Tuesday, 30 October 2018


If you own the copyright on this photograph, please let us know

Looking almost impossibly narrow and confined, this is the junction between Pepper Street and the area where Lower Street became Wheelock Street. It's very early in the 1970s - quite possibly 1970 or 1971.
In fact it's rather difficult to say which particular street Pepper Street is joining here - Wheelock Street is to the right, and Lower Street to the left.
Perhaps it might be more apt to say that this is where Pepper Street meets The Bull Ring.
Across the road is the then brand new building built by the Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd and known as the Co-operative Superstore, reflecting its purpose as a place where all the previously scattered Co-op departments in Middlewich were, for the first time, gathered together under one roof.
It's rather disconcerting to note that the shop's entrance wasn't always on the left hand side, as it is now that Tesco Express rules the roost there. The right hand part of the building,  occupied for many years by Pineland Ltd, was at this time the Co-op's chemists department.
The windows in the building on the left belong to the flat above Vernon Coopers' Radio, TV and electrical shop, and the brick wall on the right was part of the house next to Dewhurst's butchers shop.
This junction, together with the reverse side of that ridiculously tall (for sighting purposes) STOP sign can be seen in this entry

as it appeared from a camera position looking in the opposite direction from just underneath the Co-op's long vanished canopy.
As Seddon's Salt Works was in Pepper Street it might be thought that this cramped and inconvenient junction might cause problems for vehicles wanting to reach the works but, in actual fact, the entrance and exit for carts (and later lorries) taking loads of salt from Seddon's was further down Lower Street, next to the gas showroom near Town Bridge.



by Dave Roberts

As might be expected, the original Diary entry
 'Pepper Street/Lower Street Junction Early 1970s' has attracted a lot of interest since it was first published in 2012. 

We thought it might be worthwhile trying to illustrate how the old, longer, Pepper Street used to look and how it gave people coming from Webbs Lane access to the town centre. 

This photo is as good a place to start as any, particularly as it shows the houses which now constitute practically all of modern-day Pepper Street. Here's the original description of the photo as it first appeared on the Middlewich Diary.

Our favourite contributor, 'Anonymous', said, in relation to our original diary entry which featured this photo:

'This brings back memories. If you were to turn around and walk back towards Webbs Lane, there was an open space opposite Seddons Salt Works. We use to play football and cricket there.'

Well, we think the space to the right of our main picture, where the Reliant car is parked, must be the space in question.

This picture, taken in 1969 with our trusty Instamatic camera, is fascinating as it provides a link between the Pepper Street of those days,at the very end of the open pan salt works era and the Pepper Street of today.

The building to the right with the single chimney is interesting.

Previous MD feedback seemed to suggest that it was once The Lord Hood public house, but this is not the case.

Ken Kingston's Middlewich Hospitality (Middlewich U3A Local History group 2014) tells us that the pub, built in 1782, was closed and demolished in 1920, and replaced by a workshop and timber shed in 1929. These premises were themselves demolished just after World War II, so it appears that the waste ground itself was the site of the pub and its later replacement. What the building with the central chimney was remains a mystery.

Today's street is, as we've said, more or less just that short terrace on the extreme left. What used to be the roadway is now a slip road connecting Webbs Lane to St Michael's Way opposite the Vaults.

The large building at the end of the Terrace is Seddon's Salt Works offices.

Seddon's offices in Pepper Street in the 1920s. The still extant terraced houses can be seen behind the building.

 Beyond that is the salt works itself, by this time closed and awaiting demolition.

Here's what the other side of the street looked like:

To get to the town centre you walked towards the salt works, and then took a sharp right turn between the works and the building beyond the Reliant car to wind up in the Bull Ring. 

Middlewich's automatic telephone exchange, built in 1967 and now much expanded and fronting onto St Michael's Way, was in a small compound, just out of shot to the right.

Powell's Clothing Factory, connected with the company's retail premises in Wheelock Street, could also be found in the area, on land now occupied by St Michael's Way. 

It is this connection with the textile industry which has led to the new housing development next to the telephone exchange being given the rather fanciful name 'Spindle Whorl'. Put simply, a 'spindle whorl' is one of the many tools used by cloth weavers. It's a kind of flat disc with a hole in it. Spindle whorls are made from many diffferent materials and are very collectable.

Another development on the site, closer to Wheelock Street, has been given the more prosaic and, some might say, more appropriate name of 'Powell House'.

Powell's Tailors itself, once the smartest shop in the town, is now in a semi-derelict state after  Eric Alcock electrical moved out a few years ago.

Eric Alcock Ltd, pictured in 2012. The electrical goods firm's tenure of the former impeccably smart Powell's Tailor's premises did its appearance no favours at all, and now (2018) the shop is in a semi-derelict state and looks even worse.

Here's a bit more of 1969 Pepper Street, taking us further towards the town centre:

To get to the town centre today you have to take more or less the same route, but you'll be walking towards the entrance to 'The Moorings' rather than the salt works and, once you make the right turn, you have St Michael's Way, with heavy traffic heading to and from the M6, to contend with before you can reach the Bull Ring.

