Monday 30 January 2012


by Dave Roberts
From Carole Hughes' collection of Middlewich memorabilia comes this reminder of the time when our town had one of the finest butcher's shops in the area, before the march of progress and some heartbreaking vandalism wrecked it forever in the 1980s.
The story of the unfortunate end of this Middlewich institution is told in The Butchered Butchers Shop, but here is a reminder of happier times, just prior to decimalisation of the currency, when Vernons were keeping up the old standards and traditions of the former Fittons butchers shop on Hightown.
Even the bills had a pleasingly old-fashioned air about them, with assurances such as

All our Meat kept in Cold air Stores during hot weather,

the promise of

Free delivery to all parts daily

and the delightful plea:

It will be esteemed a favour if Customers would send Luncheon orders the previous day

- beautifully phrased, and typical of the old-world courtesy observed by shopkeepers until rampant consumerism started to get the better of us all, not too long after this bill was issued.

The weights of the goods sold are, of course, resolutely shown in pounds and ounces (as, remarkably, they still are today. The British swallowed decimalisation with scarcely a murmur, but it was a different matter when it came to weights and measures. Officialdom seems to have just about given up on the issue and, though we tolerate all those litres and kilos and so on, we still insist on having our weights and measures displayed properly as well).

Having shown myself in past Diary entries to be no great shakes at deciphering these old bills, I'll declare myself open to correction on the details of the goods Mr Sant (or, more likely, Mrs Sant) bought forty-two years ago,but here's what I think they were:
A leg of lamb (2lb 8 1/2 ozs) at 15s 4d
1lb liver at 2s
2oz sausages at 2s
and 10 oz ham at 3s 10d

And isn't it amazing how those of us who remember the old pre-decimal currency can still add up in 'old money'and still do so whenever we see a bill like this...

So it's 10d, add 4d, add another 10d that's 24d - that's 2s, so carry over into the next column. 2s add 3s, add, 2s, add another 2s, add 15s, add 7s - that's 31s, so put down the 11s and carry over the pound.
That'll be £1 11s 0d. Thank you.

Saturday 28 January 2012


Looking very much stricken with age and seeming to be almost begging for someone to pull it down before it falls down is Costello's grocery shop in Kinderton Street in the early to Mid 1970s.
In fact it's astonishing that a shop selling food should be allowed to stay open in such an appalling state.
This photograph was taken around the same time as this one (slightly earlier, in fact. Note that the Typhoo Tea sign on the left [or at least the 'hoo Tea' part of it] is still intact here, whereas in the colour shot with Mary Costello, the sign has been broken).
To the left of the shop can be seen the little 'privy' which also features here and, behind it, the old outbuilding, the remains of which we featured here.
Next door but one to the shop, beyond the little cottage, is another long vanished Kinderton Street establishment, Whittaker's shop.
This photo was taken from the corner of Brooks Lane and Kinderton Street, immediately next to the Boar's Head Hotel.



Middlewich Carpets & Flooring      Photo: Local Data Search
Gemma Blower writes:

Really enjoy reading your blogs on Middlewich. Have you any idea what the carpet shop on Hightown used to be? Some say it was a bank and some say it was a job centre and where you went to collect your dole. Also have you any pics?

Gemma originally raised this query as part of another Middlewich Diary topic, and, as it provoked quite a bit of interest, we thought it should be given its own entry.
The shop in question, now home, as can be seen, to Middlewich Carpets & Flooring is quite an attractive building and, in common with a lot of Middlewich's older property, has been all kinds of things in its day.
We welcome your recollections of the shop in its various guises over the years, and would particularly be interested in any old photographs anyone might be able to lend us.

Here's the feedback we've had so far:

Dave Roberts I remember there being a branch of the Trustees Savings Bank on Hightown, but I've an idea that was at the shop which is now Jennie Edwards.

Paul Greenwood I always thought the dole office was down that little alley between the betting shop and New You. It was a door on the right hand side which opened into a small room.

Geraldine Williams We think the carpet shop was the Labour Exchange/Dole Office and the TSB was to the left of the Post Office in Wheelock Street.

Andrew Tomlinson Mother called at 9.30pm last night - very late for her - to tell me that the TSB was where Jennie Edwards is now,and before that it was 'Putty' Bailey's paint shop. It later became Swinton's.
The carpet shop used to be Gater's Cake Shop (companion to the one in Wheelock Street) and No 28 (now St Michael's Drop-in centre - Ed.) used to be the Co-op furniture shop. I do seem to remember the Dole Office being there, but that will have been between the time my Mother's referring to and the present day. Hope this helps.
P.S. - Paul, you are correct about the Dole Office in Wheelock Street - it was a small, dark, smoke-filled room.

