Wednesday 20 July 2011


By Dave Roberts

On its way to Crewe the legendary 'Northwich Dodger' makes a stop at Middlewich station to pick up passengers, including the stylish 50s Mum and her baby on the right. The date is 14th March 1959 and the by now much reduced passenger service on the Middlewich line has less than a year to run. The service ended on the 2nd January 1960. Although, to the uninitiated, this looks at first glance like an old fashioned diesel train, closer inspection will show the steam locomotive (no 41229, for those who like to know these things) at the far end, opposite the water tower. The 'Dodger' was a push-pull or 'motor' train which ran loco-first in the Northwich direction and then simply reversed for the trip back to Crewe, the driver sitting in a compartment in the leading coach, while the fireman stayed on the footplate. Rumour has it that, on occasion, the driver stayed on the locomotive, rather than sit  in his cosy little cab in the train. Other rumours told of the fireman driving the train from his end, while the driver had a quick nap at the front but whether or not these scandalous accusations can be proved, we can't say. All water under the bridge now, of course, and no one came to any harm, however the crew decided to handle things. Motor trains began on this line in 1911.
By 1959 the only passenger services available were four trains a day in each direction between Northwich and Crewe (however, as members of the Rail Link Campaign committee will tell you, if you're looking for a local destination to run trains to, what station could be better than Crewe, for connections to the entire country?). Previously there had been services from Crewe to Liverpool and Warrington and, until 1931, a through coach to London on a service from Manchester Oxford Road. At one time, also, trains ran from Kidsgrove and Nantwich to Northwich via Middlewich
Although the 'Dodger' terminated at Northwich, certain services reversed at that Station and ran up to Acton Bridge, via the connection to the West Coast main line at Hartford.
I'm particularly fond of this photograph because it shows our station as it must have been on that long-ago day in 1959 when my Dad and I took one of the last 'Dodgers' to Crewe to watch the Queen opening the new shopping centre there.
This black and white print was passed to me by Allan Earl (it appears in his book 'Middlewich 1900-1950') but it has also been featured many times in the local press and in  many books about railways.
I'm indebted to Alan Wilkinson, formerly of Middlewich, for some of the information included here. His book 'Railways Across Mid-Cheshire' (Foxline Publications) contains a section on the history of the Middlewich Branch, illustrated with many photographs including this one.
The 'Dodger' could get you from Middlewich to Northwich in just seven minutes. It remains to be seen how long it will take with modern diesel traction. Let's hope it won't be too long before we get the chance to find out.



                 THE DODGER AT CREWE STATION 1955

Facebook Feedback (20th July 2011):

Geraldine Williams Ah! - the trusty old Dodger. It conveyed me to work in Northwich and provided a connection to the Chester train for my sister and others who attended the Ursuline Convent School. The only slight downside to the Dodger was in the winter when the heating system belted out dusty, hot air from under the seats which gave ladies a grimy hem to the backs of dresses and underskirts and played havoc with chilblain suffers like me!

Dave Roberts Excellent, Geraldine. That's exactly the kind of everyday detail we like to hear about. I wonder if it would be possible to recreate the 'Dodger'? Certainly several of the tank locos used still exist and there are push-pull coaches on preserved railways...I wonder. Just a pipedream, really, which will have to wait until the new station is built and open.

Geraldine Williams
Re: your comments about the Dodger and going to see The Queen at Crewe, have you any recollections of when The Queen opened Leighton Hospital? I was working at St Mary's at the time and we had a phone call, I think from Mac Telfer, saying that the Royal Train would be passing through Middlewich Station just after lunch. We dug out every flag we could find from a drawer in the Presbytery and trooped the children down to the station. A train did pass through but all the windows seemed to be blanked off. The children dutifully waved their flags and then we trooped forlornly back to school, not knowing whether it had been The Queen's train or not!!

Dave Roberts I have heard the story before, about the Royal Train passing through with the blanked out windows, but I don't have any recollections myself about it.

MDR 170520

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