organisations.
The first announcement is the reduction of the fringe venue registration fee from £250 to £100, the first change in 8 years. We hope this will make participation more feasible for the town’s pubs after a particularly difficult past few months. This fee goes towards marketing costs and the production of the free festival guide. Middlewich Town Council is dedicated to supporting local businesses and is confident the income lost through this change can be balanced out by the income from Saturday Night’s ticketed concert.
Secondly, we are excited to announce plans to extend Saturday’s market on Wheelock Street to Sunday too, this is to give businesses on the street as much support and footfall as possible over the festival weekend. This is dependent on retailer interest.
Our third and final announcement in our community support scheme is aimed at helping our schools. We would like to offer all Middlewich school PTA’s a free stall at the festival, either on Wheelock Street or on Civic Way Car Park. We hope this will help with fundraising and will enable our schools to be more involved with the festival.
Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival was created in 1990 as a community event, and in introducing this new support, we can ensure the festival remains at the heart of our community as we celebrate the 30th anniversary. 2020 has been a very trying time for us all so far, and we hope the new festival dates (Friday 25th - Sunday 27th September) provide something to look forward too for our town and that these updates do provide some relief for our local businesses.


Added 26th May 2020




MIDDLEWICH FOLK AND BOAT FESTIVAL 2020 POSTPONED TO 2021


Middlewich Town Council has taken the decision to postpone the 30th Anniversary of Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival to 16th to 20th June 2021. This decision has not been taken lightly and has been under constant review since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The decision to postpone the festival, instead of cancelling allows us to carry over our 30th Anniversary celebrations to next year with as much of the same line up as is possible including Scouting for Girls, Lucy Spraggan, Toyah and China Crisis.
This decision has been made in relation to a number of concerns; Firstly, the council is aware that the current 2 meter social distancing rule would be difficult to enforce at a large festival, especially after the consumption of alcohol and on canal towpaths.
Secondly, the relaxing of lockdown measures has seen the regions ‘R’ number jump above 1, meaning a new course of lockdown measures may be enforced later in the year.
We are also conscious that the lockdown has had a large impact on many of the town’s businesses meaning they simply do not have the money to provide sponsorship for the event. This coupled with the increased costs a 2020 event would incur through the purchase of PPE, washing stations and extra barriers, makes the event less financially viable.
With all these factors considered, and as always having the safety of the public as a priority, the Council think it much more beneficial to the festival and the town to look ahead to celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival in June 2021.

All tickets already purchased for main stage concerts will automatically be transferred over to next year and will avoid any potential price rises as a result. However, if ticket holders do wish to be refunded, please email admin@middlewich.org.uk and this will be facilitated as soon as possible.

Added 16th June 2020




A statement will be issued on a possible new date for the festival quiz when the situation regarding Covid 19 and the current lockdown becomes clearer.

Editor's Note: Middlewich being Middlewich once the news about the festival broke a debate started locally about whether the festival was actually being'cancelled' or merely 'postponed'. The truth of the matter is this: The 2020 festival is cancelled as no festival will take place this year. What is being postponed is the celebration of Middlewich's thirtieth Folk & Boat Festival. This will now take place in 2021*. DR

*This now looks unlikely (Jan 2021).

UPDATE (JANUARY 2nd 2021). Following the worsening of the Coronavirus pandemic during the winter of 2020/21 the Town Council made a decision in December 2020 to suspend planning for the next festival until the situation becomes clearer. As a result we're not in a position to predict when the next festival will take place. We'll bring you any news when we get it.





Originally published 13th April 2020
Updated and re-published 20th April 2020, 23rd April 2020, 7th May 2020, 8th May 2020, 20th May 2020, 26th May 2020, 15th June 2020, 16th June 2020, 2nd January 2021, 16th March 2021 (Final Update)

Friday, 26 February 2021

ICI MIDDLEWICH WORKS COMMEMORATIVE PHOTO 1962

ICI MIDDLEWICH WORKS in Brooks Lane. Photo courtesy of John Bailey/Bill Armsden. Reproduced with permission.
by Dave Roberts

This photograph of the ICI Works in Middlewich is dated 1962 and has been restored to near-mint condition by Bill Armsden, who writes:

This photograph, taken in 1962, is of the ICI Works which could be seen from Booth Lane and was located to the right of where the Kings Lock Pub is.