Bill Eaton (via e-mail) I recall Jennie Edwards as the TSB Savings Bank and the carpet shop as the dole office. The salon next door was at one time Reg Gater's shop. He had another one in Davenham besides the shop/bakehouse on Wheelock Street. The premises currently used by the Church was Harold Woodbine's electrical/television store. Prior to that it was Winsford Co-op's hardware department.

Friday 27 January 2012


by Dave Roberts
Usually, when looking back on the colour slides I took of Middlewich in the late 60s to mid 70s, I have a pretty good idea why each one was taken.
It was a time of great change in the town as the old salt works closed down and were demolished to make way first for weed and rubble  strewn waste grounds and then, slowly but surely, for new developments such as The Moorings.
Information about what was going to happen, which buildings were going to be demolished and which long-standing Middlewich scenes lost for ever to new road schemes and so on, was hard to come by in those days before the internet.
Our sole source of information was the  local press which, then as now, seemed more interested in telling us about events in neighbouring towns than in what was happening here.
But most of the time, it was quite easy to work out what to photograph.
Once we knew that the old open pan works were going to be knocked down; that Kinderton Street was going to be radically altered, and that, most dramatically of all, St Michael's Way was going to be ploughing its way through the town from Chester Road to Town Bridge, the list of things to be photographed was written for us.
A similar period in our town's history is approaching now as the Supermarket Wars break out all around us*. It's unclear at the moment what the outcome will be but big changes are coming and we're in the fortunate position of being able to chronicle those changes for posterity almost as they happen.
All of which is what my old English teacher rightly referred to as 'waffle', pure filler inserted here so that I can put off the inevitable moment when I have to come clean and tell you that I have no idea why I took the above photo of Webb's Lane forty-three years ago.
The houses shown here were not being threatened by any road schemes; no supermarkets were planned to take their place and, as far as I know, no one was proposing to bulldoze them in order to build a new leisure complex/bowling alley/multi-screen cinema.
I haven't checked recently but I think this row of semis is still more or less the same now as it was then, barring the odd replacement window or new front door (not that you can even see any front doors in this shot ,of course) and the only claim to fame they have is that one of them is now home to Michael 'Trampas' Woodbine.
The interesting houses are way off in the distance, centre right. Yoxall's Row, owned by Mrs Yoxall and Mr Henshall, was a terrace of rented houses which the Middlewich UDC took over round about the time of this photo, making the people living there instant council tenants.
It was my job, as the council's very young (17) stand-in rent collector, to go round there armed with Kalamazoo Rent Collecting System clipboard and leather money bag to collect their very first week's rent, only to be met with a lot of disgruntled tenants complaining about their rent 'shooting up' to 10/- per week. They didn't know how lucky they were.
Once the council's improvements had been carried out (involving, among other things, the removal of those tall chimneys) their rent 'shot up' once more and they had to pay 19/6d a week.
But Yoxall's Row, quite obviously, was not the reason for my taking this slide.
The most likely explanation is that this was the last shot on the reel (or, in the case of Instamatic photography, cartridge) and I wanted to get the film off to Kodak for processing and so took this gratuitous shot to make up the numbers.
Professional photographers, many of whom used 35mm Kodachrome almost exclusively  for colour, would get the few shots they wanted and then wind the expensive film through the camera, wasting up to about 80% of it.
But then, most of them probably weren't paying for the film as I was.
For we mere amateurs film was expensive, every exposure counted, and this sort of picture was the nearest we got to a 'throwaway shot'.

* Update (July 2017) The 'supermarket wars' never happened. The main protagonist, Tesco, bought up vast swathes of land in the centre of the town in order to build a Mega Store. They then had a re-think, called the whole thing off and left us with no real increase in shopping facilities, but a lot of ramshackle properties right in the heart of town.

Facebook Feedback:

Geraldine Williams I love this clever pic. I presume it's an early morning shot from the shadows, and the solitary figure and absence of cars and mist in the distance makes it very atmospheric. Using up the film....ha! I think Phil and Dennis Hambley would still have been living in one of those houses on the left, and just out of shot is the bungalow owned by Mrs Horsfield. The house at the far end of Yoxall's Row used to be tenanted by the Gallimore family. He was an RAC motorcycle patrolman and also a cousin of my Grandmother's (she of postcard fame).
On the opposite side of Webb's Lane, towards Lawrence Gardens, lived a lady (Noden?) who delivered milk on a tricycle with a lidded container on the front, similar to those once used by ice-cream sellers.
Michael Tully Looks to me like a view from the Big Lock end with Johnny Fahy's place to your right. That can only mean it was before Trampas moved in just to the left hand side. You were probably photographing a neighbourhood that had to get used to some raucous Penny Whistling in the depths of the night. I'd entitle it "The calm before the......" 
Kieran Tully ‎"The storm" that included him knifing my brand new red Wembley football in the late 70s! I thanked him for it in the late 80s in the Narrow Boat!

