Sunday 31 March 2019


The old order changes. Frank and Edna Bailey pictured in 1972.
Frank was the last Chairman of the Middlewich Urban District Council and the town's first Mayor when the one time Royal Borough of Middlewich became a part of the District (later Borough) of Congleton in 1974.
Middlewich Town Council still soldiers on but on the 1st of April 2009 Congleton Borough Council disappeared to be replaced by Cheshire East Council covering, as its name suggests, the Eastern half of the old Cheshire County Council area. 
Thus Frank bridges the gap between two eras of local government.
Should you be wondering  why the slide depicting Frank and Edna is damaged, thereby hangs a tale.
A tale which we may decide to tell in the fullness of time...

by Dave Roberts

It may seem odd to people who are relatively new to this area that Middlewich, administratively speaking, is part of the Cheshire East Borough when its history and relationship with its near neighbours Northwich and Winsford would seem to indicate that its logical home would be in the Cheshire West & Chester area.

So why are we where we are?

When it comes to local government Middlewich finds itself where it is because of decisions made in the early 1970s.

In April 1974 Middlewich became part of Congleton Borough.
There had been talks about creating a new local authority for this area as far back as the 1930s when a ‘Mid-Cheshire Council’ was proposed, amalgamating Middlewich, Northwich and Winsford UDCs, but the traditional rivalry between the three towns and particularly between Middlewich and Winsford, based on historical factors concerning the salt industry, meant that nothing was done.

In the nineteenth century Winsford was able to exploit its position on the River Weaver to develop its salt industry. 

The salt could be sent straight down the river to the Mersey for export.
Middlewich, despite its pre-eminent position on the canal system, had no such advantage.
Plans to bring barges straight into the town centre via the Anderton Lift and the Big Lock never came to anything. Nor did a plan to canalise the River Dane or another to build a canal eastwards from Middlewich towards Macclesfield.

Winsford's salt industry boomed, and Middlewich's went into a decline.
Ironically, though, we had the last laugh when British Salt was built here in 1969.

Reform of the system was talked about incessantly during the sixties and early seventies, and several ideas were mooted for this area.

Middlewich could have found itself part of Stoke-On-Trent under one such idea; another was for us to be part of a ‘Super Council’ stretching from Sale in the north down to Stoke-on-Trent in the south.

By 1974 the Government had decided to act.

It was thought that councillors at UDC level did not have the experience and know-how to handle the ever more expensive and complicated business of running local authorities, and that the creation of larger ‘local government units’ was the best way to serve the public.

Talks were held at all levels about the way forward. 
The ‘Mid-Cheshire Council’ idea was resurrected but discounted for the same, familiar reason with one Middlewich Councillor saying that he would never serve on a council which included Winsford.

Eventually it was decided that a new council taking in Congleton, Alsager, and Sandbach and the rural areas between would be created.

In the opinion of many Middlewich was eventually included simply to 'make up the numbers’ – a local authority has to have the requisite number of rate-payers after all.
Simply, no one else wanted us.

The new Vale Royal most certainly didn’t.

In fact, if the truth were known, the new authority we ended up in probably didn’t either.

When the news broke that we were to be part of this new authority we couldn't believe it.

Our inclusion in the Congleton District, incidentally, led to Middlewich being on that little ‘peninsula’ of land, surrounded on three sides by another authority which looks so weird on the map.

Actually this situation is by no means new. Up until 1974 we were 'surrounded' on that same little peninsula by the territory of the Northwich Rural District Council.

Which explains why, for example, Wimboldsley and Sproston, though technically 'part' of Middlewich, have ex-council houses bearing the inscription 'NRDC'.

But, to paraphrase the immortal Goon Show, 'every town's gotta be somewhere', and Middlewich needed to be under the control of someone, somewhere.

So, for no better reason that that, as far as can be ascertained, we found ourselves 'lumped in' with Congleton. 

Of course we were left wondering 'Why Congleton?' Wasn’t Congleton somewhere on the other side of the county, near Macclesfield?

Whatever the ins and outs of this most unsatisfactory jiggery-pokery, eventually the steering group for the new council met to decide on a name for the new authority.


