Saturday 27 June 2020


by Dave Roberts

Today we're right on the north-western outskirts of Middlewich in the early-to-mid 1970s.  The bridge over the  Trent & Mersey canal in the background of the photo carries Croxton Lane on its way from Chester Road to King Street and a very utilitarian and nondescript bridge it is, with heavy steel girders in place of the more typical arched construction, making it look more like a railway bridge than anything to do with the canal network.
Quite possibly the bridge has been rebuilt and strengthened in this way at some point, although it is not clear why. Until recent years, when Croxton Lane became yet another 'rat run' traffic was fairly light.
[UPDATE: Actually, a glance at the latest Ordnance Survey maps and road atlases shows us that Croxton Lane, despite the restrictions of the T&M bridge, the narrow Dane Bridge and the railway underbridge (which is prone to flooding) and the less than perfect access at both the Chester Road and King Street ends, Croxton Lane is now  the official A530 road, and the section of King Street from Holmes Chapel Road via Centurion Way to the Ravenscroft Bridge Junction the B road (the B5309). The section of route from Kinderton Street to Ravenscroft Bridge junction seems to be unclassified (according to the latest map we have, at least), possibly because of the weak railway bridge near the King Street Trading Estate.
This will, presumably, all change on that glorious day when Middlewich's Cinderella by-pass (which currently stops dead ignominiously in the middle of a field near the former ERF 'works') is completed?]
So why was this bridge built in this style? Is it the original, or a replacement? It may be that a fault developed with the original bridge, or an accident happened to it and it had to be rebuilt in what would, by that time, have become the railway age, hence the railway-style bridge.
This, however, is just speculation and if anyone knows the true facts of the matter we'd be interested to hear them.

UPDATE: In fact the real answer has been supplied by Andy Roscoe, who knows a thing or two about canals. He's added a comment which reads:
Most of the canal bridges between Croxton Lane and Northwich are built in the same way, the construction allows them to be "Jacked up" and new courses of brick added when subsidence occurs.
The use of the canal for pleasure boat traffic is by now well established, ten years after the end of most of the commercial traffic in the harsh winter of 1962/3. 

In an earlier version of this Diary entry we put forward the suggestion that the harsh winter of that year was largely responsible for the end of commercial traffic on most of the network.

David Lowe, in a comment, hastens to correct this:

There is no evidence that most commercial traffic on the T&M (or any other canal) finished after (i.e. because of) the harsh winter of 1962/3, The Clayton's oil traffic from Stanlow had finished in 1955 but the British Waterways southern fleet of its NW Division, based at Anderton, continued to be quite busy and in October 1964 the boats (some very modern), traffics and crews were taken over by Willow Wren Canal Transport services, then, in December 1967 by the Anderton Canal Carrying Company which operated until around 1972. Major blows were the loss of the feldspar traffic from Runcorn/Weston Point to Dolby's in Stoke-on-Trent (due to the closure of the pottery) and coal from Sideway to Middlewich (change from coal to oil) both in 1969.Last regalar traffic was salt from Preston Brook to Runcorn/Weston Point and piles to various locations. I hope that is of interest.
regardsDavid Lowe

Many thanks to David for his comments.

Behind us is the Croxton aqueduct, seen here in a recent photo from Paul Hough's collection.
The original structure, built by James Brindley in 1777, was replaced by another aqueduct at the end of the nineteenth century, as it suffered from brine subsidence.
This second broad structure which still enabled wide boats from the River Weaver to reach Middlewich Wharf  via the equally wide Big Lock (sometimes referred to as 'Middlewich Broad Lock'), was replaced by the current narrow aqueduct following disastrous flooding  around 1935.
Part of the original Brindley aqueduct can be seen on the banks of the Dane.
The site of the old Croxton Flint Mill is just discernible here, and its story, along with that of the aqueduct and its predecessors, is told in the 'Tales of Wych & Water' information board (no. 10) close by.
In fact three rivers meet in the vicinity; the Dane, the Wheelock and the Croco. From here the River Dane flows on for another five miles before joining the Weaver at Northwich close to where the Friendly Floatel and the Regal Cinema once were.
Theoretically, wide boats are still able to reach this point (i.e. the Northwich side of the aqueduct) from the River Weaver via the Anderton lift, but it's doubtful if any of them ever do.
There would be little point anyway, as their only option after getting here would be to go back they way they had come.
This, of course, may change if the marina which is forever being planned for the area ever materialises.
A little further along the canal is the mysterious area where the canal widens out into 'flashes' caused by brine subsidence and where many working boats were sunk in the 1960s by British Waterways who were anxious to get them off their books.
And not too far away from this strange and remote location is Whatcroft where, in 1967, the body of Middlewich solicitor Herbert Wilkinson was found in a shallow grave. The mystery of his murder has never been officially solved. This Middlewich Diary entry tells us more:


To return to our main picture from the 1970s, on the right is the canal cottage which remained empty and abandoned for many years - mostly, it was said, because it lacked a connection to the gas supply.
This never seemed like a convincing reason why the place should be empty for so long.
There are many houses lacking a gas main and it's not usually considered an insurmountable problem.
Whatever the reason, the house had a forlorn look for many years but it is now occupied and a supply of Calor Gas laid on.
Which brings us to the question of why it was built there in the first place.
It's a very narrow building squeezed in between the canal towpath and the roadway which runs along the towpath to the council rubbish tip.
So why not build it in a more convenient place?
Quite possibly it was home to one of the lengsthmen who carried out routine maintenance on this section of the canal and so needed to be as close to the canal as possible..

Dave Thompson writes:

The cottage on Croxton lane, at the entrance to the tip, was occupied for many years by Rupert Washington-  a relative of Sid Washington who started Sids Cars.
As a kid I played at the cottage with Sid's  youngest son Stephen. We built bikes from bits collected from the tip and sold them to Howe`s Second Hand Shop on Lewin Street.

First published 22nd January 2012.
Updated and re-published 27th June 2020

Friday 19 June 2020


by Dave Roberts

When we looked at this subject in February after receiving several photos of the town's other 'guard stones' from Mike Jennings, quite a few people pointed out that there was another one  at the end of the alleyway which runs between Lewin Street, opposite Dave Costello's angling supplies shop, and Bembridge Drive.
Here's that stone, as seen in March 2012.
Its position is a bit of an enigma. Normally guard stones were positioned at the corners of buildings but this one is alongside the end wall of a row of terraced houses. Quite possibly it has been moved over the years - the option of taking it away altogether being ignored either because it would have been too much trouble or, we'd prefer to think, because someone was aware of its history and decided to leave it at least close to where it started out.
But what was there down that little entry which generated so much horse-drawn traffic coming and going that it merited a guard stone to protect the wall?
Another enigma, that of why the alleyway itself has never been given a name, seems to be answered by our other photograph, taken at the same time.

It can be seen that there is nothing in this section of the passageway which could justify it being given a name or a postal address. The gate to the right leads to the rear of premises on Lewin Street and the pathway leading off to the left (next to the bollard) also gives access to houses with addresses in  Lewin Street.
Everything above that bollard can be considered as being in Bembridge Drive.
The guard stone we're talking about, by the way, is just out of shot to the left.

UPDATE: After publishing this Diary entry we received a lengthy comment from Cliff Astles which is so interesting we thought we'd incorporate it into the main text of this entry so that no one will miss it:

The stone in question has always been at the same spot since at least the early 1950's, and has probably been there from long before that time.It was at number 68 Lewin Street where I then lived, one door away along Lewin Street. The stone is next to number 66 Lewin Street.
Why there ....? My own view is based upon the fact that the Ally Way ( with no name )was in those days NOT an Ally.It was a link from this part of the town ( Lewin Street) to Derbyshires land that was used to grow whole ranges of vegatables and fruit for Middlewich.The land in question was behind Lewin Street, along Sutton Lane to the canal bridge, along the canal to meet with St Annes Road, where the land then went all the way to Derbyshires Old Cottage (I delivered papers to hear via the back door :). Between the cottage and about half way to the St Annes Road / Canal Bridge was Derbyshires wooden work sheds that housed both the work horses and the farming tools for the fields etc.My great Uncle John used to look after the horses and work the fields with them when I was a boy. Half the land was used for fruit (many knds of apples / pears etc) and the other half was used for vegetables.

Getting back to the pathway from Lewin Street to the land. The gateway ( 5 bared gate in wood, near to where you can now see the hedge) would have been extensively used to both access the land to take away goods by horse and trailer, and also for access to place the "soil" from the outside toilets in much use in Middlewich in those days, on the land the make it grow food stuffs quite well :(.Therefore, I think the stone was placed there very early in the life of Middlewich to ensure that number 66 Lewin Street was not subject to the cart wheels hitting the walls of the house.