Thursday 26 January 2012


With thanks to Kerry Fletcher and Dave Thompson at Middlewich Town Council
It's the girls' turn in the spotlight this time as we take another  look at the Chairman's Sunday procession in 1948.
Once again, in the right background, we can see the Boosey's Nurseries building and part of the Middlewich Motors premises.
The procession appears to be making its way out of the Nurseries' grounds, prompting further speculation about its itinerary for the day.
It would be useful to know who the MUDC Chairman was that year.
The wonderful lady on the extreme left appears to be marshalling her 'troops' and making sure they are all present and correct ready for  the walk back into Chester Road and Wheelock Street (if that was, indeed, the route taken).
Can someone put a name to her? She's certainly every inch the archetypal scoutmistress, and has something of the look of one of Bertie Wooster's Aunts.
Behind her is the Golden Lion, at that time the haunt of professional men like the local doctors and solicitors and lacking the pub's present we say, flamboyance?
Some of  the pub's customers have come out onto the street to watch the procession go by.


Wednesday 25 January 2012


by Dave Roberts

Nantwich Road in the 1960s (or possibly early 1970s) and treble Green Shield Stamps are being given away with petrol at 'The Woodlands', situated where, in modern-day Middlewich, we find Glastonbury Drive, Malmesbury Close, Lindisfarne Close, Tewkesbury Close, Fountains Close, Westminster Close, Welbeck Close and Buckfast Way, all modern developments built mostly on the site of the former Boosey's Nurseries as mentioned here.
Glastonbury Drive is the main estate road, off which the others branch and replaces the access road running alongside the houses on the far right of the picture. Malmesbury Close, which is the first road to branch off it to the left, runs parallel to Nantwich Road, approximately where the line of petrol pumps is in our picture.
Lurking alongside the building, on the left, is what looks very much like a breakdown truck.
Fortunately for the modern day motorist's peace of mind, this picture was taken long before  large signs stating the price per litre of the petrol on sale came into vogue, so we'll never know just how heartbreakingly cheap it was at the time*
* Not so, regrettably. Ignorance is bliss, but Geraldine Williams spills the beans below.
The ubiquitous squeaky Castrol sign is, however, present and correct.
The Woodlands was one of my earliest memories, for the very good reason that it stood directly opposite my home at 53 Nantwich Road.
Despite that, I find I know surprisingly little about it.

But here, riding to the rescue, comes Geraldine Williams:

'...The Woodlands used to be a guest house/hotel and was also used to billet American officers during the American occupation of Cranage(!) and the filling station was always known as Blease's.
My Dad used to top up our car with petrol there - four shots and four gallons for £1. The shots were (apparently) REDeX - an upper cylinder lubricant which was pumped into the petrol tank when filling up with a corresponding number of gallons of fuel and allegedly made the pistons work more smoothly.

(REDeX is still very much with us, and a source of endless discussion among motoring enthusiasts, who will spend  hours discussing its pros and cons rather than talking about sensible  things such as the relative merits of the Sony ECM 99 mike and the smaller F99A for field recording work, as normal people do -Ed)
Joan Pierpoint used to hold ballroom dancing classes (which I attended) in the big left-hand front room, and I owe all my Foxtrot skills to her. Ha ha!'

For a first hand account of late-night working at the Woodlands petrol station 

Facebook feedback:

Andrew Tomlinson  Didn't this garage later become Jelliman's?

Geraldine Williams  Yes, I think it did.


I was delighted to receive additional information on this entry from no less a person than Denis Yardley - a name I remember well from my childhood. Denis' comments are featured below. - Ed

Tuesday 24 January 2012


Mike Jennings writes:

I took this photo of the sports pavilion on the RHM Football Ground in July 2007. At that point it was in a poor state of disrepair and Townsend United, who were the last team to play there, were in the same state as the building - on their way out!

I have Townsend stories and records going back to their formation in 1971, when they were run from the Cheshire Cheese.

In the summer of that year the Cheshire Cheese formed a football team. At the time they had enough players to make two teams, but only one was registered with the WInsford Sunday Football League. The Crown also entered a team at the same time, but at the last minute had to withdraw.

The League asked my father, John Jennings, Cheshire Cheese FC Manager,  if he could find an extra team.

He suggested it should be called Cheshire Cheese B, but the League rejected this, so he entered them as Townsend United, as the Cheshire Cheese is situated at what was known as the 'Town End' area of Middlewich.

