Monday, 31 October 2011

A NEW ERA FOR MIDDLEWICH TOWN CENTRE, JUNE 2005

Photo: Dave Thompson, Middlewich Town Council
The start of a new era for Middlewich's town centre over the weekend of June 17th -19th 2005 as the  amphitheatre fills with townspeople and visitors for the  Folk & Boat Festival, the first festival to use the  facility after its completion in April of that year.
Our thanks to the Town Council's Events Manager, Dave Thompson, for supplying the photograph and information.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

HIGHTOWN and THE KINGS ARMS 1970


This is Hightown in 1970, looking, on the face of it, not very different from the way it looks today. On the extreme right is what would, at that time, have been Hulme's Grocers, although there is little here to indicate that it is a thriving concern of any kind. The shop is now home to the Accord Clinic, whose owners can always be relied on to provide interesting themed window displays when ever there is a festival or special event going on in the town.
Next left is the Kings Arms, complete with the original black and white version of its very ornate sign, which was later repainted in Greenall Whitley corporate colours. The sign itself has now been replaced by a simpler design, although the elaborately scrolled bracket remains.. The pub itself was a simple 'boozer' until the 1990s when it was refurbished and extended, as noted here.
On the other side of Queen Street is no 28 Hightown, later to be the home of Harold Woodbine's radio, tv and electrical shop and now the Parish Church's 'Drop In Centre'.
Photo: St Michael & All Angels Church, Middlewich

In the centre of the (main) photo it can just be seen that the C of E Infants School and the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel are still standing in Lewin Street.
Hightown itself - that is to say the actual carriageway - has changed considerably since 1970. The roadway has been altered over the years to accommodate changes in traffic flow. In fact, surprisingly enough, in 1970 certain sections of the road were actually wider than they are today, and the pavements narrower. A rare 'win' for pedestrians.

Facebook Feedback (from the 'Middlewich Diary' Facebook Group):
Chris Koons I remember Harold Woodbine's shop being there. Every Sunday morning, Dad would stop to comb his hair looking at his reflection in Woodbine's window before we went into Church & as far as I can remember, that was pretty much all the way through the 70s & possibly into the 80s LOL


In an e-mail Dave Thompson commented: 




Yes- check-out the the Kings Arms` new, plastic windows they`ve fitted!!







The windows in question can be seen here - ed.

Friday, 28 October 2011

THE CORNER OF NANTWICH ROAD/NEWTON HEATH Late 60s


A 35mm slide, companion to this one, showing the other end of this now-vanished row in Nantwich Road. Jack Stanier, who took the colour slide, describes it as 'late 60s', though it may, possibly, be from slightly later, and was probably taken at the same time as the  'Lea's Passage' slide. The entrance to Lea's Passage, as seen in that earlier photo, is at the far end of the row. and in the right foreground we can see the junction of Nantwich Road and Newton Heath, along with Risley's corner shop, representative of many such shops dotted all around the town, which served Nantwich Road, Newton Heath and Newton Bank - in fact, the whole of what used to be called 'Newtonia'.

Facebook Feedback 


I was born at number 15 in that row. There were 8 of us all living in a two up two down and the loo was outside .We were the Wilkinson family .


I remember. And wasn't there a Polish man who lived up there? I remember going to your house with Molly.....

In an e-mail Dave Thompson commented:

We lived at No. 25 Nantwich Road and I recall Risley`s corner shop was full of sweets/pop and other numerous household essentials!
I also remember the huge cinema bill-boards (on Newton Bank) directly opposite these houses.
I`ll ask my dad to advise which one was no. 25. I`m sure it had a window on the left side of the door but it definitely wasn`t next door to the shop. That much I do know!!
Happy days!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