First published 2nd March 2018
Revised and re-formatted 30th October 2018


Another excellent shot from the camera of Jack Stanier and a companion shot to the one shown here. It's 1970 (as evidenced by the 'Back Home' World Cup poster in Vernon Coopers window). To the right of Vernon Coopers is Stanways fish shop with its lettering removed but the name just about still visible. Adjoining this we can get a better view of an establishment we've mentioned a few times before - Harold Woodbine Ltd in its original Lower Street premises. It's obvious from the configuration of this shop that it was once  separate premises; probably two or three small cottages. Note that while Vernon Cooper promotes the virtues of Ferguson and Ekco sound and vision, Harold Woodbine favours Philips.
Vernon Cooper advertisement from the Northwich Chronicle of Saturday May 16th 1953, urging people to buy a TV set in time for the Coronation which took place on June 2nd. Note that the address is given as 'Wheelock Street, Middlewich' and that there were also Vernon Cooper shops in Winsford, Crewe, Sandbach and other local towns
Here's a little reminiscence from me about Harold Woodbine's which featured in an earlier posting:

I still remember the excitement when I called in to order a record album in 1963
(actually, we didn't call them 'albums', we called them L.P.s)
The record seemed to take weeks and weeks to arrive but when it did, I played it
until the grooves were white with wear. It was 'With The Beatles'
(the mono pressing, of course). A year earlier my eldest brother, Glynn,
had brought home 'Love Me Do'. The perfect ending to this story would be
for me to say that I thought this early 'waxing' was great, but I didn't.
I thought it was boring. By the following year I'd obviously changed my
mind about this Liverpool beat combo. (original comment from Facebook)

Moving to the extreme right of the picture we can see the very edge of the Town Hall complex of buildings and, to the left of that, the JayGee Fireplace building which is now  Town Bridge Estate Agents. Left of this is the North-Western Gas Board showroom and, to the left of that, the first signs of demolition along the row as the showroom manager's house is reduced to rubble.
To take this picture Jack stood outside what is now Pineland*. If we were to take a picture from this viewpoint today we'd see mostly dual carriageway with the Bullring bus interchange to the right of it. (see 'Now & Then: The Bullring . Link below).
There are a few interesting little details about Vernon Coopers shop which will replay a bit of clicking and double clicking: First of all, above the 'Ltd' on the left hand side is a small sign directing people down Pepper Street to The Vaults and its car park. Secondly, what might appear at first to be a satellite dish on the left hand wall is, in fact, a STOP sign for the Pepper Street/Lower Street junction, placed at this height to make it visible from further down Pepper Street.
And if you look to the left hand side of the building's tall chimney, there is a fine array of vintage VHF TV aerials. The giant X is for band one, BBC 1 on channel 2 and the other, classic 'ITV' aerial is for band three, Granada Television on channel 9. Incidentally, if you should happen to have a surviving ITV aerial on your roof, you could use it for receiving DAB radio, as the aerials are exactly the same. Somewhere, by this time, there must also have been one or more modern  aerials for 625 lines UHF (with colour on all three channels).

* Update: Pineland has now joined the long list of closed businesses in Middlewich (Sept 2014)

See also: LOWER STREET 1970
               LOWER STREET 1969
               NOW and THEN THE BULLRING

Facebook feedback:

Ian Hill-Smith What's the road leading out of the right of the pic, Dave?

Dave Roberts Hi Ian. The road in the right foreground is Hightown which is still more or less in the same position, although the traffic flow now runs in the other direction - i.e. towards Lewin Street, The road leading off into the distance (and the Town Bridge) is now the bus lay-by and part of St Michael's Way.

Originally published on 1st September 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 30th October 2018

Sunday, 28 October 2018


by Dave Roberts

We're grateful to Dave Griffiths who contacted us in September this year with the news that a set of four aerial views of 'Middlewich in the 1930s' was being offered for sale on Ebay.

Dave couldn't resist the temptation, and bought all four photos.

He's kindly sent us copies of them so that we can show them to a wider audience and give people just a taste of how Middlewich looked no less than eighty-eight years ago (or more).

We've already encountered a couple of these photos over the years, but never before in such high quality.

English Heritage's Britain From Above website*, which features aerial photos of towns and villages all over the country, carries copies of at least two of them and, a few years ago appealed for people to contact them with information as to what they showed. 

Which is what the Middlewich Diary did in respect of the Webb's Lane/Finney's Lane view (see below).

You'll note that these views are all labelled 'c1930' and this is an approximation which we'll gladly go along with for a couple of these photos. But for two of the photos we think the date may be earlier than that, for reasons we'll explain as we go along.

And so to the first photo (above). Nearly ninety years on (or perhaps even more), but still recognisable as the Middlewich we know today. Our reference point, as always, is the Parish Church of St Michael & All Angels.

We sometimes hear complaints - and tend to agree with them - about the number of trees in the churchyard today, tending to obscure the building itself from some viewpoints. 
This old photograph shows us that this is nothing new. It should be remembered that at the time of the photograph the churchyard had been disused as a graveyard for many years, the last burials  taking place in the 19th century.
So the grounds of the church were, apparently, being left to their own devices at this time. 

The triangular cluster of buildings in front of the church, comprising the old town hall and various shops, was swept away in the early 1970s to make way for first the much-hated 'Piazza' and more recently, in 2005, the 'Amphitheatre'.

The other main change, of course, is the loss of the old Town Bridge and its replacement by a much wider and larger concrete bridge, followed forty years later by the re-alignment of Kinderton Street and the building of St Michael's Way, cutting a huge swathe through the property on the left hand side of the picture.

But most people, of course, will want to know how this photo relates to what can be seen today, and this is probably best achieved by use of a numbered key.

* Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Britain From Above website seems to be inaccessible.

1: The old town bridge. A traditional 'hump-backed' canal bridge dating back to the building of the Trent & Mersey Canal in the 1770s. Several buildings clustered around the old bridge including the Navigation Inn. The bridge was demolished in 1931 to make way for the present bridge.
The old town bridge, circa 1914. The Navigation Inn can be seen
 in the middle of the photo.

2: Seabank. A road which ran (and still runs) from Kinderton Street down to the banks of the River Croco and the T&M Canal. The footbridge seen here follows the original route from Kinderton into Middlewich (before the coming of the canal there was a ford across the River Croco at this point). 

In medieval times, salt houses belonging to the Barons of Kinderton were clustered around this area. The remains of the footbridge, which disappeared when the new town bridge was built,  can still be seen in the form of blue-brick abutments on both sides of the canal.
The building just below the footbridge is a canal warehouse, part of the Middlewich Town Wharf group of buildings. The only other surviving building now is the Wharfinger's Cottage below the warehouse and slightly to the left. 

The people of Middlewich would dearly love this area to be developed and turned into an attraction for the many boaters and other visitors to the town each year. 

There have been suggestions that the buildings could be used as restaurants, museums, laundry facilities for boaters and so much more.
Unfortunately the whole idea of developing the area as the 'Gateway To Middlewich' seems to be blocked by whoever it is who now owns the land.
No progress has been made in bringing the idea to fruition and the buildings are steadily getting more dilapidated with each passing year.

3: The huge buildings fronting onto Lewin Street shared this site, between the road and the canal, with Seddon's Wych House Lane Salt Works and its associated wagon repair shop. The main buildings were the Church of England Infants' School and the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. 
Everything on the site was swept away during the 1970s and 1980s and the site is now occupied by the Salinae Centre and its grounds.

4: Across the road was another large building, and one we haven't yet covered in the Middlewich Diary, due to a lack of information. The Congregational Centenary Sunday School (below) shared this site with the Conservative Club and Heathcote's Cafe.

There was a chronic shortage of space in Middlewich's schools after the First World War and the Sunday School was used as an 'overflow' for the CofE School across the road.

In the late sixties this building was used as the local valuation office. 

Middlewich Library now occupies the site.

5: Lower Street and Hightown. Now occupied by the 'amphitheatre', with the war memorial on a strip of land between the amphitheatre and the churchyard.
The original site for the memorial, erected in 1934, was at the apex of the triangle formed by these buildings, replacing a shop which did service both as a butcher and as a branch of the National Provincial Bank. Oddly, though, the bank preceded the butcher's shop. For some reason, I'd always assumed that it was the other way round. The whole area is also known as 'the Bull Ring'.

The angled building at the rear of the site is the old Victorian town hall. When the new town bridge replaced the old in 1931, Lower Street was widened by slicing off a section of the old churchyard. The part of the town hall fronting onto Lower Street was also removed to enable this work.

A section of what was Lower Street survives in the form of the lay-by used by buses and taxis in front of the 'amphitheatre'.

6: This is where we tentatively part company with the date of 'c1930' for this photo. According to all the information we can gather, the butcher's shop on Hightown which we immortalised as The Butchered Butcher's Shop and which is now a Chinese takeaway, was built in 1920 (the same year as the Alhambra Cinema, local 'historians' might like to note) but there's no sign of it here. It is, however, possible to see that one of the buildings on Hightown has recently been demolished, and we think it's possible that this is the site of the butcher's shop. If this is correct the shop to the right of the demolition is the site of what was until fairly recently the NatWest Bank (Allan Earl in Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) mentions that in 1920 '...the construction of the new bank in the Bull Ring was well on the way').
So that would put the date of this photograph a decade earlier at c1920.

 If you think we're wrong, we'd love to hear from you.

7: Queen Street. The old police station. Like so many old Middlewich buildings this disappeared in the 1970s, to be replaced by a small brick box looking like many other identikit stations around the country. 

Note the terraced houses stretching from the police station towards Hightown. In the street's days as 'Dog Lane' many more tiny cottages were to be found here.

8: The oblong tanks are salt pans and are  part of Seddon's Pepper Street salt works. Unlike most such pans, they're out in the open air and they were used for the making of fishery salt, used in the preservation of fish and meat.

9: The site of Cooper's (formerly Kinsey's) shop. Approximately the site of the current Tesco Express store.

10: Brown's Vaults (now simply 'The Vaults') and Dewhurst's butcher's shop.
At the very end of Pepper Street which, at that time, connected Middlewich town centre with Webbs Lane. Until the early 1970s The Vaults was hidden away behind Dewhurst's, which was demolished to make way for the current pub car park.

The same view from a slightly different viewpoint. More of Seddon's Pepper Street works can be seen in the left foreground with the Trent & Mersey Canal which served it on the extreme left. Pepper Street can be seen running past the works in the middle foreground.

Towards the top left you can see the cluster of buildings around the old town bridge, then the Seabank footbridge.
Just above and to the right of the footbridge is Seddon's Wych House Lane works. and, right at the top, the bottom lock of the Brooks Lane flight. 

Top right, Lewin Street continues, to become Booth Lane on its way to Sandbach.

Pepper Street, early 1969.