I hope this information is of interest, and I will be able to dig out more about amateur football in Middlewich since the early 1970s.

© Mike Jennings 2012

Editor's note:
Many thanks to Mike. We look forward to more from the Mike Jennings Classic Collection in future Diary entries
Mike's mention of the Winsford Sunday Football League brought back memories for me because, many years ago, I was myself involved in local football administration.
The Kings Arms Hotel had a team in the Winsford League in the 1970s, given the rather grandiose title of 'Red Star Kings Arms FC', and, for some reason which I can't, after all these years, remember, I was first their treasurer and later their secretary. We were forever being threatened with expulsion from the League, mostly because certain members of our team were prone to settling disputes with fists (and the occasional boot) rather than reasoned discussion.
Our manager was Reg Bunn and he and I made many trips to Winsford to plead with  League administrators and Highly Important County Officials not to chuck us out following some transgression or other.
We even managed to get one of these crisis meetings scheduled for an evening when Liverpool were playing at home in some very important cup clash or other, and officials sat and fumed while we put our case for leniency forward and the minutes of precious match play ticked away.
You can imagine how popular that made us in Winsford, but we lived to tell the tale.
What I'm trying to work out is, given that I have no interest whatsoever in football (or sport of any kind), what I was doing there in the first place.
Dave Roberts, Editor.

Michael Tully Says:

Remember it well. Played there on Sundays and trained there in the week.
Only one shower was any good. We had that as the home dressing room/ Great memories of great football people. Peter Mc, Ken Metcalfe and alike Andean to name a few.
Ken was diagnosed a broken ankle as a twisted knee! Genuine people who turned up rain, sleet or snow. Played with some good lads up there too. Ginge, Kevin Penny, Tank, Kip, Torch, Buzzer, Doddy, Mylsey, Neil Mc, Zues, the other two Buzzers, Wilf, Cleese, our kid, Ged, Rhino and many more.
Didn't realise what great nicknames they had. Played against soem great teams and lads too, and then into RHM Club for a good laugh. Whenever I go past I remember them all fondly. Great days.

Kieran Tully I played against John Bishop on there three weeks on the spin. RHM were not a great side then, as Saxons beat us 10-0, 9-0 and 8-0. Bishop scored a bucketful, along with Mike Heywood. Happy days, though. Jake was manager at the time, with Mylsey his assistant. Great laugh!

Michael Tully No wonder he ended up in comedy!

Carolyn Nelson Do you remember Sutton Rangers? Great bunch of lads, and my brother managed them. Best team going at the time. Played their home matches down Sutton Lane.

(from the 'You Know You're From Middlewich, When....' Facebook Group)



with thanks to Kerry Fletcher and Dave Thompson at Middlewich Town Council

In previous Middlewich Diary entries we've looked at some remarkable photographs originating in a collection owned by local photographer Phillip Shales and showing scenes from local events going back over 60 years.
This particular shot is from a file marked 'Chairman's Sunday 1948'  and shows Middlewich Scouts and Cubs posing for the camera in Chester Road.
Which straight away brings up another of those anomalies we're always coming across in our travels around Middlewich and its past.
This diary entry shows the scouts, on what is said to be the same day, marching down from their Brooks Lane HQ to the Parish Church.
So why did they end up in Chester Road? Did everyone march there after the church service?
Perhaps it's not an anomaly at all. It could be that it was the usual practice for everyone to march up to Chester Road for what would be called a 'photocall' these days.
 There was little room in the town centre at that time for such an activity and, given that the roads were a lot quieter then, perhaps Chester Road was considered the ideal place for such an activity.
We wouldn't recommend trying it now.
UPDATE (January 2017) Another theory, put forward by Geraldine Williams, has the ring of truth about it. Could it be that the Chairman of the Council that year was Mr Morris of Boosey's Nurseries, and the Scouts (and Guides) were there to form a sort of 'guard of honour' to escort him into the town for the service?
The buildings in the right background were all part of Middlewich Motors, and should be compared with the modern Middlewich Autos buildings (themselves due, we're told, for imminent demolition) shown here.
Behind the scouts on the left is the strangely evocative Boosey's Nurseries building which always looked like some kind of overgrown garden shed-cum-garage.
And just look at the faces of the scouts and cubs. Where are they all now?

Facebook Feedback (2018):

Deborah Rose The leader in the middle is Frank Hough. We think the leader on the left is Joe Stanier. The group marched down from the scout hall on Brooks Lane to the cemetery, where the parade formed up. The parade would then march from the cemetery gates to the church of the denomination of the Chairman at the time.


