Wednesday, 31 August 2011

GETTING YOUR MILL LANES IN A TWIST

It's important not to, of course. As we've always been at pains to point out, there are two Mill Lanes in Middlewich. One of them is a leafy rural backwater running from Nantwich Road down to the River Wheelock and connecting with the public footpath to Stanthorne, and the other one is a short stub of road leading from Kinderton Street to the Old Mill where Town Bridge Motors is situated. But if you're thinking of taking your car in for its MOT, it would be best not to rely on Yell.com for directions....


Who's going to tell them?

LAST AND FIRST - BRIDGING THE GAP

Bridging the gap between the old Middlewich UDC and the Middlewich Town Council was Cllr Frank Bailey, pictured here with his wife Edna on Carnival Day 1973. Frank was the last Chairman of the UDC and became the first Mayor of Middlewich when the Town Council was created on 1st April 1974.

Many thanks to Middlewich Town Clerk Jonathan Williams for this information.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

LOWER KINDERTON STREET AND THE TOWN BRIDGE 1970

This Agfacolor slide from 1970 shows the lower end of Kinderton Street, where it joins Leadsmithy Street on the Town Bridge. The scene is still very recognisable today, of course, but was a lot less cluttered  forty one years ago. On the left is the parapet of the Croco Bridge, made of those off-white bricks we mentioned in this posting and above that is the house (now much gentrified) on the right hand side of  Mill Lane (not to be confused with the one off  Nantwich Road), which runs down to the mill between the bridge parapet and the bungalow and is now used almost exclusively by anxious car-owners taking their vehicles to fail their MOTs at Town Bridge Motors. The bungalow itself, for many years the abode of Mr and Mrs Dickenson (or was it Dickinson?), is still there, and on the right we have a tantalizing glimpse of a long gone building which I recall as a disused shop belonging to Percivals the removal company. See this posting.
What is striking about the scene in 1970 is the relative tranquility of it all. To take a similar picture today, without a single car in evidence, you'd have to go in the middle of the night. Also absent is any sign of the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings which are now such a feature of the area. But remember, this was before the Kinderton Street redevelopment took place. In fact the traffic lights came on the scene surprisingly late: we have pictures showing the area in 1973 with no sign of them. Also nowhere to be seen are the various tin signs and bric-a-brac advertising cheap MOT tests and the like which came along with Town Bridge Motors.
The lady in the centre of the photo was a near neighbour of ours in King Street called Maggie Cannon..
Also in the picture, by the way, is one of the old-style sodium street lamps painted in a discreet MUDC green. Someone once started a scurrilous rumour that, following the adoption by the council of tangerine and delft blue as its official livery, these lamps were to receive similar treatment. Now who would start a silly rumour like that?

Many thanks to David Moore, for putting us right on the name of the motor business in Mill Lane which, for some reason, we had down as 'Old Mill Motors'  and to Geraldine Williams for reminding us of Maggie's surname. Maggie lived in King Street, next to Geraldine's husband's aunt, Mrs Battersby - ed


UPDATE - 6th September 2011:
Something quite extraordinary has happened in this area which makes another 'Now & Then' shot a matter of urgency. The bungalow shown in our slide has been updated in a most surprising and unfortunate manner, with gigantic solar panels being affixed to its roof. Energy efficiency is very desirable, of course, but to say that the solar panels look somewhat out of place on this building is putting it mildly. Perhaps something can be done to disguise the panels in some way? We await developments.
See LOOK WHAT THEY'VE DONE TO MY ROOF MA, September 2011

Saturday, 20 August 2011

THREE WILLOWS GARDEN EARLY 1960s

Photo: W. G. Oakes
Our Kodachrome slide shows the garden at my Uncle Bill's house, 'Three Willows', in Mill Lane (the Mill Lane off Nantwich Road, not the one off  Kinderton Street) in the sunshine of a long-ago Summer evening in the early 1960s. This beautiful terraced garden runs all the way down to the River Wheelock.  Uncle Bill was a remarkable man. He was a research scientist working for ICI at Wilton, Winnington and Welwyn Garden City (it's just struck me for the first time how poetic that sounds!). He did vital work during the war on specialised plastics which enabled the rapid construction of radar installations and, after the war, did a lot of work on the development of polythene (or polyethylene to give it its real name). But he was also, as can be seen from this picture, an excellent gardener and photographer. Before the war he was a leading light in the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society and wrote the script for, and appeared in, Bank Holiday, the short comedy film which can be found on our Youtube channel.
I always feel that this colour slide demonstrates the sheer beauty of Kodachrome - now, alas, no more.

