Friday, 27 October 2017


Mack's Music Promotions writes...

Saturday 28th October will see a great send-off for Damian and Craig at The Narrowboat in Lewin Street, Middlewich.

These guys have been at the popular Middlewich pub for ten years!

A few of the Calico boys are getting together to, hopefully, give them a great send-off!

As many regulars of the pub will know, Calico Jack have played The Narrowboat for years.

More recently, residencies from Codswallop and Pastry Shoes have also produced many a good night.

Open Mike Nights have been running at the pub for several years now and many other bands and musicians have also played there.

There have been countless celebrations and events, creating many happy memories.

It would be fantastic to see some of the many people we've seen at the pub over the years and who have been a part of the good times we've had! Let's do it!

The Middlewich Diary writes:

We can only agree. Damian and Craig have always, to coin a phrase, been 'up for it' when it came to running The Narrowboat and, most importantly, making the pub a part of the Middlewich community.
It would have been so easy for them to just sit back and let the pub, and in particular the restaurant part of the business, run itself.
But they've never done that. They've always been there promoting live music,  quizzes, theme nights and anything else they could think of to keep the pub in the public eye.
This was never more evident than when the annual Middlewich FAB Festival rolled around each June over those ten years.
Again it would have been so easy to take the easy way out and Damian and Craig could have just sat back and let the money roll in.
Most businesses in Middlewich make money over the festival weekend - whether they admit it or not - and it would have been so easy (and tempting) to try the 'festival free zone' approach (incidentally, others have tried this over the years and it never works. It just annoys people).

I doubt  they ever considered it for a moment.

So we hope everyone will go along to 'the Boat' on the 28th to say goodbye and express their appreciation of all the hard work which Damian and Craig have put in to making the pub the success it is.

Meanwhile, we wish the new management of The Narrowboat every success in the future.

Dave Roberts
27th October 2017

Update (29th October 2017)

And it's goodbye from him...Damian and Craig on their last night at The Narrowboat, 28th October 2017.
Photo: Maxine Watkinson


Monday, 23 October 2017


by Dave Roberts

The Middlewich of fifty years ago was very different from the town we know today. The days of open-pan salt production were coming to an end and the canals which had carried the fuel for the pans and the salt which they produced were also falling into disuse and disrepair.

Salt Works and Canal: Middlewich in 1967.  This was the spot where we launched our canoe ready for the trip to the Anderton Lift. The site of the Pepper Street works, seen on the right, has now been re-developed as The Moorings.

But at the same time the canals were finding a new use as part of a growing leisure industry and Middlewich, like other towns on the network, began to see more and more pleasure boats taking the place of the old working narrowboats.

In the  Summer of 1967 - now forever immortalised as the 'Summer of Love' - a schoolfriend from Sir John Deane's Grammar School and I travelled by canoe from Seddon's Salt Works in Pepper Street to the Anderton Lift. 

One of the highlights of the journey was the passing of the Lion Salt Works at Marston, long before its days as a museum and tourist  attraction. Unlike the open pan works in Middlewich the Lion works had no plans for closure - despite its characteristic tumble-down, almost semi-derelict appearance - and would continue making salt in the traditional way until the 1980s by which time, as the only remaining open pan works in the country, it had a chance of being earmarked for preservation. 

Another highlight was the Anderton Lift itself which was also, by then, in a state of semi-dereliction. It was still working and some of the rapidly dwindling fleet of working boats were clustered around it waiting to take the last of the output from the Cheshire salt works down the River Weaver towards Weston Point. 

The lift was built in 1875 and served the area well for many years, linking the local salt industry with the Weaver, Liverpool and salt markets all over the world.
However, by the time of our visit it was suffering from heavy corrosion due to the salt and chemical works in the area and suffered frequent breakdowns. 

By 1983 it had become inoperable.

Restoration began in 2001 and the lift re-opened in 2002.

All in all it was an interesting trip, taking in the last of the traditional Cheshire salt industry and the canals which served it. 

If only we'd thought to take a camera with us!

What we could not have known, and only discovered later in the year, was that our valedictory trip up the canal had also taken us close to the site of a gruesome discovery which was to be made in the October of 1967.