Thursday 19 January 2012


We believe this image to be out of copyright. if you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
by Dave Roberts

Geraldine Williams makes a good point when she writes to say:

'I wondered if you have any pics which show what life and conditions were really like for the salt wallers when salt, and Seddon's, was king in Middlewich? I know there's a Murgie's Lumproom postcard in Granny Twiss' collection but that doesn't show the horror of working in the brine pans like my Grandad Lannon did, conditions which were possibly only second to working in the steelworks in Sheffield! Not to mention Middlewich reverberating to the 'knocking out' of the pans on Monday mornings and the soil in everyone's gardens being jet-black from the soot from Seddon's'.

Well to start with here's the postcard mentioned above which comes from  the collection kindly loaned to us by Geraldine.
We've dated it circa 1914 because that's the year on the postmark, but it will in all likelihood be from a few years earlier.
Lump salt is being passed through a trapdoor from the drying area below into the lump salt store by men known as 'lofters'  - the salt store itself being the 'loft' (in other works the salt store might be in a warehouse at ground level, but transporting the salt there was still 'lofting').
Note how the tapering lumps of  salt are being neatly stacked  'thick end to thin end'.
These lumps would either be sawn into smaller pieces and sold as 'cut lump salt', wrapped in grease-proof paper (the Seddon's version of this was called 'A1 Cut Lump Salt' and, after the works closed, my Grandmother was giving a huge wad of the greaseproof sheets to use for wrapping her home made bread. As you can imagine, I rather wish I'd asked her for a few of them) or put into a crushing machine to make fine table salt.
Lump men were experts in the field of open pan salt making and an excellent description of the art can be found on page 36 of Wych & Water (Middlewich Vision Canal & Salt Town Project 2009).
Making common salt was a less exacting process and the men who did this work were called 'wallers'. Common salt was not put into tubs, but simply dumped onto the floorboards (hurdles) and left to dry before being loaded onto barrows and taken to the common salt warehouse.
We'll be returning to the subject of the salt workers of Murgatroyd's in later diary entries.
A word about the postcard: Our attempt to improve the contrast on the sepia original has, unfortunately, resulted in the white lettering at the bottom getting slightly lost.
Given that this is a commercial postcard, some of this is slightly puzzling. What are we to make of the '120 FT X 50 FT' (If that's what it says)? Are these the actual dimensions of the salt store? If so, why would anyone want to put them on the front of a postcard? If not, what do the figures represent?
 For the record, the whole of the inscription reads:
MURGATROYD'S SALT WORKS                              MIDDLEWICH              NEIL. PHOTO
*I think that's what it says - it might be 120PT X 50 PT, which makes even less sense.
We await enlightenment on that one.

Geraldine's mention of the 'knocking out' of the pans refers to the removal of scale from the pans with sledgehammers (this was done on some of the pans at Seddon's in  Pepper Street on Sunday mornings, wrecking any chance of a Sunday lie-in). A very noisy but very necessary job. If the scale was left on the sides of the pans it would cause them to buckle and distort.
And the black soot and smoke was another fact of everyday Middlewich life up until the end of the 1960s.
Not only had the town's salt manufacturers never heard of smokeless fuel, they actually used the dirtiest, cheapest coal available in order to cut costs.

Wednesday 18 January 2012


This slide was taken at exactly the same time as this one, and will illustrate how a change in viewpoint can make a big difference. We're looking once again at Moreton's farmyard and the large building dominating the left hand side of this slide can also be seen on the left of that earlier slide.
Seen from this angle the farmyard looks almost tidy, but the earlier shot shows that, at the time, this was far from being the case.
St Michael & All Angels church tower can be seen just above the roof of the little lean-to centre right.
Behind and to the right of the camera was the large agricultural building where bales of hay were stored, giving the area the name of 'The Stackyard'.
For many years an ancient baling machine was stored in this building - an enormous wooden contraption of the type now seen at steam rallies with lovingly preserved and gleaming traction engines attached to them, demonstrating farm practices of long ago.
It all seems so settled and secure but evidence that change was coming can be seen in the shape of the conical bonfire on the right of the picture made up of  beams and lengths of wood from the old farmyard buildings which were soon to disappear to make way for the new King Street/Kinderton Street junction.

Tuesday 17 January 2012


by Dave Roberts

Hot on the heels of this picture of Harry Jackson, proudly showing off Whiston's smart new TV van in the early 1960s, comes another one from the same source showing Harry outside the Radio and TV shop itself.

Again, we think this is one from the early 1960s, though it may be slightly earlier judging from the radios and the one solitary TV set on show in the right hand window. The style of that set shows us that we're well into the Granada TV era (we refuse to use the boring, generic 'ITV' label) and those windows are a perfect time-capsule of what look, at first glance, like TV and radio trade names of the past. But, strange to say, all three of the names represented here - Bush, Pye and His Masters Voice - are still in business and their trade marks still used, albeit in modified form.

