Sunday 17 June 2018


Middlewich Town Council/Bare Bones Marketing


Get the news on this year's event as it comes through...

Festival Parade starts at 11am - 
Route: Middlewich High School, Kind Edward Street, Queen Street, Hightown,
Lewin Street, Civic Way, Market Field.


First published 9th January 2018
Updated and re-published 14th February 2018
16th June 2018
Archived 17th June 2018

Friday 15 June 2018


The competition will consist of five rounds:

1: The Canals of Middlewich.
The Trent & Mersey, the Shropshire Union and the diminutive Wardle Canal. From Rumps Lock to Croxton Aqueduct and from Stanthorne Lock to Brooks Lane Bridge....
what do you know about our town's fascinating network of canals?

2: MUSIC ROUND - The FAB Festival, past & present.
Five questions on this year's artists, and five questions on artists from  festivals past.

The ever-popular Call My Bluff in which Mr Roberts gives you three alternative meanings for ten obscure English words. Which is the correct one in each case?

Another old favourite. Ten famous people. Are they still with us, or have they shuffled off this mortal coil?

Ten pictures of people in the public eye at the moment. Who are  they?


1. Teams can consist of as many (or as few) people as you like, but we recommend the traditional quantity of four. £1 entry fee per person.

2: The quizmaster's decision is final, no matter how drunk he gets.

3: No cheating. Or getting found out, at any rate.

4: Bribes enthusiastically accepted.

Question master: Dave Roberts
Quiz Co-ordinator: Peter Cox.


We're looking for quiz and raffle prizes for this event. If you'd like to donate a bottle of wine, box of chocolates or any other suitable prize, please contact either the Middlewich Diary on (01606) 833404 or Peter Cox on (01606) 835371 or 07794 1415651. Or visit any of our Facebook Groups:


Quiz officially sanctioned by


The Middlewich Diary Festival Quiz
is independently produced and organised

First published 7th April 2018
Re-published 12th April 2018, 27th April 2018, 1st May 2018, 21st May 2018, 5th June 2018. Updated and archived 15th June 2018.

UPDATE: 15th June 2018
A hugely enjoyable evening with no less than SEVEN teams (actually five teams and two individuals) taking part. With the large amount of Thursday evening events going on around the town we had feared the worst, but the quiz turned out to be well worth doing. 
Among those present were Cllr Bill Walmsley, the Mayor of Middlewich (who, perhaps a trifle disconcertingly, found himself as one of the answers in the picture round)  and his wife, Cllr Bernice Walmsley.

Many thanks to those who took part, and also to those who donated prizes:

Peter Cox - box of biscuits, bottle of wine,
The Middlewich Diary - box of chocolates, bottle of wine, copy of 'Middlewich 1900-1950' by Allan Earl
Cllr Bernice Walmsley - box of chocolates.
The Boar's Head - bottle of wine.

And thanks to Pauline Harmer who made a donation to bring the funds raised for the Middlewich Appeal up to £70.

Here for the record, are the final scores (Totals are out of a maximum 50 points)

1st: 'Mr and Mrs Macbeth and the three witches' 31 points
2nd: Andy Craig 30 points
3rd: 'Dead' 29 points
4th: 'War Veterans' 26 points
5th: 'No Hopers' 24 points
6th: 'Just me' 23 points
7th: 'Room 101' 18 points

The next Middlewich Diary Quiz will be held at the Boar's Head at Christmas. Date to be confirmed.

Wednesday 13 June 2018


by Dave Roberts

Of all the various things I've been involved with locally in my nearly 65 years in Middlewich, I am, of course, proudest of my involvement with the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival. More than anything else that's happened here over the last 27 years, the 'Folk & Boat' gave our town back its community spirit, its 'sense of place' and its reason to be cheerful, if only for one weekend a year. With all due respect to everything else that goes on in Middlewich, this is the event that really put us on the map, and paved the way for all the many and varied events that go on year by year, month by month, week by week, and day by day in our 'forgotten town'. Here we are in 2015 looking back on how it all started...

August 2017


The year 2015 is a very special one for our town's original and unique music festival, as we celebrate twenty five years of the 'Folk & Boat'.
This milestone should, of course, have been reached in 2014 but, as we all know, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 meant that that year's festival had to be abandoned.

Here's the story of the festival's origins, according to current festival organiser Dave Thompson:

The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival came about following a conversation in the Boars Head, one evening in 1989…

Folk singers the Middlewich Paddies were keen to start-up a festival and, just by chance, the Trent & Mersey Canal Society wanted to organise a boat gathering- and in no time at all the `folk & boat` festival was born!