Our canoe journey took us through Whatcroft, which lies on the Trent & Mersey Canal between Middlewich and Northwich.

A Google Map showing the Whatcroft area. The large areas of blue are 'flashes' - lakes created by subsidence caused by 'wild' brine pumping in former years. 'Flashes' can be found all over Mid-Cheshire, notably in nearby Winsford. You'll notice that the Trent & Mersey Canal itself has also been affected and has its own 'flashes' (these areas, which are also to be found in other parts of the canal network, are usually referred to as 'wides'). Davenham Road connects King Street with the village of Davenham, just off the map to the left, and the thin diagonal dark blue line which is just discernible running from bottom right to top left is the Sandbach, Middlewich & Northwich Railway.

Whatcroft is a  mysterious and rather sombre  place. In the 1960s this wide area of the canal was used by British Waterways as a kind of  Scapa Flow for narrowboats. After the virtual collapse of the canal carrying industry in the early 1960s many working boats deemed surplus to requirements were brought here and deliberately scuppered, just to get them out of the way. It was a depressing and slightly surreal experience to walk this way and  see rows of perfectly serviceable boats just left to rot and slowly sinking deeper and deeper into the water.

Nearby is Whatcroft Hall,  a very desirable property. It was close to Whatcroft Hall, on the banks of the Trent & Mersey Canal,  that a gruesome discovery was made in October 1967

Middlewich soliciter Herbert 'Bertie' Wilkinson had, by October 1967, been missing from his home for over five months.

On June 2nd he left a 'hastily scribbled' note with his housekeeper, walked out of his house and was never seen alive again.

There is no record of what this note might have said, so we have to assume
that it gave no clue at all to the police in the subsequent investigation.

'Bertie' Wilkinson was a well-known figure in Middlewich for many years, and was often to be seen walking along Nantwich Road from his home to his office in Wheelock Street.

Photo: Blain, Boland & Co

The Solicitors' office in Wheelock Street once used by Herbert Wilkinson

We lived in Nantwich Road until 1959 and my mother, who kept tabs on everyone walking past our house, used to say 'there's Bertie', in a mysteriously 'knowing' sort of way, as if there was something we should all realise about him and what he was doing, but then again she kept up a running commentary on all the comings and goings in the street and nothing escaped her eagle eye. In this, of course, she was no different from any other woman in the street, or the rest of the town.

I never really took much notice of Bertie. I was,after all, a very young lad at the time and knew little of the world.

There were many people walking past the house all day long - going to work and coming home from work; going for a drink and coming home again slightly (or much) the worse for wear....

There was nothing exceptional about 'Bertie'.

Except for one thing, apparently.

Bertie, my mother used to say darkly, 'liked men'.

And what's wrong with that? you might well ask. 

I certainly did. In my innocence (and please remember, this was when I was very young) I couldn't see anything wrong with Bertie liking men.

When Mum elaborated, it still didn't mean an awful lot.

'There are some,' she said, 'who think Bertie likes men a bit too much'.

What innocent times we lived in then!

In 1967 Herbert Wilkinson was 54 years old and unmarried.
His solicitor's practice in Middlewich had run into serious trouble, leading to his being struck off by the Law Society. 

The poor man must have been at the end of his tether and by this time, by all accounts, was 'sick in  both mind and body'.

Who can say what kind of life he had been leading up to that time? We don't know and, I'd like to think that even in these prurient times most of us wouldn't  really want to.

A few months after our little trip to Anderton, two young men were searching for fox earths alongside the canal at Whatcroft when they came across a shallow grave containing the decomposing remains of a man. One of these young men, Billy Grey, has been in touch since this Diary entry was first published. He still has vivid memories of that day.
This was long before the barbaric 'sport' of fox hunting was officially banned and Billy and his mate were doing some work on behalf of the local hunt. Billy remembers that there were actually two 'graves' rather than just one and was surmising that the first one was  too close to a hedge to fit the body in and a second one had to be dug further away. We hope to bring you a fuller account of Billy's memories of that fateful day in due course.

Apparently it was difficult to make a positive identification of the body but the police came to the conclusion that it had to be that of Herbert Wilkinson who they had been searching for since his disappearance five months earlier. A pair of shoes and some fragments of clothing helped in the identification.