The most evocative, of course is 'His Master's Voice', now masquerading as 'HMV' with a barely recognisable dog and gramophone graphic derived from the original oil painting by Francis Barraud

The dog, as any trivia fan worth his salt will know, was called Nipper. You'll note that, back in  Harry Jackson's day, the Gramophone Company Ltd was still using reproductions of the original painting and the full 'His Master's Voice' title. And so they should.

The painting and trademark was also used by RCA (Radio Corporation of America) which, under the name RCA Victor had a reciprocal arrangement with His Master's Voice to release British records in the USA and vice versa.

And the RCA Victor company in turn had an offshoot in Japan - the Japanese Victor Company, which was the origin of the well-known and still thriving Japanese electronics firm JVC. Such are the convoluted connections and interweavings of the electronics industry.

Any Middlewich resident of a certain age will recognise Whiston's distinctive house style in the shop name and the fine shaded lettering used for the words Radio & TV and Cycles.
Whoever did the sign-writing was a master of the art.
Harry, of course, fits into the scene with his usual style and panache.

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams I see in the later view of Whiston's the sign which you admire so much has gone and been replaced by a more modern (and boring) sign which incorporates the MOT logo. This building was also the Whiston family home and had an entrance door round the side.

Dave Roberts Yes, the whole place ended up festooned with FORD dealership signs and lost its quirky individuality. I hate bland corporate images like that. 'ITV' in case you haven't noticed, is one of my least favourites. An excellent regional TV network wrecked in pursuit of profit.

Sunday 15 January 2012


Here's a direct YouTube link to a short (15 minutes) film of the Middlewich Agriculture Show in 1937. The film was produced by members of MCACS (the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society) and the original is now in the North-West Film Archive at Manchester University, as part of the Roberts Collection. Various bootleg copies of this film are in circulation on DVD, but this  is the official Salt Town Productions version, complete with restored opening titles. The copyright is held by me.
We hope during the course of this year to be able to present the rest of the films in the Roberts Collection on 'A Middlewich Diary', along with some of the audio presentations we have produced for Middlewich Town Council. Dave Roberts, Editor

Wednesday 11 January 2012


Here's Manor Lodge when it was just that -  the lodge at the start of the carriage drive which led from Nantwich Road to the Manor about half a mile away and shown here in a postcard from the 'Perfection' series we estimate to be getting on for a hundred years old.
A 'lodge' in this context is usually described as a small house or cottage at the gates of, or in the grounds of, a large house. It may be occupied by someone specially employed as a gatekeeper or, perhaps, someone who combined that function with the job of gardener or estate manager.
At the time the photograph was taken the lodge really did look as though it was a part of the Manor estate and one can easily imagine being stopped by someone and asked what one's business was at the Manor.
On either side of the impressive gate are well built stone walls which add to the feeling of solidity. Approaching the Manor from this direction in those days must have been quite intimidating.
Note what looks like a lawned area to the right of the gate marked out with white posts. Presumably this was some form of early traffic control measure preventing carriages from making too hasty a descent from the driveway down onto Nantwich Road.
And right in front of the lodge's front door is that stone gatepost, minding its own business and little suspecting that a hundred years later, having had its top portion, complete with ball, resurrected after years of lying  in the undergrowth only a short time before, it would be knocked flat  by a speeding motor-car.
Assuming that the lodge was built at the same time as the Manor would make it an early 19th Century building dating back to around 1830 (some accounts date it even earlier at 1800).
In this photo it looks very much as if the building is faced in Ashlar Stone, as was the Manor itself (although it, i.e. the Manor, was originally of plain brick construction without stone facing), but its walls have been rendered and painted white for as long as most people can remember.
We'll be looking at Middlewich Manor itself in later Middlewich Diary postings.

Tuesday 10 January 2012


If the 'comments' box is not already visible after an entry, click on the word'comments' in blue (there will be a number in front of it if there have been previous comments). Click on this and enter your comment in the box. On the drop down list below marked 'Comment as: Select profile' select 'Name/URL' and type your name in the top box (you do not need to enter anything in the other box). Then click on 'continue' and then 'publish'. You should get a message saying 'your comment will be visible after approval'.
All comments are moderated to prevent spam. 
We have tried to make it as easy as possible to add comments, and this is as easy as Blogger allows us to make it.
You can still add comments on our Middlewich Diary Facebook Group and on any of the other groups to which we post links.

Sunday 8 January 2012


If you own the copyright on this photo, or know who does, please let us know.