MR MICHAEL PARSONS AND MR ANTHONY HATTON SHARE A JOKE

Our exclusive picture shows future Town and Borough Councillor Mike Parsons sharing a joke with Tony Hatton, then proprietor of the Big Lock pub, sometime in the early 1990s.
Although Mike was one of the organisers of the Folk & Boat Festival, and Tony one of its keenest supporters at this time, the photograph was actually taken on a different occasion, at the Annual Boat Pull organised by the Trent & Mersey Canal Society.
Mr Parsons is sporting an example of the second version of the MFAB sweatshirt. The original design, produced for the first festival in June 1990, was similar, but had the wording Middlewich 1st Folk & Boat Festival with the festival dates underneath. The 'Middlewich' and '1st' should, arguably, have been the other way around.
Original examples are now much sought after collectors' items.
Our slightly tongue-in-cheek title is an oblique reference to the Cheshire Life which always labelled photographs of our betters, clutching glasses of champagne and laughing uproariously, with such captions as Lord Weaverham shares a joke with Lady Cholmondeley-Twissington-Smythe during the Wilmslow and District Asparagus Growers Annual Dinner Dance at The Grosvenor Hotel in Chester.
We do not move in such circles, so this is the best we can offer.
Facebook feedback:




Wednesday, 26 October 2011

OLD NELL - A TALE FROM 1834

Editor's Note: When I was editor of the Middlewich Heritage Society Newsletter from the mid-80s to the late 90s, I commissioned my old friend and former schoolteacher John Brunker to write several articles for me
Well, actually, 'commissioned' is probably rather a grandiose name for what went on. I cornered him in the back room of the Kings Arms Hotel and plied him with pints of Greenall Whitley bitter until he agreed to write some stuff for me. The results usually arrived, several weeks after the deadline, in the form of notes, many of them indecipherable, written on scraps of paper and old envelopes and the like which I, after many late night telephone calls to John seeking clarification (not to mention 'urgent' meetings in the pub to discuss obscure points), would turn into articles.
This is one such article - just a brief fragment, really - and was,actually, a tailpiece to a longer article about the Kings Arms which will be featured here in due course. 'Old Nell', short as it is, does, I think, illustrate John's instinctive flair for storytelling, first experienced by myself and other enthralled youngsters in the late 50s at Wimboldsley School where John would regale us with ancient stories from his native Wales.
Somewhere in the archives I have a precious tape recording of John telling this little tale to Mel Scholes on Signal Radio's 'Pub of the Week' programme, when the King's Arms was the hostelry featured

OLD NELL
(The King's Arms, 1834)
by John Brunker
with Dave Roberts


Picture the scene. The tap room is crowded. It is market day and the town is full.
In comes a man, followed by Old Nell. Space is quickly cleared at a table for them both to sit down. The barmaid walks over and asks them if they would like their usual order.
The man nods his head and the drinks are delivered.
They are both well known in the town and questions are asked with regard to the odds on the afternoon's contest.
The man smiles and says they are 'good'.
Just then the clock chimes and it is time to go. A passage is quickly cleared for them and the pair depart, followed by most of the others.
They go down to the Market Square and make their way to the Bullring.
There is a stout post embedded in the centre to which two chains and shackles are attached. The two of them walk to it, and Old Nell prepares for her last performance.
Nell was the last bear to be baited in Middlewich. She was well-known in the town, and she loved her glass of beer.
(based on material from The Annals of Middlewich by C F Lawrence.)
 © Salt Town Productions 2011

Facebook feedback (from the 'You Know You're From Middlewich When.....' Facebook group):


Sharon Barnard What a great story!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

