Tuesday, 16 February 2021

THE MIDDLEWICH PANCAKE BELL



by Dave Roberts

Middlewich historian and Clerk to the Middlewich UDC Charles Frederick Lawrence was a prolific collector of poetry and verse, particularly when it pertained to the town of Middlewich.

Here, for Shrove Tuesday, is a famous poem about the pancake bell which Mr Lawrence says in the publication Bygone Middlewich (Electro Bleach Club, Scientific Section, Middlewich, 1921) only ceased to ring, along with the Curfew (or 'Curfue') Bell within his 'recollection'.

So we're probably talking about sometime in the early to mid 19th century.

The Pancake Bell was rung to remind the people of Middlewich that it was time to gather all the ingredients together to make pancakes for the great feasting before the fasting period of Lent began.

Shrove Tuesday does not occur on the same day every year. Like Ash Wednesday and other Christian 'moveable feasts', the date is determined by the date of Easter which falls on
the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21st. The beginning date, March 21st, was chosen because it is usually the vernal equinox (generally, the first day of spring). That is why this diary entry was published on the 13th February 2018, and the 5th March 2019. It will be interesting to see how the dates differ as the years progress.



VERSES ON THE MIDDLEWICH PANCAKE BELL

by The Rev'd Charles O'Niel Pratt, formerly Curate at Middlewich

What sound is that which greets mine ear,
As it sweeps along through the sky so clear?
Of millions of chickens it rings the knell,
For I wot it is the Pancake Bell.

Full many a farm-yard cock hath crowed,
And tender love on his wives bestowed,
But over her brood has waved the spell,
As sure as she hears the Pancake Bell.

And the housekeeper goes to the huxter's shop,
And the eggs are brought home and there's flop! flop! flop!
And there's batter and butter and savoury smell,
While merrily rings the Pancake Bell.

And with frizzle and fizz the condiment's tossed,
And dished, and dusted with sugary frost,
And the youngsters at home the fun can tell
That follows the sound of the Pancake Bell.

And into the batter will mistress fling
That mystic token, the marriage ring,
And the bosom of many a maid will swell
With hope as she hears the Pancake Bell.

For if smiles and loving looks be true,
Someone may whisper a word or two,
And when Lent is over, then Easter will tell
Its old, old story - the Wedding Bell.

First published on Shrove Tuesday, 13th February 2018
Re-published on Shrove Tuesday, 5th March 2019, 25th February 2020, 16th February 2021

