Friday, 30 September 2011


Possibly the most unsuccessful slide in our 1970s collection, despite the fact that it is neither under or over exposed, this is, nonetheless, exactly what it says in the title - Pochin's radio mast in King Street in 1974. The fact that I photographed it in such a way as to give no real clue to its situation is neither here nor there. Pochin (Contractors) made a gradual move from King Street to Brooks Lane in the 1970s and this mast was one of the last things to be moved.
Although our photograph is, perhaps, not of the best, this lattice transmitter mast does have a tale to tell and is a reminder of the days before mobile phone networks made personal communication easy for one and all.
If you look closely at the top of the mast you may just be able to make out some directional antennas (or antennae?). These, famously, pointed at The Great Orme in Llandudno and were part of the 'Pochin Radio Network' which enabled head office and the company's  various building sites around the country to communicate without running up large GPO telephone bills.
The head office system worked through the internal telephone system: you dialed a special number which put you onto the network and you then asked to be connected to whatever site or person you needed to talk to.*
An operator in the switchboard room monitored the conversation and flicked a switch whenever either participant said 'over'  in good old-fashioned Biggles war-time style.
You were warned not to end a sentence with the word over - 'have you had exactly ten thousand bricks or were you a few over over? - as this 'led to confusion', although, in truth, there was quite enough confusion to be going on with without us adding to it.
I spent many hours on this network attempting to make site managers all over the place admit to having taken delivery of bricks, concrete etc. with a total lack of success.
'Can you PLEASE confirm delivery of....'
'Not hearing you (over...)'
When the mast was moved to Brooks Lane the local starling population loved to roost in it and use the Pochin boardroom windows directly beneath as an avian toilet and this led, eventually, to the mast, which by then was redundant anyway, being dismantled in the early 90s.
A mobile phone mast occupies the same site now - possibly enjoying 'Grandfather rights' established by the old mast and so, in a way, the tradition continues.

* Pochins internal telephone system was astonishingly sophisticated for its day. As well as the radio network it also provided access to the typing pool via a recording system for letters. You dialled (another) special number and dictated your letter into the phone (being careful to specify the type of letterhead - PCL for Pochins (Contractors) Ltd or CPNW for Contractors Plant North West). A day or so later you got your letter plus file copy through the internal post.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


These papers are an indispensable source of information on local history and contain articles by among others, George Twigg, an expert on the Cheshire Salt industry,
Click on 'Salt making sites in Cheshire'

Monday, 26 September 2011


An MHS Newsletter article from 1992 which harks back to the
momentous day in 1969 when Middlewich joined the
STD Network
Another article written for the 'Middlewich Heritage Society Newsletter', this time in 1992. By the 1990s, we were all becoming used to the introduction of new technology, but it was still considered worthwhile commenting on the fact that the local telephone exchange had changed from an analogue to a digital system. It had, after all, been 23 years since the last major development, the introduction of STD (subscriber trunk dialling) on the exchange, which is what this article is really all about. By 1992 changes just happened, without a lot of  ballyhoo, speeches and ceremonial telephone call making, but, in 1969, our civic dignitaries couldn't resist getting in on the act and making a big occasion out of everything. This is a peculiarly British trait: there was a time when your local ITV station couldn't even come on the air in the morning without a lot of fanfares, marching music and cod-ceremonial 'handing over of the transmitter' by the IBA. (This doesn't occur now because there aren't any local ITV stations any more).
'Ringing The Changes' makes slightly embarrassing reading today, written as it is in an even more 'joky' style than usual, which led  one discerning reader  to stop me in the street in order to tell me that the article was 'a load of rubbish'.
Well, here it is,' rubbish' or not. Can I draw your attention to the name of the Night operator at the old Middlewich Exchange?
Hmmmm.....I like manual exchanges. Then again, I like electro-mechanical exchanges. But which is better? There's only one way to find out...
It's clear that, as recently as 1992, I for one was still in awe of this mysterious new technology, which accounts for the frankly ridiculous surmise that the equipment 'probably connected itself up, beeped a couple of times, and then went for a cup of tea'. You'd never catch me writing drivel like that these days, but I've left it intact so that you can marvel at my integrity. I'm still in awe of modern day technology, by the way, and welcome it with open arms. I long ago, however, gave up trying to understand how it works.
And isn't it strange to read about  'the digital age' as early as 1992? 
Although the telephone exchange itself had 'gone digital' our telephones hadn't (and, in a lot of cases, still haven't). We were still using the old style telephones, connected to the exchange by copper wire (and, again, although we use more modern phones these days, most people still rely on those antiquated copper wires, not only for phone calls, but also for Broadband internet. It's only now, in the second decade of the 21st century, that fibre optics and other advances are being seen locally)
And actually, back in 1992, the only change that telephone users noticed when Middlewich 'went digital'  was that the old 'purring' dial tone changed to the melodious tone we still hear today.