THE LIMESTONE COWBOY RIDES THROUGH MIDDLEWICH

Photo: Vernon Perkins/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign
The 'Limestone Cowboy', an enthusiast's special from London Euston to the limestone country around Buxton, passes through sunny Middlewich  at around 11.30am on Saturday 20th August 2011 and is seen here in this 'going away' shot by Vernon Perkins passing the site of the old station. It will continue along the Middlewich loop until it passes under the King Street bridge where it will regain the single track to Northwich. The Middlewich line is very popular with such specials, falling as it does under the category of 'forgotten tracks' (although MRLC has done its best to make sure this particular line doesn't stay forgotten for very long). The locomotive will soon be directly opposite the site of the old signal box where Peter Cox and I once staged a comeback for the old signal box sign. See this posting.
Note the immaculate state of the track, which was renewed a few years ago, and the square brick building to the right which houses equipment associated with the elaborate signalling system now controlled from Manchester South. This building can also be seen here.




Friday, 19 August 2011

KINDERTON STREET FROM TOWN WHARF 1972

Here's the prospective 'Gateway To Middlewich' - the Town Wharf in the foreground of a view looking up towards Kinderton Street in 1972. The Talbot Hotel is on the left, and the various buildings which are now the Kinderton Hotel are on the right. Seabank car park is in the middle and, if you look carefully, you can see that it was also fulfilling its role as a lorry park at this time.On the wharf itself can be seen various lean-to buildings which are now gone.

LINK:MIDDLEWICH FOOD & COOKERY GROUP (FACEBOOK)

A MIDDLEWICH DIARY

MUDC ROAD GANG SEPTEMBER 1973

On a Mid-September day in 1973 the gentlemen of Middlewich Urban District Council's Highways Department (or 'Council Road Gang') pose for a commemorative picture at the council's Wych House Lane Depot where once lumpmen, lofters, wallers and firemen toiled to produce Seddon's Salt. In the background the end of the BWB Warehouse can be seen, close to where our favourite footbridge once made landfall.
Although I had by this time left the Council's employ and was doing my compulsory two-year's service at Pochins before stumbling into the welcoming arms of ERF Ltd, I was still interested in what was happening with the local council which had given me my first job. And what was happening, of course, was that it was being wound up in preparation for the creation of the District of Daneborough (The name 'Congleton District' was a last-minute change) in April 1974.
The road gang were, as can be seen, only too pleased to be recorded for posterity with their tangerine and delft blue lorry. Unfortunately time has (temporarily, I hope) erased the names of all but one of them from my mind, but I'm sure we'll be able to identify them all without too much trouble.
The one name I do recall, of course, is that of the gentleman leaning nonchalantly on the front of the vehicle. It's the legendary Stan Durber, known to one and all as 'Stan The Stop-Go Man' for his dextrous work on the red and green 'Stop-Go' signs which were set up to guide traffic around road works.
By no means as easy a job as it sounds. I've seen modern-day practioners of the art of the 'Stop Go' sign (yes, they are still used) at work and it seems to be all too easy to end up with greens or reds at both ends.
Stan, rather unexpectedly, emigrated not long after the re-organisation having, presumably, been made redundant.
The road gang was only really equipped to make small repairs to Middlewich's roads. But what an excellent  job they would have made of making good the pot holes caused by the last two harsh winters. Pot-holes were their speciality.
Interestingly in April 2010 Cheshire East Council announced its intention of contracting out all Highway Maintenance to the private sector.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

