Thursday, 22 December 2016

MANOR LODGE - A CHRISTMAS MEMORY



By Dave Roberts
Here's a little corner of Middlewich which hasn't changed much over the years (or has it? See the link below -Ed), and always reminds me of Christmas time because of a particular memory from long ago.
Manor Lodge, just off  Nantwich Road and very near to the Aqueduct which carries the SUC Middlewich Branch canal over that road, stands at the top of the former carriage drive which made its way (and, in a way, still does) through the gateway on the left in a straight line towards Middlewich Manor. 



The Lodge is seen here in the winter of 1974. Sometime after this photograph was taken, the gate-post seen at the left hand side of the building fell into disrepair and lost its top. That top,complete with decorative ball, after spending years lying forlornly in the undergrowth, has recently been restored to its rightful position, another one of those little touches which, all put together, make a difference and make the town look as though someone cares (In fact, the saga of the Manor Lodge gate-post was only just beginning. The link towards the end of this entry will tell you more).
The reason this attractive building reminds me of Christmas every time I see it goes back 51 years to 1960 when I was, for a very short time, a member of the Church Choir at St Michael's Church.
As it was the Christmas season, it was decreed that members of the choir should walk all around the town singing carols. I don't recall there being any other motive behind this festive goodwill gesture - there may have been, but I was only eight at the time and wouldn't have been interested even if someone had told me. I don't think we were collecting money for charity or anything like that, just singing carols for the sake of it  because, at Christmas, that's what Church choirs did. And still do, of course.
We duly wandered around what was at that time still a smoky little industrial town singing festive songs to anyone who would listen and eventually, after making our way along Nantwich Road and under the aqueduct, found ourselves at Manor Lodge, where we dispensed more carols in return for mince pies and pop (at that time most likely to be the legendary Tizer, the favoured drink of the youth of the day).
But this wasn't the end of the journey by any means. Our ultimate destination lay at the Manor itself, at that time the home of Mr E.K. Willing-Denton and family.
And so we made our way along that carriage drive. You can still make the same journey today but the difference is that, once you get a short distance along it, the carriage drive turns into Kerridge Close. Walk a bit further and you'll find yourself walking along the footpath of Greendale Drive. Both these modern interlopers are built (more or less) on the alignment of the old drive.
In 1960 it was carriage-drive all the way to the Manor.
In my mind's eye I can still see us making that journey all those years ago, dressed in traditional Victorian costume and carrying those candle lamps on sticks through the snows of December.
But there, of course, my mind's eye is playing tricks on me, as it always does. We weren't in Victorian costume (nor even dressed as choirboys - it would have been a bit cold), we didn't have any lamps, candle or otherwise, and, I don't think it was snowing either.

We made our way through this then rural part of the town, passing through what children now call 'Mystery Wood' (there is some dispute at the moment over the correct name for these woods. Some say 'Mystery', some say 'Misty'. In 1960 - I am trying hard not to say 'in my day' - they weren't called anything. They were just 'the woods', and there was a lot more of them. See the comments below from Daniel Preston), and along the tree-lined drive to the Manor itself.



There we were met by the Willing-Dentons who plied us with more festive fare. More mince pies, and more Tizer with, no doubt, cups of tea for the senior members of the choir, if not something a little stronger.
Just a little idle memory, but it still haunts me every time I walk past Manor Lodge, particularly at this time of the year.
The Manor, of course, is now a Nursing Home and the last time I visited it (ironically to do a spot of singing and entertaining) was shortly after my Mother died.
The place had hardly changed at all, but the first thing I saw when I entered the imposing hallway was the door to one of the residents rooms which bore a sign saying DORIS ROBERTS.
This brought me up with quite a start. But that's another story altogether...

Editor's note:  The area may not have changed much, but the Lodge itself certainly has. See this posting

Facebook Feedback (from the 'You Know You're From Middlewich When...Group):

Daniel Preston Having read the part in the story where some dispute is mentioned over the name of Mystery Woods, I can say that that is what we called the woods in the sixties. As noted in the diary, Mystery Woods covered a lot more ground in those days.

Dave Roberts Ah! Other people have told me they remember the name from quite a few years ago, so it must be one of those inexplicable gaps in my education. Others, including Dave Griffiths (see comments) remember the area being known as 'Manor Woods', which would certainly make sense. I spent a lot of time there with my brothers (drinking Tizer and eating Smiths Crisps) when I was really tiny and we lived just down the road at 53 Nantwich Road, but I only ever heard the name 'Mystery Woods' in the last few years. It's an 'official' name, by the way; officers from the dreaded Cheshire East Council have it in their sights and are looking at how it can be 'managed'. Leave it alone would be my suggestion. Or, if it really has to be 'managed', get someone who knows what they're doing to manage it...





Originally published 10th December 2011
Re-published 19th December 2013
and 22nd December 2016

9 comments:

  1. The Lodge was once owned by my Grandfather Albert Buckley, and at times he used to take me to the lodge, late 1940's early 1950's.

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  2. I remember the Willing-Dentons arriving and causing quite a stir in Middlewich. The lady was a little eccentric to say the least and the gentleman was always rushing around looking important. Eventually the people were impressed and he was elected Mayor although what he knew about Middlewich as a new arrival was a mystery. I knew his son slightly, he was as wild as any wayward prodigal son could be. He would climb to the very top of a large tree. And jump. He'd break his fall with his arms on the branches as he fell. Mad. I believe he was crushed in a mining accident in Australia. Would be quite in character.

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  3. Willing-Denton forced McLeans developers to build the footpath in Greendale Close that mimicked the old carriageway, so that he still had his right of way through to the Manor. Also in the early days of construction. McLeans had to install manually operated traffic lights for Willing-Denton on that path so that he was not held up by any construction traffic or visitors. He told me this himself in 1981 as we were locked into a contract with McLeans for the house that backed onto the Manor. this contract was going nowhere as Willing- Denon had a right of way through the property.

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  4. In the mid to late '50's we always knew these woods as 'Manor Woods' - a very lucrative source of conkers in the autumn. Also I'm sure that there was a small graveyard in the woods, at least what appeared to be headstones, - somewhere to the right of the drive up to the manor.

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  5. Growing up Near (ish) to there in the 70s, we always knew it as mystery wood.

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  6. Lorraine Yearsley23 December 2016 at 02:38

    In the 1970s I was invited to join a group called The Middlewich Heritage Society. Willing-Denton was the chair and members included Mike Hyde and Frank Field. We met at the manor and discussed local development with a scattering of art and literature. Not sure if there were any benefits for the town but I enjoyed the eclectic mix of people and discussion.
    Also recall an election party at Manor Lodge when it was the home of Anita Booth. Everyone was intrigued by her water bed!

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  7. I think what you have in mind was the Middlewich Civic Society, which also had as members Mr and Mrs Millington from St Ann's Road. The Middlewich Heritage Society, which was founded by Ian McQueen and myself, among others, started in 1985 and is, of course, still going strong. Also created around the same time as the Civic Society was the Middlewich Action Group, a gang of disreputable ne'er-do-wells which recognised even then that Middlewich was getting a raw deal from the Congleton Borough Council and sought to do something about it.

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  8. Me and my mates used to play in Mystery Wood it was the stretch of wood from the Spar Shop to the carriage way leading to the Manor House. The other side of this carriage way was Manor Wood where we had a Tarzan swing. I met the Booths and did some gardening work for them around 1970.

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  9. My granddads brother was a groom/coachman at The Manor House in the late 1800s to early 1900s .....

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