Friday 21 October 2016

NOW and THEN: HIGHTOWN, 1972, 2011

Two photographs illustrating the dramatic changes in Hightown over the last 39 years. In the 1972 picture the Town Hall and adjacent row of shops are about to be demolished to make way for the ill advised 'piazza', a bone of contention locally from the start of and throughout its life. The problem was not with the design, but with its execution; the whole area was made up of pink, yellow and white paving stones and looked as if it was specifically intended to be bleak, windswept and rain-sodden. At one time it was a Middlewich rite of passage to do an 'all-nighter' on the piazza, staying up throughout the night, drinking, smoking and talking, though it's hard to think of a more miserable and depressing place for that sort of thing.
But it did, at least, provide an improved view of the church and a setting for the war memorial away from the traffic.
The current arrangement is a great improvement and resembles a Roman amphitheatre (or part of one, at least). It occupies more or less the same space as the piazza, but is far more attractive. In the summertime, when the Middlewich FAB Festival comes around, the space is used for morris dancing and concerts and attracts (and can accomodate) huge crowds.
And at night time, when approached along St Michael's Way, the town centre can look stunning.
In front of what is now Tesco Express, parking arrangements have varied over the years. In fact, until fairly recent years, parking there at all was almost impossible, as can be deduced from the 1972 picture. A parking spot outside Tesco is a much sought-after thing, and facilities have been extended bit by bit further up Hightown until we have reached a situation where the through traffic along the street is almost an afterthought.
Hightown in 1972 had character and history, but the property on the left hand side, including the Town Hall, was worn out, shabby and difficult to maintain and was definitely reaching the end of its days.
The 2011 outlook is much brighter and the town now has a centre it can be proud of.

The fact that the 'new Bullring' resembles a Roman amphitheatre is no accident as Town Clerk Jonathan Williams explains here.

Photo: Carrick Plant Ltd
The amphitheatre style is very much by design. In the early 2000s we received Heritage Economic Regeneration funding for the town centre; shop fronts, public realm etc. There were a number of designs drawn up to renovate the piazza area. The Town Council applied for an additional £60K from the Rural Recovery Fund, which allowed us to excavate the site and drop down in tiers from Hightown level to the former Lower Street line (now the bus lane). The amphitheatre was someone's daft idea (ahem!) but was designed to not only acknowledge the town's past history but also create a modern piece of public space with a performance area and built-in seating. Total cost was about £350k and we had some initial flack...'Should've spent it on a swimming pool' etc. Of course it was grant money, which would have been spent in another town if we hadn't come up with this scheme. Apart from our time as Town Council/Vision Officers of the day, the new Bull ring cost Middlewich £10,000. - Jonathan Williams

And, keeping things in the family. Jonathan's Mum, Geraldine, commented:

I couldn't agree more with your observations about present-day Hightown and the first impressions it gives of the town when approached from the Chester Road end of St Michael's Way. This is precisely why I took this photograph a couple of years ago.

First published 21st October 2011
Updated and re-published 21st October 2016

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