No. In fact the committee decided that the name should be ‘Daneborough’, reflecting the fact that the River Dane runs through our area.

Sleight of hand by officials at Congleton substituted the name ‘Congleton’ at the last minute, understandably giving people the idea that this was some kind of ‘takeover’ by Congleton.

It was, as they say, ‘bad PR’ and Middlewich people resented the new Congleton authority right from the start.

With good reason.

Incidentally I was working at Middlewich UDC just before the re-organisation and remember the Clerk to the Council, Ivan Glover, telling councillors that now was the time for them to introduce their own ‘pet schemes’ – swimming pools, leisure centres etc – and the new council would be duty bound to carry the work on.

A golden opportunity for us to get that swimming pool we’ve always wanted.

Heartbreakingly, and astonishingly, the council said that there was 'nothing that the town needed’.

And from the start it was patently obvious that this form of local government would lead to unfairness. What chance would a few councillors from Middlewich have when ranged against those from Congleton and Sandbach (where the main offices were situated).

We were all convinced that, just as we’d never heard of Congleton, they’d never heard of us.
We always suspected that, if there was any money to be spent, it would be spent in Congleton, Sandbach, Alsager – anywhere but Middlewich.

And I can’t help thinking we were right.
Certainly, as is apparent from the state of our town after the CBC years, they did very little for us.

Congleton Borough Council was hated so much that it’s hard to believe that another authority could enjoy even less esteem.

Cheshire East has managed it with ease.

It's only existed for ten years* and already its name is a hissing and a byword.

All the old complaints we heard about the CBC are made about Cheshire East, with a few thousand more thrown in for good measure.

The authority is perceived as 'not caring' about Middlewich, and whether or not this perception is justified, Cheshire East doesn't seem very bothered about correcting it.

And now, as power struggles between Macclesfield and Crewe rage, poor old Middlewich is even more isolated than it was before.

What’s going to become of us?

It seems very likely that in the years to come people will still be asking

Why Cheshire East?

*At the time this entry was updated on the 31st March 2019.

© Dave Roberts 2013

First published 29th January 2013.
Updated, reformatted and re-published 31st March 2019 (the eve of the tenth anniversary of the creation of Cheshire East Council)

Friday 29 March 2019


Kerry Kirwan writes:
Anyone love to walk and learn? 

Looking for volunteers to help me develop a Great War Trail around the Town. 

Sat 30th March 10.30am, meet outside the Victoria building, good footwear would be a good idea, trail could be around 1.5 miles.

I need to walk the route and talk about the different topics at certain points, but I need feedback, is the trail the right distance?

Are the topics interesting, anything to put in or leave out?

Need to give me 2 hours/2.5 hours to work it out.

No point in proceeding to write the trail if it doesn’t work!

Volunteers can learn about the history of the town during the great war but can also learn how the trails are put together.

Saturday 23 March 2019


By Dave Roberts

Photo: Robert  Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A Middlewich rail enthusiast's dream as the first steam train for forty years passes through the town on the 4th May 2008.
The Cheshire Gardens Express was run under the auspices of the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign's parent organisation, the Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association (MCRUA), and carried passengers, including many civic dignitaries such as the Mayors of the then Boroughs of Congleton* and Vale Royal, on a trip to Altrincham. From there it formed a  shuttle service, running backwards and forwards throughout the day between Altrincham and Chester.
The train started from Crewe and travelled down the Manchester line to its first stop at Sandbach, where it pulled into the refurbished Platform 3 (the platform that trains on the revived Crewe-Northwich service will use) to pick up more passengers.
The train then diverged from the Manchester line at Sandbach North Junction, just a few yards east of the station, onto the Middlewich branch line and made its way to Middlewich, where, as all Northwich-bound trains do, it entered the Middlewich Loop at the Holmes Chapel Road Bridge (aka Station Bridge) and regained the single line just beyond the King Street bridge.
At Northwich it took the eastern curve of the Northwich triangle and travelled along the Manchester line to Altrincham, where the engine was detached and ran to Manchester to take on water for the shuttle service between Altrincham and Chester. In the evening the train returned to Crewe, again via the Middlewich line.
The engine used was Ian Riley's Stanier 'Black Five' no 45407 Lancashire Fusilier. 
A fabulous day out for all concerned which not only celebrated the return of steam to Middlewich, but also the varied and beautiful gardens to be found all over this green and pleasant part of the country.
I was on the train for the first leg of the journey from Crewe to Altrincham and it was quite touching to see the amount of interest the sight of a steam train running through Middlewich after all those years created. Doting parents and grandparents stood at the trackside with little children, all waving and smiling as we passed.. At times it was just like a scene from The Titfield Thunderbolt.

