Thursday 23 August 2012


by Dave Roberts

Bill Eaton has sent us this photograph of part of the old ICI Middlewich Works which he found in a book about the history of the firm.
He says, 'the camera man would be standing with his back to the lime beds looking at the back of the works'.
This site is now occupied partly by Pochin Ltd and partly by warehousing which was, between 1971 and 2000, ERF's Middlewich Service Centre (Pochin's is on the part of the site nearest to Brooks Lane, and the ex-ERF buildings are at the other end of the site, directly beneath the lime beds.
An access road called 'Road Beta' runs from Brooks Lane to the foot of the lime beds.
This is the start of the footpath which runs off in the direction of Cledford Lane and was formerly known as 'Poppityjohns'.
Bill, who worked at the ICI works in the mid-1950s,  goes on to say, 'the tall building with the decorative brickwork is the distiller building'.
Note the railway wagons in the foreground of the distinctive type used in the salt and chemicals industries, and which we saw an example of here.
According to Bill, these wagons would be 'on their way with limestone to feed the kilns'.
To enable the modern Middlewichian to get his or her bearings, we should say that the Kings Lock pub and the Trent & Mersey Canal were (and still are) directly behind the buildings in the centre of this picture.
The area is, of course, still industrial in nature and Brooks Lane has been transformed over the years into the 'Brooks Lane Industrial Estate' but, in its day, the ICI Works dominated the area in a way that is hard to envisage now, with its massive limestone crushing machinery, its tall chimneys and its many sidings full of railway wagons.
An idea of the huge scale of the works is afforded by a piece of information which Bill Eaton gives us about that rather charmingly decorated distiller building.
'For a comparison', he says, 'the distiller building was roughly the same height as St Michael's church tower.'

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Bill Armsden I remember that place. There were always loud crashing noises as if stuff was being dropped down the inside of the tall corrugated building. We lived on Long Lane by the canal and that noise could be heard at our house. It was not an attractive structure at all.

Dave Roberts No it wasn't. The whole place was ugly and workmanlike. Which makes it all the more remarkable that they should go to the trouble of putting decorative brickwork on that distiller tower. For whose benefit was it? The constant crashing noises would come from the limestone crushing machinery inside the buildings adjoining the canal.

Wednesday 15 August 2012


Our friends at the Middlewich Guardian are currently running a Fair Play Campaign calling on Cheshire East Council to invest in better and safer play areas for children in Middlewich.

The Campaign features a petition which Middlewich people are being urged to sign in order to highlight the dilapidated condition of the town's playgrounds.

The petition was originated by nine-year old Owen Hughes, who was concerned about the state of the Booth lane play area, and taken up by The Guardian. You can sign 'Owen's Petition'  here

There are already over 150 signatures on the petition, but many more are needed.

If you'd like your local play area to be featured in the Guardian's Fair Play Campaign, you can e-mail the paper, briefly outlining the problems you've experienced at:

or write to Fair Play, Winsford & Middlewich Guardian, 3 Theatre Court, London Road, Northwich CW9 5HB


Saturday 11 August 2012


UK Railtours' special train from Basingstoke to Buxton passes through Middlewich on the morning of 11th August 2012. Our sister site, the MRLC website, features some superb photos of the train by Neil Cundliffe.




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Jenny Hatton: In over thirty years I have never ever seen a train on that line - I thought it was shut!

Diane Russell: There are trains using this line every day. Mostly goods trains, but there is sometimes a Virgin passenger train, if it gets diverted.

Jenny Hatton: I may have to take some sandwiches and camp out next to it - seeing is believing!

Diane Russell: I live about fifty yards away from it, so I can see them from my kitchen window.

Dave Roberts: The shiny rails are evidence that the line's being used quite frequently at the moment. Neil, who took the photo, tells me he lives close to the line and frequently hears trains rumbling through, particularly at night.

Bill Armsden: On a quiet night with the bedroom windows open and a breeze in the right direction, I can hear trains rumbling along the track.

Diane Russell: You can more or less set your clock by them, Dave. One about 5pm most days, and then again between 10 and 11pm, and just lately there have been quite a few during the night. I have got used to them now, and it's quite nice hearing them going past, even in the night.

Dave Roberts: It brings back memories for me. When I was young and lived across the road in King Street I'd often hear trains running in the night - steam trains from 1959 to 1968 and then diesels. I sometimes hear trains in the night now, but they're mostly on the West Coast Main Line, which isn't too far away.