A group of willing volunteers were quickly rounded-up and thanks to welcome support by Middlewich Town Council, Congleton Borough Council, and BRS Northern, the first festival took place on 15-16-17 of June 1990.

Hosted by the Middlewich Paddies the weekend featured a concert by folk-comic, Bernard Wrigley and a ceilidh (a bit like a barn dance) by Token Women.

The first Talent Competition took place in the Wych Centre. There were music sessions in the beer tent and local pubs, along with Morris dancing by SIX TOWNS MORRIS and the boat rally provided the activities and entertainment for the weekend- a wonderful occasion that just had to be repeated

The original committee comprised-

Colin Barrass (chairman), Sally Fallon, Derek Clayton (treasurer), Richard Devaney, John McAteer, Mike Parsons, Peter Cox, Dave Thompson. Concert MC Dave Roberts*

* Editor's note: Although my original role was supposed to be strictly that of MC, and although I was at pains to point out that I was not prepared to be on any committee, John McAteer, the guiding light behind MFAB and the man who did a lot behind the scenes to make sure the festival actually happened, had other ideas. He invited me to go along to one of the first committee meetings 'to see what it was all about'. I left that meeting feeling excited, slightly bemused and wondering how I had somehow, almost without realising it, become the festival's publicity officer! - DR

The Festival's first logo. The lettering was originally shaded and the violin surrounded by musical notes. Repeated photocopying (the only kind of reproduction possible in those pre-computer days) meant that the lettering gradually wore a bit thin and the musical notes faded away.

The very first MFAB publicity from 1990, featuring 'Female Ceilidh Band' The Paddies! (Middlewich FAB Festival)*

*Dave Thompson points out that the 'Female Ceilidh Band' in question were actually The Token Women.
More than any other event it was the 'Folk & Boat' which steered Middlewich in a new direction after several years in the post-industrial doldrums.
As recounted above by Dave Thompson, enthusiastic members of the community put forward the idea of a Music Festival based on successful events in places like Newcastleton and Melrose in the Scottish Borders and, nearer to home, Nantwich and Chester.
The 'Folk & Boat' (and, yes, we did realise right from the start that if you said it quickly it sounded a bit rude - that's one of the reasons why we chose the name) was intended to be a mostly low-key pub singaround style festival hosted by the (far from female) Middlewich Paddies and featuring as special guest Bernard Wrigley who had already made several appearances in Middlewich at the Boar's Head Folk Club.
The compere was the then ubiquitous Mr Roberts who filled in time between acts (all two of them) with some of his allegedly funny poems.
Everything took place in a small marquee  on Market Field, at the Civic Hall (since renamed the Town Hall)* and in various pubs around town.
The programme for the first F&B festival, also featuring some of Mr R's allegedly funny poems

*and subsequently re-named The Victoria Hall.
The first festival, although very simple by comparison with  MFAB events in later years, was a resounding success and the organising committee knew before the weekend was over that there was no going back and that the Folk & Boat was an opportunity to put Middlewich on the map.
Feedback from visitors to the festival made everyone realise that the town, with a history stretching back at least to Roman times, had  a story to tell and that people would gladly come from far and wide to hear it.
Some of the 1996 Folk Festival team help to publicise the local Chronicle's Stacey Pushchair appeal. 
Over the years MFAB was involved with many local charities, and also helped provide educational resources to local schools and institutions. The Stacey Pushchair Appeal, organised by the Middlewich Chronicle, raised funds for a specially adapted pushchair for a local youngster.

On its tenth anniversary in 1999 the FAB Festival was  featured on the 'floral clock' close to the Council offices (now the Town Hall) in Civic Way. Members of the committee are seen posing with the floral design which featured the festival's original 'fiddle' logo
In 1999, when its tenth anniversary came around, the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was well established as one of the top ten music festivals in the North-West and Middlewich was getting more and more enthusiastic about using its own history and heritage as a way of attracting visitors.

The MFAB team 2000
(l to r)(back row) Ian Murfitt, Mike Parsons, Dave Roberts, Dave Thompson, Mike Hough, Lynne Hardy
(front row) Richard Devaney, Peter Cox, Rita O'Hare, Julie Bickerton, Alison Roylance-White
By the year 2000 the festival had become a must for many people who travel around the country year after year on the folk festival circuit. The Millenium was celebrated in typically idiosyncratic Middlewich style with 'Middlewich's own Millenium Dome' and the story is told here.