* The Mayor of Congleton Borough at this time was Cllr Mike Parsons.
Photo: Robert Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A trip through Middlewich by train is always a worthwhile and fascinating experience and much easier to arrange than might be thought. The line is becoming increasingly popular with railtour organisers, and there's also the possibility of getting aboard a diverted Virgin Holyhead service when engineering work on the Chester line is in progress at weekends.
It's a good chance to see a completely different view of the town. One which, we all hope, will become quite commonplace before too long.
The first picture  shows The Cheshire Gardens Express negotiating the Middlewich Loop and approaching the King Street bridge. The second photograph shows it on the Northwich side of the bridge and  about to exit the loop and take the single line to Northwich.

Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association
                   WHERE AND WHAT IS SNJ?

First published 17th September 2011
Amended and re-published 23rd March 2019

Monday 18 March 2019


Photograph courtesy of Joan Smith
by Dave Roberts

We're grateful once again to Bill Eaton for sending us another pair of photographs from the collection of the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, reproduced here by courtesy of his wife, Joan.
During our previous Middlewich Diary excursions to Kinderton Street we've occasionally been able to glance briefly at this group of buildings at the junction of Kinderton Street and King Street, just up the road from the Boar's Head Hotel:
But Frank has managed to tease me with this photo. That huge wooden building which dominates the picture, as it dominated Kinderton Street at the time, is seen in  Frank's photo from a very unusual angle.
The brick building on the left looks like an ordinary house here (although it's obvious from the whitewash on the left hand wall that part of the building has recently been demolished), but it's actually Earl's distinctive office. The unusual curved front window, as seen in our earlier entry, faces away from the camera on the other side of the building.
The building in the distance on the extreme left seems maddeningly familiar.
In fact, it's the Catholic School (now the church's community centre), a few yards away down King Street  where that well known thoroughfare meets New King Street.
The ventilator on the roof, typical of so many Victorian schools, is the giveaway.
It will be noted that, by this time (the early 1970s), Chris Earl's name was  on the building, and obviously had been for quite a few years, although the redoubtable Ernie Earl had not been forgotten.
He certainly was still in the mind of  Earl's most loyal  employee, Billy 'Cocky' Wilkinson (aka 'Billy Wilk') who lived a short distance away in Seabank and regaled me night after night in the Kings Arms with tales of the doings of the Earls while blowing evil-smelling clouds of pipe tobacco over me and everyone else within reach.
We had many a Condor moment together.
Billy was a steadfast employee of the Earls, while, at the same time, remaining firmly of the opinion that they were all 'rum buggers'.
(Billy thought, even then, that I was also  a 'rum bugger', and it's quite likely that subsequent events have proved him right.)

Note (March 2019): Billy's nephew Stephen emailed us recently with the following information, using Billy's Sunday name:

Just a note to your words on C Earl.

William Wilkinson was my uncle and I now live in the house William lived in on Seabank.
Williams best mate was a man called Reg Manley.
William was gardener to the Earls for many years.

Stephen Wilkinson 

But the real revelation comes in the note which Bill Eaton has supplied with these photographs:

'Frank's notes say the big wooden building, prior to being Ernie Earl's workshop, was a drill hall. 
It's possible that local men trained there before and during the Second World War.'

Now there's something I didn't know. Frank's second picture (below), shows what an extraordinary building that old drill hall had become just before its final demise.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the second photo is from a later date than the first, shows the old drill hall from the opposite direction, and that the modern building on the left is the building now enjoying  great popularity as the 'Factory Shop'.

Although I am, as always, open to correction.

Many thanks to Bill Eaton and Joan Smith for letting us see these photos.

