Wednesday, 31 July 2019


Malcolm Hough of Andersen Boats in Wych House Lane has sent us some colour shots of the River Croco, which runs alongside the Trent & Mersey Canal as it makes its way though the middle of the town, during times of excessive rainfall in the mid-1980s

He writes:
'These photos are taken from colour slides showing the River Croco overflowing into the canal in the mid 1980's. We had lived in Wych House Lane for around 10 years when this happened, and it was the first time that we had witnessed this event, although we have seen it happen more than a dozen times since then.'

When the Trent & Mersey Canal was built in 1776 the River Croco, which had previously 'meandered all over the valley bottom' as it made its way through Middlewich, was channelled alongside the canal from Brooks Lane to the edge of Harbutt's Field where it joins the River Dane, and made to serve as an overflow for excess water from the canal. On rare occasions, however, the flow of water runs in the opposite direction, as we'll see in these photos.
This picture appears to have been taken from the concrete causeway which normally divides the canal and river. The position of the boats in the picture below will give an approximation of the viewpoint  In the distance, towards the cluster of whitewashed buildings on the Town Wharf, you can see that the water level of the river is beginning to get higher than that of the canal.
To the left we can see that the old Wych House Lane salt works has vanished, along with the C of E School, the Wesleyan Chapel and most of the other buildings on the site. The building of the Salinae Centre which now occupies a lot of the site was still ten years in the future at this time.

The second shot seems to have been taken from lock no 74 (also known as Middlewich Bottom Lock). Andersen's boatyard can be seen on the left hand side of the picture.

This photo was taken from the stern of one of the boats seen moored by the boatyard in the above picture. It can be seen that the level of the River Croco has now risen higher than that of the canal, and water has begun to pour in the 'wrong' direction. Note, centre left, the small whitewashed building with the chimney on the Town Wharf. This building disappeared suddenly a few years ago.

The final picture was taken further along the concrete causeway, closer to the Town Wharf and near to Seabank on the right. 

Dave Roberts

UPDATE: 31st July 2019. As you'll have gathered, this is a very rare occurrence, but exactly the same thing happened on the 31st July 2019 after excessive rain. This Diary entry was re-published to mark the occasion. - Ed.

Malcolm writes: 'This was at the bottom of Joe Sproston's garden (off Sea Bank), where there was a rabbit warren.We never saw a rabbit for years after this flood. There is also a nice view of Hightown to the left of this image'. 


First published 15th February 2014
Re-published 31st July 2019

Monday, 29 July 2019


Now here's a real find. This photo was sent to us by Stuart Warren Twigg, grandson of Harry Jackson who is seen here at the wheel of Whiston's TV van in the early 1960s. Stuart sent the photograph after seeing this entry in the Middlewich Diary, in which we talked about Whiston's Garage which once stood where Wheelock Street, Chester Road and Nantwich Road all meet. In the course of the ensuing discussion Geraldine Williams remembered Whiston's radio department which was behind the camera. We think, from the look of the van and the TV set next to it, that this picture comes from the early 1960s when TV rather than radio was the dominant form of home entertainment.
The van driver is Harry Jackson, Stuart's grandfather. As Geraldine mentioned in our earlier discussion the radio department was run by Harry , who later moved just a short distance down the road to Douglas Williams and Co which was based at the shop now occupied by the Easy Tan  Tanning Salon. Another one of nature's gentlemen, Harry was the epitome of old-fashioned courtesy and customer service.
The buildings just visible on the extreme right are the Crosville Garage (later T&M Autoparts, the MoCoCo cafe and now apartments run by the same organisation) and Gater's Bakery, the front part of which was  empty for many years and has now been incorporated into those apartments, only the old shop fascia board giving away the secret that it was once a shop.
Note: Part of that fascia board can be seen on the extreme right of the picture, just above the white vehicle. Can anyone decipher the lettering? 
The Whiston's building seen here, bearing that enigmatic word SHELLUBRICATION which was  seen everywhere in those days, disappeared long ago and all that can be seen on the site in the present day is some shrubbery separating the bus lay-by in St Michael's Way from Red Cow Court. There was also a bus stop, associated with the Crosville garage across the road, on the site.
The main Whiston's buildings, i.e. the Garage and radio and TV shop, were further down the road opposite the end of Nantwich road, as can be seen in that earlier Diary entry.
Also long gone, presumably, is that immaculate Ford Popular van bearing the two-digit local telephone number, which you could obtain by lifting your receiver and saying, 'can you put me through to number 97 please?'
It all sounds rather like a scene from 'The Prisoner'.
The smart looking TV set would enable you to watch BBC Television on Channel 2 or Granada TV/ABC on Channel 9. It was, presumably, made by Pye of Cambridge.