Finney's Lane and Webb's Lane. We have already covered this photo in the Middlewich Diary and full details can be found here. You'll note that when we originally published this we took an educated guess at the photo dating from the 1920s. Could it be that this photo, too, is earlier than we first thought?

This one is new to us and is very much of interest because it shows the Electrolytic Alkali Works in Booth Lane, the  site of which has very controversially been in the news in recent years as the home of Cheshire East's new waste recycling facility. If this photo was indeed taken in 1930 the works must have  just closed.

(Photo: Cheshire Image Bank)

This was one of the sites that Edwin Richard Foden looked at in 1933 for the manufacture of the E. R. Foden diesel-engined lorry, better known as the E.R.F. 

So the Sun Works,  Sandbach could very easily have been the Sun Works, Middlewich, had things turned out differently.

As it was, of course, the site  became a pottery works owned by Steventon's and later Ideal Standard, manufacturing bathroom equipment.

A last-ditch effort to keep the factory going as a pottery manufacturer was made by OURS Bathrooms, but the operation closed completely in  2013. 

The Trent and Mersey Canal runs from bottom left to middle right and the old Cledford Lane canal bridge, replaced in the 1960s by a modern structure, can be seen just below the office block, the remaining portion of which is just about the only part of the original works still in existence.

Cross Lane comes in from bottom right and that distinctive double-ended building gives us our present day bearings, but many of the present day housing in Booth Lane, Cross Lane, Cledford Crescent and Hutchin's Close has yet to be.

That thin grey line running from left to right in the top part of the photo is the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich railway line.

This stretch of road has for many years been the site of salt works. 

Just out of shot to the right were at various times the works of Verdin Cooke, Bowfields and the Middlewich Salt Company (later absorbed into Cerebos Ltd). 

The tradition, of course, continues to this day with the British Salt Works, built on part of the Verdin Cooke site, providing much of the country's requirements for salt.

Many thanks to Dave Griffiths for sharing these fascinating photographs. As always, we're always open to correction and love to hear alternative theories as to what we might be looking at in this type of photo.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you think you can help set the record straight!

Dave Roberts

Monday, 22 October 2018


Margaret Scarlett writes, on behalf of the Royal British Legion, Middlewich branch

The Middlewich Branch of the Royal British Legion would like to thank all their sponsors both business and personal, for the wonderful display of poppies on lamp-posts throughout the town.

Many thanks also to  SP Energy for placing the poppies on the lamp-posts. 

The presence of the poppies impressed both residents and guests at the recent unveiling of the WW1 fourteen  extra names on the War Memorial, and helped in enabling Middlewich to show its respect for members of the armed forces,  past and present. 

Thank you all for helping the town to commemorate Remembrance in this way.


Friday, 19 October 2018


One of those street scenes in which nothing really seems to have changed much but which, on closer examination, has altered considerably. In 1969 Lawrence Avenue was one entity - an unadopted road linking Wheelock Street with Webbs Lane. The coming of  St Michael's Way in the early 70s cut the Avenue in half and necessitated the demolition of several properties, including the white building in the middle of the picture, and a huge wooden fence cordoning it off from the new dual carriageway. The buildings in the foreground of our 1969 shot are now part of Lawrence Avenue West and those beyond St Michael's Way constitute Lawrence Avenue East. Note the elegant swan necked concrete street lamp. This was still in existence in 2011 and a similar specimen once graced Seabank.*
The building on the extreme left is now Brooks & Bostock Jewellers Shop, a block of new garages has been built on the right, and there have been various other changes on the Lawrence Avenue scene.
Nowadays, for many people, the words 'Lawrence Avenue' mean only one thing - a trip to the dentist. I'm one of them and I'll take the opportunity of my next check up to procure a modern day version of the scene for a 'Then & Now' feature.

But there's more to Lawrence Avenue/Lawrence Gardens than meets the eye. When this posting was first written I made the assumption that Lawrence Avenue was named after Charles Frederick Lawrence, the late Middlewich historian and Clerk to the Council. But it was Charles Frederick Lawrence himself who made Neolithic discoveries in 'Lawrence Gardens', so the name predates him.

And there are records of people from Lawrence Gardens buried in Middlewich Cemetery going back long before CFL's time. But when did Lawrence Gardens become Lawrence Avenue?
See Facebook Feedback below. -ed

Photo: Middlewich Heritage
Charles Frederick Lawrence was born in 1873 and was, from a very early age, interested in the history of Middlewich. After being employed at several local firms he became clerk to the Urban District Council in 1904. He retired in 1938 and died in 1940.
Among his written works  are 'A History Of  Middlewich' (1895), 'The Annals of Middlewich' (1912) and 'Middlewich Doings In Olden Days (1925). He also wrote  poetry, including anthologies of patriotic verse published by the UDC and sent out to  the trenches during World War I.
'CFL' was a pioneer in Middlewich local history, and one of the inspirations for the Middlewich Heritage Society in the 1980s.
(acknowledgments to Alan Earl for some of this information. A fuller biography of C. F. Lawrence appears on page 55 of 'Middlewich 1900-1950')

*This lamp was replaced by a modern LED lamp on 26th January 2017

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams It always used to be called 'Lawrence Gardens'. When did it get the 'Avenue' status?

