Friday, 30 August 2019


'Fountain Fields' in its 1960s heyday  (Photo courtesy of Elaine Carlin)
by Dave Roberts,

I'm writing this on the eve of the long-awaited re-opening of Fountain Fields on the 31st August 2018. The Middlewich Diary has had a grandstand view of the re-building of the 'park' over the last few months and watched in fascination as what is now for the most part a much-enlarged children's playground has taken shape. We've even taken a few photos of the work, and these will be added to this diary entry when time allows..

Many people have expressed curiosity as to the origins of the name of our recreation ground and there was even, for a time, a proposal to build a 'fountain' of sorts as part of the new facilities, but this was later dropped in favour of a Middlewich-themed sculpture.

(See 'Windows of Middlewich' below).

In our usual slapdash fashion we gave the world the benefit of our own theories as to how the name came about. In fact we can tell you exactly what we said in reply to one correspondent:

As far as I know, the name Fountain Fields was dreamed up in 1952 when the Middlewich UDC had the recreation ground built (it was opened just a couple of months before I was born). Prior to this the area was known as 'The Sandhole', a somewhat mundane name which wouldn't have lent itself to such a facility. There used to be a children's paddling pool on the strip of land behind the bowling hut which is now the private access road to the houses further down towards Wheelock Street. Perhaps this was the origin of the idea that there once was an actual 'fountain' there? Of course I may be wrong - perhaps there really was a fountain there at once time? If anyone knows, I'd love to hear about it. Incidentally, I earlier used the term 'recreation ground' advisedly. Although it's sometimes called 'the park' it was never really a park as such. Just the closest we could get to such an amenity. There was a time when the flowerbeds there were very attractive*, but this aspect of Fountain Fields has been rather neglected in recent years.
* See our main photo -Ed

I've absolutely no idea quite why I should have replied to the query in this way, missing out the information on the town's water supply which I had, of course, known about since at least the early 1980s when I was one of the founders of the Middlewich Heritage Society. In fact I quoted a Heritage Society source in an earlier Middlewich Diary entry:

... if you're wondering where Fountain Fields gets its name from, it seems that  in the 19th Century the area was a source of water for the town. There were three wells, feeding into two storage tanks, one of which was called 'The Fountain'. These tanks, in turn, fed water into the 'Town Spout'. We're grateful to the Middlewich Heritage Society for this information. 

Well hastening to put us right in his own inimitable way (and in no uncertain terms) is none other than 'Harry Random' (also sometimes known as 'It's Random'), the scourge of our local politicians.

Here he is setting the record straight (and not being able to resist having a little dig)

I have read much about the history of Fountain Fields but much of it has been speculation and lacking any real supporting evidence. Dave Roberts recently put a post on Facebook stating "....Perhaps this was the origin of the idea that there once was an actual 'fountain' there? Of course I may be wrong - perhaps there really was a fountain there at once time? If anyone knows, I'd love to hear about it.".
So here are some 'facts' which can easily be confirmed and expanded upon with just a little bit of research:
Middlewich Fountain Fields park is believed to have got its name due to the evolving history of the well that was once located under the huge Tesco sign* at the junction of Queen Street/St Annes Walk (now also known as the service road which runs alongside the 5-a-side pitch). This was a very important well in Middlewich and was in use even before the 1870s.
Many public wells were later updated to become manually operated water pumps and with the advent of water mains some of these wells were turned into public drinking fountains. The land which is now the park has never been developed so in time it became known as Fountain Field or Fountain Fields even though the well and later drinking fountain are both long since gone.
The sand pits which have been mentioned previously in relation to Fountain Fields now lie under the majority of the Tesco delivery yard and storage area appear to have been first used during the late 1870s and early 1880s and but by 1898 this area was referred to as the location of an "old sand pit"

Harry Random

Note: We do, of course, know 'Harry Random's' real name, and his other aliases, and so does everyone else. We'd be happier using that real name, but we'll settle for treating 'Harry Random' as a pen name.

*now gone, along with 'Big Tesco', although the framework survives and will in due course be sporting a new and different supermarket sign -Ed

The Orchard Works which, until the 1970s stood on part of the car park which is part owned by Cheshire East and - at the time of writing - Tesco. Fountain Fields is away to the right, behind the trees, and the sand pits which 'Harry' speaks of would at one time have been out of shot to the left where St Ann's Walk meets Southway and St Ann's Road. It's possible, of course, that those sand pits once covered a much wider area.
The Tesco roadside sign in Queen Street which disappeared on the 18th August,  the night 'Big Tesco' closed. Was this the site of one of the wells/water pumps which gave 'Fountain Fields' its name?
The goods entrance to the former Tesco store  at the top of Southway. Was this the site of the original 'sand pits' which gave 'The Sandhole' its name?