Photo: Dave Thompson/Middlewich Town Council
The Festival of 2005 was the first one to make use of the newly-completed 'Amphitheatre' in Middlewich Town Centre  and this photo illustrates just how popular the dance and music displays are with people of all ages, whether local or from further afield.

And so the story of MFAB continued...

After many years as an independent festival the Folk & Boat Festival eventually ran into financial difficulties, a fate shared by so many similar festivals over the years.
Happily, the Middlewich Town Council, which had supported the festival from the very beginning, stepped in and rescued this iconic Middlewich event, enabling it to continue and to carry on bringing fun and entertainment to both townspeople and visitors for many years to come.
The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was subtly renamed to become the Middlewich FAB Festival, reflecting the change in the way in which which the festival was funded and organised. At the same time the 'strictly folk' policy of the festival was relaxed and music of all kinds began to be featured.
To many, of course, it will always be the 'Folk & Boat', whatever its official title might be.

(A Salt Town Productions video)
One man's fight to appear at the
Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival!
Features some great photos of the Festival by local photographer Cliff Astles.

The winner of the FAB Festival's 2015 'Design a logo' competition

The official MFAB25 poster

The 2015 Festival Guide 
A selection of Middlewich Diary mastheads celebrating the festival's 25th anniversary

First published 10th October 2014
Amended versions published 9th April 2015/12th June 2015
31st October 2017, 13th June 2018

Tuesday 12 June 2018



I remember looking after the camp site on Sutton Lane Playing Fields for a few years.
We used to accommodate over two hundred units -caravans, motor homes, tents etc, and each unit had anything from one to eleven or twelve people in it!
That represented a tremendous number of visitors from outside the area visiting the town.
I was a one woman guardian of that field and got practically every penny owed by the campers. 
The money went towards the cost of hiring the field and changing rooms and associated expenses.
Not much got past me!
Living with a garden gate leading onto the field meant that we had times when we were called upon to tow units out of the muddy field at midnight, or later. 
Cleaning the changing rooms and  attending to the toilet facilities regularly wasn't fun but was very necessary.
Additional  water for the toilet block was fed from our garden tap, so our plants suffered in hot weather!
I took our caravan onto the field for use as a site office and would spend the entire weekend there.
I even used to sleep in the caravan, though I wasn't missed much as my husband was usually on stewarding duty. 
Several times, I went to bed extremely late on the Sunday night but was up in time to 'man' the field gate by 6am, when security left, in order to prevent an influx of approaching 'caravans'!
There was an incredible amount to organise, and it was hard work, but very rewarding!
Day passes and weekend passes for campers, morris dancers, performers, all had to be organised, along with arranging a taxi service to and from the camp site and town. On top of this there were many other ancillary items to be attended to.
When we eventually got them all settled, I sometimes went into town to join my husband in  doing  a bit of stewarding.
I think the  most problematical - and funniest - thing that ever occurred during my time at the camp site was when the security man went to relieve himself at the Gents' urinal in the changing rooms during the early hours of the Saturday morning.
He reported to me that he thought there must have been an earth tremor, because as he stood there, doing what comes naturally, the floor literally heaved upwards under his feet and then gave way resulting in  a large dip across the floor and leaving him feeling quite disorientated!
Later inspection showed that the drains had collapsed and the 'facilities' were taped off as dangerous! 
Try explaining to the male masses that there were no Gents' loos for the weekend! 'Emergency measures' were brought in and many had a good laugh at the expense of the poor security guy!
Great fun was had on the camp site with people returning year after year.
I still miss the buzz!
There are lots more stories I could tell, but most of them are not necessarily for public consumption! 
Many many people have been involved in running the Folk & Boat Festival over the years. Those who I remember from my time include Laura Holmes, Lizzie Rosenfield, Andy Johnson, Ray Archer, Andrew Bickerton, Kate Nichols Fletcher, Sarah Butler, the late Keith Bagnall and so many more people who made MFAB a superb success for many years. 
And thank you to Middlewich Town Council for taking over the reins when costs prevented us volunteers from making it break even due to costs beyond our control.
No one notices the back room guys. But it never mattered to us. We loved what we did and threw ourselves into it for the weekend and  never expected recognition. What was important was the success for the town and the enjoyment of the visitors.
If the visitors were happy, then we were too. Happy people, job done!
Such a shame we no longer have visits from people from outside the area. But I'm glad the festival survives in its new format.
I'm left with so many happy memories and recollections of people who came to our town year in, year out - from all over the UK.

