Wednesday 30 November 2011

TOWN BRIDGE circa 1914

We believe this postcard to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know

We have been saving this picture pending a trip down to the Town Wharf  to photograph it in its present (sorry) state for a 'Now & Then' feature, but couldn't resist giving everyone a preview. It's one of a whole album of postcards and photographs kindly loaned to us by keen Middlewich Diary follower and contributor Geraldine Williams. The postcards in the album were mostly sent between Miss Mary E (Polly) Gallimore, her sister Ada, brother Frank (of Sutton Lane) and various relatives when the girls left home to go into service at several locations. Geraldine has painstakingly transcribed the messages from the back of the cards to form a fascinating account of the girls' travels in the early years of the 20th Century. We will be featuring the contents of the album in the Middlewich Diary in due course and we're sure it will be of interest to many, featuring as it does period shots of the places the girls visited including Birmingham, Liverpool, Blackpool, Chester, North Wales and many others.
Postcards, it will be appreciated, were really the e-mails of their day, and the main method of communication because they were cheaper to send than letters, which were reserved for special occasions. Today's equivalent of the letter would letter I suppose. They're still a very good way of communicating important private information. I don't know what the early 20th century equivalent of a 'tweet' would be; probably a note scribbled on the back of a fag packet.
But we digress; most of the postcards were written between the years 1904 and 1907, but this appears to be somewhat later, being published, as far as we can judge, sometime during World War I. For this reason we've dated it circa 1914. This is one of two 'classic' views of this scene, the other one dating from 1930 just before the bridge was replaced. Both are featured on page 28 of  Images of England - Middlewich by J Brian Curzon and Paul Hurley (Tempus Publishing 2005) and the later, 1930, view as Plate 27 on page 126 of Middlewich 1900-1950 by Alan Earl (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994).
Unlike the above authors, we do have the luxury of being able to show the postcard in all its hand-coloured glory. The canal itself has benefited greatly from this  colour-washing and looks more like the Mediterra-nean than a grimy industrial waterway.
But it's the bridge itself we wanted to consider. It seems obvious that the new bridge was built exactly where the old one was. Probably this could not have been otherwise, as the River Croco had to be taken into account as had, of course, the alignment of the roads leading into the bridge. I imagine that the original Croco bridge was simply incorporated into the structure of the new bridge when it was built in 1931*. Equally obviously the new bridge is much wider than the old one was and fans out into a 'Y' shape to accomodate the improved junction between Kinderton Street, Leadsmithy Street and Lower Street (now the southernmost portion of St Michael's Way). The building on the right hand side of the bridge is the famed 'Navigation Inn', another one of those two-level pubs (the Big Lock and King's Lock are surviving examples) which the late J Brian Curzon always referred to as 'stack pubs',  a description which always struck me as very apt.
And look at the tall building on the right, which is very reminiscent of the old lock-keepers cottage at Big Lock. In fact I've seen descriptions of this postcard which actually refer to it a 'lock-keeper's cottage', which is self-evidently wrong for the simple reason that there is no lock here. The little building with the chimney on the left disappeared without warning a few years ago, showing us yet again that you can't take anything for granted.
Let us hope that the redevelopment scheme for the Town Wharf area becomes a reality before too long. The area is in sore need of preservation and conservation.
One suggestion I'd personally like to make is the provision of a crane to replace the one shown here. It doesn't have to be authentic. Any sort of reasonably old-looking crane will do. After all, the Shroppie Fly at Audlem makes do perfectly well with an old railway crane, and most people are none the wiser.

UPDATE: Actually, if you look at the postcard closely, it's obvious that there are two cranes on the wharf, not one. Let's not be greedy - one crane will do.

A thought occurred to me while I was writing this: The demolition of the old bridge and the building of the new one, with all the destruction of property involved, must have been just as traumatic for people in 1931 as the later ravages of the early 1970s were for us. Fortunately, because of more enlightened views on the  conservation of older properties, we are unlikely ever to see such radical change again (unless you count the proposed supermarket developments in Southway and Chester Road*) and a lot of the basic layout of our old town, including Wheelock Street, has, at least, been left intact.

*' ...The existing brick arch, over the River Croco, was strengthened by a reinforced concrete saddle' - Middlewich 1900-1950 by Alan Earl (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994)

Facebook feedback:
As expected, this posting generated a lot of feedback:

Stephen Dent I can't figure out where the Croco is on this picture Dave.

Dave Roberts It's on the right of the picture, just below the tall building, Stephen.

Stephen Dent it must be hidden in a little valley like it is now.

Dave Roberts Yes, I have to say it's not obvious from the postcard that the river is there.
I'm wondering if there has been a little re-touching of the photo on the extreme right?
That's the Croco Bridge, immediately to the left of the tall building. I'm wondering if the greenery has been added to 'tidy up' the scene a bit? A lot of that kind of thing went on in those days with this type of postcard.

Geraldine Williams: What do we know about the River Croco? It was mentioned earlier that it serves as an overflow for the canal but I can remember going to school over the Town Bridge and the river being a disgusting yellowy colour. Some days the water level was low and the rocks were coated in a yellow gunge. Was its proximity to the Gasworks the cause? And what happened to the water from the Millstream. Did this then flow into the Cro-co? I don't know what year the canal was cut and presumably there would have been a smaller forerunner to the Town Bridge which only crossed the river. Was the Croco the town's water supply?
The Croco's section of the bridge in the postcard seems only to be culvert-sized!

Dave Roberts: I suppose it's never really had to be anything other than a culvert, certainly not from the time the T&M Canal was built (in 1776, btw). The river's never been navigable and has, regrettably, served more as an open sewer than anything else. There are numerous outfalls all the way along its length where water from farmland, with all the questionable residues from such land, run into it.
And I seem to recall some controversy a few years ago about certain industrial concerns dumping chemicals, including aniline dyes into the River further upstream. Or was that a problem for the River Dane? I'm not sure of the geography of the river before it reaches Middlewich and its connection with Sanderson's Brook (are they the same watercourse with different names?)

In other words, as always, further research is needed.

*Update: Although Morrison's development in Chester Road went ahead, and was most successful, Tesco's proposed Southway development famously didn't. As of August 2016 Middlewich still waits to see what will be done with all that derelict land in the town centre -Ed.

(this is a revised and re-formatted posting from earlier in the year)

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