Dave Roberts A very good point. And I thought for a moment I'd made one of those embarrassing slip-ups which occur when I rely on my memory. But no - it is definitely called Lawrence Avenue East & West. Was I making an assumption, too, when I said that the road was named after C F Lawrence? According to Wikipedia it was CFL himself who made archaeological discoveries 'in Lawrence Gardens', so the name must pre-date him. These are deep waters, and I sense another epic struggle to get to the bottom of things.
‎...still, we did it with Sharon's cafe, didn't we?
Here's one clue: When the road was sliced in half and the Wheelock Street end became 'Lawrence Avenue West', the word 'West' was added on a separate sign, so it must have been an 'Avenue' prior to the early 70s, if you get my drift.

Geraldine Williams
 Charles Frederick and his wife Kitty's house was actually off Lawrence Gardens, and had a large orchard. If you come in from the Webb's (who were they???!!!) Lane end there's a big house on the right where the Bennion family lived and a bungalow built sideways on (I don't know if it's still there) and this path led on to the Lawrence house. I can just about remember Kitty. She was a St Mary's parishioner.
According to a Google site, Charles Frederick and two other brothers, Augustine and Thomas, were the sons of John Lawrence and his second wife Hannah. John, a joiner/builder lived in Wheelock Street but the 1901 Census shows him being retired and having moved to Lawrence Gardens. Perhaps he built the house there and Charles Frederick eventually inherited the family home.


First published 7th September 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 19th October 2018

Wednesday, 10 October 2018



By Dave Roberts

This collection of photographs came to light after we commemorated the end of the ERF Service Centre in Middlewich with our feature The Last Days of ERF Middlewich.

Those photographic memories of the dying days of the Service Centre prompted Ray Scragg, who worked in ERF's Export Department, to get in touch offering to let us have some photographs of ERF Middlewich twenty years earlier, in the 1980s.

These photographs were taken by Reg Holland who spent many years in export packing. Reg, who is pictured in the title header (above) has marked most of the photographs as '1980' but one or two of them may be a little later, as we'll explain as we go along.

Please bear in mind that they were taken a long time ago and memories can get a little confused over such a period. I don't profess to be an expert on ERF Middlewich. I was there, after all, to do a job rather than study how the place worked.. I'd love to hear from anyone with greater knowledge than mine of the places and faces in this diary entry. All contributions gratefully received, and acknowledged.

A technical note: These photos were, of course, taken long before the wonders of digital photography. Some of them are very much under-exposed - something Reg wouldn't have realised until he got the prints from the processors.  We've tried our best to brighten these photos, but obviously we can't work miracles. We just have to accept that this is how photography was in the early 1980s.

The first few photos appear to explain why Reg should have taken his camera into work in the first place...

High up in ERF's 'high-racking' stores one of Middlewich's local robins decided to build a nest. This pallet full of what look like T-Shirts, or some other item of promotional clothing, must have seemed an ideal, warm, dry place to start a family. And, as Reg says, in a note on the back of the photo, the robin seems to have chosen well. Items were taken out and put into this pallet all the time the robin was there, building its nest and rearing four young robins.

Reg seems to have taken the robin under his wing - so to speak - and to have made something of a pet of it. Here the robin sits on one of several packing cases which are ready for shipment to ERF South Africa.

Here's that robin again perched on another packing case. In the background is a white-coated  David Briscall.

In a quiet corner of Export Packing, Reg's pet robin takes a little nourishment.

Plastic cab backs being packed for export to South Africa. Quite why Reg decided that these parts, out of all the thousands upon thousands sent out to South Africa over the years, should be worthy of a photograph is not clear. 

ERF Middlewich's Export Packing bench. The whole building, like all such buildings in the motor industry, was full of little areas just like this.

Reg describes this as the 'new spares delivery trailer 1980'. You'll note that at the time the company was still using the name 'SUNPAR', derived from the Sandbach factory, 'Sun Works'. Edwin Richard Foden was, it seems, a great believer in the health-giving powers of the sun. It was ERF's use of this name which led to the probably apocryphal tale that rival Foden's were at one time thinking of using the name 'Fo-Par' for their parts operation, but dropped the idea for obvious reasons.
Eventually the 'SUNPAR' name was abandoned and everything was labelled simply 'ERF Parts'.
When I first saw this photo I thought it was probably taken in a corner of the repair shop which adjoined the parts stores. Reg's description soon put me right. It says, 'new cab shop at rear of repair shop', and the obviously newer construction of the building seems to confirm this. The vehicles (or rather one vehicle and one cab) in the picture suggest that this was a separate facility for the repair of cabs. I seem to recall, though, that new cabs were also sent down from Sandbach for attention...

...and that's what seems to be happening here. Driver Derek Raymond poses next to his vehicle, which replaced a venerable ERF LV cabbed lorry used to carry spares between Sandbach and Middlewich. The old vehicle was painted in exactly the same way as this newer B series truck. And when the cab sides were, from time to time, removed for repair or repainting, they had to be marked up to ensure that they went back in the right place on the vehicle. They were always marked thus: LEFT FRONT, RIGHT FRONT, LEFT BACK, RIGHT BACK and...R SEND.

ERF's Repair Shop as it was in the early 1980s. It was the fact that trucks and tractor units would be heading for ERF Middlewich either towed by a breakdown truck or under their own power which caused the then Middlewich Urban District Council to remodel the whole of Brooks Lane and to make part of 'Poppityjohns' into 'Road Beta' in the early 1970s.
 Legend has it that ERF didn't relish the idea of a local, whimsical, name like 'Poppityjohns' on its letterheads, hence the replacement by the council with the
go-ahead, thrusting 1970s - style  replacement 'Road Beta'. 
In the end, the company used neither and the address was simply ERF Service, Middlewich.