SIGNALBOX SIGN RETURNS HOME


by Dave Roberts
When the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign began in 1992 flamboyant Middlewich resident George Dean took an immediate interest and supported the campaign in every way he could. One day he mentioned to me that he happened to know that his son Alan, who was now resident in Uttoxeter, was in possession of one of the old nameboards from the signalbox at Middlewich, which had been decommissioned in 1980.
Wouldn't it be a great idea, suggested George, if this nameboard could be returned to Middlewich to act as a kind of 'mascot' for the campaign?
I agreed that it would, indeed, be a great idea and put the idea at the back of my mind.
A few weeks later I was accosted in the street by George, in his usual quiet and reticent way:
'Hey bugger!' he shouted, waving his walking stick at me (this was in the the days before he terrorised the populace with his motorised scooter).
'Yes, George?'
'You know that railway sign?'
'Yes. What about it?'
'It's in Mike Hough's garage.'
George tootled off to shout and wave his stick at his next victim, and I made my way to Mike Hough's house where the huge red signalbox sign was indeed  in the garage and ready for collection.
I dragged the thing off through the streets. It was no lightweight - the board itself was of massive construction and the letters spelling out MIDDLEWICH were of cast iron.


This was the method used by the London & North Western Railway to make such signs. They made vast numbers of cast iron letters and to make a sign you simply selected the appropriate ones and screwed them on the board. Interestingly the company also used this method to make street signs. There are several in Crewe, and one next to Sandbach Station saying STATION VIEW.
The only place I could think of  to store the sign was in the cellar of the pub which was, and still is, the campaign's HQ, the Boar's Head in Kinderton Street, and this is where it ended up.
Shortly after this, on a warm Summer evening, Peter Cox and I were in the Boar's Head and  conceived the idea of restoring the sign, albeit temporarily, to the place where it had spent most of its life - the site of the signal box just up the road from the Boar's Head. Somehow, this kind of brilliant idea only seemed to occur to us while we were in the pub - I can't think why.
We decided, as I have said, to restore the sign to its rightful place and this, as can be seen from the picture, we duly did. The coal bunker which once stood next to the signal-box was still in place at that time and this was the closest we could get the sign to its original position.
It could never be done again. The British Transport Police keep a close eye on  all railway lines these days and trespassing is frowned upon as never before. And we could, of course, never condone trespassing on the railway, in any case..
But the fact is that we did it (without, incidentally, having to go onto the tracks) and our photograph shows the sign back where it belonged (or almost).
Since those heady days the signboard has found a caring home, and is on permanent loan to a member of the Rail Link Campaign committee. On high days and holidays it is taken out for an airing.
Incidentally there is now a modern colour light signal on the very spot where the old signal box used to be, which is, somehow, quite fitting and only right and proper..
As for George Dean - well, he deserves a posting all to himself...

SEE ALSO: LNWR MIDDLEWICH SIGNAL BOX SIGN

TOWN WHARF WAREHOUSE and OLD FIRE STATION 1970


This Agfacolor slide, taken in 1970, shows the entrance to the council depot which was established on land once occupied by Seddon's works in Wych House Lane. To the left is the British Waterways warehouse which is part of the Town Wharf group of buildings. It's interesting to note that one end of the building, at least wasn't whitewashed at this time. The blue gates to the right of the warehouse form the actual entrance to the council yard and were, at one time, sign-written with MIDDLEWICH U.D.C. DEPOT in red and black shaded lettering,
The building on the right, unfortunately plunged into shadow in this shot, is Middlewich's first fire station which dates back to around 1893. You can probably just make out the words FIRE STATION in the terracotta work above the entrance. Surrounding this are the letters L M B which indicate that the building had been provided by the Middlewich Local Board. Attempts were made to save the inscription when the building was demolished, but failed*. This building was replaced by a fire station in Lewin Street, on the site where the 'floral clock' is now, and then the present 'Community Fire Station' (aren't all fire stations 'community fire stations'?) a short distance away at the top of Civic Way.
*or did they? See comments, below.
(UPDATE: In the November/December 1991 edition of the MHS Newsletter ex-fireman Bill Ward says, in an article about Middlewich's fire stations: 'It is thought...that the terra-cotta work from the front of the building proclaiming M-L-B FIRE STATION 1894 was saved and taken to Sandbach'
This seems to bear out what Dan Kelly says in his comments below. The confusion arose because there had been an attempt to save the whole building from destruction so that it could serve as 'the nucleus for a heritage exhibition' but the Borough Council had it demolished during the negotiations. This is the conservation attempt that 'failed', not the retention of the terra cotta work which, it now seems fairly certain, still exists somewhere -ed)
There's a better photograph of this building on page 32 of Profiles of Middlewich by Alan Earl (CC Publishing 2006)
UPDATE (DECEMBER 2011): We have heard from Peter Cox that, as far as he knows, this terra cotta work is actually currently stored at Middlewich Fire Station.
UPDATE (AUGUST 2016): That's precisely where it is. I have now seen it with my own eyes - ed.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