Additionally, the other side of the Ally, now used as an accountancy shop on Lewin Street was a traditional butcher shop ( DRIVERS ?)and behind the shop where some out-house now stand, was the shops Slaughter House. ( Cows / Pigs etc) and I was always awakened on a Sunday morning by the sound of the sloughtermans gun, with the noise from the animals awaiting their turn :(.Well before big the British Legion was built, at the time of their first Army Hut, there were some very old houses behind the current building that formed part of an old farm ( whose ?). We used to play in these, the Old Farm Buildings and the land around. This is where the back of the British legion Club now stands, and where the bolwing green is is where we used to play and DRIVERS the butchers used to bury ( most of the time )all of the old animal bones that were left after they were stripped of their meat.

The land behind the 5 bar gate and Ally was used to allow for the horses to stay ( after they had finished their useful work). It was hear that we used to get the horses to come to the gate for fresh grass, and whilst they were eating this we would jump from the gate posts onto the hoses backs and get a ride up the fields at full gallop. Those were the days :)

The ALLY was probably never given a name as it was NOT an Ally, it was the entrance to the farm that was at the rear of the British legion Club, plus access to Derbyshires land.

Hope this gives you some new info and stimulates thoughts for more.


Many thanks to Cliff for that. In fact we did touch on the subject of that un-named 'alleyway' in this entry about Lewin Street in the 1950s, surmising (rightly, it seems) that it was probably a former entrance to Derbyshire's land.- Ed

Originally published 22nd March 2012
Re-formatted and re-published 19th June 2020


Mike Jennings writes:

I was asked how many mounting stones were left in the town?
I have had a look around and found two. One at Brooks Lane bridge (above), which used to be against Hamnett's Bakery.

The other is against the entry to the Red Lion yard (below)

There may be more, but I have not seen them. My father tells me that there were mounting stones at The Boar's Head, The Kinderton Arms, The Golden Lion, The Crown (now The Narrowboat -Ed), The Kings Arms, The White Bear and The Big Lock. Would all these places have had stabling facilities?
I'm sure there will have been more of these stones around the town. I'm not sure they were all mounting stones, but may have been there to protect corners of buildings from wheels?

Many thanks to Mike for the photographs. I think that the vast majority of these stones were guard stones, rather than mounting stones, although one or two of them were high enough to have been used for both purposes.
Most mounting stones, though, have a little flight of stone steps leading up to them.
The purpose of a guard stone is self-explanatory. They were placed near walls, usually near gateways, to prevent the metal-tyred wheels of carriages and waggons causing damage to the brickwork, a precaution made necessary by the fact that the drivers of such vehicles were not always aware of the turning radius required to negotiate corners, situated as they were (particularly in the case of carriages and stage-coaches) quite a distance from the actual wheels of their vehicles.
Added to this was the fact that the wheels of horse-drawn vehicles often had iron hubs which protruded quite a distance from the actual wheel and could cause additional damage to property.
And there are many variations on the theme - some buildings have metal cladding wrapped around their corners; others have an entirely separate iron post for the purpose.
Nor is the idea entirely a thing of the past.
Some modern shops, for example,  have such metal guards to prevent damage from pushchairs.

We welcome reports, and photographs, of  other guard stones around Middlewich. Below are close up views of the stones Mike has seen.

Nantwich Road

Brooks Lane
Facebook comments:

Colin Dutton The guard stone at the Red Lion was to protect the hay barn as it was a coach house and is over 3 ft deep as the gas board had to dig around it to supply gas to the house.

Ash Powell  There's one at the end of the alleyway opposite Daves Of Middlewich (in Lewin Street - Ed)

And here is the Lewin Street one, which we've given its own Diary entry, courtesy of Cliff Astles:

Originally published 10th February 2012
Updated and republished 19th June 2020

Friday 5 June 2020


by David Roberts,

The Middlewich Diary masthead for June 2020 gives us a birds eye view of the British Salt Works in Booth Lane Middlewich, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2019.