Many of the trucks seen here in the repair shop seem to be undergoing rather more than minor repairs. Several of them appear to be new builds undergoing adaptations.
What was originally the repair shop later became a manufacturing facility, notably for the Steyr-cabbed ERF trucks of the 1990s.

ERF Repair shop electricians (l to r) Colin Proudlove (Foreman) and Dave Johnson

All Work and No Play... repair shop personnel enjoy a lunch-time game of football. The very edge of the huge ERF neon sign on the side of the building can be seen to the right of the photograph.

The insurance compound, where vehicles were quarantined pending investigations for insurance claims. There's an interesting array of tractor units here, not least the blue one nearest the camera. What sort of truck is that?

An array of new ERF cabs in the yard at Middlewich The buildings in the background are the new works canteen and accommodation for Technical Services, built between 'Poppityjohns' and the railway line in the 1980s. The buildings still exist and are used for the sale of - whisper it - second-hand Volvo Trucks...


In one corner of the ERF Middlewich site, close to the King's Lock pub, was the ERF Training School. The Trent & Mersey canal separated ERF from Booth Lane, the road to Sandbach. Above the motorbike and to the left is the famed 'Etta Mault's Chippy' still thriving today and still serving locals, motorists and canal travellers. At this time there was an access gate from the King's Lock car-park into the training school car park and many ERF workers avoided the long walk via Brooks Lane bridge and 'Road Beta' to the Service Centre by using it. ERF management soon got wise to this practice and determined to put a stop to it.
Instead of  a sign saying  'Please do not use this gate' as you might expect, the management, in true ERF style, opted for something along these lines...

Many thanks to our old friend Ian Murfitt for this information. At the time Ian was living with his family on a canal boat moored close to the Service Centre.

In the training school itself, Steve Alcock points out an important component on a diagram. The computer revolution had, obviously, not yet reached this little corner of  ERF Training to a great extent.
Later, the training school expanded and took up some of the space in the main office block vacated by Technical Services.

Reg has marked this one as 'Training School 1980 Keith Johnson' Can anyone tell us which gentleman is Keith Johnson and who the other one is?

Entrance to reception, circa 1980, with Debbie Greenwood. The parts administration department is to the right and the forbidding entrance into the 'stores' to the left. Over the years all this changed. Reception was moved to the front of the building, near the new computer room until, in the end, it was abandoned altogether. Note the high-tech device being used to hold the door open. This is the same door shown in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich,  the door by which I first entered ERF Service in 1974, and the door I used when I left for the last time in 2000.

A relic of the past - the telephone switchboard at ERF Middlewich. Everyone knew the ERF day was ready to begin when a single 'ting' on the office telephone told you that the switchboard had made contact, ready for the fray. Advances in technology meant that in due course the switchboard shrunk to a little unit the size of a transistor radio perched on the reception desk. Not too long after that it disappeared altogether as direct lines to all and sundry were introduced. The entirely separate internal phone network was also disconnected and thrown in a skip at the same time. Occupying the operator's chair is Judith Challinor.

Before the computer age was in full swing, telex machines were vitally important for urgent parts orders and communications. Can anyone tell us who this lady is, so obviously happy to be among the telex machines?

Three happy ladies. Marilyn 'Mal' Whiston and Debbie Greenwood are two of them (from left to right) but who is the third one? Can anyone tell us? To the right is a symbol of creeping computerisation - a printer with the distinctive blue keys found on many parts of our first computer system.

Marilyn again, this time with a lady Reg remembers as Alison. Does anyone know her second name?
On Marilyn's desk is one of our earliest pieces of computer equipment, the lesser-spotted VDU, or Visual Display Unit.

And here's another VDU, this time in the capable hands of Denise Carter. These were the VDUs mentioned in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich which worked on valves and had to be 'warmed up' every morning.

...and here's what was on the other end of the cable. It goes without saying that this was only a small part of the vast array of computer equipment needed to run the rather limited computer services we had in those days. The tapes seen in the racks on top of the machine were used to send such things as parts catalogues out to the distributor network*. Perhaps someone well-versed in the history of early computers will be able to tell us just what sort of system this was.

*No they weren't! See below (Ed).


Cometh the hour, cometh the man!