THE TOWN WHARF circa 1973


by Dave Roberts

This slide was originally posted on the Middlewich Town Council Facebook Group on the 19th August 2010 as a kind of 'trial run' for the 'Middlewich Diary' and we've had to borrow it back from there, as the original slide seems to have gone missing.
We originally dated this one as '1971/2' but we now know this is wrong, because at that time the buildings on the wharf hadn't been whitewashed. So we've revised the date to 'circa 1973'.
The buildings in our picture look a lot smarter than they do in the present day, and there are more of them. Particularly sad was the loss of the small building with the chimney, centre right, which was originally, I think, a small laundry (or 'wash-house'). It's last known use was as a handy surface for one of the explanatory boards for the Roman Middlewich Trail. This has now been relocated to the wall of the Leadsmithy Street bus-shelter a short distance away.
Note that, alongside the main warehouse building, attempts at smartening up the area by tree-planting have been made.
And looming over the warehouse are two of the large buildings in Lewin Street which  disappeared a couple of years later to make way (eventually) for the Salinae clinic.
To the left is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and, to the right, the C of E Infants School.
We won't make any further comment on the 'Gateway To Middlewich' scheme proposed for this area, except to say that we sincerely hope that it happens sooner rather than later.

SEE ALSO: TOWN WHARF CIRCA 1970

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Monday, 24 October 2011

MIDDLEWICH NOTES AND QUERIES ROUNDUP OCTOBER 2011

We hope you're enjoying our 'Middlewich Diary' and finding it entertaining and informative. Certainly more and more people are looking in each day. Sometime in the next week we will be reaching 10,000 page views since we started in June. Not exceptional for some professional blogs but quite remarkable for a specialist blog like this. Many thanks for your interest and please keep calling back. Better still, why not contribute?
We're always on the lookout for new material (see below for details). Remember that EVERY posting on 'A Middlewich Diary' is a 'work in progress' and can easily be altered and/or added to when new information comes to light. So if while browsing through our postings you come across something which you know to be wrong, or something you can give us extra information about, please don't hesitate to get in touch, either through Facebook or by e-mail at MiddlewichDiary@aol.com  - Dave Roberts, Editor.

From time to time people ask us for information which we do our best to supply. If we can't, we do have the option of appealing for this information from our readers, and that is what this posting is all about. If you can help with any of the following, we'll be more than grateful:

SHOPS IN CLEDFORD - Do you have any memories of the shops in Cledford, particularly the small but very handy row of shops next to The Turnpike? Do you have photographs of any of these shops in days gone by? Someone has asked us about 'Pineapple Fair' (or was it 'Fayre'?). If you can help us with any information on this or any of the other shops in Cledford, please get in touch.

NEWTON HALL - Keith Bagnall was recently making enquiries about Newton Hall and its history and wanted to know, in particular, if there was ever a slaughterhouse on or near the site. We have a vague recollection of hearing that the buildings fronting onto St Ann's Road and along the right hand side of Hannah's Walk may have had some connection with this trade. If you can help with this query, please let us know.


NORMAN MACKLIN - Everybody remembers Norman. He was a familiar sight around the streets of Middlewich for many years. Did anyone take any photographs of him? Do you, like many others, have fond memories of this eccentric, intelligent and likeable local resident? We'd love to hear from you, as we're hoping to put together a well deserved tribute to Norman for the Middlewich Diary.

CAN YOU HELP? - Do you have old photographs, documants or memorabilia relating to Middlewich and its history, be it ancient or quite recent? If so, and you'd like us to feature it on 'A Middlewich Diary' please get in touch.
You can call us on 01606 833404 or e-mail us on MiddlewichDiary@aol.com.
Or you can contact us through Facebook. Details are on the right hand side of this page.

RIVER WHEELOCK SUMMER 1967

Another idyllic Middlewich scene from the Summer of 1967. The River Wheelock meanders through meadowland in the river valley below Nantwich Road  before running over the weir underneath Mill Lane. Behind the trees in the background is the aqueduct which takes Nantwich Road under the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch canal. A second aqueduct, a few yards to the right, takes the river under that same embankment, and is said to be the twin of the familiar road aqueduct. On the extreme right of the photograph part of the.embankment can just be seen, taking the canal off in the direction of Church Minshull.
The Middlewich Branch was built late in the canal era. In fact by the time its construction was authorised the railway age had begun and the branch was built very much like a railway, with cuttings and embankments, rather than simply following the contours of the land as the earlier Trent & Mersey did.
In 1967 everything looked trim and neat and the area was  almost like parkland. This is not the case now, as explorations this Summer proved. The whole area is completely overgrown and it's almost impossible to even see the river from the little bridge over the weir in Mill Lane..
We'll be featuring 'Now and Then' shots in a future posting to prove the point.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A DOCTOR'S BILL FROM 1932

