Wednesday 18 August 2021


by Dave Roberts

Cheshire people don't waste words.

They'll disregard unimportant ones whenever possible and tell you they're 'going pub', 'going shop', 'going work'.

They don't even bother, as Yorkshire people do, to shorten the word 'the' to a token 't'.

So it's hardly surprising that what others might call something like 'the main Tesco Middlewich store', or the 'Tesco Superstore' was referred to by townspeople, in recent years at least, simply as 'Big Tesco'.

The name 'Big Tesco' came into use when the company took over the smaller convenience stores in Middlewich town centre and Warmingham Lane.

'Big Tesco' was only in existence for around nine years, but it left its mark and in that short time became something of a Middlewich institution.

As long ago as the 1960s plans had been mooted to build a supermarket in Middlewich; something which surrounding towns were also enthusiastically considering.

It was the Co-op which first came up with the idea for a Middlewich 'superstore' but the Middlewich Urban District Council - which was at that time almost indistinguishable from the Middlewich Chamber of Trade - resisted, in order to 'protect existing businesses'.

In the early 1970s the Co-op built their 'superstore' in the Bull Ring.

A relatively small part of this huge building is still in use as a Tesco Express convenience store, but most of it is empty.

The huge space at the rear of the premises was last used as workshops and storage space for Pineland Ltd, who also occupied the former Co-op Chemist's department to the right of the convenience store under the benevolent stewardship of 'Pineland George'.

So it wasn't until 1987 that Middlewich's first real supermarket was built by Gateway.

Southway in 1987. The Gateway Supermarket, later to be Somerfields and then 'Big Tesco' can be seen under construction in the background. You'll notice that there doesn't seem to be an entrance on this side of the supermarket as built. If anyone has photos of the premises in its early Gateway or Somerfield days, we'd love to see them. Other sites considered for our first 'real' supermarket were Middlewich Football Club and Chester Road, where the Lidl supermarket is now.

The history of Gateway and Somerfield, like the history of all supermarket chains, is complicated and convoluted. The original Gateway could trace its history back to 1875, and its chain of supermarkets began operations in 1960, mainly in the South of England. The company was very ambitious and, over the years, acquired such well-known names as KwikSave and FineFare. The name was changed to Somerfield in 1998. Gateway Middlewich opened in 1987 as our town's first proper supermarket.
We're grateful to Margaret Peterson who tells us that the opening date was either the 17th or 18th August that year. This would mean, rather fittingly, that the store was open under Gateway/Somerfield and Tesco for thirty-one years to the day.

In 1994 Gateway announced that all its stores would be re-branded as 'Somerfield', a name which originated as a Gateway 'own brand' label. The connection between Gateway and Somerfield can be clearly seen in this logo.

The familiar Somerfield brand as seen in Middlewich. Gateway Middlewich became Somerfield Middlewich in 1998.

In 2006 Somerfield began the process of 'rationalising' its network of stores, a move which involved the selling off of the Middlewich store..

A rare photograph of Somerfield's Middlewich store taken on the 2nd February 2009
when the store had been earmarked for closure.  (photo added 22nd Oct 2018) 

 The very last day of Somerfield, Middlewich, in March 2009. A comparison with the photo (below) of the Tesco staff on August 18th nine years later shows that many Somerfield staff moved over to the new store. In fact the refurbishment of the store and its re-opening as Tesco Middlewich was completed in a comparatively short time. Some of the existing equipment, such as freezers and fixtures and fittings, were re-used by Tesco. 
(Photo added 23rd Oct  2018). 

Many thanks to Joanne Shaw, Glenis Ollier, Janette Clutton and Paul Greenwood for information on this photo.                                  

The Somerfield stores were sold off to the Co-op and for a time it looked like that organisation might at last achieve its ambition of opening a real supermarket in the town. 

It was not to be. Instead, in  2009, Somerfield Middlewich became...

Jacob Cohen, the founder of Tesco, changed his name to Jack after encountering anti-Semitism during the first world war. He started in business in 1919 selling ex-NAAFI goods from a barrow. Very soon he had stalls in markets all over the East End of London, and a horse and cart to keep them all supplied with goods. In 1924 he began buying tea from the appropriately named T. E. Stockwell. The tea had to be given a brand name and one was created from Stockwell's initials and the first two letters of Jack's surname: T.E.S. CO. Soon Jack's enterprises became first covered market stalls, then shops, and then the very earliest supermarkets with the name Priceright. In 1931 Jack consolidated his businesses and started to compete with the Co-op, Sainsbury's and other established grocery names, using his TESCO brand as the name for the stores. It was at this time that Tesco's famous motto 'Pile It High, Sell It Cheap' was coined. By 1935 Tesco was a major contender in the grocery trade and by 1951 the 'Tesco' chain of supermarkets had started to appear.

