Saturday, 13 October 2018

THE LAST DAYS OF ERF MIDDLEWICH


Editor's Note: We are currently, as time allows, replacing the majority of the photos in this diary entry with higher quality versions. The photos which have been replaced are marked with an 'H'. Several new photos of ERF Middlewich in its last days will also shortly be added.

by Dave Roberts

When we talk about the last days of ERF Middlewich, we need to be perfectly clear that we are talking about the last days of the ERF Service Centre which opened in 1971 and closed in 2000. 
We are not talking about the make-believe 'factory' which was built at the end of Middlewich's truncated stub of a 'by-pass' at the fag end of the 1990s, and was so obviously not really intended to be a factory at all, but a warehouse. 
Which is precisely how it has ended up, with all its production facilities long removed. 
The last I heard, that 'factory' was a distribution centre operated by Wincanton Logistics.
ERF has been wiped off the face of the earth and it is not for us to speculate on how and why that happened. The whole sordid story can be found in the archives of many a truck magazine and journal. (See 'A Sad Allegory' - link below)
No, we're talking about the real ERF Middlewich, built on part of what had once been the ICI alkali works halfway along a public footpath which rejoiced in the name of Poppityjohns




The part leading from Brooks Lane to ERF was made into a road and christened Road Beta which, as a name, is hardly much of an improvement.
And from 1971 until it all came to a juddering halt in the year 2000 ERF Service Centre was the hub of ERF's parts distribution network and also provided at various times vehicle repair facilities, training schools, production lines and more.
I'm writing this in the early hours of the 12th of September 2017. This is my 65th birthday, and the day on which, if things had worked out as planned, I would have been retiring from ERF. But things didn't work out as planned. They very seldom do. 
I worked at ERF Service from 1974 until it closed in 2000. By that time it was plain that the Service Centre's days were numbered and that we were all going to be moving to the new 'factory' across the railway line and a couple of fields away from where we'd been working for all those years. 
The word factory is in inverted commas, like so much concerning the end of ERF in this diary entry, because so many of us remember the feeling we had at the time that the wool was being pulled over our eyes and all was not as it seemed.
The problem was that ERF stores wouldn't be moving to ERF Way as the spur road off the 'bypass' had optimistically and, as it turned out, unfortunately, been named.
We'd heard tales of some autocratic ERF exec spotting the words Parts Distribution on the plans for the new site and abruptly drawing a line through them. 
Whatever jobs we were all going to do at the 'new place', they were not going to involve spare parts.
'Progress reports' on the building of the new 'factory' were pinned on notice boards at the Service Centre, and the more we saw of it the more puzzled we became. It just didn't look like a factory. It looked like a warehouse.
Our union reps held shopfloor meetings and expressed their concerns. Those concerns reflected our own.
'We just can't see how this new facility can replace the existing works', they said. 'It just 
doesn't look like a truck factory'
Of particular concern were the proposed cab line arrangements, with cabs having to be lifted and moved around on fork-lift trucks rather than on a proper production line.
Like all management, then and now, the management of ERF considered everyone who worked for the company, particularly at our lowly level, to be mere units and completely interchangeable.
This attitude was what put an end to my career with the company on my first day at the 'new place'. But that's another story.

Before ERF Service passed into history I took a few photographs, mainly to capture for posterity some of the people who worked there and the place where we all spent our working lives. I fully realise that they will be of little interest to most people who never worked there, and quite a few people who did. 
But these photographs, mundane and workaday as they might be, are at least a record of a Middlewich workplace which has vanished never to return, and of just a few of the people who worked there at the time.
The photographs aren't in any particular order, and don't try to tell a story. 
But they do, I hope, give a flavour of ERF Middlewich seventeen years ago. What better way to spend the day I should have retired than looking back at days which have, like, I'm sorry to say, a couple of the people pictured here, gone forever.




That white box on stilts was the Goods Inwards (or Goods Receiving) office and underneath was Steve Farrington's domain. Steve was responsible for unloading, unpacking and checking deliveries. He'd then pass the advice notes to myself and Mr J.S. Davenport in our eyrie at the top of the stairs.


Steve's domain. Note on the left hand side of the bench the computer which I can't recall Steve himself ever using. Like most shop floor people at ERF he regarded computers as the devil's work, and made a lot more use of the broom seen on the extreme left.



A general view of the Goods Inwards office at the top of those stairs. The eagle-eyed observer will notice a portent of the future, in the form of the logo affixed to the computer screen in the foreground. A future which was, unfortunately, to be very short-lived. 
Note the printers by the window. These were used for printing Goods Inwards Notes(or 'GIN' notes) telling people which location in the stores to take spare parts to.
Because of another one of those inexplicable management decisions you'll notice that the paper stock used to print these notes was a vivid - almost fluorescent - orange colour. This was to ensure that anyone with even a slight hangover (which was most of us, most mornings) would end up with a blinding headache when trying to read them.
Occasionally these printers were  clandestinely used for printing posters etc for the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival. You had to be very very sure which printer you were sending your illegal poster to, though. If you'd made a mistake and sent it to, say, the printer in the parts manager's office, the consequences don't bear thinking about...