Hot on the heels of this wartime doctor's bill, comes a pre-war example, kindly loaned to us by Carole Hughes. The wording of the bill caused confusion initially, on my part at least, when I took the 'Dr' to be an abbreviation of 'Doctor' and wondered if 'To' was short for 'Thomas' or something similar.  Of course, this was complete nonsense, as Geraldine Williams gently pointed out:


 'I think it's actually the abbreviation of 'Debtor to J Murphy' - the old-style way of sending bills (not that I remember them of course!). I'm pretty certain his name was James.' 


This well known Middlewich practitioner was described by Geraldine  in our earlier posting as 'the formidable Dr Murphy'
The recipient of the bill for 'Professional Attendance' and/or 'Medicine &c' was Mr J H Sant of 40 St Annes Avenue, who paid £12. 12s. 0d (or 12 guineas) - a lot of money in 1932.
It's not clear quite what Mr Sant was paying for (and it's none of our business anyway) but it does show us once again how expensive medical treatment was in the days before the NHS.
Stamp Duty of 2d was payable on the transaction and two stamps have been affixed to make up the total - a 'halfpenny' and a 'three halfpence' (pronounced three a'pence).
The ins and outs of stamp duty are too complicated to go into here. It was largely abolished on small transactions many years ago, but still applies in certain circumstances to financial dealings. Notoriously, a form of it is still applicable when buying property worth more than £125,000.
But it's no longer necessary to 'sign over the stamp' as I used to do all those years ago in the Rates Office when I was selling dustbins to the good people of Middlewich.
You'll note that Dr Murphy's address is given, in the best autocratic manner, simply as 'The Beeches, Middlewich', implying that no further information was required.
At first we thought we had another 'where was this house?' mystery on our hands but, thankfully, the answer in this case is quite simple.
Photo: UK Real Estate listings
'The Beeches' is that very grand house on Chester Road with the intriguing turret on one side of it. Dr Brown lived there at one time.
People wanting to see Dr. Murphy would have to walk (or 'go traipsing' as they would no doubt have put it) all the way up to Chester Road to do so.
At the time of writing the house is on the market. And this is one property where Stamp Duty is definitely applicable.

Friday, 21 October 2011

THE TOWN CENTRE AT FESTIVAL TIME

Photo: Geraldine Williams
Here's another excellent example of a picture being worth a thousand words. In this posting we were talking about the redevelopment of Middlewich Town Centre and the building of the 'Roman amphitheatre' in the Bull Ring, making the point that the area attracts 'huge' crowds during the Middlewich FAB Festival in June. This was no idle claim, as is dramatically illustrated in this picture which has been kindly supplied by Geraldine Williams.

She writes:
I couldn't agree more with your observations about present-day Hightown and the first impressions it gives of the town when approached from the Chester Road end of St Michael's Way. This is precisely why I took this photograph a couple of years ago. G.W.