Pochins now sits where this works was.

I have cleaned up and enhanced the picture and it is now almost mint. It is hard to believe that just over 50 years ago this dominated the view from St Anns and Kitfield Avenues.

Do you remember it? I do.



Bill says that the photo has the year 1962 written on the back, and was one of many copies given out to workers at ICI Middlewich when the works closed in that year. 


This particular copy belongs to John Bailey, who now lives in Knutsford.*


I have a vague feeling that this photo may have been taken before 1962, as the buildings and apparatus on the site don't look exactly as I remember them at that time. Then again, I was only a youngster in 1962, so I may be mistaken. 

Does anyone know if this is indeed how the works looked in 1962?

Here's a different view of part of the works, courtesy of Bill Eaton

And a late 1950s view of the SUC Middlewich Branch, also from Bill Armsden's collection, which includes a glimpse of the works.



Many thanks to Bill and also to John Bailey* for allowing us to feature this historic photo.

UPDATE (4th March 2018)

From Australia, Bevan Goodall writes:

'Thanks, Dave, for making this photo available.


I left ICI Middlewich in 1960 to emigrate to Australia, so I didn't receive a copy. 

I remember working one freezing winter thirty-odd metres up the side of the distillation plant, installing some removable panels.

I had my billy-can of tea laced with rum sitting on a steam-pipe nearby.

Harry Sandbach, the foreman - a lovely guy - was in the habit of helping himself to a drink when he came around to inspect what was going on.

He had a sip of my tea.

After a 'what the heck!' it didn't take him long to have another one!

Of course that wouldn't happen today with the current 'Health & Safety' regime...'



Many thanks to Bevan for this story, and how nice that he was able to get hold of his copy of the commemorative  photo of the works, albeit electronically, 58 years on -Ed.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* Sadly, since this diary entry was first published, John has passed away. -Ed

Bill Armsden writes:

'My dear friend John Bailey sadly passed away suddenly in September last year from a massive heart attack. It was always his intention to make a private video of 'his Middlewich' as he was Middlewich born and bred.
Sadly, that will never happen but we can thank him for the 8mm film shot in his car during the late 1960's whilst he travelled from St Annes Avenue through to Chester Zoo. The Middlewich Diary was given a copy of that film and John was very happy to do that.'


We were very sorry to hear of John's passing. Here's the link to that precious film -Ed


Please note that this film is temporarily unavailable, due to a technical problem. We hope to have the link restored very soon -Ed.


First published 28th February 2014
Re-published 28th February 2018
and 27th July 2018
Links repaired. Entry re-published 26th February 2021


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

THE MIDDLEWICH PANCAKE BELL



by Dave Roberts

Middlewich historian and Clerk to the Middlewich UDC Charles Frederick Lawrence was a prolific collector of poetry and verse, particularly when it pertained to the town of Middlewich.

Here, for Shrove Tuesday, is a famous poem about the pancake bell which Mr Lawrence says in the publication Bygone Middlewich (Electro Bleach Club, Scientific Section, Middlewich, 1921) only ceased to ring, along with the Curfew (or 'Curfue') Bell within his 'recollection'.

So we're probably talking about sometime in the early to mid 19th century.

The Pancake Bell was rung to remind the people of Middlewich that it was time to gather all the ingredients together to make pancakes for the great feasting before the fasting period of Lent began.

Shrove Tuesday does not occur on the same day every year. Like Ash Wednesday and other Christian 'moveable feasts', the date is determined by the date of Easter which falls on
the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21st. The beginning date, March 21st, was chosen because it is usually the vernal equinox (generally, the first day of spring). That is why this diary entry was published on the 13th February 2018, and the 5th March 2019. It will be interesting to see how the dates differ as the years progress.



VERSES ON THE MIDDLEWICH PANCAKE BELL

by The Rev'd Charles O'Niel Pratt, formerly Curate at Middlewich

What sound is that which greets mine ear,
As it sweeps along through the sky so clear?
Of millions of chickens it rings the knell,
For I wot it is the Pancake Bell.

Full many a farm-yard cock hath crowed,
And tender love on his wives bestowed,
But over her brood has waved the spell,
As sure as she hears the Pancake Bell.

And the housekeeper goes to the huxter's shop,
And the eggs are brought home and there's flop! flop! flop!
And there's batter and butter and savoury smell,
While merrily rings the Pancake Bell.