A rare example of a 'successor' local authority giving credit to its predecessor. This plaque, erected by Congleton Borough Council in the 1970s, has survived and now adorns the gate of the 'new' Fountain Fields

The original MUDC sign. Adding weight to what 'Harry' says is the fact that the entrance to Fountain Fields (or 'Field' as the original sign says) is just a few steps away from where one of  the original wells, or pumps, was situated on Queen Street (or, at least, what was to become Queen Street). We'd always, for some reason, imagined that it was nearer to where  the former Tesco supermarket now stands, making it closer to the town centre. Note that this sign refers to 'Fountain Field' in the singular.

Special MD Masthead for re-opening day

Note: This diary entry is based on this earlier entry
Fountain Fields Signs 1952 and 1974

First published 30th August 2018
Re-publ;ished 30th August 2019

Monday, 26 August 2019


The Roberts Collection


Film © Salt Town Productions 2017
By Dave Roberts

Bank Holiday was produced by the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society circa 1937.
The film shows the adventures of a group of friends venturing out from Wheelock (that fine old house at the top of the bank is still there, and looks very much the same today)

and into the Cheshire countryside around the River Dane near Middlewich, the Beeston Castle and Tarporley area, Bostock and the Shropshire Union Canal.

Highlights are:

Precious seconds of footage showing Middlewich station in its heyday. To get to Beeston Castle & Tarporley station, our travellers would have had to change at Crewe. They're on the wrong platform for the Crewe train...

Scenes featuring the long-vanished Beeston Castle & Tarporley station on the Crewe-Chester line.

Glimpses of the Nag's Head Hotel in Wheelock. 

An old black and white milestone on the Middlewich-Northwich Road at Bostock, which is still in exactly the same position today and, despite the depredations of  modern-day road traffic, looks just the same as it did eight decades ago.

And much more.

Watch out, towards the end of the film, for the scene in which several of our tired and weary Bank Holiday revellers are picked up by a horse and cart in a leafy Cheshire lane. This scene wasn't planned in any way; the cart just happened along as filming was taking place, and the driver was happy to be a part of the proceedings.

...and what better destination could you have than the one so stylishly depicted in this long-vanished signpost?

I've loved this film ever since I first saw it when I was a small child. It features many of my relations and their friends. Uncle Bill (Oakes), once of Three Willows in Mill Lane Middlewich, is the man who (heroically, we always thought) falls into the River Dane in an attempt to retrieve his cap. Uncle Bill also wrote the script (or 'scenario' to use the term current at the time).

Auntie Winnie and Auntie Evelyn are also very much in evidence, Auntie Winnie (Uncle Bill's wife) as one of the hikers, complete with rucksack, and Auntie Evelyn  wielding a camping kettle and primus stove four minutes into  the film. Auntie Evelyn, incidentally, was married to Clifford Ridgway, and older Middlewich residents may remember her as the proprietor of Ridgways Newsagents in Wheelock Street, more recently known as Chisholm's.

But the undoubted star of the show is my Dad, Arthur, playing the unlikely role of an angler whose love of angling is only surpassed by his love of bottles of beer. 

In real life Dad hardly ever touched a drop, but that's real acting for you.

In case you're wondering which of the two bicycling fishermen is Dad, he's the one in the lighter coloured hat.

If you recall all those old-fashioned Western films, you'll remember that the 'goodies' always had lighter coloured hats than the 'baddies'. Not that the other fellow was a 'baddie', of course, but it does make identification a bit easier...

There's a lovely shot in the film showing one of Dad's prized possessions, a Victorian gold pocket-watch which was passed on to him by his father.

That same watch is now one of my prized possessions, too, and still keeps perfect time.

A word about the music: Over the years this film has been shown with various tacked-on musical accompaniments, but I've always known the exact song which  would make the perfect companion to these 1930s Cheshire frolics: Albert Whelan's immortal I'm Happy When I'm Hiking - and I'm pleased to be able to marry film and song together for the first time here. 

Albert's classic song is augmented by other appropriate music from  Jack Hylton, the Andrews Sisters, the New Concert Orchestra and Jack Leon & His Band. Making a virtue out of a necessity, we've spliced together Albert's version of this quintessential hiking song with Jack Leon's version at the start of the film. Can you tell where the joins are? Albert Whelan's unedited version, in its entirety, is played over the closing sequences and titles. It took a lot of fiddling about to do all this, but that fiddling can best be described as a 'labour of love'!