For some reason I could never fathom there was a certain element among the people of Middlewich, now, thankfully, almost extinct,  which was openly hostile to attempts to attract visitors to the town, notably during the heady days when the Folk & Boat Festival was being established in the 1990s.
These were the people I dubbed the 'Keep Middlewich Miserable Brigade'.
One such Moaning Minnie told me one day: 'You can tell me about the thousands of people going to concerts on Market Field until you're blue in the face. I don't believe you. It doesn't happen.'
I offered to show him some photographs of the huge crowds of people attending our concerts, but he simply refused to even look at them.
I loved the Saturday morning processions through the streets, not only for the colour, excitement and spectacle, but also for the boot up the bum it gave the KMMB as we brought the festival right into the heart of town, making it impossible to ignore. 
I'd see some of them skulking around Wheelock Street, desperately trying to pretend that the procession wasn't happening and I always made a point of giving them a smile and a cheery wave. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

THE SALT SIDING (2) 1969

Here's another view of part of the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich branch line showing some long-vanished railway paraphernalia and, in particular, the 'salt siding' (foreground) which connected Middlewich Station with the industries along the line.
Dominating the scene is one of the semaphore signals controlling trains on the main running line. To accomodate the salt siding signals along this stretch of line were cantilevered out from the other side of the track and required guy wires to counter their tendency to tilt over. The signal arm should, of course, be a deep red and white rather than pink. This type of signal arm needs constant re-painting as red is one of the least stable of colours and fades rapidly in sunlight. Just above the salt siding can be seen a smoke deflector, put there to counter the effect of smoke and steam from fifty years of steam locomotives.
The little wooden cabin to the left of the signal is a shunter's cabin. This contained a telephone which connected with Middlewich signal box (which can just be glimpsed away in the distance - a small patch of white underneath the Holmes Chapel Road bridge). That telephone would today be worth a lot of money to an antique dealer. It was made of mahogany with bakelite mouth and earpieces and two brass bells on the top. This venerable instrument was used to pass instructions between the shunter and the signalman when they were preparing trains for their journeys out onto the railway network.
To the right of the cabin can be seen the canopy (an inverted 'v' shape) of the loading bay at Seddon's/Simpson's in Brooks Lane and the rail connections which ran from the salt siding to serve Murgatroyd's salt works and the ICI soda ash works. The ICI connection ran behind the Scout Hall in Brooks Lane and into the works via the ornamental iron gates which are still in situ at what is now the Pochin site.
On the other side of the track, alongside the main running line is a pipe line which once carried brine.
Out of shot to the left is  Murgatroyd's brine pump (now the subject of preservation plans as it is the only remaining brine pump in the country still in its original position - i.e. over its brine shaft). When Murgatroyd's chemical works was established in Booth Lane at Moston in 1949 brine  was sent  from this pump along 'the brine line' to the new works. The pipe line shown in our photo is the one used for this purpose and remains in existence to this day. Middlewich Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher, confirms this (see below).
Just to the left of where the pipe line starts is the corner of 'Station Field' where fairs and circuses were held in former years. The field was also, in the sixties, home to the 'Dennis White Foundation' and boasted soccer pitches, changing rooms and a social club. It is in this corner that the Middlewich ROC post was situated, although it's not really possible to tell from the picture what was actually there at the time. The whole area is now, of course, covered in industrial units.

Additional information from Middlewich Town Council's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher, who is spearheading the preservation project for the brine pump and has sent us the following information:

The Murgatroyd Brine Pump was used to supply brine to the Salt Houses and from 1949 to supply brine to the new Chemical site at Moston. Two extra pumps were set up which the pump man controlled to send pumped brine down the pipeline which was laid alongside the railway line. They are the ones in the picture and are still there. This pipeline was used up to 1977 when wild brine pumping ceased.


MURGATROYD'S BRINE PUMP

Geraldine Williams Station Field was also used as a playing field by St Mary's School for football and for sports days were held there. Denis - one-time Cllr - White used to hold whippet races on that field, using an upturned bicycle's pedal power to operate the 'hare'! All part of Denis' master plan to fund-raise for a swimming pool for the town. Hmm.