And with frizzle and fizz the condiment's tossed,
And dished, and dusted with sugary frost,
And the youngsters at home the fun can tell
That follows the sound of the Pancake Bell.

And into the batter will mistress fling
That mystic token, the marriage ring,
And the bosom of many a maid will swell
With hope as she hears the Pancake Bell.

For if smiles and loving looks be true,
Someone may whisper a word or two,
And when Lent is over, then Easter will tell
Its old, old story - the Wedding Bell.

First published on Shrove Tuesday, 13th February 2018
Re-published on Shrove Tuesday, 5th March 2019, 25th February 2020, 16th February 2021

Monday, 15 February 2021

MUDC RATE DEMAND 1971


by Dave Roberts
My mother, fortunately for us, was from a generation which never threw anything away. This is why we're able to bring you another piece of Middlewich ephemera from forty years ago in the form of this Middlewich UDC rate demand for our modest family home in King Street.
The number 33 seems to stand out from the rest of the address, and there's a good reason for this; the ADREMA (See below) plate for our address had been altered because of the re-numbering of houses in King Street a few years earlier.
No. 27 became no. 33 and we received a letter threatening all kinds of retribution if we didn't change the number on the front of the house. In fact I'm not so sure that the death penalty wasn't still in force for failure to change your house number when told to do so.
The interest, to me, lies in the technology used to produce this most unwelcome of bills and its receipt which is a far cry from the slick computerised systems we have today.
Notice that the total payable for the year is £77.08 for a three bedroomed semi (or 'domestic hereditament' if you will). Oddly, this still sounds like a lot of money, considering that we are talking about the early 70s. The other amount, of £3.28 for the half year, was nothing to do with the council but was a charge for water rates collected by the council on behalf of the Mid - Cheshire Water Board.
The receipt is signed by Collecting Officer 'D. Roberts'. This is no coincidence, but proof that I was, at least, in gainful employment forty years ago at the age of 19. The square space on the receipt was where stamps were stuck on and signed over for certain transactions. Stamp duty on these receipts was abolished during my time at the council.
But it's the rate demand itself, and the way it was produced, which brings back memories and is so evocative of long-vanished ways of working in the pre-computer age.
The blank rate demands were produced for us by the clerk's department on a photocopier, a different coloured paper being used for each year to save confusion (and prevent  anyone paying the same bill twice).
Many of the Council's documents, such as minutes, internal memos etc, were produced on stencil machines
(usually made by Gestetner), using a complicated process involving typing on a special sheet (the ribbon selector on an office typewriter had three settings: black, red and stencil (which, in fact, kept the ribbon out of the way and enabled typing direct onto the stencil sheets).
But if I remember rightly these rate demands were too complicated to be run off on Gestetners (although it could be done) so a rather inefficient photocopying machine was used (even allowing for forty years of deterioration, you can tell that the print quality was only just adequate).
Then came the fun part. The addressing of the rate demands was done on our ADREMA machine, made by a German company (ADdREssenMAchine, or something of the kind) and which had been pioneered during the war by the Germans for the registration of prisoners of war.
Basically the system was that every rateable property in the town had its own ADREMA plate - an aluminium plate with the name and address pressed onto it, forming a collection of printing plates which were then stacked up on a machine with a massive operating handle which you brought down with a huge crash to print the rate demands. Obviously, when ownership of a property changed we had to have the details on the plate altered which involved sending the plate off to the factory to be flattened and re-pressed with the new details. This, of course, could be highly frustrating if people moved into a house and only stayed a short time, necessitating the re-pressing of the relevant plate time and time again.
It must be appreciated, though, that this system could only print the addresses. The actual figures on the demands were hand-written by Rating Officer Bertie Maddock and were actually copies of  entries in the Rating Ledger which was precisely that - a huge book with details of every rateable property in Middlewich hand-written into it. This had to be balanced each year, with the amount received exactly matching the amount due.
This document was one of the first batch of rate demands the MUDC issued in decimal currency. The new system had been introduced in February and all the council staff underwent training at Crewe College over a period of six weeks so that we would be conversant with pounds and pence (or pee as people still annoyingly insist on calling them) when they replaced pounds, shillings and pence. We were even given 'homework'.