Photograph courtesy of Joan Smith

First published 25th June 2012
Amended, re-formatted and re-published 18th March 2019

Saturday 16 March 2019


Photos by Ruth Sproston
Commentary by Dave Roberts

In the early hours of Friday 16th March 2018 catastrophe hit a quiet, semi-rural part of the Shropshire Union Canal's Middlewich branch as part of the bank  gave way directly above the aqueduct carrying the canal over the River Wheelock.

It's an oft-told story and doesn't need repeating here. Our series of 'Serious Breach' features, written shortly after the incident, will tell you all you need to know. And there are further links to various other sites, including those of the Canal & River Trust. They can be accessed via the main link (below).

Here's the link to our original Diary entry :


Our coverage was used by respected railway blogger and author Paul Bigland to counter claims that that old familiar Mid-Cheshire foe, brine subsidence, may have contributed to the collapse, indicating that the ground in the area is too unstable to sustain the projected High Speed Rail line (HS2) which will run close by. Unfortunately there is still talk in the comments on Paul's blog of a 'sinkhole' and of the aqueduct 'collapsing'. I've hastened to correct this with my own comment.


The Canal & River Trust wasted no time in setting to work and repairing the damage. The canal re-opened to traffic quietly and without fuss on the 21st of December 2018, just nine months after the breach happened.

Throughout that time Ruth Sproston was keeping a close eye on what was happening, and has kindly given us permission to use the photographs she has taken chronicling the canal's journey from disaster area back to the restored and once more delightful spot beloved of boaters and walkers alike that we all know.

The morning after the night before. The plight of the boater who woke up on Friday morning to find the canal beneath his boat rapidly disappearing in the direction of the Wheelock valley below, was extensively featured on radio and tv news reports, and even in a TV documentary which, unfortunately, saw fit to repeat the widespread fallacy that the breach was caused by a 'sinkhole' in the bed of the canal. If it had been a 'sinkhole' it could only have been on the aqueduct itself, meaning that the structure had collapsed. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. The fact that the canal bank gave way was what caused the problem, and the early 19th century Wheelock aqueduct stood its ground as firmly as ever.

Water from the canal makes its way into the  valley below, rushing through tons of silt and mud into the River Wheelock.

A scene of devastation, shortly after the breach. The only damage to the aqueduct, though, seems to be the loss of a few coping stones from the sweeping, curved buttress which actually served to channel the water from the canal into the river.

Once repairs were seriously under way, the bed of the canal at this point more closely resembled a roadway than a waterway. An access road was built across the fields from Coal Pit Lane so that materials and heavy machinery could be brought in for the repair work.

For a while this usually quiet and tranquil spot was host to all kinds of noisy machinery, all doing work to ensure that before too long that quiet and tranquility would return.

The canal bank and embankment above the aqueduct was re-shaped and re-modelled to hold the rebuilt section of the canal in its appointed place. Many of the trees which once crowded around the aqueduct have been removed during the course of the work. Repair work has been done on that sweeping buttress, and a new white stone stands out like a filling in a row of teeth. Before too long, the driving Cheshire rain and the passing of the seasons will ensure that that stone will weather and look exactly like all the others, making it hard to imagine that anything untoward ever happened here.

Here we can see that the rest of the buttress has been repaired with what look mostly like the original stones. The bank of the River Wheelock at this point has also been remodelled.

In fact this side of the river now bears a pleasing resemblance to some kind of 'beach' but, no doubt that same Cheshire rain will ensure that it all soon becomes as green as the rest of the area.

Seen from the canal above, the resemblance to a beach is even more striking. The white building just visible through the trees is Stanthorne Mill.

The restored section of canal, shortly after the refilling last December.

This favourite section of canal is open once more for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.

All serene. The first boat on the re-opened SUC Middlewich Branch,
 21st December 2018.                                           Photo: Bob Shoosmith

And as the sun sets, Middlewich welcomes back the SUC Middlewich Branch and looks forward to a memorable summer with many boats coming down the 'new' canal ready to join us for the FAB Festival and all the other Middlewich events happening this year.

With many thanks to Ruth for the use of her excellent photos

Our March 2019 MD masthead, featuring another beautiful sunset picture of the restored canal, this time by Lupeta Evans.