Here's a rare photo of your Middlewich Diary editor in uniform making a very important telephone call (probably concerning the Folk & Boat Festival). The fact that
the stores are in darkness (as evidenced by the windows) tells us that this was probably taken on one of those Friday nights when we'd spend hours waiting for spares to reach us via the M6 which, then as now, was the most accident-prone motorway in the country. Note that, tellingly, Mr Roberts' office wall is covered with pictures of railway engines rather than trucks.




Everyone at ERF Middlewich had, apparently by law, to have some sort of a nickname. Thus we were always surrounded by people called things like Ferret, Weasel, Hippo, Stumpy, Wingnut, Arkwright, Goyle and so on. There was at one time a concerted effort to christen me 'The Prof' because of my having a preference for the clerical side of  working in the stores, the fact that I took to working on a computer (the work of the Devil, let's not forget) like a duck to water, and the fact that I refused to contribute my full quota of 'f-words' to the daily conversation. Just to prove that I could hold my own with anyone on the shop floor I only went and passed my fork-lift truck driving test. This was conducted by Mr Terry Carthy who, as well as being the FLT instructor in 1987, was also one of  our foremen. Perhaps not the best foreman in the world but, nevertheless, wildly popular with everyone. You'll note that my precious licence only entitled me to drive counterbalance trucks. The much more difficult reach trucks were only for the truly talented. It's worth remembering that Steve Farrington (see above) didn't have to take an ERF fork lift driving test, on the grounds that it was he who  taught Terry (the instructor) how to drive the trucks in the first place. That's how ERF rolled in those days though, to be fair, Terry had to go on an instructor's course somewhere or other before he was let loose on the rest of us. Eventually, of course, this whole silly 'in-house' FLT driving thing had to be abandoned and people had to take properly accredited courses run by people who really knew what they were doing. But at least my passing of the test - to the minor astonishment of all, including me, led to the dropping of the 'Prof' nickname. You never see a Professor driving a fork-lift.


Something of a rarity - in fact unique in my experience - a lady storekeeper. Her name was June, and if I ever knew her second name, I've forgotten it.
Update: Our old friend 'Anon' has put forward the name 'Proudlove' as June's second name.


Also brightening the place up somewhat was Theresa, an agency worker brought in to help out with our 'heavy workload'.


So little time...so much to do....just a tiny fraction of our 'heavy workload'. Note that someone appears to have dumped the telephone on one of the paper trays, possibly through sheer frustration after being 'mithered' once too often by Material Control at Sandbach.






Here's Theresa again, this time with the late Harry Bayley.



Andy Newall, once described by one of the foremen as 'doing the work of ten men'.
The foreman was Andy's brother-in-law, mind you... Actually, somewhat ironically, the last time we had news of Andy, he was a fork-lift truck driving instructor. A proper one...



 Andy Newall again, this time with Herbert Hampton, a distant relation of the author, 
and thus dubbed 'Cousin Herbert'.




David 'Brisket' Briscall. Note, in the background, the whiteboard with the words 'ERF SERVICE 1971-2000' written on it. 



Even a clapped-out old whiteboard has a tale to tell. That tale is told in ''A Moment in Time' (link below).
                                                       



The 'high-racking stores', invariably referred to as the 'new stores' due to the fact that they were built later than - you've guessed it - the old stores. Special guided trucks operated here, very much on the same principle as guided buses and it was possible, when using 'lift trucks' (from one of which this photo was taken) to climb right into the roof of the building. An ideal method of getting out of the way and hiding from the foreman for a while.


Originally  published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts Group February 2018

The late, and still very much missed, Steve Farrington. At work...


...and at play, in the White Horse one Saturday lunchtime in the 1990s. That's Steve's brother Peter on the right.
Steve was a true friend and, as I've said, we all still miss him after his untimely death a few years ago at the comparatively early age of 61.

Note: Sadly, Peter Farrington also passed away in August 2018, after a short illness. R.I.P. Pete.
And in the early months of 2018, the pub itself was consigned to history. The building still stands and looks much the same, though the ground floor has been converted into offices.  The former living accommodation upstairs has, somewhat appropriately, been turned into overnight facilities for visiting truck drivers. 


It's That Man Again! Here's Steve, pictured in October 1997, on the phone to someone or other (most probably Material Control) sorting out just one of the endless series of problems which beset us every day of our working lives. Apologies for the damage to this print.                                                         (Photo added 3rd October 2017)

First published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts  Group, February 2018
Note: When the above was published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts group someone responded to my warning about the story being 'a little on the naughty side' (put there out of politeness, because one never knows if delicate flowers who are easily offended might be looking in) by saying that if I thought that this was ' a bit naughty' I must have a 'very tame' sense of humour! OMG, as the expression goes - anyone who has ever worked in a factory environment will know that the sense of humour generated in such a place could never be described as 'tame'. Totally lunatic, bordering on the psychotic, would be a better description...

Mr Mark Wayne Brett Nevitt, storeman extraordinaire. Now working for Network Rail as a signalman.

The 'square'. The area where goods were unpacked and checked ready to be placed in the stores. Mr Nevitt, ever eager to be photographed for posterity, adopts his 'I'm getting some work done, honestly Terry!' pose.