The idea was that we would be able to help the elderly who, it was thought, would end up hopelessly confused. In the event no one, however elderly, had any problems at all.
Incidentally, on 'D-Day' (the 15th February 1971) rating officer Bertie Maddock told me that he would serve our first 'decimal customer' but, in the event, he was out of the office when the historic moment came, and the honour fell to me.
Middlewich UDC's method of issuing rate demands was a clumsy and unwieldy system, made instantly redundant just a few years later by computerisation, but twice a year our little rates office more closely resembled a small factory and echoed to the bang and crash of the ADREMA machine. I'm wondering if my current problems with my right arm can be traced back to this time, and if it's too late to sue the council...
We'll be hearing more about life in the council offices in due course.

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams I remember those scary Rate Demands - and running the gauntlet of Bertie Maddock's glare if you were a day or two late in paying. He seemed to mellow after he married Freda! We had a Gestetner in school and spent many an hour cranking the handle on the side and thought we were quite advanced, but oh the joy of using the electric model in the Presbytery 

Dave Roberts Well - I suppose I can say this now - you should have tried working with him...

Jonathan Williams The Town Council were still using a Gestetner machine when I started in 1985. Took me days to complete a set of minutes. Covered head to toe with black ink and correcting fluid I was!!

Dave Roberts  I know. I had one in my garage when I was at Mottram Close,passed on by Frank Smith of the Heritage Society - the idea was that the Society's Newsletter would be produced on the thing. Not a hope. The machine and all its ancillary equipment took up all the space where the family car should have been and was always subject to the law of diminishing returns - hours and hours producing one page on a stencil; seconds for it to be destroyed by a malicious and malevolent Gestetner machine.
 ‎...and don't get me started on the convoluted workings of the Kalamazoo wages system. I can only recall doing the dustbinbmen's wages once (I don't think they'd let me do it a second time) and the nightmare haunts me still. Got away with it, though...

First published 12th August 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 30th May 2020
Corrected and re-published 15th February 2021 (the 50th anniversary of 'Decimal Day')

Saturday, 2 January 2021

HAPPY NEW YEAR, 2021

 


A Very Happy New Year from The Middlewich Diary & Salt Town Productions! We wish you all the best for 2021!

OUR MASTHEAD FOR JANUARY 2021

 

WARDLE LOCK COTTAGE by REBECCA PAGE

by David Roberts,

Our Masthead photo for January 2021 is by Rebecca Page and features that old favourite, Wardle Lock Cottage, where the Wardle Canal links the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal to the Trent & Mersey at the nearby junction. Once the home of 'Auntie' Maureen Shaw, who spent her life working on the canals before coming 'ashore' at Wardle Lock.


The photo as it appeared in the Masthead

Friday, 31 July 2020

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT!


(Photo: The Local Data Company)




This was going to be a simple little diary entry called 'Going to the pictures - 1960-style' based on the press cutting above. As we went in search of photos and information on The Alhambra it suddenly occurred to us that the building celebrates its hundredth birthday in 2020, which is just a year away. So this has turned into something more than just a little look at what was on at the pictures in July 1960 - though we'll still be doing that, of course. Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this article. If you have memories, mementos and photos of The Alhambra in any of its guises, it goes without saying that we'd love to see them - Ed.

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT

by Dave Roberts

We're grateful to Rob Dykes who last Summer sent us this scan of an Alhambra Cinema ad from The Chronicle dated 9th July 1960.

This was, you may be surprised to hear, a Saturday. 

Our local newspapers were very different publications in former days, much more akin to regional newspapers, and carried items of national and regional news as well as stories relevant to Chester and Mid-Cheshire in the case of The Chronicle series and Warrington and Mid-Cheshire when it came to the Guardian series of newspapers.

And one of the most eagerly scanned sections of the newspaper in 1960 was the cinema listings.

For the week commencing Monday 11th July, Middlewich's Alhambra was showing, as can be seen, The Shakedown starring Terence Morgan, and Destiny of a Man (wrongly printed here as Destiny of Man, which may well have given some people completely the wrong idea of the scope of the plot).


On Thursday the programme changed and audiences could see No Time To Die (aka Tank Force)  in Cinemascope and Technicolor, supported by Gun Men From Laredo starring Robert Knapp and  Jana Dupui, another Technicolor film. 