Update (April 2018)

We're grateful to Ruth Sproston for this photo showing the Whiston buildings, shortly before they were demolished to make way for the Northern end of St Michael's Way in the early 1970s:
The Whiston's of Middlewich  building to the right is the one bearing the enigmatic word SHELLUBRICATION in our main photo. 
The grassed area with trees shown in our July 2017 shot replaced it. 
Harry's van was parked approximately where the left hand vehicle is in this picture, and St Michael's Way now comes in from the right and straight across the photo, sweeping away the left hand buildings, to join Nantwich Road, Newton Bank, Wheelock Street and Chester Road in a complicated series of junctions.

The building on the extreme right still exists and is the white building with black edging in our 2017 photo, comprising a small cottage and a nail salon.  Red Cow Court was, and still is, behind that building. So it's highly likely that Whiston's building and the present-day grassed area was the site of the Red Cow public house many years ago.

Update (July 2017)

Here's a shot of the same area taken in July 2017: 

Harry Jackson can also be seen  here

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams: We had one of the early TV sets from Whiston's in the 1950s - I think it was in time for the Coronation in 1953 and I seem to remember our sitting room being full of neighbours and relatives who came to watch the ceremony. This also happened for the Cup Final! The TV was a console model with a 9" screen. My father eventually bought a magnifying screen on a stand which was supposed to enlarge the picture and also prevent light reflection. By the look of this picture the business, and the TVs seem to have progressed a lot and I suspect this van is a new addition. Harry looks very pleased with himself!

Michael Tully: Harry Jackson was one of the nicest guys ever. Absolutely great photo of a great man. Hilda, his wife, was fantastic too.

Dave Roberts: You're right, Michael.

First published 13th January 2012
Re-published with amendments 17th October 2015
Re-published with 2017 comparison shot 29th July 2017
Re-published with Ruth Sproston's early 1970s shot 14th April 2018
Re-published 29th July 2019

Tuesday, 16 July 2019


Author's note: This article was first published in the Middlewich Chronicle in October 1987. To set the article in its period: it was twenty years since the open pan salt works had closed and fifteen years since the coming of St Michael's Way; the first Folk & Boat Festival was still three years away and the Heritage Society had been founded, by myself among others, only two years previously. The start of the Mid Cheshire Rail Users' Association's campaign to re-open Middlewich Station was five years in the future (although efforts to start such a campaign had already been made in the 60s and 70s). We were all still tickled to death that Middlewich could boast a wine bar and an Indian Restaurant (in fact there must have been more than one, even then) and we were getting annoyed at newcomers who tried to boost their social status by referring to our town as 'the village'. We were, of course, administratively still part of Congleton Borough, a fact which still sounds strange, even today. It is,  remember,  twenty-four years since this was written. I think it still stands up quite well, though bits of it are rather embarrassing. But isn't it odd how things taken for granted will change almost without us noticing? That 'tall, slender, metal chimney-stack' at British Salt, for example, has gone and been replaced by another chimney of a different design. We must be vigilant if we want to keep up with things.
UPDATE (28th April 2020): And now, in 2020, things have moved on once more. During 2019. its fiftieth year, British Salt started work on a new boiler house at the factory, with new state-of-the art boilers and a new and much shorter flue. So that tall 'smoke-stack' (actually a gas flue) will soon be disappearing from the Middlewich skyline. 

'Church and Chimney' was the name I originally gave to this piece, and I'm glad to be able to restore it here. As you'll know if you've ever had dealings with newspapers, it is a matter of honour among sub-editors that, however perfect and fitting a title might be, they must change it. In the original newspaper, the title is 'Some dim and distant dream-time a mere twenty or thirty years ago'. Perhaps they were thinking of entering a 'clunkiest title for a newspaper article' competition? Those same sub-editors also inserted the sub-headings, which I've kept intact. So here we go, with a double nostalgia whammy - the nostalgia for 1987 when Middlewich was emerging as a pleasant 'dormitory town' and the nostalgia for the time twenty or thirty years before that when smoking chimneys were the order of the day - Dave Roberts July 2011


A nostalgic look at the recent past 
by Dave Roberts

Let me take you back to a time when Middlewich was something more than a massive housing estate with a church and a few shops in the middle.
A time before the great gash of the dual carriageway disfigured the town centre; a time before piazzas, Indian restaurants and Wine Bars; a time when Middlewich and its natural allies Winsford and Northwich formed a kind of mini Black Country dumped into the middle of lush, green, ever-so-posh Cheshire like some kind of joke.
I am not talking about some dim and distant dream-time, but a mere twenty or thirty years ago.