by Dave Roberts

At exactly 7am on April 10th 1992 Middlewich made a giant leap into the digital age with the introduction of the new all-singing, all-dancing, solid-state, space-age digital telephone exchange.
As momentous events in the life of the town go, this one was distinctly low-key. All the lines simply went dead for a few minutes as the new equipment was connected and Bingo! Digital telephones.
Actually, I did have a pleasing vision of engineers twisting bits of wire together and wrapping them with insulating tape, but things just aren't like that these days. The new digital equipment is so sophisticated it probably connected itself up, beeped a couple of times, and then went for a cup of tea.
Image: British Telecom
How different from the grand occasion, only twenty-three years ago, when the town was, after many delays, finally connected to the STD network with the opening of the new electro-mechanical exchange - state-of-the-art technology in 1969.
A 'changeover ceremony' was held at the British Legion Club and Council Chairman Wilfrid Faulkner dialled the home of Ald. H.J.S. Dewes, Chairman of the Cheshire County Council.
There was only one hitch to mar this historic moment. Ald. Dewes was, at the time, at a conference in Vienna. This is the kind of mistake which just can't happen under our new, efficient system of local government.
However, Mr Faulkner was able to talk to Mrs Dewes who remarked on 'the clarity of the call and the speed of the service' and the conversation was relayed to the gathering, including councillors, industrialists, council officials and representatives of the Middlewich Chamber of Trade.
Middlewich's 800 telephone subscribers could now take advantage of the automatic system which linked 6000 exchanges throughout the country. However, explained Mr L.A. Triffitt, Telephone Manager of the GPO's Manchester South Telephone Area (everyone seemed to have a long-winded title in those days), only 1000 of these exchanges could be dialled direct from Middlewich as, if all the exchanges were connected at once there would be a 'time-lag' before connections were made. No doubt everyone present understood perfectly. However, work was still in progress to bring about 'continual improvements'.
In actual fact, the changeover had really taken place six hours earlier at 8.45 in the morning, when the manual exchange behind Middlewich Post Office in Wheelock Street was disconnected after serving the town for 47 years. The supervisor of the Exchange, Mrs Pam Booher, said that all the operators were very sad to be going; 'we enjoyed working in Middlewich. We thank everyone for their good wishes'.
Night operator Harry Hill added, ' a piece of our lives has ended'.
Mr Faulkner paid tribute to the team of operators and recalled that once, when Middlewich UDC had been criticising the local service, the ladies running the exchange had attended the subsequent council meeting to give their answer - a commendable example of Direct Action.
The Wheelock Street exchange was not Middlewich's first. The original National Telephone Exchange was situated in Kinderton Street and I can always recall Cissie Griffiths (another in a long line of honorary 'Aunts' and 'Uncles') telling us that she was once hauled over the coals for not using the standard 'hello caller' greeting.
She knew all of her handful of subscribers by name, and would say 'Hello Fred,', 'Hello George' and so on.
Now you don't get that from a digital exchange.
(with acknowledgments to the Middlewich Chronicle)

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011

Facebook Feedback (from the 'Middlewich Diary Group):

Geraldine Williams I understand that it was our home in Kinderton Street that had once housed the National Telephone Exchange. An addendum to the blue plaque called for, surely!!

Dave Roberts Of course. All roads lead to Kinderton Street, as we've said before. That's going to be quite some blue plaque...

