Monday, 26 December 2011

HIGHTOWN and MIDDLEWICH TOWN HALL 1960s

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by Dave Roberts
This photograph from the Paul Hough Collection shows one of old Middlewich's most missed buildings, the Victorian Town Hall which stood on Hightown until the early 1970s. The clue to its position lies in the metal church gatepost on the right which is still there and is just a few yards away from the town's main war memorial.
The Town Hall appears to be quite small from this angle but, in fact, extended a long way back across the whole width of the churchyard and had its back door on Lower Street, just where the 'Town Bridge end' of the amphitheatre is now. Until the early 1930s the Town Hall was even longer but it was shortened to enable the widening of Lower Street. A sizeable portion of the churchyard was also removed for the same reason.
There is a lot of nostalgia for Middlewich's lost Town Hall. People remember it as the venue for the Saturday Night dances of their youth with Percy Bailey's Band; older residents go back further, to the wartime dances organised for (and sometimes by) the American servicemen stationed at nearby Byley airfield.
The St Michael's Players, the local amateur dramatic group, also used the hall.
I have one vivid memory of the Town Hall which goes back to 1968 when I was 16 and still at school.
I spent one late Summer afternoon sitting in the Church yard wondering, as 16 year olds will, what I was going to do with my life (I will be 60 next year, by the way, and I'm still wondering).
In the adjacent Town Hall someone had set up a record-player and, through an open window throughout that sunny afternoon, played the same record over and over again:
SUNSHINE GIRL - HERMAN'S HERMITS
The following year the Town Hall was replaced, for entertainment purposes at least,  by the Civic Hall, tacked onto the back of the council offices in Lewin Street.
But in its day, the Town Hall was more than just an entertainment venue; it also served at various times as the town's library, MUDC offices and court room.
The reason given for the demolition of the hall was that the upstairs room, where the entertainment took place, had an 'unsafe floor'.
I've been told since that that unsafe floor had, in fact, been replaced not too long before the hall was closed, but no matter - by the early 70s this ornamented and castellated building had had its day.
By this time, also, the shops further down Hightown were also looking decidedly dilapidated and the whole block was swept away to produced an open space in the heart of the town which, after a time as the windswept and forlorn looking 'piazza', now provides a superb outdoor performance area suitable for events such as the MFAB Festival and Santa's visit with his reindeer each year.
On the left of the photograph, we can see Hulme's Grocers*, with its pyramids of canned goods. This building is now the Accord Clinic.
P.S. When I was doing  a little research for this article on the internet I was puzzled to find that, despite the fact that Middlewich Town Hall disappeared in the early 1970s, people were still visiting it. Or claiming to, that is.
Peter Moore Dutton of Tushingham went to 'Middlewich Town Hall' in December 2001 to pick up copies of Tim Strickland's Roman Middlewich book; Cheshire & Warrington CVS were advertising concerts 'featuring Slipstream, Crash Test and Taking Liberties' at 'Middlewich Town Hall' in June 2011 and  November's Sincerely Abba concert was also, according to 'Welcome to Cheshire and Chester', held at 'Middlewich Town Hall'.
Pardonable mistakes, of course. The Victoria Building and the Civic Hall are, to all intents and purposes, now 'Middlewich Town Hall', and you can quite see how people from outside the area might make that assumption.
Indeed, by 2015, after taking over  responsibility for the Civic Hall and Victoria Building, the Town Council had made the sensible decision to formally name Victoria Building  'The Town Hall' and the former Civic Hall the 'Town Hall Entertainment Suite'.
UPDATE (2016) A short time later, the 'Town Hall Entertainment Suite' was re-christened 'The Victoria Hall', an even more fitting name.
*Geraldine Williams has told me that a true Middlewicher would use the expression 'Grocer Hulme's'. But I'm not a true Middlewicher.
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Editor's note:
You will have noted that we have credited this particular photograph to the Paul Hough Collection. It does, however, also appear on page 83 of  Images of England - Middlewich by Brian Curzon and Paul Hurley (Tempus Publishing 2005) - although their version of it is not as clear as the one we have used.
Other photos from the collection also appear in the book.
Messrs Curzon and Hurley's book is based on 'a collection of slides bought at an auction' with additional pictures from Brian Curzon's own collection.
The Paul Hough Collection, which we are using with his permission, was passed on to him by a friend:
They were scanned from a mate's photo album; he was the previous owner of Middlewich Auto Spares in Wheelock Street. A photographer was taking photos of his premises, apparently stables of yesteryear (Doctor's Surgery?) and sold him the prints. That's as much as I know about them. So I thought it was the correct thing to share them!! 
It seems obvious that there is more than one set of prints/slides of these photographs and their exact origin and copyright holder may never be known.
However, if you have any information as to the original source of these excellent photographs, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
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2 comments:

  1. Just had a good look at this picture and I noticed the Dry Cleaners shop to the immediate left of the Town Hall. I believe the name might be Marvell Dry Cleaners and I worked for them in Northwich around 1963. I remember that the boss lived at Stanthorne Grange on Middlewich Road with his son Geoff who also managed the business.

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  2. It was great to see a picture of the old Town Hall. I remember going to the Annual Police Ball, Putty(as he was affectionately known)Bailey's dance band and Frank Johnson was the vocalist.

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