This dark and almost completely useless photo is included because it is the only known photograph of Mr John Stuart Davenport (in the background with red hair and blue shirt). We never were able to get a photograph of his face (which, some would say, was just as well). This photo was taken in the old, ground-floor Goods Inwards office (one of several we had over the years) which was very vulnerable to the attentions of fork-lift drivers who spent a lot of their time bending its tin walls, the chief exponent of this practice being Cousin Herbert Hampton, who also liked to bend the metal shutter doors of the stores about twice a week.


First published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook Group, April 2018




The somewhat unprepossessing main entrance to the ERF Service Centre. The office block shown here no longer exists (although the main buildings are still in use). The single story building on the left was, in the 1970s, the works canteen. In the 1980s, in the days of mainframe computers, it became the 'Computer Room' where huge spools of magnetic tape whizzed to and fro and little lights blinked on and off in the approved manner.


..and here's one of the terminals that mainframe computer would have been connected to. A CRT monitor with the then standard green-on-black screen and the letters ERF made up of smaller characters, something we all thought pretty impressive at the time. This was not even our first computer system. The earlier one, introduced at the very start of the 1980s, was in just plain black and white and the terminals had valves in them, just like your old-fashioned TV set. They had to be 'warmed-up' each morning. Later, like everyone else, we moved to desktop PCs. An interesting piece of ERF ephemera the like of which you'll never find in any museum of the British motor industry. You'll note that the user no. and the password necessary to log on to the system are plastered over the front of the terminal in Dymo tape. Computer security, ERF style!




And here's something else you won't find in any museum of the motor industry. Dave's V.O.R. board, rescued from the ruins of ERF Middlewich in the year 2000. It's just a crummy old clipboard but, just by chance, it has preserved a tiny bit of ERF history in the form of the various labels stuck onto its surface. They were stuck there because...well...where else would you stick them? Rest assured, there were various suggestions, of varying degrees of obscenity, at the time. At the top of the board are the dreaded words 'Held V.O.R.'. Each day we would list parts which were expected to be delivered and were to be set aside for that greatest of emergencies, a 'Vehicle Off Road' (V.O.R.). Any vehicle which was not running (and earning revenue) needed to be back on the road as soon as possible, of course, and this is where we listed those vital parts, ready to be sent out to the network to remedy the situation. But let's take a look at those stickers: The Gardner Diesel parts ones were stuck on every part received from the works in Patricroft, and just for good measure, the company would also send us great wads of the things with every delivery. The smaller Gardner sticker reads: 'Remanufactured at the Gardner Engine Plant, Patricroft, Manchester' and (a sign of the times) 'Specialists products from the Perkins Engine Group'. Then there's the standard 'Genuine ERF Parts' sticker, from the time after the 'Sunpar' (from 'Sun Parts') label had been dropped. We'd stick these all over various spares, sometime removing the manufacturer's label to do so, sometimes not. Then there's an 'intERFfit' label for the ever-increasing number of parts which would fit both ERF and other makes of trucks. 
There's a blue 'Stock Rotation Required' label and accompanying April, May, June, Oct stickers for such things as vehicle batteries, and the notorious green and orange stock labels to be affixed to goods inwards notes (GINs). The green ones indicated that one of the team of inspectors was needed to check that the parts in question were up to spec. For ordinary run-of-the-mill parts, a simple orange 'Pass Direct To Stock' label was used, creating great opportunities for the foreman to blame anyone and everyone if something went wrong. Then there's a standard ERF Genuine Parts label and a white and orange label used in the high-racking stores which, unusually, doesn't use the standard ERF logo. But it's that 'Encore' label which sticks in the memory. 'ERF Encore' is an obvious name for a range of re-manufactured parts and the company used it for several years before quietly dropping it. Sometime in the 1990s ERF decided that its range of re-manufactured parts should once again be given a special name. Almost unbelievably, no one could think of a name, and so the company asked its staff if anyone could come up with one, even offering a cash reward. Some bright spark came up with 'ERF Encore' and was thus paid for giving ERF back one of its own trade-marks. All the time that original 'Encore' label was sitting there on my clipboard, and I was wondering why the company didn't seem to have seen it before. It's a cliche, I know, but you couldn't make it up. You really, really, couldn't.
(originally published in the 'Foden & ERF Enthusiasts' Facebook page, 9th May 2018.)


The other side of the board contains a simple injunction asking people to refrain from nicking  it, clipboards of all types being much in demand in all stores. By the time the year 2000 came along, no one cared.
(originally published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook Page, 10th May 2018)


For the final time - I promise - here's that clipboard again with a piece of paper listing just a few of the thousands of part numbers we dealt with day in and day out for all those years. Sadly there are no descriptions on this list of parts received from 'ERF Production' (our name for the Sandbach works) without a valid purchase order (which we needed in order to book the parts onto the computer system). If you're wondering how it could ever be possible to supply parts without a purchase order, we wondered the same...constantly...What was really going on, of course, was that ERF Production's stores were periodically having clear-outs of parts which were less in demand as production of certain models was reduced. They needed the room for new parts for newer models and so used the service stores for the overflow. Thousands and thousands of parts were sent to us this way as 'stock transfers' on little white notes ('STS' notes). The parts distribution network used the same tactics under the guise of 'stock returns' and we'd all work hours and hours of overtime checking the old, dusty, frequently rusty and occasionally damaged parts into our stock, filling our limited space to bursting point. Anything which was so knackered and disreputable looking that it didn't meet even our very low standards was marked 'UFR' ('Unfit For Resale') and binned.
(an abridged version of this was published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook page on the 10th May 2018).