Reformatted 13th July 2020

Sunday, 25 September 2011


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How about this for an excellent picture of the Ermine Street Guard taking part in the 2011 Roman Middlewich Festival?  On Saturday 24th September Geraldine Williams was in the right place at the right time and took this shot, which almost has the quality of an oil painting.



Traditional open-pan salt making made a comeback in Middlewich on September 24th, albeit briefly. A demonstration of how the process works was staged at this year's Roman Middlewich Festival at Harbutt's Field. This is particularly appropriate for the festival as this method of producing salt remained essentially unchanged from Roman times until the last of the Middlewich open-pan works ceased production in the 1960s.
In a conversation with David Leithwood of Middlewich Heritage Society, I learned that the three steel salt pans had been commissioned by the Town Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher, for occasions such as this (iron pans were used for industrial salt production in recent times but the Romans, before the harmful effects of the metal were recognised, used lead - hence the street name 'Leadsmithy Street').
The process of salt-making is very simple indeed. Brine is poured into the pans and a fire lit underneath.
As the salt crystallises it is raked to the side of the pans and then put into tubs (at the festival small Roman style pots full of salt were being sold at the bargain price of only £2).
In practice, of course, the industrial production of salt by this method was much more complicated and required a lot more skill. Varying degrees of heat and different additives to the brine produced a variety of  salt crystals and, thus, different types of salt for a multitude of purposes.
A very pleasing feature of this  comeback for traditional salt-making is that the brine used is 100% genuine British Salt brine from the brinefield at Warmingham (near to the Bear's Paw pub, we're told) and so the salt produced is authentic Middlewich open pan salt.
Now here's a thought: I've seen salt produced on this sort of scale by enterprising producers using natural sea brine  to produce the much sought-after 'sea salt'.
Now I wonder....

A traditional open-pan salt works in Brooks Lane, Middlewich
in 1969. This one belonged to Henry Seddon & Sons and
was closed in 1967

Saturday, 24 September 2011


The 'floral clock', incorporating the festival's original 'fiddle' logo
In June 1999 the original Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary and was given the rare honour of a commemorative 'floral clock' (these things always seem to be called 'floral clocks' whether or not there is an actual clock involved).
It was difficult to get any picture at all of the design without borrowing special equipment from the fire station just up the road and this was really the best of several shots taken on the day.
In the background are members of the then festival committee looking...shall we say....a little bit past the first flush of youth. Ten years is a long time to keep a festival of this nature going and to do so is a great achievement, so the floral tribute was well deserved.
In its day, Middlewich's folk festival was one of the best in the North-west and was the first such local event to really put the town on the map.
But finance was always a problem and eventually, one year short of its twentieth anniversary (the 2001 event did not take place because of foot and mouth disease), the original festival had to end.
Middlewich Town Council came to the rescue and a new format, incorporating the Middlewich Rose Fete and other community events has now taken on the MFAB mantle. To reflect the festival's new setup the name seems to have been subtly changed to the 'Middlewich FAB Festival' and it is indeed fortuitous that the words Folk And Boat should make such a happy acronym.
The floral clock and flagpole, incidentally, is on the site of Middlewich's former fire station.


The first batch of these flyers was distributed on September 24th at the Roman Middlewich Festival and, if you're here because you picked one up, you're very welcome! We hope you'll find a lot here to interest you.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I can remember taking this particular slide in 1973 not because it showed anything in particular (although it, does, in retrospect, show something rather surprising which we'll get to shortly) but because it evoked a certain mood. There was just something about the quality of the light which, I think, still comes through in the picture today.
The slide was taken from the right hand side (looking from the Town Bridge) of the Trent & Mersey Canal and it shows the green painted pipe-line bridge which we've already glimpsed here and here.
What has surprised me, looking at the slide now, is that the pipeline did not run, as would have been logical, from the 'Middlewich' end straight to the gasworks on the right-hand bank of the River Croco.
The pipe still had the Croco to cross from this point. Or, to put it another way, the pipeline bridge did not cross both the canal and the river.  A look at the photographs on page 44 of Images of England -  Middlewich by J Brian Curzon and Paul Hurley (Tempus Publishing 2005) gives us the answer, which is that the gas pipe itself  ran from the end of this bridge under the right hand canal bank and then across the river between the retaining walls on either side of the Croco. In fact one of the photographs in question shows three pipelines crossing the river in this way (at least one of them may have been for drainage) with the main one (presumably the main outlet from the works which ran into the town via this bridge) having a  small catwalk above it, affording it a little protection.
There was also another walkway at canal bank level which, judging from the second photograph, was used to take the coal into the works through an entrance  in the wall, presumably on barrows not dissimilar to the ones used in the open pan salt works.
It must be remembered that, in the days of cheap and plentiful labour, this would be a common way of working. The notorious slowness of canal traffic would not be an issue as the system would be working like a conveyor belt, the 'belt' consisting of numerous canal boats. If the flow of coal is continuous it makes no difference at what speed the boats travel.
On the left hand side of our 1973 slide can be seen a salt warehouse - the only part of the Pepper Street works still standing at this period - and, in the centre of the picture, seen between the pipeline and the ladder the remaining outer wall of the works. A British Waterways maintenance boat competes the scene.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