You'll note that the films shown during the second half of the week are 'U' certificate, reflecting the fact that family audiences were more likely to attend the cinema at the weekend. There appears to have been no Sunday performance at this time.

Before we take a look at the films showing in Middlewich all those years ago, here are a few observations on the advert itself and a look at other cinemas with a link to the Alhambra.


It seems odd that, as late as 1960, the telephone number should be Middlewich 18. Perhaps the low number is accounted for by the fact that Middlewich's telephone exchange at the time was just across the road from the Alhambra, at the rear of the Post Office. The very first exchange, by the way, was in Brooks Lane and one of the first operators was my Auntie Cissie (Griffiths). The Wheelock Street premises are now a betting shop.


The advert also reminds parents of the existence of the 'Children's Club' at 2pm on Saturdays. This lays to rest another long-running Middlewich mystery. I was always told by locals that 'there were never any children's matinees at the Alhambra'. And yet I can always vividly remember going there to see a matinee performance featuring the (to me) staggeringly unfunny Three Stooges. I remember the foot stamping, the jeering, the throwing of missiles and the huge amount of cheeky remarks hurled at the usher, known to one and all as 'Torchy'.

The programmes are shown as being 'continuous from 5.15'.

Here's where we bring in our guest contributor, Colin Pierpoint for the first time:


'The words "Continuous from 5.15" are significant because it meant that you could stay in all evening if it said that, and see the films more than once. Usually there was a double bill, so you got about 3 hours before it repeated.'

And it was also quite usual for people to arrive late at the cinema and start watching a film part-way through. They'd then stay until the film started again and, when the point was reached at which they'd started watching, would leave, with the time-honoured phrase, 'I think this is where we came in!'


We're  told that The Alhambra was 'A Miles Jervis Cinema'. This was a company based in West Bromwich which owned a few cinemas in the fifties and sixties, mostly in the Midlands. 

Miles Jervis Cinemas  took over The Alhambra in 1960, the year we are looking at here, at the same time that they took over the Palace in Sandbach.

The Palace was somewhat similar in appearance to The Alhambra but, sadly, has not survived, being demolished in 1985 after several years of disuse.



The Palace Cinema in Congleton Road Sandbach, in the early 1950s. Although the exterior of this cinema, as built, was quite ornate it couldn't compare with the art-deco decoration of The Alhambra, which has survived to the present day. Ironically, it was Sandbach Cinemas, owners of The Palace, who ran The Alhambra in the 1930s. (Photo: Andrew Tilley)





By the 1970s, when The Palace was in its last days as a cinema, the ornate frontage had been altered and whatever charm the building possessed largely obliterated. The Palace, like many other former cinemas, served its time as a bingo hall before succumbing to the bulldozers in the 1980s. (Photo: Sandbach Photos Past and Present)

The histories of The Palace and The Alhambra seem, to a certain extent, to be intertwined. The Alhambra was opened in 1920 and was originally owned and operated by Clement Whitehead. Sandbach Cinemas, who ran The Palace in that town, took over the Alhambra from 1930. 
Clement Whitehead also operated the Star Cinema in a building still very familiar today.

Middlewich's first cinema, The Star, now the home to 'Triffic Togs' aka 'The Cabin'. The Star was, by later standards, rather primitive, with patrons seated on wooden benches and the projector on a platform behind them. There was no separate projection room. As the Alhambra opened in 1920 The Star can only have operated for a few years. Or were the two cinemas run concurrently for a time? Does anyone know? This building, before becoming the Middlewich institution it is today, also served time as an auction house and a car repair workshop.


The Alhambra around 1970 when the building was a bingo hall. And a very popular one at that. People were bussed in from as far afield as Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Liverpool. At this time the shop next door, adjoining Southway, was still owned by James Vernon and was selling furniture. Later it was to become one of the many premises in the town which has housed our Post Office. It was also, for a time, home to C.A.T.S. Opticians, which can now be found right across the road. The shop later sold wedding dresses and accessories and is, of course, currently the highly popular  Drinks & Bites At No 35. On the other side of Southway the off-licence (now closed) is selling the notorious Watney's Pale Ale. (Photo: Paul Hough Collection)






The bingo hall slightly later. This is the closest we can get to a photo of The Alhambra in its cinema days. The building was altered relatively little for its new role and rumours persisted for many years that the projection equipment had been left in situ. The proscenium arch was 22 feet wide and the cinema was fitted with a Western Electric sound system around 1930 when Sandbach Cinemas took it over.