Mally Mal Fascinating detail!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

RE-DEDICATION OF THE WAR MEMORIAL 1972 (5) - BLACK WATCH ASSOCIATION BAND ON ST MICHAEL'S WAY

   Easily winning any 'first pipe band to use St Michael's Way' competition, the Black Watch Association Pipe Band lead the procession from the town centre to the British Legion Club on the occasion of the re-dedication of the town's main war memorial in 1972.
The 'new road' is not yet quite finished; its final tarmac surface is yet to be applied and, in the background, some last remnants of the town's industrial past are lingering on. Behind the lamp post, centre right,  Henry Seddon's offices in Pepper Street can be seen, with part of the works to their right.
A brand new wooden fence divides the site of the old salt works from the new 'inner relief road'

THE BLACK WATCH ASSOCIATION PIPE BAND

Monday, 17 October 2011

LEWIN STREET circa 1973

Jack Stanier was out and about recording the passing Middlewich scene at the same time as I was and most of his 35mm slides date from the early 1970s. This particular photo was taken, probably in 1973, from outside the Victoria Building in  Lewin Street and shows, in the distance, those buildings we've visited a few times already in this series; the C of E Infant School, the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and, between the two, 'Square One', the hardware shop.
We're dating this at around 1973 because the old workshops which fronted onto Lewin Street and Wych House Lane seem to have disappeared.
The white double fronted shop to the right of the chapel was, and is, Middlewich D.I.Y. and to the right of that are the shops which, at that time, were owned by the Howes family, of 'Howe's Pies' fame.
The pie shop itself was the one with the small window in the middle of the block, with its door  to the left.
There's a picture of the pie shop here, in a posting which tells a little about this Middlewich institution, but, in those days, there was no sign to indicate what the shop was. Presumably it didn't need one as the fame of the celebrated pies had already spread far and wide. They had been made on the premises for at least twenty years before this picture was taken.
To the right of the pie shop is Roland Howe's second hand shop where, as well as used furniture and the like, items such as brand new gas mantles, oil lamps and packets of 'dolly blue' could be bought, reflecting Roland's practice of buying up unsold stocks of such arcane material.
On the extreme right is a former butcher's shop which is now the 'Middlewich Fryer' (but still known to many as 'Giorgio's').
I'm not sure if the shop had started its new life as a chip shop at that time. It's hard to tell from this photograph. If not, it wasn't too long afterwards that fried potatoes and cod took over from prime cuts of beef and lamb.
In its original guise the chip shop retained the  tiling from the butchers business, showing idyllic rural scenes of cows grazing in meadows, but these are now long gone.
The road sign, to the left of the picture is of interest, although it's a shame that Jack didn't point his camera just a little more to the left so that we could see the whole thing.
The strange road configuration to the right of the sign shows Leadsmithy Street and its junction with the A54 on the Town Bridge, pointing the way to Winsford to the left and the M6 in the other direction.
The sign, inadvertently, gives the impression that Junction 18 of the M6 lies in a South-Easterly direction and, although Northwich and Chester are given as destinations on the sign, there is no indication that a left turn into King Street is needed to get there. In fact the sign seems to be telling motorists that both Chester and Northwich are also South-East of Middlewich.The road numbers in brackets are the clue to the real situation. The indication for the A54 to Winsford, which is partly visible at the top of the sign, does not apply to the M6 connection as might first be thought, but refers to the left hand route over Hightown which now, of course, runs in the other direction - i.e. from the Bullring to Lewin Street .

Facebook feedback:

  • Geraldine Williams I'm pretty sure that the butcher's shop was yet another Co-op enterprise and the building to the right of it (now demolished) was the Co-op Drapery store. The building with the 'For Sale' sign on the opposite side of the road was also a Co-op shop but I can't remember what it sold. That shop eventually became a launderette which also had a coin-operated dry cleaning machine.

  • Dave Roberts You're right, Geraldine. The laundrette was supervised by a Mrs Meakin who had twin sons. It was a  grocer's and general provisions shop in Co-op days. Nowadays, of course, it's Rowlands Chemist and Middlewich Post Office. Mr James Hardy is the current Postmaster.