Cheshire Police's missing person's enquiry was about to turn into a murder hunt. 

And no ordinary murder hunt, either. 

According to The Cheshire Magazine, writing in 2002, it was one of the biggest murder investigations ever mounted in Britain and was headed by  Arthur Benfield who had, a couple of years earlier, been in charge of the team which investigated the horrendous Moors murders. There have, of course, been many major murder investigations over the last fifty years, and it's possible that what the magazine means is that it was one of the biggest such investigations up to that time.

One other factor which hampered the investigating team was the Foot & Mouth disease outbreak which came along at the end of the summer and  decimated the cattle population, bringing  severe restrictions on any movements throughout the county. The outbreak lasted through the autumn and winter and well into 1968.

More than sixty detectives were involved in the investigation, which took over six months to complete. They questioned every male in the town over a certain age, including me.

As I recall the 'interview' was very short indeed. All they wanted to know was whether or not I knew Herbert Wilkinson.

I said that I knew of him, but hadn't ever spoken to him. 

I told them that I used to mix up this particular Bertie with another one - Bertie Maddock, the town's rating officer at that time and, ironically, someone who I would end up working with at Middlewich UDC a couple of years later.

Some instinct told me not to mention Mum's oft-repeated assertion about Bertie Wilkinson 'liking men'. 

Looking  back over all those fifty years, that might well have caused complications...

The investigation involved detectives taking eight-hundred written statements  and talking to eight-thousand people - at that time a fair proportion of the population of Middlewich.

They also talked to nine thousand other people across the country- people who might have, or were known to have, used the canal system in June that year.

This was because the investigating team were making the not unnatural assumption that as the body was buried close to the canal bank in a location quite remote from Middlewich, it was likely that it had been taken there by canal boat.

So keen was the interest in the murder case that Granada TV's Scene At Six-Thirty programme (the fore-runner to Granada Reports) sent a camera team to Middlewich and we were able for the first, but not the last, time to see our town on TV.

The inquest into Bertie's death took place in Northwich in 1968 and the jury returned a verdict of 'murder by person or persons unknown'.

Strangely, the detectives involved in the case could only say that Herbert Wilkinson had 'either been killed with a  blow to the head, or strangled'.

Even allowing for the fact that forensic techniques were not as advanced fifty years ago as they are now, this still sounds a little odd. Surely, there's a world of difference between being strangled and being hit over the head?

Update: 9th May 2020. Paul Williams, a former Middlewich resident who now lives in Bunbury, Australia, has an eminently plausible explanation for this apparent anomaly.
He points out that if there were two assailants using different methods of attack, there could indeed have been a dispute over how poor Bertie had died. Alternatively, of course, a single attacker could have employed both methods to achieve his, or her ends.  A horrible thought but, as we say, still eminently plausible.*

*Editor's note: Sadly, shortly after making this contribution Paul Williams was taken ill and died at the start of June 2020. Paul was a very intelligent and highly talented man and, despite his having made a successful new life in Australia, remained very interested in Middlewich. His knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, his home town was immense. We were so sorry to hear of Paul death's and offer our sincere condolences to Paul's family and many friends. DR.

Of course in a small town like Middlewich, rumours abounded about the identity of Herbert Wilkinson's killer, or killers,  and the way he was killed.

For many years it was 'common knowledge' that the murder weapon was a windlass of the type used on canal locks.

This, of course, ties in with the police investigators' theory about a canal boat being used to move the body and with the 'blow to the head' theory for the cause of death but there seems to be no mention of a windlass in any police reports.

It's long been assumed that the police were well aware of the identity of the killer but were unable to gather enough evidence to convict him or her.

After fifty years, the sad case of the murder of Bertie Wilkinson remains on police files as 'unsolved'.

It's all a long time ago now, in any case.

Poor Herbert Wilkinson might, in these more enlightened times, have been able to gain more sympathy and get some help for the problems which beset him.

Whatever the ins and out of the case, he surely didn't deserve to die as he did. 

May he rest in peace.