Photos: © 2019 Ruth Sproston
Masthead Photo: © 2019 Lupeta Evans
First Boat photo: © Bob Shoosmith
Text: © 2019 Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions



Saturday 13th APRIL


David Tulloch writes:

Hi to everyone! It is with great regret that we have to announce that Derek and Julie are to retire from Middlewich Rock & Roll.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank them both for their hard work and dedication over the last twenty one years. Without them Middlewich Rock & Roll would not be what it is today, and we would not have been able to carry on over the last few years either.

We can assure you we will do our utmost to keep things going at Middlewich Rock & Roll  with everyone's support.

Once again a massive Thank You to them both for all they have done !!!!!

We started Middlewich Rock'n'Roll twenty years ago at the Middlewich Royal British Legion Club and from a small difficult beginning it developed into an accepted venue on the Rock'n'Roll circuit. 

All profits were donated to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Seven years ago however, due to work commitments out of Middlewich, we had to hand over running of Middlewich Rock 'n' Roll to our then resident disc jockey Jivin' Jim Kiley, who has been running the events ever since.

Jim recently made the decision to move on.

We  therefore decided to take back the running of  Middlewich Rock'n'Roll as from January 2016, with the help of a small team of dedicated volunteers and sponsors and using the same successful format which has served us well over the last twenty years.

We have an excellent  live Rock'n'Roll Band and  great  disco each month and there is also frequently a 1950's gear stall where you can buy everything from 1950s dresses for the ladies to crepes and drapes for the gents. 

Our first gig 'under new (old) management'  was on  Saturday 9th January 2016  and featured Juke Box Jive from Bradford - appropriately, the group we
booked for our first gig twenty years ago. 

JBJ was supported by one of Stoke-on-Trent's best disc jockeys, Cadillac Dave.

We're proud to be continuing the tradition of donating any profits to the Poppy Appeal.

- Derek and Julie 2016

(More FAB pictures from CLIFF ASTLES)

13th JANUARY 2018
14th JANUARY 2018
13th FEBRUARY 2018
4th DECEMBER 2018
8th DECEMBER 2018
9th DECEMBER 2018
7th JANUARY 2019
15th JANUARY 2019
22nd JANUARY 2019
9th FEBRUARY 2019
10th FEBRUARY 2019
16th MARCH  2019

Thursday 14 March 2019


 The referendum to decide whether the people of Middlewich supported the idea of adopting the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan was held on

 THURSDAY, March 14th 2019.

NOTICE OF REFERENDUM (Middlewich Town Council)



YES - 1063

NO - 1085

Turnout: Just under 19 per cent.

Many thanks to Cllr David Latham for the information.

First published 10th February 2019
Re-published 12th March 2019
14th March 2019

Revised, republished and archived
14th March 2019.

Tuesday 12 March 2019



Cheshire FM aims to bring REAL local radio to Middlewich, Northwich, Winsford and surrounding areas.
The test stream is already up and running and now features an increasing number of 'Community Focus' features telling you all about the many and varied community groups and initiatives in the area, including, of course, The Middlewich Diary!

Includes links to Cheshire FM's 'Community Focus' spots and tells you all you need to know about your new radio station.

What's it all about?ABOUT CHESHIRE FM


by Dave Roberts

1972. The Town Hall and the shops have been demolished and the war memorial placed in safe storage. Middlewich waits to see what will replace the old buildings. Whatever it is it must be an improvement. Mustn't it?

Now might be the time to talk a little about St Michael's Church, as seen here (though we will, as you might imagine, be returning to the subject again many times before this series is done).

For a start the old Church clock, installed to commemorate the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, is still in place at this time, although its hands have been painted gold. For many years they were black, and this led to a lot of confusion, due to the iron tracery across the clock face, which was also black, making it sometimes difficult to tell the time.

The clock was illuminated by the public electricity supply and sodium street lights were placed behind the clock faces giving a ghostly yellow aspect at night. In fact the whole town centre was lit by yellow sodium lights at one time, giving the whole place a dreary and miserable appearance, particularly in the winter.

The nicest thing about the old church clock was the Westminster Chimes, though in its latter years it would sometimes miss out some of the 'tune'.