The Calm Before The Storm! All set up and having a nap before the onslaught of campers! The year would be either 2008 or 2009. We once had nine Morris Dancers in full costume in the caravan office - all excitedly 'doing their thing' while booking in! I must admit to having been worried as to the strength of the floor, but it coped admirably with their antics! (Photo: Wendy Johnson)
Edited by Dave Roberts
With thanks to: Simon McGrory
 and Middlewich FAB Festival

First published 12th June 2015
Re-published 12th June 2018

Monday 11 June 2018


Tools used in the production of open pan and cut-lump salt
by David Roberts

This photograph from the 2011 FAB Festival illustrates another important aspect of our town's most hectic and exhilarating weekend.
From its earliest beginnings in 1990 the festival was seen not only as an important musical event and celebration of Middlewich's canal heritage but also as an opportunity to showcase the town's long and hitherto rather neglected history as one of the famous 'Cheshire Wiches'.
There can't be many British schoolchildren who weren't taught about Nantwich, Middlewich and Northwich and their tradition of salt-making stretching back to a time even before the Roman invasion, so that almost everyone would have heard of our town, even if many of them probably couldn't have told you exactly where it was.
Every year now, thanks to the sterling efforts of  Middlewich Town Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher, and the work put in by many volunteers, including members of the Middlewich Heritage Society, the history of Middlewich is displayed and interpreted for the benefit of both townspeople and visitors.

Modern day Bisto Kids pose in front of the mural rescued from RHM Foods when the factory closed in 2009.

Festival visitors on the Narrowboat Sweden, formerly one of the fleet of boats used by Henry Seddon & Sons to bring in coal and export salt from their Wych House Lane and Pepper Street works along the Trent & Mersey Canal (the Wych House Lane works was situated  to the right of the boat on what is now known as the 'Salinae Field'. Part of the field can be seen above the boat's engine compartment.).
Sadly, since this photograph was taken, Sweden has been repainted in a livery representing a different period of her long life.

With the Town Bridge in the right background, Cliff's photo shows the scene at Town Wharf a few years ago (one of the wharf buildings is on the extreme left). The wharf and the immediately adjacent Salinae Field are really the point where the 'Folk & Boat' parts of the festival come together; concerts are staged on boats moored by the wharf and stalls and exhibition stands help tell the Middlewich story to Folkies and Boaties alike.
When the 'Gateway To Middlewich' scheme comes to fruition  this part of town will have become even more attractive and welcoming, not only at festival time but also throughout the rest of the year.
(Editor's note: We're still waiting! That line was from the original 2013 edition of this diary entry and in 2015 little has changed as far  as the wharf is concerned.)
UPDATE (JUNE 2018) It's now beginning to look like our long-awaited Town Wharf Scheme is not going to happen at all. Rumours are rife that the site has been sold and that the buildings will be flattened and housing built where they once stood. If this proves to be the case, this will be a tragedy for Middlewich and for those interested in the town's history.

...and just in case anyone might have forgotten how it all started back in 1990 here are the legendary MIDDLEWICH PADDIES who have appeared at all 25 Festivals through the years.

On the left is Graham Sivills, centre is Richard Devaney and on the right, Dave Thompson, formerly Folk & Boat Festival Artistic Director and now running the FAB Festival on behalf of the Town Council as Events Manager.


Diary entry originally published 12th June 2013 under the title

The title was changed to 'FOLK, BOATS, SALT AND BISTO' in 2018 because in previous years, Facebook's algorithms had spotted the word 'Paddies' and decide that it was a politically incorrect 'pejorative term' God help us all.

Many thanks to CLIFF ASTLES for permission to use these photographs.

Facebook Feedback (11th June 2020):

Heritage Officer Kerry Kirwan writes:

All will be back on display by the end of the year (hopefully!)