- Information adapted from: 'How It All Began Up the High Street', by Maurice Baren. A fuller version of the founding of Tesco can be found in the book.

Tesco Middlewich, as it was in 2013.   Photo: Bill Armsden

It's fair to say that Middlewich took its new supermarket to its heart. It wasn't the biggest of supermarkets, and it wasn't the best situated. But the staff was friendly and welcoming and you could buy almost anything you wanted there.

It also had the advantage of sharing the town's only decent car-park with first Congleton Borough and then Cheshire East Councils.

And the nearby Fountain Fields park was soon dubbed 'Tesco Park' by a new generation.

In 2012, Tesco announced plans for a massive expansion of the Middlewich store and bought up a large area of land between the existing store, Southway, and Darlington Street. This plan would, for better or worse, have revolutionised shopping in Middlewich.

Only a year later the plans were abandoned.


(A Middlewich Diary entry)

And things settled back into the usual routine, Tesco Middlewich carried on as it had since 2009, but this time with a simmering background of resentment locally as the property bought up by Tesco fell into rack and ruin. The resentment was aimed at the far away 'head office' of the company, never at the hard-working Middlewich staff.

One loss in particular was keenly felt by some locals, partly because of its history and picturesque appearance, and partly because it could be seen, gradually falling apart at the seams, right next to the entrance to Tesco.

Barclay House in Southway. Built, as its name suggests, as a residence for the manager of Barclay's Bank in nearby Wheelock Street.* Now the bank itself has closed, though the building which housed it survives. What will become of Barclay House?

*Not actually true, as explained by Mike Walton of Middlewich Heritage Society in the comments (below). The house wasn't built by Barclays, but pre-dates its use as the managers house by a good few years. In local history, as in so many things, nothing can be taken for granted, and research is always necessary.

And then, seemingly out of the blue, at the end of July 2018, Tesco announced that its main Middlewich store would be closing.



The news came as a total shock, to both staff and customers. The store seemed to be thriving and holding its own against local competitors. What were Tesco playing at?

Initial reports as to what might replace the store were a little confused. Some members of staff were under the impression that the building might be used for a 'hardware store'.

It has to be borne in mind that at this time Tesco were keeping their plans for a new chain of discount supermarkets called 'Jack's' (after the founder of the firm) very much under wraps, but several members of staff said they had been invited to apply for jobs at a new Middlewich store to replace Tesco.

The date for the closure of 'Big Tesco' was eventually announced as the 18th August.

The notice announcing the date of the closure and reminding people of the existence of Middlewich's two Tesco Express stores. Immediately after the closure of the main Tesco store, the Tesco Express in Wheelock Street amended its opening hours to 6am - 11pm in line with the Warmingham Lane store.

On the day of the closure we took a last look at 'Big Tesco'.

The sign on Queen Street/King Edward Street at the entrance to the access road to the car park and supermarket. This area was originally part of the Fountain Fields recreation ground - the putting green to be precise - and is also, as Harry Random has pointed out, close to the probable site of one of the water pumps which gave Fountain Fields its name.

The 'Pagoda' at the top of Southway and the steps giving pedestrian access to the supermarket from Wheelock Street. In 2015 this location was used as the venue for a National Town Crier competition organised by Devlin Hobson, Middlewich's own Crier. Highlights were broadcast by Granada TV on 'Granada Reports'. Look carefully and you may spot Mr Roberts looking bemused and obviously wondering what he was doing there. I was one of the judges, actually.


The 'tradesmen's entrance' to the store at the top end of Southway where deliveries were made via the nearby St Ann's Road. All the Tesco signs, inside and out, including this one, were removed on the day the store closed.

Strolling across the car park, we came upon this sign marking the exit onto St Ann's Road. A sign seen every day by one and all but, on this particular day, seeming rather poignant.

On the side of the store, on Southway, peeling paint on this sheet metal protecting a drainpipe, is the very last tiny reminder of the days when the supermarket belonged to Gateway and Somerfield.

This sign, along with a similar one on the front of the building was always left on all night and could be seen shining through the trees on Fountain Fields as a reminder that Tesco was still there. Like all the others, it was swiftly removed on the day of closure.

