Thursday 21 May 2020


by Dave Roberts

This was originally published in two parts: 'The Salt Siding 1' and 'The Salt Siding 2 and the Brine Line' in October 2011. This entry combines the two entries into one.


(originally published 11th October 2011)

From 1969 here's a view of part of the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich branch line showing some long-vanished railway paraphernalia and, in particular, the 'salt siding' (foreground) which connected Middlewich Station with the industries along the line.
Dominating the scene is one of the semaphore signals controlling trains on the main running line. To accomodate the salt siding signals along this stretch of line were cantilevered out from the other side of the track and required guy wires to counter their tendency to tilt over. The signal arm should, of course, be a deep red and white rather than pink. This type of signal arm needs constant re-painting as red is one of the least stable of colours and fades rapidly in sunlight. Just above the salt siding  a smoke deflector can be seen under the signal's gantry, put there to counter the effect of smoke and steam from  years of steam locomotives.
The little wooden cabin to the left of the signal is a shunter's cabin. This contained a telephone which connected with Middlewich signal box (which can just be glimpsed away in the distance - a small patch of white underneath the Holmes Chapel Road bridge).
Middlewich signal box 1965. It was from here that shunting
operations on the Salt Siding were controlled. The left hand
track connected directly to the siding
Looking in the opposite direction, 1963. The Salt Siding started
just under the bridge and served all the industries on the
right hand side of the railway.

 That telephone would today be worth a lot of money to an antique dealer. It was made of mahogany with bakelite mouth and earpieces and two brass bells on the top. This venerable instrument was used to pass instructions between the shunter and the signalman when they were preparing trains for their journeys out onto the railway network.
To the right of the cabin can be seen the canopy (an inverted 'v' shape) of the loading bay at Seddon's/Simpson's in Brooks Lane and the rail connections which ran from the salt siding to serve Murgatroyd's salt works and the ICI soda ash works. The ICI connection ran behind the Scout Hall in Brooks Lane and into the works via the ornamental iron gates which are still in situ at what was, until 2019, the Pochin site.
Out of shot to the left is  Murgatroyd's brine pump (now the subject of a preservation project as it is the only remaining brine pump in the country still in its original position - i.e. over its brine shaft). When Murgatroyd's chemical works was established in Booth Lane at Moston in 1949 brine  was sent  from this pump along 'the brine line' to the new works. This pipe line can seen on the other side of the railway  and remains in existence to this day. 
Middlewich Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher, confirms this (see below).
Just to the left of where the pipe line starts is the corner of 'Station Field' where fairs and circuses were held in former years. The field was also, in the sixties, home to the 'Dennis White Foundation' and boasted soccer pitches, changing rooms and a social club. It is in this corner that the Middlewich ROC post was situated, although it's not really possible to tell from the picture what was actually there at the time. The whole area is now, of course, covered in industrial units.


(Originally published 21st October 2011)

In 1970 two diesel locos, looking every bit as old-fashioned as the steam engines they had recently replaced, haul a goods train past some almost derelict looking sidings near the old ICI works. The track immediately to the left of the train is the 'salt siding' which was built in 1918 and ran in the direction of Sandbach from Middlewich Station to serve Seddon's salt works in Brooks Lane, the ICI soda ash works and Cerebos Salt (the former Middlewich Salt Company). This kept the numerous freight workings clear of the main running line.
The salt siding disappeared in 1980 at the same time as Middlewich signal box and its associated semaphore signals. Replacing it would be a problem, as new signals have been placed on the trackbed on the approach to Middlewich. Not that anyone would ever propose the replacement of such a siding, as the need for it has long since ceased to exist.The trackbed on which it ran, though, may well have a future with the coming re-opening of the line to passengers. It would be a relatively simply matter to install double track on the section between Sandbach and Middlewich (the Sandbach end is already double tracked (and electrified) for some distance from Sandbach towards Middlewich).
British Salt is now the only company on the Middlewich Branch served by rail, although the stub of a siding which once led to Murgatroyd's chemical works (later B.P Chemicals, Hays Chemicals and then Brenntag) is still in place at the Sandbach end of the line.
On the left can be seen the end of a train parked (or 'stabled' to use the correct railway terminology) on one of the sidings, with that once familiar sight on the railways, a guard's van, coupled to it. Improvements in train brakes mean that these vans are mostly no longer necessary, though they are used on nuclear flask workings and  other special trains.

 Middlewich Town Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Kirwan, who is spearheading the preservation project for the brine pump, has sent us the following information:

The Murgatroyd Brine Pump was used to supply brine to the Salt Houses and from 1949 to supply brine to the new Chemical site at Moston. Two extra pumps were set up which the pump man controlled to send pumped brine down the pipeline which was laid alongside the railway line. They are the ones in the picture and are still there. This pipeline was used up to 1977 when wild brine pumping ceased.


Facebook feedback

Geraldine Williams
Station Field was also used as a playing field by St Mary's School for football and  sports days were held there. Denis - one-time Cllr - White used to hold whippet races on that field, using an upturned bicycle's pedal power to operate the 'hare'! All part of Denis' master plan to fund-raise for a swimming pool for the town. Hmm.

The sport of whippet racing was surprisingly popular and well-organised in Middlewich. Follow the link to enjoy memories from people who took part and attended as spectators - Ed.

Mally Mal Fascinating detail!

Originally published 20th October 2011 in two parts. Combined and republished as 'The Salt Siding and The Brine Line' 21st May 2020 and republished.

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