A general view of part of the ERF Service stores. The 'square' is in the foreground, with the 'high racking' stores beyond.


A group of storemen (or, to use the more correct term 'storekeepers') at the end of the high-racking stores in 2000. The gent with the white shirt on the left is John
(or Jon?) Owen, a larger-than-life character from Birmingham, inevitably nicknamed 'Brummie'.

As the time drew near for the move from Brooks Lane to the new, pretend 'factory' the company began transferring equipment to 'ERF Way'. Here local firm Paces of Arclid loads fork-lift trucks in the yard, ready for the short trip 'up the road'.



Moving out. Off down Brooks Lane to Kinderton Street and then to ERF's brand new promised land in a field near the sewage works.



Poster produced  by ERF inspector Frank McPhillips, one of the first people
to have his own personal computer at home. Note that the entertainment was provided by the Salt Town Poets, early forerunners of Salt Town Productions, without whom you wouldn't be reading this!

To ERF Management, of course, the closure of the ERF Service Centre was of little consequence, or interest. The parts operation was contracted out to a firm with facilities in Burton-on-Trent, and we were all given the great honour of teaching some of the new company's staff how to do our jobs so that we could be 'phased out' and given completely unsuitable jobs on the 'production line' at ERF Way. 
Although it may not have mattered a jot to the powers-that-be, some of us thought that the passing of the Service Centre deserved at least a little respect and ought to be marked in some way.
Accordingly, storeman John Smith, who had been staging Sixties Revival Nights at Northwich Memorial Hall, got everyone together for a social evening at the Pochin's Club just at the end of Road Beta (the building, formerly the ICI Club, is now home to Middlewich Community Church).

The former ICI/Pochin's Club in Brooks Lane, Middlewich, where we all gathered in October 2000 to commemorate the end of nearly thirty years of the ERF Service Centre.

I recall making a short speech in which I said something along the lines of, 'the management may not care about ERF Middlewich, but we do. We've all worked together for so many years, and we think it's only right that we celebrate the fact.' Words to that effect, anyway.

The Salt Town Poets sang a song I wrote specially for the occasion, The Storekeeper, and there wasn't a wet eye in the house.

The words of this  little ditty, telling the story of my working life at ERF and the closure of the Service Centre, are featured below:

THE STOREKEEPER
(Tune: The Wild Rover)

1: I've been a storekeeper for many a year,
And I've spent hours and hours wishing I wasn't here,
Booking in all the parts for your ERF truck;
But now I'm disheartened, and...don't really care....

Chorus:

And it's no, nay never,
No nay never, no more,
Will I play the storekeeper...
No never, no more.

2: I've booked in your gearboxes, propshafts and things
Such as nuts, bolts and washers and fuel tanks and springs,
And pins, flanges, screws, hinges, spacers galore,
But I never will play the storekeeper no more.

Chorus

3: And now things are changing, our time here is spent,
They're shifting the whole lot to Burton-On-Trent,
Where things will be perfect, all sweetness and light;
And if you believe that, you'll believe..almost anything...

Chorus

4: Rip up all your picking notes, burn all your GINs,
A new day has dawned, a new era begins;
And it's quite plain to see, as they show us the door,
They don't want us to play the storekeeper no more.

Chorus

5: And if you should wonder why we've gone to hell,
The answer is ringing out, clear as a bell,
But we'll try not to worry, we're sure we'll be fine,
You can stick your spare parts where the sun doesn't shine.

Chorus

6: Farewell to the old stores, farewell to the new,
Farewell to Goods Inwards and Goods Despatch too;
Now God alone knows what these years have been for,
But we never will play the storekeeper no more.

Final chorus

© Salt Town Productions 2000/2017

Notes:

Verse 1: Most of my working life at ERF Middlewich was spent 'booking in' parts, at first by hand on notes later sent in batches to an IT firm in Manchester which compiled weekly print-outs of stock figures. These print-outs were always wildly out-of-date, of course. From the early 1980s I did the same job using a succession of computers.

Verse 3: A logistics firm was brought in to examine our parts distribution network, and concluded that it should be 'outsourced' to a firm operating from Burton-On-Trent, giving greater efficiency and effectiveness. We were, as you can gather, sceptical about this, with every justification as it turned out.

Verse 4: A 'picking note' is probably self-explanatory. It was a list of parts required by a customer with the stores location of each one on it. A storekeeper (usually a member of the legendary 'White Stick Gang') would 'pick' the parts from these notes and take them to the despatch dept. A 'GIN' was a Goods Inwards Note, used to put incoming parts into their correct locations. Well, most of the time...

Verse 5: The gentleman who masterminded the transferring of the parts stores from Middlewich to Burton-On-Trent was a Mr George Bell. An alternative location for those parts is also suggested here...

The song went down a storm. So much so that we had to sing it twice.

A memorable evening and, as Dave Lewis said on the night, 'only right and fitting'.


This door, at the side of the old ERF Middlewich office block was the one I used when I left ERF Service for good in the winter of 2000. Again, this was only right and fitting, because it was by this same door that I first entered the place back in 1974 for the interview with Bill McArdle which led to my working there for 27 years.