Dave Roberts
October 2017


The Cheshire Magazine (Cheshire County Publishing 2002)

Cheshire Constabulary
Granada TV

Facebook Feedback (from 6th May 2020, when this entry featured in our 'Middlewich Diary Revisited' series during the coronavirus outbreak)

Jane Walker My Nan was Mr Wilkinson’s housekeeper and his sister gave his piano and books to my Nan which we still have. He used to play the organ at church. I wonder if the men who killed him are still alive!

Paul Williams Fascinating stuff. 1967 truly a different world. It didn’t have me for a start.

Andrew Tomlinson Massive police operation, for the day. I remember my dad - and every man of a certain age in town, being interviewed by the police.

Susan Johnson I remember this, wasnt very old at time, policeman interviewed me as i had been down canal & seen some blokes acting strange on a canal barge & told my mum about it. Dont know if they had owt do with it though, they could have been inocent but they may have seen somat. Blimey a lot of years ago.

Elizabeth Royle We lived in Nantwich Road the same a. Bertie and we were interviewed by the police like everyone else in the street. I remember it like yesterday.

Betty Williams We were interviewed by the police. The policeman who came to our house went to school with my brother. Did they ever find who killed him ?

(Officially, no - Ed)

Middlewich Diary entry © 2017 Salt Town Productions

Saturday, 21 October 2017


Posted at 1.25pm. The country was being hit by 'Storm Brian'

(Eventbrite link)

Folks, sadly the Middlewich weather forecast has changed for the worse. A collective decision has been made to CANCEL the remainder of the market day for safety reasons. We thank you for your continued support.

Middlewich Vision/Middlewich Town Council

Middlewich Vision/Middlewich Town Council

Middlewich Vision/Middlewich Town Council
Middlewich Vision/Middlewich Town Council



Our MD Masthead from the 6th - 21st October 2017

Published: 16th September 2017, 6th October 2017,
20th October 2017, 21st October

Friday, 20 October 2017

Thursday, 19 October 2017



Easily winning any 'first pipe band to use St Michael's Way' competition, the Black Watch Association Pipe Band lead the procession from the town centre to the British Legion Club on the occasion of the re-dedication of the town's main war memorial in 1972.
The 'new road' is not yet quite finished; its final tarmac surface is yet to be applied and, in the background, some last remnants of the town's industrial past are lingering on. 
Behind the lamp post, centre right,  Henry Seddon's offices in Pepper Street can be seen, with part of the works to their right.
The small row of salt workers' cottages which adjoined the salt works offices are now all that remains of Pepper Street.
A brand new wooden fence divides the site of the old salt works from the new 'inner relief road'. If you follow the line of the fence to the middle left of the photo, you can see Middlewich's STD telephone exchange, built in 1967 in what was then its own small compound off Pepper Street.
The coming of St Michael's Way brought the building into greater public prominence as it now stands on one side of the road and has been much altered and enlarged, though it's doubtful if anyone ever notices it.
On the road itself, along with the ubiquitous plastic cones is a paraffin lamp of a type once used to mark road works at night and now superseded by flashing yellow battery lamps. These road lamps are currently to be found in many a trendy antique shop.


First published 19th October 2011
Expanded and re-published 19th October 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