    Stephen Dent
     I can knock on the wall to James and Mandy.


  • Dave Roberts I have an old picture somewhere showing the shop as a grocer's, with the Crown Hotel (now the 'Narrowboat') next door. We had it on the fridge door during a time when two of Lynne's sons, James and Peter, were working in adjacent buildings: James in the Post Office and Peter as Chef in the 'Narrowboat'.









    • Stephen Dent Not forgetting the Danes

    • Geraldine Williams Yes, even the carpets had a Great Dane pattern didn't they?


    • Dave Roberts They did. A carpet specially commissioned by the landlord, rumour had it, who was the world's foremost Great Dane fan. So much so that he named the pub after his own dogs.







      • Andrew Tomlinson Re the road sign - it is correct as far as I see - the first branch left is High town then short straight to what is now the lights - turn left for Winsford and right for M6, Northwich - further signs before station bridge would direct straight on for M6 and right turn unto King Street for Northwich


      • Dave Roberts Yes. It's right, just a little confusing if you don't know the area. As you say, once you've turned right at town bridge, everything becomes clear from the signs in Kinderton Street. I think what causes the confusion is the fact that there are (or were) TWO routes to Winsford then - over Hightown, and by turning left at Town Bridge. I don't think anyone ever had any problems, though.
        I think the point that Andrew is making is that the road sign in question, seen in its entirety here, is a diagram, rather than a  map, in just the same way as the London Tube 'map' is. It's not really designed to show you where you are, just tell you where to go.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

WILLOW WREN KEARNS 1972

Now better known under its trading name of Middlewich Narrowboats, Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd. is seen here in 1972, just one year after the company was established in Middlewich.
Our photograph is taken from Brooks Lane bridge and shows the company's base at Canal Terrace on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
The building in the centre of the photograph with the single chimney is a toll office, and you may just be able to make out the bow-fronted window which enabled toll collectors to see boats approaching from both directions. The whole complex of buildings at Canal Terrace is very historic, and includes stables in which canal horses were kept overnight.The low white building to the left of the toll office is the shop where maps, canal souvenirs, ice-creams, soft drinks etc. can be obtained.
Willow Wren, of course, is a well-known name in the canal carrying trade. They set up a hire cruiser company, Willow Wren Hire Cruisers Ltd, at Rugby in 1964, but, as far as can be ascertained, Willow Wren (Kearns) was always a separate company established here in 1971 and using converted working boats in the early years as well as boats based on custom built steel hulls.
The company's boats have always borne the names of trees: Ash, Beech, Oak, Larch etc.
Beyond the bend in the canal is a lock (the first of the 'Big Three' in Brooks Lane) and beyond it the canal makes an abrupt ninety-degree turn to the left before descending  into the town centre at Wych House Lane and heading in the direction of the Town Bridge, the Big Lock and Northwich. Next to this first lock is a dry-dock which was also at one time run by Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd. Contrary to popular belief, this was not always a dry-dock, but was, originally, a loading bay for Seddon's Salt in Brooks Lane, served by a tramway which ran across the road into the salt works.
These were early days for Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd and nowadays there are many more boats in evidence than shown in our 1972 picture.
One welcome enhancement which has appeared since those days is a picturesque Victorian style canopy, very reminiscent of something from an old-fashioned railway station, in front of the canal shop where boats are serviced, and cleaned.
Most of the information about the company in this posting comes from the internet. We welcome any additional information, especially about the relationship between the original Willow Wren Company and Middlewich Narrowboats.

UPDATE: As from the end of 2011 Middlewich Narrowboats is under new management.