This is the somewhat depressing face that the Big Lock pub presented to the world (well, the canal world, at any rate) during the early 1970s.
It's a tall and potentially  impressive building, but was always rather overpowered by the milk factory/silk works which, as can be seen here, rubbed shoulders with it for many years.
A cobbled alleyway (actually laid with setts, which is a slightly different thing - see this posting) separated the pub and the factory, and  still slopes up from towpath level to the road above.
The Big Lock is what the late Brian Curzon used to call a 'stack pub', built on two levels.
Until the end of commercial canal carrying in the 1960s the establishment also operated on two levels in a different way too, with a bar at street level catering for the inabitants of Webbs Lane, and a bar for the boatmen and their families at towpath level, seen here with its arched door and window on the right hand side of the pub.
It's possible that the opening hours of the two bars were split between daytime hours for the lower bar and evening hours for the upper one, to cater for the two different types of clientele. It was also the practice, before the pub was drastically altered in the 1980s, to open  the bottom bar in the depths of winter to cater for the Webbs Lane trade, saving on heating and lighting costs for the much bigger bar on the top level.
The clumsily done and lighter coloured infilled brickwork next to the bar was where the shop selling provisions to canal users was situated.
It's tempting to think of this shop as something of a makeshift affair but, in fact, it was a real shop with plate glass windows and a central door, such as could be found in any High Street.
The Big Lock today is a smart pub-restaurant and a much more attractive looking building.
with a balcony overlooking the canal and a new downstairs bar and function room. 
The essential features from the old building, including the ornate terra cotta work outside the boaters bar, have been retained.
From 1990 onwards the pub was a venue for the original Folk & Boat Festival and plays a similar role in the new Middlewich FAB Festival.
For a time, after fire destroyed the large factory building on the right and it was replaced by a modern single storey building, the pub dominated the area and looked a little out of place. However, now that modern housing has been built on the site of the old silk mill, on the other side of that steep cobbled alleyway, the old look of the area has been somewhat restored. A recent photo by Cliff Astles illustrates this, and can be seen here.
On the other side of the lock from the pub is a relatively new addition to the Middlewich scene, the much admired 'Welcome To Middlewich' sign.
Photo:Salt Town Productions
Until the early 1970s there was a lock-keeper's cottage on the other side of the lock which always seemed to lead a rather precarious existence, and you can read about it here.
The Big Lock - i.e. the canal lock - is interesting in itself. It's the only lock in the town capable of taking two boats, side by side, and the reason for this is very simple.
Originally it was possible for wide boats to come up from the River Weaver right into the centre of Middlewich to load salt at the Town Wharf, avoiding transhipment from narrow to wide boats.
However, when the aqueduct over the River Dane at Croxton was washed away by severe flooding in the 1930s, it was replaced by a narrow aqueduct capable only of taking narrow boats. In any case the potential of Middlewich Town Wharf was never fully exploited as trade was concentrated on Preston Brook instead.
The steel lock gates, which were installed in the 1960s, were unusual (and a little inelegant) but  stood the test of time. They were in place for many years,  painted in pleasing British Waterways black and white, but have now been replaced by more traditional wooden gates.

Facebook Comments:

Daniel Preston: In the mid-sixties I used to go to that area with some of the lads and lasses from Webbs Lane. There was a rope swing, such as Tarzan is depicted as using, which we used to swing ourselves over the canal. I don't know what the rope was made of, but it was a stretchy material, so as you swung over the canal it stretched.
 I can't remember what it was tethered to, only that it was in the area of the silk works. I think it was possible to swing across, let go and land on the other side of the canal.

Robert Shecklestone: In the late 70s I drank in the Big Lock when Freddy Dutton was the landlord.

Dave Roberts: So did I. I still see Fred and Clarice about the town. Very nice people.

Friday 6 January 2012


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

The Nestlé-Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Factory still  looms large in Middlewich history, despite the fact that it closed many years ago.
Now that the factory itself, which was also used as a silk mill for many years, has disappeared to be replaced by yet more housing, the only evidence that it was ever here is in the name of the former manager's house, Swiss Cottage, which stands nearby in Webb's Lane.
Our picture shows the huge bulk of the factory stretching away from the Big Lock pub, which is just beyond the large building on the  left, to run alongside the Trent & Mersey canal as it heads for Northwich. On the extreme left you may just about be able to make out the footbridge which still carries the public footpath from King Street, near the entrance to Harbutt's Field, to Webb's Lane.
Henri Nestlé was born in 1812 in Frankfurt and made his fortune in the dairy industry both on the continent and in the UK, despite competition from his arch-rivals the Page Brothers, founders of Anglo-Swiss.
Advertisement from University of Wisconsin