GEOFF WILLIAMS has contributed this in the form of a comment, and we've included it here to make sure no one misses it. A masterclass in early ERF computer systems. Many thanks to Geoff for going to the trouble of putting us all straight! (Ed)
The computer in the picture was a Data General, it was the first true computer introduced at ERF There had been a machine in Sandbach accounts which was part computer and part manual input. There was also a Rediffusion machine housed in the data processing office also at Sandbach. This was used to enter the data from Spares documentation, orders GIN's* etc and production documentation , Which was then transferred to magnetic tape and transmitted to Data Sciences at Sale, where the Spares batch system and also the production system was run. The introduction of the data General at Middlewich, following a study by KPMG meant that we had a true on-line system for the first time. The software (programs) were written by a firm from Liverpool. The design and implementation was manage by myself as Data Processing Manager and a Committee chaired by Bill McArdle, the then Spares Manager. We had lots of problems with the quality of the software, particularly relating to the back up data, which was used to restore the files, if the computer crashed due to a power failure. The power supply in Middlewich and around the site was in those days very unreliable and we often had system crashes. I remember once when on an adjacent site, a digger cut through the supply cable to the whole of the Middlewich site. Very often a thunderstorm would knock out the electric supply. Laurie Clarke who was my assistant and had learned computer programming, worked tirelessly to overcome the shortcomings of the recovery system. Graham Allcock and his team had quite a lot of work to ascertain and rekey the documents which had been partially entered at the time of the failure. The tapes on top of the Computer were not for Spares manuals for sending to the Distributors, but back up magnetic tapes for the System. When we introduced a larger Data General machine at Sandbach (for the Production system) We used to send copies of the production back up tapes to Middlewich for storage in the Fire proof safe there and copies of the Spares back up tapes, for storage in the Fire proof safe at Sandbach. These were quite often transported in either direction by Norman Hulse on his frequent trips.
One amusing story I remember from the introduction period was when I was training one of the Spares office typists how to enter Customer Spares orders into the system via the VDU. I had difficulty stopping her hitting the side of the VDU, when she had entered a line and wanted to start a new one. She had got so used to hitting the carriage return on her typewriter, she couldn't stop doing it. We had some very hairy times in the beginning but got there in the end.

 Geoff Williams.

* GINs - Good Inwards Notes. Notes which documented parts received from suppliers.

Warranty Claims department 1980s. Janice Davies (right) is joined by a lady remembered by Reg simply as Carol. Can anyone supply her second name? I wonder if the gentleman just visible in the office to the left might possibly be Warranty Claims manager Ron Hyde?

Also in the Warranty Claims Department are Margaret Neville (left) and Margaret Ledland.

Technical Services. Reg Holland talks to Bill FitzSimons. Does anyone know who the third gentleman is?

ERF Technical Services 1980s.

A Cossington Commercials vehicle ready to collect spares from ERF Service. Reg remembers the driver as Eric. Can anyone supply his second name?

Now here's a scene which many drivers will remember. Just one incarnation of the almost legendary  ERF 'Parts Counter' with the late Derek 'Smoky' Ryder doing business with a couple of repair shop personnel, Geoff Challinor (left) and welder Jim McIvor.

Brew time! The first of quite a few 'brew time' photos. Reg was only able to get photos of stores personnel during their rest periods. The rest of the time they were moving so fast no camera could capture them. And if you believe that...
Here's 'Smoky' again with, on the left, Harry Bayley, partially hidden by Ken Alcock.
Ken was one of several stores people who joined the company when the Post Office sorting office in Middlewich closed down. In fact it was said at the time that ERF Middlewich had three main sources of personnel: Fodens, the Co-op and the Post Office. Reg Holland himself was an ex Sandbach Co-op man.

Derek Whittaker enjoying a brew in slightly more salubrious surroundings than the usual locker room. Derek's another ex-Middlewich Postman and, at the time of writing, is still going strong and spending a lot of time in his cottage in Ireland.

Back to the old locker room and, as a change from the endless games of dominoes, a card game is in progress with (l to r) John Longworth, Pat Hopkins and Gary Hopwood. A fourth player, on the right, obviously wishes to remain anonymous.
This photo seems to have been taken at the same time as the one above, and features the same card game. 
On the extreme left is John Smith, who is mentioned in The Last days of ERF Middlewich as the man who organised the End Of An Era party at  Pochins Club when the Service Centre closed down. To the right of John is a man who looks familiar, but whose name escapes us. Next to him is  John Longworth again.
The gentleman in the grey coat with a white collar is Norman 'The Storeman' Hulse who drove the van between Sandbach and Middlewich carrying stock transfers. Norman, who was yet another Middlewich postman in a former life, is immortalised in the poem Norman's Story. And next to Norman is another unknown gentleman. As always, if anyone can help with names, please don't hesitate to let us know.

This photo is so underexposed that it's really only included for completeness. In fact, if it wasn't for the white table and Derek Ryder's white coat we probably  wouldn't be able to see anything at all. Peering through the gloom are (we think) (l to r) Harry Bayley, Derek Ryder, Ken Alcock and someone we can't recognise. If you can, let us know.

Brew time, as well as being a time for games of cards and dominoes, was also a time for catching up on what was happening in the world. here we see Pete Latham (left) and Alan Moran perusing the papers. Alan was, for many years, our union rep.

Which brings us to the piece de resistance of all brew time photos, not least because it features your Middlewich Diary Editor (left) in the days of lots of hair and not much stomach (a situation which the intervening years has reversed) and Steve Farrington, who actually unloaded and checked most of the goods being delivered.
We're pictured in the 'new' Goods Inwards office -  though 'new', as you can see from the luxurious and sparkling clean surroundings, is a relative term. Out of shot to the left was a sliding glass window next to the main door where delivery drivers would 'report' and hand in their delivery notes. The first thing they would see would be the handsome countenance of Mr John Stuart Davenport, perched on the high stool just visible on the left, and chain-smoking incessantly. Out of shot to the right was our first, primitive, 'Computer Office' (in reality a lean-to constructed from bits of scrap wood and glass) where I would sit booking in goods on one of those blue-keyboarded VDUs, once the valves had warmed up.
Reg has labelled this photo '1980', but in reality it must be a couple of years later, because the 'newspaper I'm holding (The S*n), has the headline 'Di Takes Baby Home', and Princess Diana didn't give birth to Prince William until June 1982.