See also MIDDLEWICH NARROWBOATS (LINK)

Friday, 14 October 2011

PARISH CHURCH FROM TOWN BRIDGE 1972

Another scene which doesn't seem to have changed all that much in the last thirty-nine years, apart from the all-enveloping dense vegetation which has engulfed the town since then. This view of St Michael & All Angels Church and its environs can best be dated by the antiquated looking cars (and the fact that there aren't many of them) and the total lack of traffic lights on the bridge. Few can deny that Middlewich these days is beset by severe traffic problems and that developments in the pipeline are calculated to make things much worse instead of better. Conversely, any scheme which might alleviate these problems has huge obstacles thrown up in its path. And how many towns are obliged to put up with a 'bypass' which comes to an abrupt halt in the middle of a field?
Anyway, back to 1972; to the right can be seen one of those confusing local signs pointing the way to 'Council Offices Sandbach' which actually became less confusing two years later when the Congleton Borough Council came into being and based its main offices at Westfields.The green sign above it directs people to Stoke-On-Trent.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

DERELICT HOUSE IN NANTWICH ROAD SEPTEMBER 2011

We only caught this one at the very last minute. Less than a week after our photo was taken this derelict house in Nantwich Road was reduced to a pile of rubble. It stood  just a few yards away from the aqueduct, and at the very top of the unadopted road which runs  along the top of the steep embankment above the roadway and provides access to the houses which adjoin the school playing fields. It could also be seen from the top end of Hannah's Walk, near the point where it joins the canal towpath, and from the towpath itself.
It lay derelict for many years, with its garden very overgrown and, as can be seen from the photo, was vandalised and eventually gutted by fire.
I noticed that something was happening  in the middle of September. Workmen were on site clearing the dense vegetation and building bonfires to burn it and some of the remaining timber from the house. I took the above photo and, the next time I was in the area the bulldozers were on site and had knocked the house down, leaving the pile of rubble seen in the third photo.
Passers by who were watching the demolition told me that they'd heard that local builder Andy Clarke had bought the house and land.
No doubt quite soon a new house and garden will occupy this spot*. In the meantime, does anyone know anything of the history of this house? From its location, and from the style of the house, it must have been a luxurious home in its day. The photograph below shows what appears to have been a fishpond, complete with rustic bridge, in what remains of the garden; a testament to happier times and better days.
* More than one, in fact. See Facebook feedback, below
Facebook feedback:
Stephen Koralski We used to go in there as teenagers and the electricity still worked. It was where I met a lot of friends - shame on who ever burnt it down,it was a nice place!

Stephen Dent:Outline planning permission was granted in 2009 to build 6 new detached houses on this land which was formerly 123 Nantwich Road. Go to http://www.doc.macclesfield.gov.uk/AnitePublicDocs/07046239.pdf to see the detail

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

DEMOLITION OF SHOPS ON HIGHTOWN 1972


by Dave Roberts

1972 seems to have been a pivotal year for Middlewich. It was the year that demolition began in earnest as the first stage in the 'redevelopment' of the town centre, and in this picture we can see the shops in Hightown which were sacrificed, along with the Town Hall, to create the much criticised 'piazza' in front of St Michael & All Angels church. A crude, rather home made-looking sign asking people to 'please cross over' can be seen next to the shops.
To the right  is that mysterious black oblong which seems to find its way into many pictures taken at the time. It's the canopy over the front of the 'Co-op Superstore' and it disappeared a long time ago.
On the left, almost out of shot, we can just see Middlewich's  war memorial, boarded up with what look like old doors, prior to its removal for protection during the demolition.
The 'No Entry' signs clearly show that the traffic flow at the time was in the 'Northwich', rather than the 'Sandbach' direction. 
For a time, after the traffic flow was reversed, and much to everyone's amusement, the old 'left turn only' sign at the bottom of Queen Street was left in situ when the newer 'right turn only' sign was put in place. Local people, of course, knew the score, but many a hapless visitor to the town ended up rather perplexed.
In front of what was then the National Westminster Bank, out of shot to the right, is the bus stop, now replaced by the 'bus interchange' on a short stub of road which  used to be part of Lower Street.

The scene after demolition can be seen here.