NOW and THEN: THE KINGS ARMS 1975, 2011

The Kings Arms on the corner of Hightown and Queen Street as it was in 1975 and as it is now. No one can deny that there has been a vast improvement to the appearance of the pub, as seen from the outside at least.
There was some controversy over the type of replacement windows used, but no doubt at all that they were sorely in need of replacement, and had been for many years. Apart from the windows, most of the improvements to the pub are cosmetic - a new coat of paint and some pleasing embellishments, but worth a lot in terms of the public face the town presents, particularly to newcomers and visitors.
What can't be detected from these pictures is that the Kings Arms today is about twice as big as it was in 1975, owing to the extensions built in the early 1990s when Frank Steed took over the pub
We used to defend the rough and ready, down-at-heel appearance of pubs such as this, claiming that they had 'character'. But we were kidding ourselves. They were scruffy and mostly nondescript places.


Another in our series of slides covering the service of re-dedication and the procession  which followed. In this slide we see the then Chairman of the UDC, Cllr Fred Stallard (after whom the residential road connecting St Ann's Road and Sutton Lane is named), taking the salute as the procession reaches its destination at the Royal British Legion Club in Lewin Street.
For most civic occasions in this period the Chairman wore an ordinary suit with the chain and civic insignia around his neck, but here we see a rare outing for the Chairman's robe. The hat is an even greater rarity. It is, in fact, the only time I, personally, can ever remember seeing a UDC Chairman wearing it.
And, as can be expected from a generation which took part in the Second World War, medals are much in evidence.

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams Lovely pic Dave. Nice to see Bishop Brewer, who was also Parish Priest at St Mary's, in the line-up. (btw the shadows are getting longer!)
(The latter is a reference to this posting -ed)

Dave Roberts Here's a sobering thought. If I'd tried to get this shot nowadays with my posh Olympus digital camera, the chances are I would have missed Fred's salute, as it takes the shutter about two seconds to fire. At least with the old Kodak Instamatic the shutter opened when you pressed the button. In actual fact, I get most modern shots on my Blackberry. Perfectly adequate for what i do.

  • Geraldine Williams Perfectly timed! However, you may have set Ecumenism back by several years by cutting the Bishop of Chester off!!!
  • Dave Roberts I should have taken him to one side for a commemorative picture, as I did with Frank Bailey and his wife. Bit late now...

    • Jonathan Williams Oh yes, the hat exists today. Like the UDC Chairmen, not many of the Town Mayors have worn it.Just 2 to be precise: 1. The Scarecrow Town Mayor we made for our office window for the recent Treasure Hunt. 2. Clr Andrew Mather. If you knew Andy Mather, you'd know why!!

    • Dave Roberts Shame. Cllr Parsons, to give but one example, would cut a fine figure wearing that hat.
    • Dave Roberts Or, more correctly, perhaps, would have...

      Jonathan Williams That's correct....he had his chance. Maybe I can have a word with our current Town Mayor and see if she will take up the mantle and resurrect the tradtion at her Civic Parade and Service this weekend*

        •  Keep you posted but Rentokil may be receiving a call !!

      • *For the Roman Middlewich Festival -ed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


These photographs, taken on September 20th 2011, show that the refurbishment of the White Bear Hotel in Wheelock Street is continuing in fine style.
The main entrance (right) has had years of accumulated dirt and paint removed to reveal the original stonework and church-style doors have been fitted.
The pub is due to re-open as a pub/restaurant in October.


