Sunday 10 November 2013


Photo courtesy of Frank Smith and Bill Eaton

This photograph and article also appear on our sister site, Middlewich Station

by Dave Roberts
This photograph recently found its way back to The Middlewich Diary by way of Bill Eaton, who was given a lot of material written and collected by the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, an early contributor to the Middlewich Heritage Society and its Newsletter.
Bill has been passing on various bits of material for publication on the Middlewich Diary and MRLC websites, rightly thinking that it would be of interest to readers of both.
I was intrigued when he emailed this photo to me, with my own handwriting on the bottom giving details of its origin.
Obviously, in the early years of the Heritage Society, when I was editing the MHS Newsletter, I must, at some point, have given Frank this photo for his records.
This would have been sometime in the mid-late1980s.
The somewhat dubious quality of the picture betrays its origins as a photocopy of an original photograph by Alan Wilkinson, who lived in Middlewich in the 1960s and is well known as a railway photographer and author.
It came originally from a book called The Stanier 8F 2-8-0 published by D Bradford Barton and the Stanier 8F Loco Society, and the originally caption for the photo reads:

'Saturday afternoon bustle on a Cheshire by-way.
Crewe South's recently outshopped 48505 (D44)
slows for a brisk tablet exchange at Middlewich,
heading the 12.25 Stanlow -Egginton Junction
tanks in January 1965.'

Railway enthusiasts will, of course, have little need for any explanation, but for the layman/woman, here are some explanatory notes:

The engine shown here is, as indicated, a Stanier 8F - a very common type of  engine on the Middlewich line in the 1960s and 1970s, when freight traffic was very heavy.
One very important type of traffic was oil, which came from Stanlow via the West Cheshire route from Helsby to Mouldsworth on the Mid-Cheshire line* and then via Northwich and  Middlewich  to Sandbach and (until 1971) along the Sandbach-Kidsgrove line  to the Stoke area without having to pass through Crewe.
The 'tablet exchange' is the handing over of the token which enabled the train to travel over the single line section from Northwich to Middlewich. The signalman can be seen with his arm out of the signal box window, ready to take the token from the engine driver.
Note the water tower on the left, and the familiar MIDDLEWICH sign on the signal box.
This sign is now in the possession of the MRLC Committee, having been retrieved from Uttoxeter.
Its story is told here.

* the official title of MCRUA's Middlewich sub-committee (the Middlewich Rail Link Campain), which aims to build a new Middlewich Station and introduce a new passenger service from Crewe to Manchester via Sandbach, Middlewich and Northwich, is the Middlewich & West Cheshire Committee.
The West Cheshire line has been lifted, but the trackbed is protected and we keep an eye on the route with a view to its possible re-instatement in the future

Very belated thanks to ERF Ltd for very much unauthorised photocopying facilities.

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