BRITISH SALT (improved quality)                                 Photo: MIKE COSTELLO

The photo, by Mike Costello, is one of a seried of drone shots and videos of Middlewich taken during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Although the works has been in operation since 1969, this area has long been part of our town's salt-making heritage. There were once salt works on the land to the north of British Salt (behind the camera in this shot), one of them itself called 'British Salt', and the remains of these works can be found among the scrubland between the present British Salt and what is now ANSA's Waste Recycling Facility on the former site, over the years, of Ideal Standard, Steventon's and the Electro-Bleach Company.

Beyond the works, heading in the direction of Sandbach, was, until just a few years ago, the premises of RHM Foods Ltd, once Cerebos and the Middlewich Salt Company. RHM itself, of course, also bore several different names over the years - so many that, as we've remarked before, it could be difficult to keep up with the various changes.

In the left foreground is Middlewich's famous 'Salt Mountain' which came into its own a few years ago during a desperately cold winter when trucks from all parts of the country came here to obtain supplies for keeping Britain's roads clear of ice.

Our late town clerk, Jonathan Williams, memorably described the situation as, 'Middlewich to the rescue...' as supplies from other sources began to run out.

You can tell from the photo how British Salt is situated in a very strategic position in a vital transport corridor. To the left of the picture is the Sandbach, Middlewich and Northwich Railway, still very much open for business for freight traffic and awaiting those passenger trains to come. To the right of the works are, side by side, the Trent & Mersey Canal and the main Sandbach-Middlewich road.

The brine for Middlewich's salt now comes from Warmingham, a couple of miles away to the right (and out of shot). 

The sytem used now is known as 'controlled brine pumping'.

 Warmingham itself bears the scars of the old system of 'Wild' brine pumping which ended in 1977 and is evidenced by the presence of 'flashes' - lakes created by the sinking of the ground as it collapsed due to the extraction of the salt water. The country lanes around the area are also testament to this practice, with some of them more closely resembling switchback rides than roads.

British Salt's current boilers have served it well for over fifty years but are now coming to the end of their useful lives. 
The company is currently in the middle of  a modernisation programme and new boilers are being installed.

The new boiler-house is the 'two-tone' building, middle left. To the left of that can just be made out the flue-stack for the brand-new boilers which will, eventually, replace the current one seen smack in the middle of the photo.

The improvement in boiler technology means that the new stack only needs to be a matter of 30 metres tall, compared to the present one which is over twice the height at 67 metres.

When the current flue-stack disappears, Middlewich will lose one of its landmarks and the British Salt Works will be keeping itself even more to itself than it does now.

Way out in the distance are the hills of Cheshire and Derbyshire in the Peak District.

Find out more about BRITISH SALT here:


The works in the 1970s. To the right can be seen the conveyor belt which once
carried salt directly into the adjacent RHM Foods factory

Tuesday 2 June 2020


We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
Once again Bill Eaton has been delving into the archive of material given to him by the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, and this time we are taking a look at the Big Lock and the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Factory, both situated on the banks of the Trent & Mersey Canal and built during the late 19th century.
The picture above shows the lock itself which, by its very nature, does not change very much over the years, except in small details. For example, notice the lock gates nearest the camera, which are of a type not seen nowadays (in this area, at least). They appear to be of all wood construction, rather than the mixture of wood and steel used nowadays.
Behind the boat can be seen the footbridge which still links Webbs Lane with King Street via the public footpath which runs up the bank from the canal, alongside Harbutt's Field to join the main road at the foot of the bridge which takes King Street over the railway line.
On  the extreme left of the picture is the Big Lock Pub, greatly changed, but not beyond all recognition in the present day. Its distinctive doorway and part of the Dutch style roof are still very much in evidence.
We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
We have seen the other picture before, when we looked at the Condensed Milk Factory.
 Frank has obviously grouped these photos together because they were taken at around the same time.
 We've dated them as being taken in the 1920s, because, according to Allan Earl, the milk factory  closed in 1931 after fifty-nine years of operation before being re-opened as a silk works in 1932.
That perennial problem of the salt districts, subsidence, meant that part of the factory had had to be demolished a couple of years earlier, causing lost production and financial difficulties, both for the milk company and the many local farmers who supplied it.
Both these pictures give an impression of the factory working at full swing, so were probably taken a few years before these problems emerged.
The tall building which dominates the left hand side of the top picture is the same one which can be seen on the extreme left of the lower one.

First published 7th January 2013
Re-formatted and re-published 8th January 2018
Re-published 2nd June 2020