The clock was looked after for many years by Freddie Ruscoe, who climbed the tower every week to wind it and regulate it in precisely the same way as the clock in the Houses of Parliament is regulated - by placing coins on part of the mechanism.

When it was time for the clock to retire, its place was taken by a clock which came from Pring's Wire Works at Elworth*, and the dials were replaced by white perspex ones which are quite elegant but, unfortunately, can sometimes reflect the glare of the sun when it's in the wrong position.

The replacement clock is electrically wound and does strike the hour but in a very muted way. I'm not sure if the current clock's hands are the Victorian originals or came with the 'new' clock.

Once the replacement clock was installed, the original one was cosmetically restored and put on display in the church.

Next, to the weather vane and flagpole. In our picture the weather vane is in a very sorry state. It was later restored and placed back on the church in (from memory) the early 1990s.

The flagpole seems to be a different matter. It disappeared from the top of the church and has never been replaced, which is a great pity.

Most C of E churches display the flag of St George on Highdays and Holidays and it would be nice to see our church resuming the practice. When I asked one of the churchwardens if there were any plans to replace Middlewich's flagpole, I was told that such a thing was 'impossible'.

I find this a little surprising. After all, as I've said before, if they can put a man on the moon...

We welcome any additional information about Middlewich's 'pride and joy', St Michael & All Angels, and in particular any dates relating to the replacement of the Church clock and the weather vane.

Here's the same scene at the very start of demolition

A full description can be found here


*Does anyone know the exact year of the clock's replacement?

Facebook Feedback:

This photo, together with the first paragraph of the above description was published on Facebook on the 20th May 2011.

The original Facebook feedback is below:

    Sharon Mather
    Like this! The year I was born.

    Dave Roberts And twenty years after I was! God, I'm old.

    First published 15/07/2011
    Re-published 12/03/2016
    Re-formatted and re-published 12th March 2019

Monday 11 March 2019


By Dave Roberts

We're taking the opportunity to bring together three photographs of a remarkable group of buildings, one from our own collection and two from the Frank Smith collection. Chris Earl carried on the builders and builders merchants business he inherited from his father, Ernie, at the top end of the land now occupied by the Factory Shop in Kinderton Street.
You can find the original diary entry describing these photos here.
Our main photo is a Kodachrome slide taken in 1973 showing the ramshackle and life expired buildings in Kinderton Street. The white building immediately behind them is the Masonic Lodge, and the junction with King Street is immediately out of shot to the left.
It's that huge wooden building right centre which got the attention of Frank Smith, because he knew its history.

In the first of Frank's photos, taken a couple of years later, demolition of the roadside buildings has begun. To the left St Mary's Catholic School in King Street (now the Parish Centre) can be seen. On the right is the frontage of the long timber structure which was such a feature of the premises, although it was largely hidden from view until the very end of its days.

And here's a side view of this remarkable building which, but for Frank Smith's foresight, might have been lost to posterity.
This much altered, patched up and decidedly wonky building was, according to Frank, a drill hall used by the Home Guard during the Second World War. On the extreme left the building which in later years became the Factory Shop has made an appearance.

The Earls were local builders for many years. You may even, without realising it, live in one of the many houses they built in the town over the years.

Ernie himself used to call into the rates office in Lewin Street, where I worked from 1969 to 1972, and pay the greater part of his rates bill in cash.

Later, Billy 'Cocky' Wilkinson, who lived on Seabank, just  a short distance away from Earl's yard, used to regale me in the Kings Arms with tales of working for Chris Earl both at the yard and at the family home in Chester Road.

And, of course, one of the Earl family is justly famous as a local historian and expert on all things Middlewich.

Allan Earl's books Middlewich 900-1900 (Ravenscroft Publications 1990) and Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) are required reading for anyone wishing to know about the true history of our town. Coincidentally, while I was working in the MUDC rates department, Allan was working across the corridor in the council's Surveyor's department.

Chris Earl died in 2007 at the age of 92.

Do you have memories of the Earl family? Did you work for Earl's builders? We'd love to hear from you.

Don't hesitate to get in touch, either on Facebook or by email, or by phoning us on 01606 833404.

First published 11th March 2017

Re-formatted and re-published 11th March 2019