Monday, 15 February 2021

MUDC RATE DEMAND 1971


by Dave Roberts
My mother, fortunately for us, was from a generation which never threw anything away. This is why we're able to bring you another piece of Middlewich ephemera from forty years ago in the form of this Middlewich UDC rate demand for our modest family home in King Street.
The number 33 seems to stand out from the rest of the address, and there's a good reason for this; the ADREMA (See below) plate for our address had been altered because of the re-numbering of houses in King Street a few years earlier.
No. 27 became no. 33 and we received a letter threatening all kinds of retribution if we didn't change the number on the front of the house. In fact I'm not so sure that the death penalty wasn't still in force for failure to change your house number when told to do so.
The interest, to me, lies in the technology used to produce this most unwelcome of bills and its receipt which is a far cry from the slick computerised systems we have today.
Notice that the total payable for the year is £77.08 for a three bedroomed semi (or 'domestic hereditament' if you will). Oddly, this still sounds like a lot of money, considering that we are talking about the early 70s. The other amount, of £3.28 for the half year, was nothing to do with the council but was a charge for water rates collected by the council on behalf of the Mid - Cheshire Water Board.
The receipt is signed by Collecting Officer 'D. Roberts'. This is no coincidence, but proof that I was, at least, in gainful employment forty years ago at the age of 19. The square space on the receipt was where stamps were stuck on and signed over for certain transactions. Stamp duty on these receipts was abolished during my time at the council.
But it's the rate demand itself, and the way it was produced, which brings back memories and is so evocative of long-vanished ways of working in the pre-computer age.
The blank rate demands were produced for us by the clerk's department on a photocopier, a different coloured paper being used for each year to save confusion (and prevent  anyone paying the same bill twice).
Many of the Council's documents, such as minutes, internal memos etc, were produced on stencil machines
(usually made by Gestetner), using a complicated process involving typing on a special sheet (the ribbon selector on an office typewriter had three settings: black, red and stencil (which, in fact, kept the ribbon out of the way and enabled typing direct onto the stencil sheets).
But if I remember rightly these rate demands were too complicated to be run off on Gestetners (although it could be done) so a rather inefficient photocopying machine was used (even allowing for forty years of deterioration, you can tell that the print quality was only just adequate).
Then came the fun part. The addressing of the rate demands was done on our ADREMA machine, made by a German company (ADdREssenMAchine, or something of the kind) and which had been pioneered during the war by the Germans for the registration of prisoners of war.
Basically the system was that every rateable property in the town had its own ADREMA plate - an aluminium plate with the name and address pressed onto it, forming a collection of printing plates which were then stacked up on a machine with a massive operating handle which you brought down with a huge crash to print the rate demands. Obviously, when ownership of a property changed we had to have the details on the plate altered which involved sending the plate off to the factory to be flattened and re-pressed with the new details. This, of course, could be highly frustrating if people moved into a house and only stayed a short time, necessitating the re-pressing of the relevant plate time and time again.
It must be appreciated, though, that this system could only print the addresses. The actual figures on the demands were hand-written by Rating Officer Bertie Maddock and were actually copies of  entries in the Rating Ledger which was precisely that - a huge book with details of every rateable property in Middlewich hand-written into it. This had to be balanced each year, with the amount received exactly matching the amount due.
This document was one of the first batch of rate demands the MUDC issued in decimal currency. The new system had been introduced in February and all the council staff underwent training at Crewe College over a period of six weeks so that we would be conversant with pounds and pence (or pee as people still annoyingly insist on calling them) when they replaced pounds, shillings and pence. We were even given 'homework'.



The idea was that we would be able to help the elderly who, it was thought, would end up hopelessly confused. In the event no one, however elderly, had any problems at all.
Incidentally, on 'D-Day' (the 15th February 1971) rating officer Bertie Maddock told me that he would serve our first 'decimal customer' but, in the event, he was out of the office when the historic moment came, and the honour fell to me.
Middlewich UDC's method of issuing rate demands was a clumsy and unwieldy system, made instantly redundant just a few years later by computerisation, but twice a year our little rates office more closely resembled a small factory and echoed to the bang and crash of the ADREMA machine. I'm wondering if my current problems with my right arm can be traced back to this time, and if it's too late to sue the council...
We'll be hearing more about life in the council offices in due course.

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams I remember those scary Rate Demands - and running the gauntlet of Bertie Maddock's glare if you were a day or two late in paying. He seemed to mellow after he married Freda! We had a Gestetner in school and spent many an hour cranking the handle on the side and thought we were quite advanced, but oh the joy of using the electric model in the Presbytery 

Dave Roberts Well - I suppose I can say this now - you should have tried working with him...

Jonathan Williams The Town Council were still using a Gestetner machine when I started in 1985. Took me days to complete a set of minutes. Covered head to toe with black ink and correcting fluid I was!!

Dave Roberts  I know. I had one in my garage when I was at Mottram Close,passed on by Frank Smith of the Heritage Society - the idea was that the Society's Newsletter would be produced on the thing. Not a hope. The machine and all its ancillary equipment took up all the space where the family car should have been and was always subject to the law of diminishing returns - hours and hours producing one page on a stencil; seconds for it to be destroyed by a malicious and malevolent Gestetner machine.
 ‎...and don't get me started on the convoluted workings of the Kalamazoo wages system. I can only recall doing the dustbinbmen's wages once (I don't think they'd let me do it a second time) and the nightmare haunts me still. Got away with it, though...

First published 12th August 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 30th May 2020
Corrected and re-published 15th February 2021 (the 50th anniversary of 'Decimal Day')