CIVIC DIGNITARIES, CARNIVAL '73


by Dave Roberts
Looking rather like warlords at a medieval jousting tournament this group of civic dignitaries shelters from the sun, and the great unwashed, under their personal awning at the Middlewich Carnival in 1973, which was, as we've already learned, held at Manor Park, not far away from where I'm typing this.
They are (left to right) : Julie and Derek Millington, then (I think) Sandbach Councillor David Lloyd Griffiths(can anyone confirm this?) the then MUDC Chairman Frank Bailey, Mrs Bailey and another lady who may possibly be  Mrs Lloyd-Griffiths, separated from her husband so that Cllr and Mrs Bailey can take centre-stage and make a pleasingly symmetrical picture. Behind them is another tier of lesser dignitaries, consigned to the shadows.

Derek Millington was one of our livelier and most effective councillors and I spent long hours talking to him in various local hostelries. I'm sure he won't mind me passing on just one of his recollections of life as a councillor:

Derek was a member of the Middlewich Cemetery Committee (known, at that time as the Burial Joint Committee, or something similar) and it was the policy of members to make periodic inspections of the cemetery.
One evening, after a prolonged period of heavy rain, the committee was inspecting a newly-dug grave which was half-filled with water. 
'A very good, idea,' said Derek, 'what you might call a fail safe. If the poor bloke we're burying  isn't dead  we can make sure he doesn't cause any trouble by drowning him.'
A shocked and offended council issued a stern letter of rebuke to Derek.

I could sympathise, having once received such a letter of rebuke  myself  for the heinous crime of 'delivering rent books on a Sunday' - a clear case of  'if the Good Lord doesn't get you, the Council will'.

Nowadays Derek and Julie are leading lights in the Middlewich Rock & Roll Dancers, which are always well worth seeing in action. They all dance brilliantly and look fabulous.

Councillor Bailey was one of the last Chairmen of the UDC, if not the last. He remains, to date, the only councillor ever to have chased me up the road after a long and heated argument in the Golden Lion. We were discussing the council's policy of attempting always to have 'the lowest rates in Cheshire' which, I said, was all very well as a policy, but had also led to the council having the lowest number of amenities in Cheshire.
The row got out of hand and culminated in Mr Roberts racing off up Chester Road with Councillor Bailey in hot pursuit. You couldn't make it up, could you?

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    • Geraldine Williams Not sure it would be Mrs Lloyd-Griffiths - unless it's his mother!

       
      Edna Bailey used to work at St Mary's, as did Betty Telfer so the school featured highly in the league table of consorts, or lady mayoresses, or whatever the term is. If I remember correctly, Frank Bailey died at home on the morning of Edna's funeral. What greater devotion could there be.


    • Dave Roberts The poor woman hasn't any discernible chain around her neck either. She should have been relegated to the back row, among all the other chainless wonders. But do we know if that is Mr Lloyd-Griffiths in the line-up? I can't find any images on the t'internet for comparison. Edna chased me up Chester Road, too, on that memorable occasion, exhorting her husband to 'hit him, Frank!' Such larks!


      Geraldine Williams Hope he wasn't wearing his chain of office at the time.....!!









      • Jonathan Williams 





        Looks like DLG with embryonic handlebar moustache and grandee beard to add. Yes Frank did die on the morning of Edna's funeral. He was indeed the last Chairman of the MUDC and the first Town Mayor of Middlewich; a unique accolade. Frank was a great help to this young pup when he started, and of course he, like several of the Councillors had known me since I was a boy. Nice tent though. And to think; only today we were wondering whether we could afford to put carpeting and banqueting furniture in the Civic Marquee at the Roman Middlewich Festival in September !! Plus ca change !