First published as 'Paddies, Boats, Salt and Bisto' 12th June 2013

Re-published 7th June 2014
10th June 2015
17th June 2017
Title altered to Folk, Boats, Salt and Bisto' and re-published
11th June 2018
10th JUNE 2020


RHM Foods, as it was in 2009, shortly before demolition

by Dave Roberts

A warm welcome to photographer Glen Leigh, who was born in Middlewich in 1970 and has always taken a keen interest in the town and its history.
Glen recently sent us this photograph, taken in 2009, of an iconic Middlewich building which it is still hard to believe no longer exists.
The security fencing seen on the left of the picture gives some inkling of the impending end of the RHM building, by that time owned by Premier Foods who had taken over RHM in 2007 and closed the Middlewich site one year later.
In truth there was a time when it seemed almost impossible to keep up with the acquisitions and de-acquisitions associated with RHM and the name seemed to change on a regular basis, the factory also being known variously as Centura Foods and (after its most famous product) Bisto Foods Ltd.
I'm  not sure in which order these names came - perhaps someone could enlighten us, just for the record?
Now, when travelling from Middlewich to Sandbach, the traveller sees that the  familiar footbridge remains in place but it still, after four years, comes as a shock to find that it leads not to a thriving and bustling food factory, but to a desolate open space, forlornly awaiting  the promised development which, presumably, the footbridge will one day give access to.
UPDATE (27th April 2020): Sadly the rumour that the footbridge was to be retained to give access to some future housing development turned out to be just that; a rumour, and the footbridge was finally dismantled in 2019)
Prior to 1968, when RHM (Ranks, Hovis, McDougall) took over the firm, this building, fronting onto the Trent & Mersey Canal and Booth Lane, was even more iconic, as the home of Cerebos

Cerebos were manufacturers of fine table salt, stuffing for your Christmas turkey, and the nation's favourite gravy.

For many years the Bisto Kids were as famous as the gravy they advertised (in fact, they're still going strong today) and they had a long association with Middlewich.
You could even hire Bisto Kids costumes for fancy dress parties from RHM.
When the building was finally demolished Middlewich Heritage Officer Kerry Fletcher managed to save a priceless mural of the kids which once graced the reception area and it can now be seen in Middlewich library, together with information telling the story of their long and illustrious career.

If you've studied the Middlewich Diary at any length (and, I'm told, many people have) you'll know that my Dad, Arthur Roberts, was foreman electrician at Cerebos for many years, having taught himself electrical engineering by correspondence course.
He normally makes an appearance in the Middlewich Diary on Father's Day, but his picture is included here now because of his long association with Cerebos in the days when it had its own generator room producing electrical power not only for the factory but also to feed into the National Grid.

Dad at work in the generator control room at Cerebos, circa 1949
He's here because he had very strong views  about a feature of that now-demolished building which older members of the Middlewich community may remember.
All along the frontage of the building, until some time in the 1960s, were large neon signs proclaiming what the business was all about.
One of them, over the entrance, said CEREBOS in blue neon, and on either side, at intervals, were other brightly coloured electric signs saying SAXA, SIFTA (who remembers Sifta Sam?), PAXO and BISTO.
These were all done away with in the 1960s (I can't recall whether it was at the time of the RHM takeover or before that) and Dad always thought it was a huge mistake on the part of the management.
Because up until that time salt, and foodstuffs containing salt, were what Middlewich had been all about and in Dad's view the Cerebos building, with its neon signs, was as much a part of what made Middlewich the town it was (and, let's not forget, still is) as the church tower itself.
Dad thought that Cerebos was never the same once those signs were taken down. I wonder what he'd think now that most of the  buildings which made up the factory have  gone for ever?

Google Earth still shows the RHM Factory as it was before closure and demolition and it is easy to see why British Salt Ltd was built right next door to it in 1969.
A large conveyor belt can be seen connecting British Salt and RHM together so that salt, which was packed on the premises and was also a a vital ingredient in many of  the products manufactured by RHM, could be delivered straight to the place where it was needed.
In the insane world of modern economics it would appear to make more sense for the salt to be transported hundreds of miles by road (not even utilising the perfectly placed railway line, with its sidings just yards away) to produce Britain's favourite gravy.

UPDATE (JAN 2015) We caught this picture just in time. Google Earth has now been updated and shows nothing but an ugly scar where the RHM factory once stood.

Many thanks to Glen for the photo.

Bill Eaton writes to say:

This photo brings back memories.
In 1953 I was the butcher's boy at Dewhurst and from Monday to Friday I delivered meat to the canteen at Cerebos, sometimes before school, or at lunch time. With a large basket of meat I had to climb the stairs and cross the footbridge, climb even more steps and walk along to the canteen, which was on the top floor at the Middlewich end of the photo. Bill


Facebook Feedback:

Robert Sheckleston: Sending salt by tanker to Worksop to be packed when you have a supply next door seems a bit silly.

First published 26th April 2013
Re-formatted and re-published 11th June 2018