By contrast, my working life at the 'new place' lasted less than one day.

I'll never forget my time at ERF. I made some good friends and, of course, one or two enemies.

We all knew deep down that we were on the way out and that we were living through the last days of the independent British truck industry. 

And I think that, despite everything, most of us were proud to be a part of an industry which 'flew the flag' for Britain right to the bitter end.

Photo: Commercial Motor

This diary entry will be added to from time to time, as more photographs come to light.

If you have any which you think may be of interest, please don't hesitate to send them to us.

Dave Roberts
Middlewich
12th September 2017




UPDATES



Promises Promises...Here's a piece of ERF ephemera from the days when 35mm slides were the norm for presentations, rather than the now ubiquitous digital projectors attached to laptops. Most probably dating from the early 1990s, it's obviously just one of a series of slides shown to people from the parts distribution network to chivvy them up and get them passionate about selling diffs, gearboxes, propshafts and a myriad other spares, including everyone's favourite,the time-honoured 'No 10 pins' (said to be a remnant of the first ever parts list for ERF 1 in which the parts were simply numbered 1,2,3,4 etc. Part no 10 being a shackle pin for a road spring). Like all the best Middlewich Diary ephemera, this slide was rescued from a skip.
ERF 1          Photo: Truckphotos
(15th September 2017)



Promoting ERF. No self-respecting truck company would be without its enamel promotional badges, and you'll still see them pinned on lapels, hats and other bits of clothing at vintage vehicle rallies all over the country every year. These are a few unusual specimens sold on Ebay in 2013. Click on the link (below) for details.
22nd February 2018


That distinctive ERF typeface, which was used, with various different embellishments and variations, on the front of trucks built from the 1950s until the company's demise in the 21st century. We never did find out if it had a name, or whether it was specially developed for the company or just 'borrowed' from someone else. Does anyone know? We'd be interested to hear from you if you do.
22nd February 2018


(From Christine Foster)
(l to r) CHRISTINE FOSTER, ? , ANN ADDY, EVELYN MALAM, SUSAN MITCHELL
Photo taken outside the ERF Service Service Centre office block, early 70s.
(Can anyone supply the missing name?)
15th September 2017





(Basically factually accurate, but occasionally veering off
into fiction and fantasy)
SEE ALSO:  
                                                  STRANGE VISITOR
                                                        ERF BADGES
                                                        ERF SERVICE 1971-2000 (revised Sept. 2017)
                                                  EVERYTHING STARTS WITH AN 'E' (1990)
                                                        A MOMENT IN TIME (ERF MIDDLEWICH 2000)
                                       

First published 12th September 2017
Updated 15th September 2017
19th September 2017, 3rd October 2017.
Re-published with additions 19th February 2018, 22nd February 2018, 25th February 2018, 29th April 2018, 10th May 2018, 12th September 2018 (one year on)
13th October 2018

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

ERF MIDDLEWICH IN THE 1980s

PHOTOGRAPHED BY
REG HOLLAND

By Dave Roberts

This collection of photographs came to light after we commemorated the end of the ERF Service Centre in Middlewich with our feature The Last Days of ERF Middlewich.


Those photographic memories of the dying days of the Service Centre prompted Ray Scragg, who worked in ERF's Export Department, to get in touch offering to let us have some photographs of ERF Middlewich twenty years earlier, in the 1980s.

These photographs were taken by Reg Holland who spent many years in export packing. Reg, who is pictured in the title header (above) has marked most of the photographs as '1980' but one or two of them may be a little later, as we'll explain as we go along.

Please bear in mind that they were taken a long time ago and memories can get a little confused over such a period. I don't profess to be an expert on ERF Middlewich. I was there, after all, to do a job rather than study how the place worked.. I'd love to hear from anyone with greater knowledge than mine of the places and faces in this diary entry. All contributions gratefully received, and acknowledged.

A technical note: These photos were, of course, taken long before the wonders of digital photography. Some of them are very much under-exposed - something Reg wouldn't have realised until he got the prints from the processors.  We've tried our best to brighten these photos, but obviously we can't work miracles. We just have to accept that this is how photography was in the early 1980s.

The first few photos appear to explain why Reg should have taken his camera into work in the first place...


High up in ERF's 'high-racking' stores one of Middlewich's local robins decided to build a nest. This pallet full of what look like T-Shirts, or some other item of promotional clothing, must have seemed an ideal, warm, dry place to start a family. And, as Reg says, in a note on the back of the photo, the robin seems to have chosen well. Items were taken out and put into this pallet all the time the robin was there, building its nest and rearing four young robins.


Reg seems to have taken the robin under his wing - so to speak - and to have made something of a pet of it. Here the robin sits on one of several packing cases which are ready for shipment to ERF South Africa.



Here's that robin again perched on another packing case. In the background is a white-coated  David Briscall.

In a quiet corner of Export Packing, Reg's pet robin takes a little nourishment.


Plastic cab backs being packed for export to South Africa. Quite why Reg decided that these parts, out of all the thousands upon thousands sent out to South Africa over the years, should be worthy of a photograph is not clear. 

ERF Middlewich's Export Packing bench. The whole building, like all such buildings in the motor industry, was full of little areas just like this.