      • Dave Roberts I'm almost sure it is he. Who else would have looked like a young Gerald Nabarro at that time? Interesting to know that Frank bridged the gap between MUDC and MTC. I took another slide of Frank and Edna together on the same occasion, and the fact that he was the last UDC Chairman must have prompted this. Unfortunately the slide got slightly damaged in circumstances which may be revealed  at a later date.


        And, actually, now I have taken a closer look, I think I may be wrong about the lady on the right not possessing a chain. The old clicking and double-clicking trick shows that she may indeed have a very fine and delicate chain with small medallion attached, putting her firmly back in the civic dignitary category. It would be nice to know her name.
        In fact, if you look even more closely, at the bunting-festooned guy rope on the right, there is a gentleman hidden among all the flags. What's the betting this is the Chairman of Sandbach, or Winsford, or Northwich UDC and  our mystery lady is his consort, or whatever the correct term was? 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

NOW and THEN: THE TOWN BRIDGE

We believe the image on the left  to be out of copyright. Please let us know if you are the actual copyright holder so that we can either give due acknowledgment or, if necessary, delete the image - ed.
Nearly 100 years separate these views of Middlewich's Town Bridge and Town Wharf area. On the left hand side is one of those 'classic' Middlewich postcards which we have all grown up with, so that, in a way, we've always known what our long-lost Town Bridge used to look like. A full description of the scene shown in the postcard is given here. The right hand view was taken on 16th August 2011 and shows the new bridge, built in 1931, and a scene softened, as are so many areas of Middlewich these days, by trees. In fact it is becoming increasingly difficult to take modern shots for comparison with old ones because of the vegetation. Perhaps we'll have better luck when winter comes. The lush vegetation has completely blotted out the right hand side of the modern picture, but this scarcely matters because there is nothing behind the trees but the Seabank car park.
Speaking personally, I've always felt that the 'modern' Town Bridge was somehow lacking, that it was missing something. And I've just realised what it is. Instead of a graceful arch the bridge has a large rectangular hole - it looks like a letter box stuck in the middle of the canal. Really, the 1931 bridge is nothing more than a concrete raft built, like many such structures in the 1930s, for the motor age which was then just beginning. No doubt when the Town Wharf Scheme comes to fruition the bridge will receive a cosmetic facelift, but, at the risk of being accused of being old-fashioned, I don't think it can compare for style and character with the old bridge.
But that's just a personal opinion. What can't be denied is that today's Town Bridge is not, as was the old bridge, a part of the town. It might as well be a bridge on an urban motorway, its main purpose being to get vast amounts of traffic to and from the M6 as quickly as possible. Kinderton Street itself has lost most of its pedestrian bustle, the only life found there now being injected by the presence of the Boar's Head Hotel and the Kinderton Hotel.. This is not intended as criticism, it's merely the way that times have changed in the last 97 years.
On the left is Middlewich Town Wharf; in 1914 a busy place full of commercial activity. Now it lies forlorn, unregarded and almost forgotten except by those who have realised its potential. A couple of times a year it springs back into vibrant life as events like the Folk & Boat Festival bring in  tourists and townsfolk alike as a kind of preview of what the area should, and could, be like on a permanent basis.
Eventually, the area will be transformed into 'The Gateway To Middlewich' as the Town Wharf Scheme becomes a reality.
All we can do for now is wish luck to those who are working hard behind the scenes to bring this part of old Middlewich back to life.

BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER CROCO August 2011


No, not the title of a forthcoming blockbuster movie sequel but a little investigative work following on from this posting in which we looked at Middlewich's old Town Bridge which was replaced by the present one in 1931. The tinted postcard looked to some of us as if the River Croco had almost been airbrushed out of existence and there was some suspicious-looking greenery near the Croco bridge portal which looked a bit artificial..The general concensus of opinion was that the Croco Bridge didn't really look much like a real bridge, but more like a mere culvert designed to accomodate a drainage ditch. Which, of course, is really what the Croco became when the canal was built and the river channelled to run alongside it. I thought that the best thing we could do was to take a look at the bridge as it exists today, and this is what it looked like on the morning of 16th August 2011.
The first thing to notice is that, as Allan Earl reported 