Such a familiar sight. It's hard to realise that it's now disappeared.

Workers lost no time on the day of closure in removing all the Tesco signs. Note how the individual lettering was removed from the signboards. Perhaps the boards themselves are to be recycled , either here or elsewhere? (Photo supplied No 1)

Just around the corner; the front elevation of the supermarket building. Are we imagining this, or did this sign wear the official Tesco party hat in the festive season?

(Image: W+K London)

A sense of place. Tesco left shoppers in no doubt as to just where their store was situated. It was little touches like this that helped make 'Big Tesco' part of the community.

The Tesco Middlewich signs were taken down, by all accounts before the last customer had even been served. To the left you can see that many of the shelves had, by this time, already been cleared. (Photo supplied No 2)

Stepping inside the store, we see this achingly familiar sight now, sadly, confined to history. The fruit and veg. aisles, with the bakery in the distance.

Bread, groceries and frozen foods. all part of 'Big Tesco', and now all gone.

Two familiar Tesco faces. The lady on the left is Christine Barker, who provides a link all the way back to the  Gateway Middlewich supermarket, where she started working in 1987, the year it opened. She stayed all through the Gateway, Somerfield and Tesco eras, a total of over 30 years. In fact it would have been 31 this November. Now, with the closure of Tesco, she's opted for a well-earned retirement. With her is another familiar face, Sheila Williams.

Shelley Standring writes:
This was Anne Dixon, she worked on Fresh and was very often our Store Greeter. She was a real character and we missed her lots when she retired and moved to Chorley in 2017. She's pictured with our store manager at the time Jonathon Sayward.

Like the 'Goodbye' sign on the edge of the car park the signs over the exit doors took on a new significance on the 18th August. Staff took the opportunity of posing for commemorative photos saying Goodbye. If this is your photo and you'd like us to acknowledge the fact, please let us know. The same goes for all the other photos marked 'photo supplied'.

Pictured above are:
(L to R) Front - Rosie Bickerton, Val Edgerton, Jayne Ellis, Katie Evans, Andrew Burgess.
Back: Jo Schofield, Adrian Moss, Chris Everall.
(Photo supplied no 3

Information supplied by Shelley Standring

Much the same photo, with the same people in different positions!

(Photo supplied, no 4)

Rosie Bickerton, Michael Sproston, Karen Fitzgerald.Michael worked on Grocery.

Information supplied by Shelley Standring.

(Photo supplied no 5)

Tesco staff clearly not wanting to be left on the shelf. 

(L to R) Jeanette Daynes, Shelly Standring, Karen Fitzgerald, Katie Evans, Rosie Bickerton.

Information supplied by Shelley Standring

(Photo supplied no 6)

Of course someone had to be the last customer on the 18th August, and that honour fell to Cath Murphy, who bought a bottle of pink gin. Note that even as this celebratory photo was being taken the store was being stripped of its identity. (Photo used with permission).

Cath writes:

'I was the last paying customer in Middlewich Tesco! Can't have a Saturday night without Pink Gin, especially as my daughters are visiting! Thank you to all the lovely staff at Tesco, and good luck for the future!'

With Cath (and her bottle) are (L to R) Abby Allan, Karen Fitzgerald, Rosie Bickerton and (back) Jo Schofield.

Information from Shelley Standring.

And so at 6pm on the 18th August 2018, the era of 'Big Tesco' came to an end and staff gathered together for one last 'team photo' (Photo supplied, no 7).

The people of Middlewich were upset, to say the least, at the loss of the main Tesco store in the town. They'd come to rely on the friendly and efficient service of the staff. Despite the constant moaning of a certain section of the community. Middlewich certainly isn't badly off when it comes to supermarkets. How many towns of this size can boast three medium sized supermarkets within walking distance of each other? Admittedly Wheelock Street - Middlewich's 'High Street' - has seen many changes in recent years as the advent of the internet sees the changeover from a retail to a service economy in such areas. The same can be said, of course, of High Streets throughout the land and this town is by no means unique in seeing former retail shops becoming hairdressers, fast food restaurants, building societies and estate-agents. So everyone was puzzled when what seemed to be a thriving supermarket disappeared from the scene almost overnight. Of course, as we've said before, Tesco's plans for a chain of 'Jack's' supermarkets was still very much under wraps at that time.