Reg describes this as the 'new spares delivery trailer 1980'. You'll note that at the time the company was still using the name 'SUNPAR', derived from the Sandbach factory, 'Sun Works'. Edwin Richard Foden was, it seems, a great believer in the health-giving powers of the sun. It was ERF's use of this name which led to the probably apocryphal tale that rival Foden's were at one time thinking of using the name 'Fo-Par' for their parts operation, but dropped the idea for obvious reasons.
Eventually the 'SUNPAR' name was abandoned and everything was labelled simply 'ERF Parts'.
When I first saw this photo I thought it was probably taken in a corner of the repair shop which adjoined the parts stores. Reg's description soon put me right. It says, 'new cab shop at rear of repair shop', and the obviously newer construction of the building seems to confirm this. The vehicles (or rather one vehicle and one cab) in the picture suggest that this was a separate facility for the repair of cabs. I seem to recall, though, that new cabs were also sent down from Sandbach for attention...


...and that's what seems to be happening here. Driver Derek Raymond poses next to his vehicle, which replaced a venerable ERF LV cabbed lorry used to carry spares between Sandbach and Middlewich. The old vehicle was painted in exactly the same way as this newer B series truck. And when the cab sides were, from time to time, removed for repair or repainting, they had to be marked up to ensure that they went back in the right place on the vehicle. They were always marked thus: LEFT FRONT, RIGHT FRONT, LEFT BACK, RIGHT BACK and...R SEND.


ERF's Repair Shop as it was in the early 1980s. It was the fact that trucks and tractor units would be heading for ERF Middlewich either towed by a breakdown truck or under their own power which caused the then Middlewich Urban District Council to remodel the whole of Brooks Lane and to make part of 'Poppityjohns' into 'Road Beta' in the early 1970s.
 Legend has it that ERF didn't relish the idea of a local, whimsical, name like 'Poppityjohns' on its letterheads, hence the replacement by the council with the
go-ahead, thrusting 1970s - style  replacement 'Road Beta'. 
In the end, the company used neither and the address was simply ERF Service, Middlewich.




Many of the trucks seen here in the repair shop seem to be undergoing rather more than minor repairs. Several of them appear to be new builds undergoing adaptations.
What was originally the repair shop later became a manufacturing facility, notably for the Steyr-cabbed ERF trucks of the 1990s.


ERF Repair shop electricians (l to r) Colin Proudlove (Foreman) and Dave Johnson


All Work and No Play... repair shop personnel enjoy a lunch-time game of football. The very edge of that huge ERF neon sign can be seen to the right of the photograph.

The insurance compound, where vehicles were quarantined pending investigations for insurance claims. There's an interesting array of tractor units here, not least the blue one nearest the camera. What sort of truck is that?



An array of new ERF cabs in the yard at Middlewich The buildings in the background are the new works canteen and accommodation for Technical Services, built between 'Poppityjohns' and the railway line in the 1980s. The buildings still exist and are used for the sale of - whisper it - second-hand Volvo Trucks...

THOMAS HARDIE USED TRUCKS




In one corner of the ERF Middlewich site, close to the King's Lock pub, was the ERF Training School. The Trent & Mersey canal separated ERF from Booth Lane, the road to Sandbach. Above the motorbike and to the left is the famed 'Etta Mault's Chippy' still thriving today and still serving locals, motorists and canal travellers. At this time there was an access gate from the King's Lock car-park into the training school car park and many ERF workers avoided the long walk via Brooks Lane bridge and 'Road Beta' to the Service Centre by using it. ERF management soon got wise to this practice and determined to put a stop to it.
Instead of  a sign saying  'Please do not use this gate' as you might expect, the management, in true ERF style, opted for something along these lines...


Many thanks to our old friend Ian Murfitt for this information. At the time Ian was living with his family on a canal boat moored close to the Service Centre.


In the training school itself, Steve Alcock points out an important component on a diagram. The computer revolution had, obviously, not yet reached this little corner of  ERF Training to a great extent.
Later, the training school expanded and took up some of the space in the main office block vacated by Technical Services.


Reg has marked this one as 'Training School 1980 Keith Johnson' Can anyone tell us which gentleman is Keith Johnson and who the other one is?

Entrance to reception, circa 1980, with Debbie Greenwood. The parts administration department is to the right and the forbidding entrance into the 'stores' to the left. Over the years all this changed. Reception was moved to the front of the building, near the new computer room until, in the end, it was abandoned altogether. Note the high-tech device being used to hold the door open. This is the same door shown in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich,  the door by which I first entered ERF Service in 1974, and the door I used when I left for the last time in 2000.

A relic of the past - the telephone switchboard at ERF Middlewich. Everyone knew the ERF day was ready to begin when a single 'ting' on the office telephone told you that the switchboard had made contact, ready for the fray. Advances in technology meant that in due course the switchboard shrunk to a little unit the size of a transistor radio perched on the reception desk. Not too long after that it disappeared altogether as direct lines to all and sundry were introduced. The entirely separate internal phone network was also disconnected and thrown in a skip at the same time. Occupying the operator's chair is Judith Challinor.


Before the computer age was in full swing, telex machines were vitally important for urgent parts orders and communications. Can anyone tell us who this lady is, so obviously happy to be among the telex machines?