Incorporated into the elaborate scrolled decoration beneath the curved frontage is a large capital W which, presumably, stood for Whitehead.




Here are some memories of The Alhambra from Colin Pierpoint, brother of Joan Pierpoint who was a well-known dance teacher in Middlewich for many years. 


The following account was first published on the Cinema Treasures website, and is reproduced with Colin's permission:



'I spent many hours in The Alhambra as a boy. 



We saw films like Oklahoma, High and Mighty (about flying), many Tarzan films, Errol Flynn swashbuckling, and Boris Karloff horror films.





For the latter there was often a suitable noise made by someone in the audience at the back. I remember seeing The Fiend without a Face (1958 version) with a good mimic of the man who lost half his brain, from the audience.



The projectionist sometimes put the reels out in the wrong order, which made the Tarzan plot confusing.

 
Another peculiarity of the Middlewich Alhambra was that there were two ways into the auditorium with different prices. The cheaper seats were up a ramp from the ticket desk. If you paid more, the customer went up the stair to what you expected to be the circle. However, it came out at the same seating but further back! 

There were a lot of US American service men (and possibly women) in there during the second world war because there was an air base at nearby Byley.
They were very annoyed to pay more for the same seats.

Another feature of  The Alhambra in the 1950s was Tommy Wilton. He was a socially disadvantaged man who they let in every evening free of charge. 
He sat in the front row.

When he got very excited during car chases and cowboy fights, he would jump up and down in his seat. The programme was changed twice a week and Tommy attended every night, so when he already knew the plot he would stand up to tell the audience what happens next! 



When cinemascope arrived, both sides of the picture were projected over the wall and exit doors.



Eventually they got the right lens for the screen size.' 



Colin Pierpoint 8th January 2018.




Richard Denton* says, 'The Alhambra was my introduction to the world of cinema. I loved the 'Allybarmy'. From Thunder Road and It Came From Beneath the Sea to Fess Parker in the Davy Crockett movies, and Brando in Mutiny On The Bounty.
I would go at least once a week, and often twice. In those days 'Pearl & Dean' were 'Pearl, Dean and Younger'. Whatever happened to Younger?


*Richard Denton is a member of the well-known Willing-Denton family, formerly of Middlewich Manor.

Colin Pierpoint: Yes, I remember the 'Pearl, Dean and Younger' advertisements. Many had a shaky overprint which said 'Only five minutes from this cinema!' The ads were followed by a trailer for the next presentation. If the trailer was in colour, people were heard to say 'Colour!' out loud, because it was so unusual an occurrence.


And Gay Sherry, who now lives in Australia, tells us:

I remember going there in my early teens to see the Dracula horror movies. My friend and I would dash home from school, make sandwiches and a flask of tea and sit at the back terrified, more often than not the only two in the cinema at the early showing!


So what were the films showing in Middlewich that week in 1960 like? Let's take a look at them.

After being released from prison, Augie Cortona sets up a blackmail operation, fronted by a model agency. When the authorities get wind of his activities, they send in an undercover police woman, but when she is recognised, the police need to move in on the operation, before Cortona can take his revenge. The poster alone must have been enough to bring the local Middlewich lads flocking to The Alhambra. And what, we wonder, did Tommy Wilton make of it?












The story of a man (Andrey Sokolov) whose life was ruthlessly crippled by World War II. His wife and daughters were killed during the bombing of his village, he spent some time as a prisoner, and his only son was killed in action only a few days before the victory...
Hardly a bundle of laughs, by the sound of it.




During WW2 in North Africa, an American sergeant serving with the British 8th Army is captured by the Germans but he hatches various plans of escape from the POW camp. Retitled No Time To Die in the UK. A British film, but made very much in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Middlewich will have loved it.

One of thousands of Western potboilers, a genre very popular at the time, both at the cinema and on TV. This one's about some Gunmen from Laredo.

So there we are. Your entertainment for the week commencing Monday July 11th 1960.





The Alhambra itself, as it was in 1937,  features in a film showing the Middlewich Coronation celebrations of that year. The film was made on 16mm film by the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society and was actually shown at the Alhambra shortly afterwards, on a projector placed halfway down the centre aisle. 