Another little piece of old Middlewich nears the end of its life in 1974 as the redevelopment and remodelling of the King Street/Kinderton Street junction means the imminent end of the picturesque yard at Pool Head Farm.
One indication that things are about to change is the temporary wooden fence in the foreground of the picture. Previously a  brick wall had surrounded the farmhouse, farmyard and mill pool, starting in Kinderton Street and extending around the corner into King Street.
The same area in 2011 looks more like an industrial estate than anything else (although a sign affixed to one of the modern buildings still says 'Pool Head Farm'.)

Just another interesting corner of the town sacrificed for the sake of the
motor car.

Facebook feedback

Geraldine Williams Those were the days - when you could safely leave a dead hen hanging up, with only some rickety palings to guard it, and know that it would still be there five minutes later.......... hehehe

Monday, 19 September 2011


Here we see members of the  Band of the Black Watch Association in Leadsmithy Street at the head of the procession to the Royal British Legion Club in Lewin Street following the rededication of the war memorial in its new position on the 'piazza'.
In the background is the clearly non-whitewashed Wharf Cottage in the days before this, and many other parts of the town, began to be engulfed by uncontrolled vegetation. To the left is the ladies' end of the public conveniences just to the east of the Town Bridge.
The 1970s car in the background is also worthy of note, being a particularly dreary looking representative of the auto-styling of the time.
Assuming that the ceremony of re-dedication took place on Remembrance Sunday, the date would have been November 12th 1972. It hardly seems likely that two ceremonies would have been held that year, although, as always, we are open to correction on the matter.

Our second photograph shows the band a short time later outside the British legion Club in Lewin Street.

Facebook feedback:

  • Geraldine Williams I wonder why the windows of Wharf Cottage were bricked up on the street side? Not because of the Window Tax (repealed 1850) surely. I'm sure I've seen old pictures of Leadsmithy Street choc-a-bloc with buildings.

  • Dave Roberts I wonder if the windows were removed when the cottage was converted for use as the British Waterways Board's area offices? I don't see quite why they should have been, but could there have been some reason to do with the layout of the new offices?

    • Geraldine Williams I didn't know that the building had once been used as offices. btw I seem to recall that the re-dedication service took place in the afternoon but in any case I doubt the Bishop of Chester would have been available on Remembrance Sunday.

    • Dave Roberts Very true. Google doesn't seem to bring up anything regarding the actual date. There's no reason, of course, why the service should have been on Remembrance Day at all. If only I'd made proper notes about the slides I was taking...but I was young and foolish then. I'm still one out of the two. Perhaps some kind person can help with the date?

      • Geraldine Williams Of course, if we were REALLY clever (leave me out of this one!) we could work out the time of day - or even the season - from the shadows cast in the two pics!

      • Dave Roberts We could , couldn't we? Shouldn't be too difficult. Leave it with me...


Well here it finally is. This poor unfortunate bungalow in Kinderton Street, taken for granted for so long, has now joined the space age in a most unfortunate way. The above snatched shot, taken on the 18th September 2011 while our car was stopped at the Town Bridge lights, tells the story. A clear case of a picture being worth a thousand words.

And now, three years on, solar panels are appearing in great profusion on rooftops all over the country. Including our house!

Sunday, 18 September 2011


A link to our sister blog, The Odd Exception, for this poem which is not really about Middlewich but a town very much like it. A kind of virtual Middlewich, if you will. Or if you won't - I'm easy either way...