Three happy ladies. Marilyn 'Mal' Whiston and Debbie Greewood are two of them (from left to right) but who is the third one? Can anyone tell us? To the right is a symbol of creeping computerisation - a printer with the distinctive blue keys found on many parts of our first computer system.

Marilyn again, this time with a lady Reg remembers as Alison. Does anyone know her second name?
On Marilyn's desk is one of our earliest pieces of computer equipment, the lesser-spotted VDU, or Visual Display Unit.


And here's another VDU, this time in the capable hands of Denise Carter. These were the VDUs mentioned in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich which worked on valves and had to be 'warmed up' every morning.


...and here's what was on the other end of the cable. It goes without saying that this was only a small part of the vast array of computer equipment needed to run the rather limited computer services we had in those days. The tapes seen in the racks on top of the machine were used to send such things as parts catalogues out to the distributor network. Perhaps someone well-versed in the history of early computers will be able to tell us just what sort of system this was.

Warranty Claims department 1980s. Janice Davies (right) is joined by a lady remembered by Reg simply as Carol. Can anyone supply her second name? I wonder if the gentleman just visible in the office to the left might possibly be Warranty Claims manager Ron Hyde?


Also in the Warranty Claims Department are Margaret Neville (left) and Margaret Ledland.


Technical Services. Reg Holland talks to Bill FitzSimons. Does anyone know who the third gentleman is?

ERF Technical Services 1980s.


A Cossington Commercials vehicle ready to collect spares from ERF Service. Reg remembers the driver as Eric. Can anyone supply his second name?

Now here's a scene which many drivers will remember. Just one incarnation of the almost legendary  ERF 'Parts Counter' with the late Derek 'Smoky' Ryder doing business with a couple of repair shop personnel, Geoff Challinor (left) and welder Jim McIvor.

Brew time! The first of quite a few 'brew time' photos. Reg was only able to get photos of stores personnel during their rest periods. The rest of the time they were moving so fast no camera could capture them. And if you believe that...
Here's 'Smoky' again with, on the left, Harry Bayley, partially hidden by Ken Alcock.
Ken was one of several stores people who joined the company when the Post Office sorting office in Middlewich closed down. In fact it was said at the time that ERF Middlewich had three main sources of personnel: Fodens, the Co-op and the Post Office. Reg Holland himself was an ex Sandbach Co-op man.



Derek Whittaker enjoying a brew in slightly more salubrious surroundings than the usual locker room. Derek's another ex-Middlewich Postman and, at the time of writing, is still going strong and spending a lot of time in his cottage in Ireland.


Back to the old locker room and, as a change from the endless games of dominoes, a card game is in progress with (l to r) John Longworth, Pat Hopkins and Gary Hopwood. A fourth player, on the right, obviously wishes to remain anonymous.
This photo seems to have been taken at the same time as the one above, and features the same card game. 
On the extreme left is John Smith, who is mentioned in The Last days of ERF Middlewich as the man who organised the End Of An Era party at  Pochins Club when the Service Centre closed down. To the right of John is a man who looks familiar, but whose name escapes us. Next to him is  John Longworth again.
The gentleman in the grey coat with a white collar is Norman 'The Storeman' Hulse who drove the van between Sandbach and Middlewich carrying stock transfers. Norman, who was yet another Middlewich postman in a former life, is immortalised in the poem Norman's Story. And next to Norman is another unknown gentleman. As always, if anyone can help with names, please don't hesitate to let us know.

This photo is so underexposed that it's really only included for completeness. In fact, if it wasn't for the white table and Derek Ryder's white coat we probably  wouldn't be able to see anything at all. Peering through the gloom are (we think) (l to r) Harry Bayley, Derek Ryder, Ken Alcock and someone we can't recognise. If you can, let us know.

Brew time, as well as being a time for games of cards and dominoes, was also a time for catching up on what was happening in the world. here we see Pete Latham (left) and Alan Moran perusing the papers. Alan was, for many years, our union rep.

Which brings us to the piece de resistance of all brew time photos, not least because it features your Middlewich Diary Editor (left) in the days of lots of hair and not much stomach (a situation which the intervening years has reversed) and Steve Farrington, who actually unloaded and checked most of the goods being delivered.
We're pictured in the 'new' Goods Inwards office -  though 'new', as you can see from the luxurious and sparkling clean surroundings, is a relative term. Out of shot to the left was a sliding glass window next to the main door where delivery drivers would 'report' and hand in their delivery notes. The first thing they would see would be the handsome countenance of Mr John Stuart Davenport, perched on the high stool just visible on the left, and chain-smoking incessantly. Out of shot to the right was our first, primitive, 'Computer Office' (in reality a lean-to constructed from bits of scrap wood and glass) where I would sit booking in goods on one of those blue-keyboarded VDUs, once the valves had warmed up.
Reg has labelled this photo '1980', but in reality it must be a couple of years later, because the 'newspaper I'm holding (The S*n), has the headline 'Di Takes Baby Home', and Princess Diana didn't give birth to Prince William until June 1982.