Imagine the excitement of some Middlewichians who were able to see themselves in the same cinema and on the same screen where they were used to seeing the Hollywood stars of the day.

You can see the film, which also features many other familiar Middlewich scenes,  by clicking on the link below.


A Salt Town Presentation



And here are some personal reminiscences of a trip to The Alhambra in 1963, on a day that has gone down in history.






We don't have a date for the closure of The Alhambra as a cinema, but we know it was open as late as 1966. If anyone can supply us with the dates that the cinema closed and the bingo hall opened, we'd be very grateful. The building was used for several purposes over the intervening years between its cinema days and its re-purposing as a Chinese restaurant. As well as the bingo hall, there was also a snooker club and, for a brief and controversial period in the 1980s, an amusement arcade.




This 1988 photo by Daniel Preston gives us a tantalising glimpse of the frontage of the building when the amusement arcade was providing entertainment to youngsters in a pre-computer games era, and incurring the wrath of adults who considered it the root of all evil and the cause of all trouble in the town. There were regular calls for it to be closed down. 






Bill Armsden's celebrated study of The Alhambra from 2012. Yet again the signage has been changed. The building has carried all manner of electric signs over the years but, in its cinema and bingo hall days, made do with the words THE ALHAMBRA in plasterwork above the door. Those words are still there and have helped ensure that whatever the building has been used for over the years, it has retained its time-honoured name. Even at night it's possible to see that the art-deco frontage itself was looking a little the worse for wear during this period. The shop next door was a bridal shop at this time. By 2013 it had become Drinks & Bites at No. 35









Yet another change of sign for The Alhambra. This photo from the Local Data Company shows the restaurant during the period it was closed. It has since re-opened. The frontage has been cleaned, tidied and repainted and now looks much as it must have done in 1920.



THE PRESENT-DAY ALHAMBRA






The Alhambra is a remarkable survivor. For nearly a hundred years it has served Middlewich as an entertainment venue and its current owner, David Cantona Lee is keen to bring all kinds of entertainment to this iconic Middlewich venue.

One intriguing and very appropriate idea is the possibility of once again screening movies at The Alhambra. The introduction of lightweight, high-quality digital equipment has meant that this is now a real possibility, rather than the pipe-dream it once was.
Cine-dining is becoming more and more popular all over the world and, who knows, Middlewich might become part of the movement.

It would certainly be very fitting for the building's centenary.


To find out what's happening right now at The Alhambra, check out their Facebook Page:



                  ALHAMBRA BAR AND ENTERTAINMENT ON FACEBOOK









Alhambra advertisements for New Year's Eve 2016 and 2018

Many thanks for coming with us on this little trip into the Alhambra's past. There is, of course, a lot more to tell and we just know that people will have a lot to tell us about their experiences of The Alhambra over the years.

But, for now......I think this is where we came in....




UPDATE - 29th MARCH 2019.
Photo courtesy of David Cantona Lee

The Alhambra was reborn as a restaurant on the 29th March 1999. Here's a photo taken on the opening night and featuring well-known local residents including the then Mayor of Middlewich, Fred Johnson. Please don't hesitate to get in touch and  help us put names to faces.

The Alhambra's twentieth anniversary as a restaurant coincided with the weekend of Mother's Day 2019.




UPDATE:

In July 2019, after another period of closure, it was announced that The Alhambra was to re-open as an Italian Restaurant called Il Padrino.



Il Padrino (the name translates as 'The Godfather') opened its doors on Thursday 10th October 2019 and that famous frontage gained yet another new look. The iconic 'Alhambra' art-deco work, though, remains and will be enhanced and restored in the months to come, ready for the building's 100th birthday in 2020. We wish the owners of Il Padrino the very best of luck as we welcome this new addition to the Middlewich culinary scene. -Ed 

Many Thanks To:

ROB DYKES
COLIN PIERPOINT
DAVID CANTONA LEE
RICHARD DENTON
CINEMA TREASURES
THE LATE BILL ARMSDEN
DANIEL PRESTON
THE LOCAL DATA COMPANY LTD
GAY SHERRY
MIDDLEWICH GUARDIAN

First published 16th January 2019
Updated and re-published 29th March 2019 (the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Alhambra Chinese Restaurant)

Updated and re-published 10th July 2019.
Updated and re-published 10th October 2019
Re-published 31st July 2020 (The building's 100th birthday)

23rd MAY 2020