Thursday 9 August 2012


If you own the copyright on this image, please let us know
by Dave Roberts

This photograph of a rather forlorn-looking group of shops on Hightown in the mid-to-late 1960s is a companion to this one, and it's highly likely that the two were taken on the same day, possibly within minutes of each other.
On the extreme right we can see a small sliver of Brockley's wallpaper shop which later moved to Wheelock  Street in  premises  opposite 'Temptations' which are currently used by a financial services company.
The move didn't happen because  the original shop was demolished - it's still there and currently (I think) houses one of Middlewich's many hairdressing businesses.
The three shops on the left were not so lucky. The top one, which is partially obscuring the old Town Hall, was a dry cleaners - apparently operated by 'Marvell' - was this one of a chain of shops at the time?
Then comes a small, empty and unidentifiable shop and, finally, a shop which I always think of as a chemist's shop but also, at the time of the photograph, seems to be empty. Can anyone make out the name over the door?  Does anyone remember? I've been trying to make it out from the photograph, and it looks like it may have been 'Bradshaw', or something similar. If you know the answer, please don't hesitate to let us know.
I ought to know myself because, assuming that this picture was taken sometime between 1963 and 1969, I must have stood at the bus-stop across the road from them (outside the National Westminster Bank which is out of shot on the right) nearly every morning of my life waiting for the North-Western Road Car Co. bus to take me to school at Sir John Deane's Grammar School in Northwich.
So I had plenty of time to study these shops over those years.
We've seen them  before in our Middlewich Diary, of course, notably in this picture which was kindly supplied by Kath and Barry Walklate:

This rare view shows us that at least one of the shops we are looking at was the Carbineer Inn and that another was called Summerfield.
You can see the original diary entry on Kath and Barry's photo here.
As startling as the difference between the Hightown of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may be, even more startling are the changes to the Bullring since the 1960s.
It's astonishing to realise that  the photograph below, taken just a couple of weeks ago, shows people enjoying the Middlewich Artisan Market nearly half a century after  those three forlorn looking shops stood, empty and abandoned and awaiting their fate, in exactly the same place.
The second Artisan Market in Middlewich, July 2012

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Bill Armsden: Those two shops on the left...The far one was Marvell Dry Cleaners and you are right, they had a chain of shops. 

Two of them were in Northwich on Witton Street: One was where the cleaning was done, and the other was the shop. The company was owned by a family who lived at Stanthorne Grange. I know because I worked for them and I passed my driving test whilst in their employment.
I can't remember their surname, but the owner's son was called Geoff.
They ran a door-to-door collection service and Geoff, me and a couple of others operated that service. They were great to work for.
On the subject of the other shop: I think you're right, Dave. I enlarged it  in Photoshop and it looks like  'B.J. BRADSHAW' but that is mainly a guess.

David Morgan: I love the photo provided by Kath and Barry!

Thursday 2 August 2012


If you own the copyright on this image, please let us know.
by Dave Roberts

Archetypal 'old Middlewich' and a view rather similar to this one but probably taken slightly earlier, judging from the amount of boats carrying coke pictured here (or perhaps that other picture just happened to be taken at a quiet time?).
This is the reality of that 'lovely old town' which everyone remembers (or thinks they remember) - a grimy, shabby, work-a-day place full of smoking chimneys - ' a mean old town' as Dr Johnson is said to have described it..
That coke is en route to Middlewich Gasworks, which can be seen in the right background, with piles of the black stuff already waiting in the yard to be used.
The use of coke to make town gas can lead to a little confusion as, when gas production first started, it was made from coal and coke was one of the by-products.
However, improvements made later meant that town gas could be produced from other substances such as oil, for example, and coke which had been made as a by-product of other industrial processes.
In other words, rather than making coke, Middlewich Gas Works was, by this time using it to make town gas.
At the time this photograph was taken (probably early to mid-1960s) most of the Gasworks, once the property of the Middlewich Gas Light & Coke Company but by now the province of the North Western Gas Board, had disappeared. This was probably as a result of the switch from using coal to using coke to make the gas.
But could they really be manufacturing town gas in that one small brick building?
And how did they get the coke to the works? Did they use barrows to wheel it across that rickety-looking bridge across the River Croco and through that gap in the wall? If they did it would have taken them the whole day, if not more, to unload five boat loads.
It's much more likely that, by this date, they used a tipper truck of some kind and made the short journey from the gasworks, past the old corn mill (now Town Bridge Motors) and along the canal side to empty the boats.
Even so it would still have been a time-consuming and tricky process.
There are, though, other possibilties: could that coke, in fact, be destined not for the Gas Works, but for Seddon's Salt Works on the other side of the canal (it was still in operation until 1967)?
You can just make out, under the pipe-bridge which carried the coal gas into town, more canal boats. Were they unloading at Seddon's and were the boats in the foreground awaiting their turn?
The difficulty with that theory is that, so far as we know, the salt works in Middlewich always used coal (and cheap, low-grade coal too) rather than coke to make salt.
So we have to come to the conclusion that those boats were indeed carrying coke to Middlewich Gas Works.
Unless, of course, the black stuff in the boats is coal and not coke. But we could go on for ever like this...
Just a few years later the whole process would be just a memory with the introduction of North Sea Gas.
That little brick building, though, survives. It's very much altered and goes under the name of 'Cheshire House'
Note that the boats all carry the British Waterways livery of blue and yellow.
We've just had to say goodbye to British Waterways, which has been replaced by the Canal & River Trust.