Field Day

Middlewich, then, was a very different place. L.S. Lowry would have had a field day. There were enough dreary, smoky vistas for a hundred sombre and dramatic paintings.
Just a few yards away from the very heart of the town sprawled the Pepper Street works of Henry Seddon & Sons, salt manufacturers. The square, brick-built chimneys of these works dominated the town centre and belched clouds of grey-black smoke over everything.
Keeping your washing clean was murder, but no one ever complained. This was a salt town, you see, and smoke and dirt were a part of life.
Venice had its bell-towers, Clydeside its cranes, Kent its oast-houses and Middlewich its salt works chimneys.
This was the natural order of things; the way things had always been and, we used to think, the way they always would be.
You could never accuse Middlewich of being a beautiful town but it had a certain style all its own; a character and atmosphere which largely disappeared in the early 1970s along with those gaunt, forbidding chimneys.
Some people are pleased to refer to this ancient Royal Borough as a ‘village’. Pardon me while I snort derisively. Let me tell you that when I was a little lad I thought that Middlewich was nothing less than a city.

Awe and Wonder

Filled with awe and wonder, I was trundled around its post-war austere little shops and might have been in Manchester or Liverpool for all I knew. I was perched on the railway bridge in Holmes Chapel Road to watch the black steam engines shunting wagons full of coal or salt, and concluded that Middlewich must be a great railway centre, like Crewe or Clapham Junction.
And I was taken once to Seddon Street to watch the only football match I have ever seen, and thought myself at Old Trafford.
The game was between Middlewich and, of all places, Congleton and all the days of my life I will remember the catchy little jingle the Middlewich Athletic supporters were singing:

Congleton Down The Drain,
Middlewich Pull The Chain!

Not exactly Shakespeare, of course, but it still has the power to cheer me up when the rates bill arrives from Congleton.
At that time, of course, we didn’t really know where Congleton was. It was just a town near Macclesfield, as far as we knew. We’d heard some talk about a bible and a new bear, but events on the other side of the county held no fascination for us. Certainly no one we knew had ever actually been to Congleton. After all, why should they?


In those far-off days, long before the creation of the pseudo-Borough of ‘Congleton’ our civic affairs were looked after by the Middlewich Urban District Council, which boasted a Chairman with a greater aura of Municipal Majesty than any mere Lord Mayor. Contrast the present pallid name ‘Town Mayor’ with the resounding title, ‘Chairman Of The Urban District Council’ and you get some inkling of our sense of lost glories.
You could see the council’s initials everywhere. Even the grid-covers in the streets had M.U.D.C. stamped on them and, when I was really tiny, someone told me that the letters stood for ‘Mud Company’ and that there were men down the grids whose job it was to stir the mud all day long. It all seemed perfectly logical to me.
We were never sure what precisely the M.U.D.C. was for, but it was part of the town and part of our lives.
Two or three decades ago it was still possible to get an idea of Middlewich’s former importance from the smoke-blackened buildings and the general air of workmanlike and unglamorous efficiency.
The whole atmosphere of Middlewich shouted ‘THIS IS A WORKING TOWN’ at the top of its voice and there was an air of drab self-confidence about the place before the bulldozers moved in to rip its heart out.

Another tower

If you stood in Lewin Street and looked down towards the Town Bridge you could see a sight which no one in this world will ever see again. From this angle the Parish Church appeared to have sprouted another tower.
This tower smoked. In fact, it wasn’t really a part of the church at all; it just seemed so from that particular viewpoint. What it actually was, of course, was another of those tokens of Middlewich prosperity, a salt works chimney, looming over the heart of the town. If anyone tried to spoil the townscape in this fashion today, hands would be thrown up in horror, but then it seemed perfectly natural – the town’s two symbols side by side, church and chimney.
So much of dirty, old-fashioned Middlewich has gone, and quite right too. A lot of it deserved to be consigned to oblivion. The air is cleaner now, and so is the washing. Much has been gained but, in the process, many things have been lost; among them a sense of continuity and history.
The Urban District Council was abolished in 1974 and we are now governed from that obscure little town near Macclesfield. What was it called again?
Many of the little tumbledown shops and houses are gone. Some to make way for new developments but many – too many – to create those weed-filled, rubble-strewn waste grounds which no self-respecting town should have to put up with.
We are becoming a ‘dormitory’ town where the new breed of commuters can while away the evenings on the new estates after a hard day’s work in Crewe or Manchester.
Undoubtedly, Middlewich is fast becoming a more pleasant place to live in. In time the waste grounds will be built on; the wine bars, restaurants and bright new shops will spread and that other, older Middlewich will be just a memory.
I was walking around the town the other day reflecting on the changes of the last few years when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something which made me think that, maybe, the more things change the more they stay the same.
It was the tall, slender, metal chimney-stack of the British Salt works. Wherever you go in Middlewich you can see it, standing out on the skyline, a sort of modern, high-tech version of those old brick chimneys of former days.
Middlewich is still making salt, after all. A new generation of wallers is carrying on the old tradition up there in Cledford Lane.
Who know, there may even be a few ex-M.U.D.C. mud-stirrers still lurking in the dank darkness under Wheelock Street.
If you see one, give him my regards.