It was the merger of the two companies in 1905 which led to the establishment of the Nestlé-Anglo-Swiss company.
The Middlewich factory was the major factory in the group, which also had premises in other towns around the country. In fact the company's design department was based here and produced plans for the other factories in the group.
When I was growing up in King Street our neightbour, Dora Darlington, used to regale us with stories of riding around the town on the back of the milk cart which delivered milk and other products in the area, eating that famous local delicacy a 'conny-onny butty' (or condensed milk sandwich, to the uninitiated).
Which brings us to another peculiarity of the local dialect. Although Middlewich English uses the short form of vowels - as in 'bath' rather than 'barth' and 'conny-onny' is pronounced exactly as spelt, the longer form - i.e. 'condensed milk' (if you can have a longer form of something that's condensed) is always pronounced 'corndensed milk'.
Similarly 'concrete' is always 'corncrete'.
Just so you'll know if you ever walk into a local shop or builder's merchant and try to buy condensed milk or concrete. I wouldn't want you to get looked at askance.
It's easy to see why Middlewich should have been chosen as a place to manufacture condensed milk; despite the fact that the town was highly industrialised it does stand right in the middle of lush Cheshire dairy country There was also, at one time, a Kraft Cheese factory not too far away in Holmes Chapel Road, more or less where the Shell Garage now stands and  the Little Chef restaurant could be found until it closed in January 2012. The Little Chef has now been replaced (2014) by a Starbucks Coffee Shop and a branch of the Subway sandwich chain
The closure of the milk factory in 1931 was a blow to the local economy, and there were sighs of relief when the premises were taken over in 1932 for use as a silk factory.
It's hard to resist using the obvious phrase, so I won't: It was a case of 'from milk to silk'.
The silk mill was operated by  British Crepe Ltd, a division of the Macclesfield silk makers G H Heath & Co. The massive brick built factory was reduced in size over the years following several disastrous fires, and production at Middlewich, which by then had moved over to synthetic fibres, ended up being carried out in modern industrial units before final closure at Middlewich in 2003.
Production was then moved to Manor Lane in Holmes Chapel  and the company ceased production there in around 2005-6. Many thanks to Gina Nicholson (see Facebook feedback, below).
Advertisements from Pictorial Gems

                    BIG LOCK AND CONDENSED MILK FACTORY 1920s

Facebook feedback:
Geraldine Williams: It never occurred to me why Swiss Cottage was so named. Doh!

Gina Nicholson: British Crepe closed for good in Holmes Chapel about six years ago (2005-6? -Ed). My Dad, Alan Dean, worked there for 40 years until it closed. It did move to Holmes Chapel around 2003.


Well, apologies if the title of this entry caught your eye and you're taking a look to see if it's anyone you might know. These are the buffers in question, lying discarded by the side of the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich line near King Street. Work was going on on the line to create a long 'passing loop' stretching all the way from the Holmes Chapel Road (or 'Station') Bridge to the King Street Bridge, where that road moves from one side of the line to the other. Previously, trains had crossed over onto the single line to Northwich just a few yards from the station, and the second line was merely a long siding (a 'headshunt' in railway terms) which enabled trains to gain access to the station goods yards and also get out of the way if a following train needed to overtake them for any reason by drawing forward along this siding. A very time consuming and cumbersome way of working, of course, as the trains in question would then have to reverse in order to reach the crossover onto the Northwich line.
The simple, and obvious, solution once the station yard had closed was to take out the crossover near the station and create one at the end of the long siding, which necessitated the removal of these buffers, which had been in situ for many years.
Oddly, this wasn't done as part of any resignalling scheme (resignalling with colour lights only happened five years later, in 1980), and meant that the old mechanical signalling system had to be modified, because the end of the loop was quite a distance away from the signal box, out of sight of the signalman. 
The viaduct taking the line over the River Dane can be seen on the extreme right and the sign with a white 'T' on a black background signifies the end of a temporary speed restriction, in place while the work went on.

The two photographs above were taken at the same time and show the old track panels which were replaced to form the new 'Middlewich Loop'.
At this stage the points connecting the loop to the Northwich line had yet to be installed.
Remarkably, the two photographs above were replicated thirty-three years later when Robert Avery photographed the Cheshire Gardens Express in 2008

This was the first steam train to travel over the Middlewich line for forty years. The Middlewich Rail Link Campaign's parent organisation, the Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association, hoped to run steam trains via this route again this year (2012) but, at the time of publication, it appears doubtful that this will happen. However, given the popularity of the line for rail tours, there's always the possibility that one of the other rail tour companies may stage another steam comeback on the line before too long.
See also