Friday 29 July 2016


by Dave Roberts

Here's a  piece of real Middlewich history, taken from our family's private collection. It pinpoints a moment in time; a moment when, for one Middlewich worker at least, it became clear that times were changing and that what had seemed like a secure and reliable job would soon be no more.
The letterhead itself is worthy of note, as it's that of the Nestle Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company. Nestle and Anglo-Swiss had been great rivals in the  nineteenth century (Middlewich's Anglo-Swiss factory having been built in 1872) but merged in 1905.

Note the telegraphic address, 'Nestanglo' and the telephone number which, as late as 1931, was 'Middlewich no. 6'

Until the 1930s the 'milk factory' was a major Middlewich employer and was supplied with milk by numerous farmers in the rural districts surrounding the town.

According to Allan Earl in Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994),on cattle auction days, which were also normal market days, the town was alive with livestock and with farmers taking churns full of milk to the Webbs Lane factory. The queues would stretch down Finneys Lane, and all the way down Webbs Lane into Pepper Street.

Relations between the factory and the farmers  were not always harmonious, though; in 1912 a dispute arose over the price the factory was prepared to pay for milk and continued for weeks, with the local tradespeople complaining that the business they normally enjoyed from the farmers was severely curtailed as they had not been coming into Middlewich to take milk to the factory.

The same thing happened again during World War I when, in 1915, the factory tried to reduce the price it was prepared to pay for the farmers' milk.

The surplus milk which the factory wouldn't buy was made into cheese which was then auctioned to help the war effort.

Then, in August 1931,  it was announced that the factory was to close.

The company had been experiencing problems with, among other things, brine subsidence, which led to a loss in production and thus profits.

You'll notice that the letter which William Shore received makes no mention of a permanent closure but talks of a temporary termination of his employment. Perhaps someone thought the situation might change? And the fact that William's address (actually in New King Street) is not given leads us to suppose that the letter was passed to him by hand at the factory. In the present day, he'd probably have been sent a text message.

Incidentally, from the perspective of 2016, it's interesting to note that quite a few companies had problems in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Among them was the Electro-Bleach Company in Cledford Lane, which was closed and demolished in 1929.

This was on the site that, after nearly becoming ERF Ltd's works in 1933,  later became the Royal Venton Pottery Works and is currently (and very controversially) about to be turned into the ANSA Waste Recycling Facility.

Naturally many local farmers were affected by the closure of the 'milk factory' (100 of them according to Allan Earl) as were 180 employees of the company, among them William Shore, who received the above letter just a week after the farmers' contracts expired at the end of September that year.

Reading about local history is always interesting, if you're that way inclined; but to read about a pivotal event in Middlewich history from a letter like this - to read it straight from the horse's mouth, just as William Shore would have done eighty-five years ago, is almost startling.

Incidentally, this is the same William Shore we heard about here.

In 1932 the Condensed Milk Factory became a silk mill.

                   BIG LOCK AND NESTLES MILK FACTORY 1920s

 With grateful acknowledgments to Allan Earl.

Facebook Feedback (2016):

Sheila Hardy I lived in Webbs Lane and my Mum worked at the factory. I remember it so well, passing it and going over the bridge (trying to peep in at the windows) on our way to play up the River Dane. Such happy days! Thanks for that!

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