Once the closure had been announced the people of Middlewich began to drop off thank you cards and letters in appreciation of the staff at 'Big Tesco'.
(Photo supplied, no 8)

More Thank You cards and letters of appreciation (Photo supplied, no 9)

Tesco's 'Bags of Help' scheme was very popular in Middlewich. Customers were given blue plastic tokens every time they shopped at the store and dropped them through a slot into the box of their choice. Tesco then made grants to the most popular applicants. Middlewich people were sometimes inclined to get a bit uppity when the organisations they were 'voting' on seemed to have no connection with the town. They would, wouldn't they? No doubt exactly the same thing happened in other towns. But, as the organisers were continually at pains to point out, there were times when no Middlewich organisations applied for the grants, despite high profile publicity inviting  them to do so. The photo shows the choices available in August 2017. The money for the grants was raised through the sale of 5p carrier bags in store.

The remaining photos in this Middlewich Diary entry show Tesco Middlewich staff socialising and supporting various charity events in Middlewich and further afield.
We're including them in order to put together as complete a record as we can of 'Big Tesco' and its staff for posterity.

Along with several of the photos above they were passed on to us by Rosie Bickerton.

We'd love to have more information on these photos, to put names to faces, and to credit the photographers where possible.

If you can help, please get in touch, quoting the 'photo supplied' number.

Our contact details can be found at the top of the right hand column.

Dressed as minions for 'Onesie Day' are:

(L to R) Back: Andy Bennion, Chris Everall, Trevor Robinson.

Front: Hannah Fraser, Janette Clutton, Pam Devine.

Information from Shelley Standring.

 (Photo supplied no 10)

Tesco staff fundraising for a good cause. The lady in the blue check shirt is Janette Clutton, and Chris Everall is holding the bucket.  Community 'Champion' Lesley Birchall is bottom right.  But who are the others, and what cause were they collecting for? If you can help, please get in touch.
(Photo supplied, no 11)

The staff of 'Big Tesco' were always keen to dress up for special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, even the World Cup! Obviously this time they're celebrating Halloween. 

Pictured are: (L to R)
Front: Jayne Ellis, Shannon McClelland, Helen Marshall, Lesley Birchall, Karen Fitzgerald.
Back: Janette Clutton (behind the mask) and Shelley Standring.
 (Photo supplied, no 12)

Halloween again! 

(L to R) Hannah Fraser, Julie Stone, Jeanette Daynes, 
Hayley Mbarki, Chelsea Dykes.(Photo supplied, no 13).

Familiar faces. Who are the Tesco team supporting? Is it Cancer research? And where are they (or where are they going to?) Is this, perhaps, part of the 'Race For Life'? (Photo supplied, no 14)

This looks like the same occasion.

(L to R) Jo Latham, Angela Breland, Karen Fitzgerald, Rosie Bickerton.
(Photo supplied, no 15)

Tesco staff supporting what looks like the same good cause, this time, by the look of it, outside the store itself.
 (Photo supplied, no 16)

Come in number 847, your time's up! Obviously a photo from the same occasion, as no 847 and quite a few of the others are on both photos. Who are they supporting, with the help of Nivea? To us, it looks like the Race For life once more.

(Photo supplied, no 17)

Valentine's Day at Tesco.

Holding single red roses are:
(L to R) Sharon ?*, Dee Warren, Val Edgerton, Helen Marshall, Jeanette Daynes, Karen Fitzgerald, Jayne Ellis, Rosie Bickerton.

* Can anyone supply the missing surname?

(Photo supplied, no 18)

Christmas party, held in the Tesco staff canteen on the 9th December 2015.

Shelley Standring writes:

'Each year the managers of the store would cook a three-course Christmas meal for all the staff in the store. They did a brilliant job!'
 (Photo supplied, no 19)


So there we are. If you can help with details of any of the 'supplied photos' or if you have additional photos and/or memories you think belong here, please contact us.

This Diary entry will be added to and amended as we receive new material and information

Thanks to everyone who helped us put this feature together, including Rosie Bickerton and Shelley Standring.

We wish the very best of luck to all the former staff and management of Tesco Middlewich and we hope this Diary entry will help ensure that nearly ten years of 'Big Tesco' won't ever be forgotten.

Dave Roberts
1st October 2018

'... a few tears whilst reading this and looking at the pictures.
Tesco's closing has certainly left a big hole in our lives.

We were Team Middlewich, a family, a place where people came and knew they would see someone they knew.

A real community store.

Thank you for writing this xx'

-Shelley Standring

Our special Middlewich Diary masthead for October 2018


Originally published 1st October 2018.

Updated and re-published 22nd October 2018
18th August 2019 (First anniversary of the closure)
18th August 2021 (Third anniversary)