Friday, 16 September 2011


 Another 'rescued' photo - a print this time - which was found on the floor of our garage during a clearout. It had been lying, face-down, on the concrete floor for years, neglected and extensively trampled on. Not an ideal filing system for photographs, of course. I rescued it and laminated it, but a little too late to prevent a lot of damage. Still, the photograph does still exist and, helpfully, includes a hand-painted sign telling us exactly what is going on.
F Coupe & Sons (parent company Kinderton Holdings Ltd) were manufacturers of baby clothes and gave employment to a lot of women and young girls in Middlewich. They had two factories - the Lily Works and the  Orchard Works which was a short distance away across the road at the top end of Southway (now the site of Tesco's supermarket).
The Lily Works site in St Ann's Road is, of course, now occupied by the Newton Court Care Home, operated by BUPA. This was, according to their website, 'registered in 1997' . The Lily Works was demolished in 1995. but not before it had been ravaged by a disastrous fire, which did not make a lot of difference as the works was due to close anyway.
One reminder of the old works remains at the site: the brick wall and metal fencing which runs along St Ann's Road was retained and refurbished when the new Care Home was built
Newton Court. Photo: BUPA

Facebook Feedback

Sherry Hill-Smith I worked at the care home (Newton Court) that was built in its place as the activities officer.
But there again half of the females I ever met living in Middlewich have at some point worked there.
Some of the residents used to tell me about how they worked there (Lily Works) making clothing. 

One of our family's many 'honorary uncles' Sidney Webb, who worked for many years at Ideal Standard, and was also a popular local accordian player, lived in a house next to the Lily Works and, in his final days, when the time came for him to move into the brand new Newton Court, was given a bedroom overlooking his old house and was thus, in his words, able to 'keep an eye on it' - ed.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Here's an interesting shot from 1974. We've gone back yet again to Kinderton Street in the period when Costello's shop and the rest of the buildings in the row were just about to be demolished. I stood on the waste ground at the top of the bank behind the  derelict shops and took this picture - largely because, until then, it hadn't been possible to photograph St Michael & All Angels church from quite the same angle - not without trespassing on private property, that is. An equivalent view today would be from the corner of King Street and Kinderton Street at the top of the pavement which sweeps down into the town from there, but the view nowadays would be partially obscured by all the trees since established along the route.
To the left is the (by now whitewashed) Wharf cottage in Leadsmithy Street but what is the low-eaved building on the extreme left, in Kinderton Street? Close examination of the slide shows that there is a greenhouse at the rear of the property. I think the answer lies in this slide and that the building in question is at the rear of the elusive Percival's, a building we've glimpsed from various angles at various times in this series but never (as yet) got a proper view of.
Or, alternatively, has Percival's disappeared by this date and the building in question the one that can just be glimpsed behind The Talbot in the church tower view? That building certainly would appear to have a greenhouse of some kind adjacent to it and Percival's building looks as if it might be too tall to be the one in our 1974 photograph.
The bungalow at the top of Mill Lane can just about be made out through the weeds, just below and to the right of the church, quietly minding its own business and little suspecting that 36 years later it would suffer the indignity of having solar panels heaped on its roof and looking, after all the years it has stood there, completely out of place in its setting.
Nowadays, of course, drivers coming into Middlewich over the Holmes Chapel Road (or Station) bridge can get almost the same view of the church but, back in 1974, to be able to see the church like this, from this distance, was quite new and quite striking.

Facebook feedback:

  • Geraldine Williams 

    It looks very much as though it is the building behind The Talbot and it seems to be the roof/chimney of the pub in the top left-hand corner. Perhaps it was simply a rear extension. I don't think it could have been Percival's as it has red ridge tiles and Percival's didn't and the brownish bits at road level to the right of the property could be signs of some sort of demolition. Interestingly, the view from the Church Tower seems to show a sheep grazing on the grassy area! Could the child's swing be part of Will Moreton's new property?

  • Dave Roberts Geraldine, I think you're right, but I can't see the roof/chimney of the Talbot anywhere on the photo. I've never noticed the sheep, but I'll take another look. And I also think you're right about the swing - I can't think who else it might belong to. It's interesting that William's house was built before the new Pool Head farmhouse. The main access to both houses now seems to be from King Street
     ‎...I think you're right about the sheep, too. Well I never! Urban sheep farming seems to have been a bit of a Middlewich thing. Mr Smallwood in Lewin Street was doing it right up until at least 2001. In fact it was the fact that his sheep were so close to Market field that put paid to the Folk & Boat Festival during the foot and mouth outbreak.
    ... I just looked at the photo again, and see what you mean about the roof/chimney of the Talbot - you're talking about what can be seen just above the ridge tiles on the 'outbuilding' aren't you?
    Geraldine Williams Yes.