Photo courtesy of Diane Parr
by Dave Roberts
We're going back twenty-five years once more to the Middlewich of 1987 with these pictures from the Carole Hughes Collection taken by her friend Diane Parr.
The second photo in this diary entry focuses on the interior of one of the town's most fondly-remembered shops but, before we take a look at it, it's well worth looking at the picture above in its own right as it shows the way things were in those days when it came to shopping in Middlewich town centre.
To the left of the picture, next to the church and bathed in sunshine, you can just make out Brockley's paint, wallpaper, and decorating supplies shop with its side window facing the lower part of Hightown.
Brockley's moved from this location to a shop near the top end of Wheelock Street not long after this picture was taken.
Next to Brockley's is the shop we've immortalised as 'The Butchered Butchers Shop'.
Daniel Preston managed to get pictures of this unfortunate shop just after it closed at the end of 1988 and fell into the hands of people with scant regard for its history and architectural merits.
Then comes the NatWest Bank (which, in those days, kept regular banking hours like any other bank) and the Co-op, by this time no longer billing itself as 'The Co-operative Superstore', but still boasting its rather impressive canopy, albeit with a small blue Co-op logo replacing the original sign.
Looking at this nondescript building today, with its modest Tesco Express and Pineland shops it's hard to imagine that it could ever be described as a 'superstore', but appearances are deceptive.
Much of the building is taken up now by a large storage area at the rear of the premises belonging to Pineland. This is the area which was once the Co-op's furniture department, reached by a rather impressive staircase from the ground floor.
The removal of the canopy from the front of the building has served to emphasise its loss of stature.
Next comes another long lost Middlewich institution, Skellon's shoe shop, where we were all taken as children to be fussed over by assistants with tape measures, rulers and 'Clark's Children's Foot Gauges' to ensure that we were always given shoes which fitted properly, thus avoiding our being maimed for life by shoes which were too big or too small.
Next comes that wonderful shop which everyone remembers with a great deal of affection - G Samuel & Son, which we'll be examining the interior of shortly and, finally, Reg Taylor's Newsagents, once the employers of the redoubtable Daniel Preston and Cliff Astles, both pioneers of the art of paper shredding.
Which brings us to the next remarkable photograph:

Photo courtesy of Diane Parr
Well, whoever would have thought we'd ever see this scene again, even if it is only in photographic form?
 It's the interior of the legendary Samuel's shop - technically, at least, an ironmongers but in reality stocking a bewildering array of household goods of all kinds: plastic buckets, seeds, disinfectant, paint, dusters, walking sticks, coat-hangers, garden tools, ribbon, washing baskets, clothes dyes....and that's just a random selection of what can be seen in this photograph.
The two Samuels - Senior and Junior - were seldom stumped, whatever you asked them for and if they should happen to be 'temporarily out of stock' on some item or other, you could be sure they'd get it for you in very short order.
It was a delight to shop there; the Samuels had that old-fashioned courteous way of dealing with the public which we all miss so much these days and the words 'thank you!' and 'ta!' were bandied about freely.
In fact, in the end, Peter Samuel adopted his own portmanteau word and would say 'thankyou-ta!' at the slightest provocation.
Wonderful people.
You get something of the same feeling today when shopping at Middlewich DIY.
We're grateful to Diane Parr for having the foresight to take this photo and to Carole for allowing us to bring it to you.

Facebook Feedback
(When Carole Hughes first published this photo on her Facebook page there was a great reaction):

Lynne Towers I love this photo. Fantastic Samuels!

Karen Reynolds It sold everything you needed!

Maureen Condra I called in there a few times when I was over for a visit.

Christine May The shop always had a nice smell.

Carole Hughes It did, Christine. It was a great shop.

Dave Roberts Does anyone know the older Mr Samuels first name? I know the son was called Peter. They were both a delight to do business with, full of charm and old-fashioned courtesy. And yes, the shop sold everything you could think of, and if it wasn't in stock they'd get it for you.
(I'd still like to know this - Ed)

Maureen Condra I bought a lot of things there. I still have a tea-towel and some cups I bought there.

Christine May I'm so glad I didn't do the stock-take!

Wendy Sproston My Mum used to go in there for everything.

Paul Hough What a fantastic shop. I've still got a kitchen knife I bought there. Twenty-odd years old and still going strong!

Dave Roberts Absolutely wonderful! Who would have thought we'd ever see it again, even if it is only a photograph?


Since this entry was written, the NatWest Bank has closed its doors for good and the premises are, by all accounts, going to become a carpet shop.* Pineland, too, has  closed down and the Choklat Bar, which was based in Reg Taylor's shop, closed down after a partial collapse of its floor on New Years Eve 2013. The likelihood is that it will be absorbed into the neighbouring Chimichangos Mexican restaurant.

Update (2017): In fact what used to be the Choklat Bar is now Maggie Finn's Tea shop.

* In the Spring of 2017 Manchester Carpets opened the shop for the sale of beds and mattresses.

In October 2017 'Maggie Finn's Tea Shop' relocated to Maggie Finn's Tea Garden in Canal Terrace and Reg Taylor's former shop underwent yet another transformation, this time into  the offices of a web design company.

First published 6th April 2012
Updated January 2015, Spring 2017 and 17th October 2017