First published in The Middlewich Chronicle
Thursday October 8th 1987
© Dave Roberts 2011 

First published in 'The Middlewich Diary' 11th July 2011
Re-published 16th July 2017 to mark 30 years since first publication in the 'Chronicle' and fifty years since the end of open-pan salt making in Middlewich.
Reformatted and re-published 16th July 2019.

Editor's note: Looking at this in 2011 I find it interesting to note the deliberately provocative language which I occasionally used: 'A massive housing estate with a church and a few shops in the middle' was never actually how I thought of Middlewich, but it would have been a good starting point for a discussion should anyone have wanted to take me up on it. And the digs at the old CBC were also a Roberts trademark of the time; a one-man campaign which later included the 'Nigel and Bill' sketches, also published by 'The Chronicle' (albeit in the 'Letters To The Editor' section)*. It never made the slightest difference to anyone, but, if nothing else, it gave everyone a bit of a laugh

*Actually it appears that the Nigel & Bill saga actually started earlier than this, in 1985 -Ed

Thursday, 4 July 2019


If you own the copyright on this photograph, please let us know.
(This diary entry incorporates one from 7th July 2011, which has now been deleted)

We're dating this photo from the Paul Hough Collection as 1973 because of the tell-tale signs of recent demolition to the right. It's the unmistakeable frontage of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Lewin Street, with its 'four-pronged' tower.
Of the buildings in this part of Lewin Street, Seddon's wagon repair shop and associated buildings, which were to the right of this splendid building, were the first to go - a fact that enabled us to more accurately date this slide by Jack Stanier - and the few bits of rubble on the right are all that was left of those buildings when this photograph was taken.
Our regular contributor Bill Eaton tells us that those stone gateposts from the front of the church now perform the same function outside Ravenscroft Cottages in King Street, home of the late Frank Smith
The church was built of a particularly attractive type of red brick with stone trimmings and, when the weather conditions were right, perhaps towards sunset on a Summer day, looked positively resplendent.
We were able, with the aid of the irreplaceable Kodachrome film, to capture something of that elusive quality in this slide:

© Salt Town Productions 2011

In its heyday the interior of the church was as magnificent as its exterior.

Although this poor quality image can't really do it justice, you can get something of an inkling of the Victorian splendour of the inside of the church.
According to information obtained in the 1990s from Messrs Andrews and Williams, authors of a book about Middlewich, several features of the interior were saved and can be found in other places of worship: The pipe organ was installed in Lostock Gralam Chapel; several pews found their way to Rudheath and Lach Dennis, and a prayer desk from the church is now in the Lady Chapel, across the road at St Michael & All Angels.
As regular Middlewich Diary readers will know, the Salinae Centre and its associated grounds now occupy this site, as mentioned in this entry showing the Seddon's site next door.
To see how the chapel fitted into its surroundings see this entry.
This attractive building replaced an earlier one on the same site.

The original Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Lewin Street.  According to Allan Earl this building was demolished 'around 1905'.
Facebook Feedback:

Geraldine Williams Brings back memories of my Gran. It was on her circuit of all the harvest festivals in the town.
Might it have been built at the same time as the Victoria Building (Technical School) - a similar ornate red-brick edifice which was, presumably, a Diamond Jubilee commemoration of something similar?

Jain Talbot Why was it pulled down? Such a beautiful building.

Dave Roberts In common with all the buildings in that part of Lewin Street it had become unsafe. This chapel, and the adjacent school, were large, heavy buildings, and the ground they were built on unstable. It also sloped steeply away from road level down to what had been the Croco Valley (shared with the canal by the time these buildings were erected). You'll notice that Salinae has been built at a lower level to partly compensate for the slope.

Originally published 14th March 2012
Updated and re-published 4th July 2016
and 4th July 2019