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.

1 comment:

  1. john wilkinson15 June 2016 at 19:55

    The first building on the left was open to the canal,my dad drove our car underneath it to go fishing.
    Dad got out of the car and it started rolling to the canal with me and sister Jane in it. he jumped in and stopped it before we took a dip.


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