You'll note that one of the pieces used is It's That Man Again, the theme tune to Tommy Handley's wildly popular radio show of the same name,  usually abbreviated to ITMA.
This is included for a very special reason:
As noted (below) the films in the Roberts Collection ended up in the North-West Film Archive at Manchester University.
In the early 1990s Granada TV, then at its original home in Quay Street, Manchester, was still in the business of making 'regional' programmes for transmission only in 'Granadaland', aka the North West. 
One of the company's programmes for 'local' consumption was a nostalgic documentary series called The Way We Were, narrated by Stuart Hall, which contrasted life in the North West in the 1930s, 40s and 50s with life in the early 90s.
The team at Granada would often call me to ask for copyright clearance on little bits of the films in the  Roberts Collection for inclusion in this nostalgic series, thus making Dad and Uncle Bill and other members of MCACS latter day TV stars, 60 years or so after they made their films.
The production team at Granada were very fond of using It's That Man Again as background music because, although ITMA is usually thought of as a wartime show, it actually started in the late 1930s and continued after the war until Tommy Handley's death in 1949. The ITMA theme is a 1930s classic, redolent of the rather desperate optimism of those fretful times. Our film features the full studio orchestra version which is included here as an oblique remembrance of Granada TV and all the staff who were sold down the river when the bland and boring national 'itv' usurped the proper regional service which we valued so much and which has been taken away from us.

Although the music still sounds great, sadly the picture quality on this version of the film is awful, bordering on abysmal. This is due to the fact that, owing  to unfortunate circumstances,  I've had to use a copy of a copy of a DVD of a video of the film (if that makes any sense) in order to bring it to you at all.

Like all the rest of the Roberts Collection of films, the original of Bank Holiday resides in the vaults of the North-West Film Archive in Manchester and I hope, in the fullness of time, to be able to show you a much better and much clearer version.

If you've been so kind as to read through this rambling introductory rigmarole rather than going straight to the link to the film, here it is again to save you the trouble of scrolling back to the top of the page.


Film © Salt Town Productions 2017

First published 25th September 2017
Re-published Bank Holiday Monday, 7th May 2018
Bank Holiday Monday, 26th August 2019

Sunday, 25 August 2019


Mike Jennings writes
Hi Dave. I am not sure we have seen this photo before? I have  found with it the letter my father got about the closure of Middlewich ICI.

Actually we have seen the photo before. It's the commemorative photo given to employees of ICI Middlewich when it closed in 1962. We last looked at it in this Diary entry which dates originally from 2014 and was re-published last July. Bevan Goodall, who left the works in 1960 and now lives overseas was able, belatedly, to obtain his copy via the Middlewich Diary. There are also links in this Diary entry to other photos of ICI Middlewich:


But we've never seen the accompanying statement from ICI concerning the closure of the works and strongly suspect that former employees won't have seen it either since its original distribution in 1962. It's very simply produced (most likely on a Gestetner or Roneo stencil machine - the usual technology at the time for producing bulk copies of anything) and undated, with no ICI logo or letterhead and no signature, and appears to be a simplified version of the company's Press Release to 'national and local press' concerning the closure. It was probably included in employees' wage packets.

What's interesting is that it not only announces the closure (without actually giving a firm date) but also gives reasons why the works is closing, and how the company proposes to maintain production of soda ash at Lostock and Winnington (now itself closed).

Because the text in the original is a little difficult to read, we've transcribed it here:


The Alkali Division of ICI announces with regret that owing to a change in the pattern of the alkali trade brought about by the increased production of electrolytic caustic soda it has decided to shut down its Middlewich works towards the end of 1962 or early in 1963.
Middlewich is one of the smallest of ICI's works in Mid-Cheshire and accounts for less than 10% of ICI's soda ash capacity in the U.K.
Supplies of soda ash will not be affected as production is to be transferred to the much larger works at Lostock and Northwich, which have recently been modernised and extended.
ICI will offer alternative employment to as many as possible of the 250 employees affected and it expects to be able to place most of them. Those to whom alternative employment cannot be offered will be treated under the normal ICI arrangements for redundancy, each according to his individual circumstances.

The Division employs nearly 10,000 people, over 8,000 of them in Mid-Cheshire.

Future expansion of sales is likely to be met from the large plant at Winnington where at present all of the sodium carbonate produced is converted to caustic soda and other alkali products. With increasing supplies of caustic soda as a by product of electrolytic chlorine production sodium carbonate capacity is being released at Winnington. It is proposed to install modern plant there to produce soda ash for sale.

In more recent years most of the old ICI Middlewich site has been the location for Pochins Ltd and some of its associated companies. The collapse of the company was recently announced. The southern end of the site was, from 1971 until the year 2000 the location for ERF's Service Centre. Those buildings are still being used by the motor industry, but it is unclear what will happen to the area used by Pochins. A few of the former ICI buildings remain on the site, as do the wrought iron gates situated behind the modern Pochin office block.

In a poignant ceremony in July this year, the recently re-furbished works war memorial and memorial garden were formally re-opened by Lord Grey of Codnor.



Sunday, 18 August 2019


The Middlewich Diary's Easter Quiz raised £50 for the British Heart Foundation. Here, rather belatedly, is the letter acknowledging the receipt of our cheque. Many thanks to all who helped to organise the quiz. and everyone who took part. Future quizzes will take place at Christmas, Easter and June (subject to confirmation)  and will raise money for the Middlewich Community Mayor's Charities. Details will follow soon. Dave Roberts, Editor.