And it was in this little office that we would have our lunch with one Peter Sutcliffe, who worked for Clark's Transport bringing  us spares from Kirkstall Forge Engineering (later part of GKN) in Leeds. The story of our strange visitor is told here.
This photo may be extremely nostalgic, but that nostalgia is tinged with sadness. Steve, who was one of the best friends anyone could ever have, passed away a few years ago at the early age of 61.


Another office, another games of dominoes, and  some once familiar ERF faces. On the left is Graham Cherrington. The remaining two gents were at the coalface when it came to ERF's Warranty Claims department, spending their days among bins full of brake chambers, alternators, diffs, gearboxes, clutches, tachographs and a myriad of other parts, up to and including engines.. Tachographs which were B.E.R. (Beyond Economical Repair) were particularly sought after, as they made handy clocks. And there were plenty of them, due to what the Warranty Department referred to, darkly, as 'driver sabotage'. The gentleman in red is ERF Legend Bill Ravenscroft, another ex-Co-op man. His full name was William Atherton Ravenscroft which led me, not unreasonably, to stick a large sign on his office wall with his initials on it. It read: WAR OFFICE.
I think Bill secretly quite liked that, but it did lead to the 'Battle Of the Signs', the story of which will be added here in due course.
Next to Bill, in the white coat, is Inspector Ray 'Raymondo' Colley (or, occasionally,
'Colley Dog'). Ray was one of the few people from ERF who kept in touch after the company disappeared, and he only died a couple of years ago. A very nice man.
This picture is also of interest to me, personally, as it marks the very spot where I started my somewhat inglorious ERF career way back in 1974. The desk they're all sitting at was where  I would sit, writing out Goods Inward Notes ('GINs') on self-inking duplicate sheets - green, blue, yellow, pink and white. One copy was sent to the data firm in Manchester which, in return, would send us weekly print-outs of what were supposed to be our stock figures. All hopelessly and irredeemably out-of-date the moment they were printed, of course.
At this time Goods Inwards shared this office with Warranty Claims.
Notice the telephones. The white one is what we always called the 'national' phone, connected to that switchboard (see above) and the grey one is part of the internal phone system which did, at least, connect the Sun Works and the Service Centre together. There was a brief but glorious time when Mr Ravenscroft had two identical phones - one external, one internal. It was a matter of honour for us to swap the receivers over, causing confusion and a lot of merriment for everyone. Except Bill, of course. There was another ritual connected with Bill's telephones. If we had cause to answer one of them we'd shout, 'Phone, Bill!' to which he'd invariably reply, 'Phone Bill? How much?' Silly and childish, but it was how we got through the long ERF days.

Mr William Russell, usually known, of course, as Billy, in the Despatch Dept , having just returned from his daily lunchtime bowls game at the ICI Club (later Pochins Club)  at the other end of 'Road Beta' in Brooks Lane. This was the venue for our 'End of An Era' party in the year 2000. Despite the fact that the building is now Middlewich Community Church, the bowling green is still there; one of only two greens left in the town. In the background are the 'grey bins - so called because they were bins and they were grey. This was a veritable rabbit warren of bins, labelled with the ubiquitous Dymo tape, containing small parts. The bins were on three floors, with a flight of steps and  a lift enabling them to be accessed. The management, remarkably even for them, once suggested that the lift could be done away with. The suggestion was greeted with the shopfloor's usual mixture of incredulity and contempt.  Many storekeepers would spend the vast majority of their working days in those bins.
Billy Russell worked in Warranty Claims, parcelling up goods marked 'No Fault Found' and sending them back to distributors, no doubt much to their dismay. On the back of this photo Reg Holland has written the words Long May Your Lum Reek, a reference to the fact that Billy was Scottish. Very Scottish.


A little horseplay in the 'New Stores Loading Bay'.
(l to r) Alf* Davies, 'Foz' Foster and David Briscall

* Reg actually has Alf down as 'Joe Davies'. He was obviously thinking of the snooker player.

Before we go, we ought to include a few token shots of people actually getting a bit of work done. Here are (l to r) Terry Holland and Derek Whittaker in the High Racking Stores picking orders with a lift truck (or 'Translift').

Tony Vawdrey doing the same thing with another (or possibly the same) truck. The strange white thing above his head is actually scores of parts labels with twists of wire attached, for those parts which couldn't be identified  with the usual stick-on label.
'Foz' Foster and Alf Davies, looking slightly lost and confused in the Despatch Department. To the left, those grey bins can be seen again. The office below was the HQ for the stockcheckers, who were on a perpetual mission to check the quantity of every part in the building against the stock figures. The office on stilts was the foreman's office and underneath was, at that time,  the parts counter.

We end as we started with that photo of Reg Holland, the man who took all these photographs.
A little bit of lateral thinking leads us to believe that this particular shot must have been taken by Derek Raymond.
I little thought way back in the 1980s when I worked at the Service Centre, trying to keep my head down and blend into the background, that I would one day help to chronicle at least a little part of ERF Middlewich history.
We're grateful to Reg for preserving these memories of a part of ERF (and Middlewich) history which otherwise might well have ended up  existing only in the memories of those who worked at the Service Centre all those years ago.
Many thanks also to Ray Scragg who kindly let us see , and use, these precious photographs.
We hope you've enjoyed seeing this little glimpse into what seems, at this point in time like  a vanished world.

Dave Roberts

Middlewich

10th October 2018.