*' ...The existing brick arch, over the River Croco, was strengthened by a reinforced concrete saddle' - Middlewich 1900-1950 by Allan Earl (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994)

and here we can see that concrete saddle at the top of the picture and running slightly at an angle to what must be the remains of the old bridge. This concrete section looks to have just been unceremoniously dumped on top of the bridge and to be held in place by its own weight.
The current parapet above this is a fairly recent addition of nondescript white-ish brick, not really in keeping with the rest of the Town Bridge structure.
It's also obvious from this photo that the River Croco really is more of a drainage ditch than anything else. The other side of this river bridge emerges a distance away from the Town Bridge in Mill Lane, close to Town Bridge Motors, and the bridge parapet is, if anything, even more nondescript than that on what we might call the 'Town Wharf' side. It's of ordinary red brick. Basically, it must be said that this isn't really a 'bridge' at all, but rather a tunnel under the road. I forgot to check (but will the next time I'm in the area) if the signs saying 'River Croco' are still in place (They're not - see update below -ed). It is still, after all, despite its lowly status, a river. The third picture attempts to show the relationship between the main Town Bridge and the Croco Bridge incorporated into it. I'm afraid that this photo isn't particularly good, but you can, I hope just about make out the Croco in the foreground and the Town Bridge dazzling white in the early morning sun. On the extreme right is that rather inappropriate 'white-ish brick' above the Croco bridge portal.

UPDATE: I was in the area for an MRLC meeting on August  30th and have to report that, sadly, the blue and white RIVER CROCO signs which adorned this most humble of all river bridges have now disappeared -ed.

Monday, 15 August 2011

SEABANK SEEN FROM TOWN WHARF, SUMMER 1971



Another glimpse of Seabank, this time from the Town Wharf itself and showing the 
long-vanished cottages on the left-hand side. In the foreground are the cabin and tiller of a British Waterways maintenance boat. If you look immediately to the right of the cabin you can see a section of blue engineering bricks on  the retaining wall between the canal and the River Croco This is the last remains of the footbridge from Seabank to the Town Wharf. The greenish looking building at the top of Seabank is now part of the Kinderton Hotel and hidden from view behind the larger part of what is now the hotel, is the Boar's Head Hotel.
We have to stress that when we talk about Seabank being 'the old road from Kinderton to Middlewich', we are talking about a very long time ago indeed; a time when Kinderton and Middlewich were two separate townships. This would be long before the canal was built in 1776.

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Saturday, 13 August 2011

E-MAIL POSTS TO YOUR FRIENDS

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LINK: LION SALT WORKS

Photo: Lion Salt Works

STORM OVER SEDDONS 1969

The Kodak Instamatic camera was never suitable for night-time shots. It had a fixed shutter speed which could only be slowed down by  putting a used 'flashcube' in the camera. These limitations, apparently, didn't stop me from trying. In 1969 I took this shot from King Street looking towards the gasworks and Seddons, Pepper Street. It was, to coin a phrase, a dark and stormy night, and even after all these years I can recall being struck by the scene* and thinking that it would make a wonderful photograph. Three of the  chimneys are all present and correct in the picture but what might at first appear to be a fourth, smaller, chimney is something of a red herring - it's the top of our clothes post  at the bottom of the garden.


Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, technology has given us a second chance with such photographs (although the old saying 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' still rings true).Courtesy of the indispensable software
'Professor Franklin's Photo Effects' we can, at least, use equalisation to tease out a little more detail, albeit at the price of a drop in quality. Here we can just make out the vast bulk of Middlewich's main gas- holder in the middle of the picture (oddly, considering its dominating position, I can't find any other pictures of this structure in the collection).
It was part of our Sunday ritual in the 1960s to watch the top part of the gas-holder gradually get lower and lower as the demand for gas to cook the traditional Sunday Lunch rose. Out of shot, to the left, was a secondary holder which ran on wheels up and down a huge steel
framework. One day it fell off its track and was never put back again as the gas works was closed and dismantled at the end of the 1960s.
By that time, of course, North Sea gas was on the horizon and there's a little story in connection with this which needs to be recorded for posterity.
My Grandma lived in King Street, in the last house on the right before the railway bridge, and in the manner of those of her generation spent most of her time in the kitchen, which had been kitted out just before the war with that most basic of gas cooking implements a 'gas ring' (now mostly the preserve of campers using Calor Gas) together with a gas mantle on the wall  which could provide light if the electricity supply failed (a not uncommon occurrence in the 50s and 60s, due to lack of generating capacity).
The North Sea gas people were able  to convert the gas ring, but told Grandma that the  mantle was out of date, no way of converting it existed and it would have to be abandoned.
Grandma refused to accept this and pointed out that at Middlewich Station, a short distance away down the track, a couple of the old gas lamps had been converted so that signalmen could find their way to their box on dark nights. Why, then, could her own humble gas mantle not receive the same treatment?  It could, and it did.
* Having just re-read this, I've realised that it reads like it's building up to '...I can recall being struck by lightning.' Not deliberate, I assure you -ed.
SEE ALSO: SEDDON'S SALTWORKS AND GASWORKS FROM TOWN BRIDGE 1960s

Friday, 12 August 2011

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 14th 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 WilliamsI 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.




    • Dave Roberts ‎...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...


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

MIDDLEWITCH MAYHEM?

Photo: Drollerie Press

'Just because Alicia Meldrew is a witch doesn't mean that everything in her life is double, double, toil and trouble. Then again, trouble does have a way of finding her over and over again, even in the cozy little town of Middlewitch...'

Sounds like a good read. I wonder if Heather Parker imagines she has made the name up (or very nearly, at least) or has ever heard of our own 'cozy (or even cosy)  little town'? Heather is a well-established author from the Lake District. Here's a link to her website: Heather Parker.

Then again, it may be that the name has been used deliberately as a tribute to its near namesake in Cheshire.

This book is apparently the second in a series called 'The Middlewitch Chronicles' ( the first one being called, simply 'Middlewitch').. Is this mere coincidence, or does it betray a knowledge of this area, imparted with a sly nod and a wink?

Should you be interested in reading this or any of Heather's other books, here's a link.

This is not the first near-miss by any means. The all time classic, of course, being 'The Midwich Cuckoos' by John Wyndham of 1957, later filmed as 'Village Of The Damned', which you will find appropriate or not according to point of view.

And does anyone recall a few years ago the furore caused by a cartoonist on a national newspaper who created a satirical cartoon about the education system (I forget the actual burning issue, but it was something to do with education) with a picture of a school in it? Seeking a nondescript but  likely-sounding though obviously fictional name for his school he lighted, unfortunately, on 'Middlewich High School', causing apoplexy among Middlewichian readers of the quality press. Did anyone keep a copy of that cartoon? I'd dearly love to see it again, and possibly reproduce it here.

I think the real irony there was the unintended comment on the education system made by the fact that said cartoonist had, seemingly, never heard of Middlewich.

Surely generations of schoolchildren have been taught about the salt towns of Cheshire?

Or is the following scenario more likely these days:

Teacher: Who can tell me where salt comes from?
Pupil: Please sir, is it Tesco?

Dave Roberts


P.S. Aw...forget it. Apparently 'there are lake monsters and the occasional spectral goat'. There always were. I could tell you a thing or two. In my day....etc....


P.P.S. Following the comment from Heather (see below) I took the trouble of reading an excerpt from the original 'Middlewitch' book. It's a light-hearted and very well written tale which struck me as something like the classic 'Bewitched' reinterpreted for the 21st Century. And yes, it's true, the sleepy little village in the story is originally called 'Middlewich' and is renamed 'Middlewitch' in honour of the heroine. I'm going to suggest to the Town Council that we should do the same...