And it was in this little office that we would have our lunch with one Peter Sutcliffe, who worked for Clark's Transport bringing  us spares from Kirkstall Forge Engineering (later part of GKN) in Leeds. The story of our strange visitor is told here.
This photo may be extremely nostalgic, but that nostalgia is tinged with sadness. Steve, who was one of the best friends anyone could ever have, passed away a few years ago at the early age of 61.

Another office, another games of dominoes, and  some once familiar ERF faces. On the left is Graham Cherrington. The remaining two gents were at the coalface when it came to ERF's Warranty Claims department, spending their days among bins full of brake chambers, alternators, diffs, gearboxes, clutches, tachographs and a myriad of other parts, up to and including engines.. Tachographs which were B.E.R. (Beyond Economical Repair) were particularly sought after, as they made handy clocks. And there were plenty of them, due to what the Warranty Department referred to, darkly, as 'driver sabotage'. The gentleman in red is ERF Legend Bill Ravenscroft, another ex-Co-op man. His full name was William Atherton Ravenscroft which led me, not unreasonably, to stick a large sign on his office wall with his initials on it. It read: WAR OFFICE.
I think Bill secretly quite liked that, but it did lead to the 'Battle Of the Signs', the story of which will be added here in due course.
Next to Bill, in the white coat, is Inspector Ray 'Raymondo' Colley (or, occasionally,
'Colley Dog'). Ray was one of the few people from ERF who kept in touch after the company disappeared, and he only died a couple of years ago. A very nice man.
This picture is also of interest to me, personally, as it marks the very spot where I started my somewhat inglorious ERF career way back in 1974. The desk they're all sitting at was where  I would sit, writing out Goods Inward Notes ('GINs') on self-inking duplicate sheets - green, blue, yellow, pink and white. One copy was sent to the data firm in Manchester which, in return, would send us weekly print-outs of what were supposed to be our stock figures. All hopelessly and irredeemably out-of-date the moment they were printed, of course.
At this time Goods Inwards shared this office with Warranty Claims.
Notice the telephones. The white one is what we always called the 'national' phone, connected to that switchboard (see above) and the grey one is part of the internal phone system which did, at least, connect the Sun Works and the Service Centre together. There was a brief but glorious time when Mr Ravenscroft had two identical phones - one external, one internal. It was a matter of honour for us to swap the receivers over, causing confusion and a lot of merriment for everyone. Except Bill, of course. There was another ritual connected with Bill's telephones. If we had cause to answer one of them we'd shout, 'Phone, Bill!' to which he'd invariably reply, 'Phone Bill? How much?' Silly and childish, but it was how we got through the long ERF days.

Mr William Russell, usually known, of course, as Billy, in the Despatch Dept , having just returned from his daily lunchtime bowls game at the ICI Club (later Pochins Club)  at the other end of 'Road Beta' in Brooks Lane. This was the venue for our 'End of An Era' party in the year 2000. Despite the fact that the building is now Middlewich Community Church, the bowling green is still there; one of only two greens left in the town. In the background are the 'grey bins - so called because they were bins and they were grey. This was a veritable rabbit warren of bins, labelled with the ubiquitous Dymo tape, containing small parts. The bins were on three floors, with a flight of steps and  a lift enabling them to be accessed. The management, remarkably even for them, once suggested that the lift could be done away with. The suggestion was greeted with the shopfloor's usual mixture of incredulity and contempt.  Many storekeepers would spend the vast majority of their working days in those bins.
Billy Russell worked in Warranty Claims, parcelling up goods marked 'No Fault Found' and sending them back to distributors, no doubt much to their dismay. On the back of this photo Reg Holland has written the words Long May Your Lum Reek, a reference to the fact that Billy was Scottish. Very Scottish.

A little horseplay in the 'New Stores Loading Bay'.
(l to r) Alf* Davies, 'Foz' Foster and David Briscall

* Reg actually has Alf down as 'Joe Davies'. He was obviously thinking of the snooker player.

Before we go, we ought to include a few token shots of people actually getting a bit of work done. Here are (l to r) Terry Holland and Derek Whittaker in the High Racking Stores picking orders with a lift truck (or 'Translift').

Tony Vawdrey doing the same thing with another (or possibly the same) truck. The strange white thing above his head is actually scores of parts labels with twists of wire attached, for those parts which couldn't be identified  with the usual stick-on label.
'Foz' Foster and Alf Davies, looking slightly lost and confused in the Despatch Department. To the left, those grey bins can be seen again. The office below was the HQ for the stockcheckers, who were on a perpetual mission to check the quantity of every part in the building against the stock figures. The office on stilts was the foreman's office and underneath was, at that time,  the parts counter.

We end as we started with that photo of Reg Holland, the man who took all these photographs.
A little bit of lateral thinking leads us to believe that this particular shot must have been taken by Derek Raymond.
I little thought way back in the 1980s when I worked at the Service Centre, trying to keep my head down and blend into the background, that I would one day help to chronicle at least a little part of ERF Middlewich history.
We're grateful to Reg for preserving these memories of a part of ERF (and Middlewich) history which otherwise might well have ended up  existing only in the memories of those who worked at the Service Centre all those years ago.
Many thanks also to Ray Scragg who kindly let us see , and use, these precious photographs.
We hope you've enjoyed seeing this little glimpse into what seems, at this point in time like  a vanished world.

Dave Roberts


10th October 2018.