See also: A MIDDLEWICH WITCH

SEABANK SEEN FROM TOWN BRIDGE 1973

This is Seabank which, for the uninitiated, runs from Kinderton Street, alongside the Kinderton Hotel and down to the River Croco. In reality it is a continuation of Kinderton Street and the modern day road which curves off to the right heading for the Town Bridge is a diversion, albeit an ancient and well-established one. As we've pointed out before the route via Seabank was the original road from Kinderton to Middlewich. On the bend in the canal and river (close to the white garage) can be seen the blue brick base for the footbridge which we talked about here. The building above the garage is an early incarnation of Andersen Boats' workshop in Wych House Lane which runs down from Lewin Street from the right of the picture. To the left you can just make out that there were, at this time, houses on the right hand side of Seabank, below the car park. Above the left hand cottage, the two remaining chimneys of Seddon's works in Brooks Lane can be seen. The date of this slide is 1973 so, without wishing to labour a point, we can see that none of the chimneys in Pepper Street, which disappeared two years earlier, can have  been 'the last salt works chimney in Middlewich', whatever type of chimney we are talking about.
This area, unsurprisingly, was at one time very prone to flooding and one major flood occurred in the 1950s when people in these cottages had to escape via upstairs windows and across yard walls to reach safety in Kinderton Street*. No one will be surprised to hear that houses in Booth Lane suffered at the same time due to long standing drainage problems which have only recently been addressed.
There is a similar, black and white, photograph taken around the same time as this one on page 118 of Middlewich  - Images of England by Brian Curzon and Paul Hurley (Tempus Publishing 2005) and I'm afraid that we once again have to take Brian to task for dating the scene as 'during the late 50s'. This has to be incorrect as, in the photograph in the book  and in this one,  there is no sign of the Wych House Lane salt works which didn't close until the 1960s.
The origins of the name 'Seabank' are obscure. Brian Curzon surmised that it may have originated in the trade in salt between Middlewich and the sea via the Trent & Mersey Canal, but this seems to be stretching things a bit. And there is evidence that 'Seabank' predated the canal by a long way. An earlier version of the name is 'Saybank', but its origins seem to be lost in the mists of time.
* Middlewich 1900-1950, Alan Earl

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

KINDERTON-MIDDLEWICH FOOTBRIDGE REMAINS 1974


Now here's an elusive bit of  bygone Middlewich  from 1974. The slide looks slightly ever-exposed, but this is because we've lightened it up somewhat to bring out the detail of the blue brick. It's the last remains of one end of a footbridge which once spanned the River Croco and Trent & Mersey Canal and carried people from Kinderton to Middlewich via Seabank. On the retaining wall between canal and river there's another, smaller, section of blue brick   lining up with the bottom of Seabank and the top part of this now-vanished structure, which stood just to the left of the British Waterways warehouse building. This brick section would have supported the bridge as it spanned both waterways, and is now the only remaining clue that there was ever a bridge here. The sloping part of the blue brick bridge abutment will be where steps once led up to the footbridge itself. This is the route of the original road from Kinderton to Middlewich when the two were separate townships Before the coming of the canal this road would have crossed the River Croco which, as we've seen elsewhere, once 'meandered all over the valley bottom' before being channelled alongside the canal to act as an overflow, by a small bridge or possibly even a ford. The fact that the structure is of blue engineering brick suggests that it was built by the canal company. There have been suggestions that the footbridge may have been built to provide a link between the railway station and the town wharf but, in that case, surely a full sized bridge capable of carrying traffic would have been more useful?
Does anyone have information on when this footbridge was built and taken down?  A photograph of it, framed by the last remnants of the old Town Bridge can be seen on page 38 of Profiles of Middlewich by Alan Earl  (CC Publishing 2006) and  it can be glimpsed on an old aerial shot taken in the 1920s. The probability is that it became redundant when the new Town Bridge was built in 1931 and the main route from Kinderton to Middlewich was simplified and straightened.
The rear of the Wesleyan Methodist chapel looms over the wall in the top half of the shot. 
(Dave Griffiths contacted us (see comment below) to say that he thinks that the building doing the looming is not the Wesleyan Chapel but the CofE Infants School. At first I thought he was right, but, after studying this photo:



I decided that the buildings shown are indeed part of the old Chapel and that the school was a little over to the right. We're open to argument, as always, though. What do you think? -Ed)
Although a section of the original salt works wall is still in place next to the warehouse building, there is a gaping hole where this staircase construction was. A little further along (in the direction of Brooks Lane), even the wall has gone, to be replaced by a very low wooden fence, behind which is the lawned area below the Salinae Centre.