Wednesday, 29 February 2012

NOW & THEN: MANOR LODGE 1974 and 2011

(ORIGINAL DATE FOR THIS DIARY ENTRY: 20/12/2011)
In this posting we published a slide of Manor Lodge, close to the aqueduct in Nantwich Road, and blithely threw out the opinion that 'nothing much' had changed. Which, of course, teaches us yet again not to try to rely on memory alone. The Manor Lodge building has in fact changed radically since 1974, as can be seen from these comparison pictures.
At least some of the transformation has been brought about by local building firm Hough Construction, as this series of photographs from one of their publicity handouts shows us.
Photos: Hough Construction UK Ltd
Which reminds us of another point about local conservation, preservation and restoration. Renovation of buildings doesn't just happen. Someone has to have plans drawn up and engage people to actually do the hard work. Hough Construction has been involved in many  projects locally in recent years, including restoration work on some of Middlewich's historic buildings, and the company's website has photographs of some of the work they have carried out.
UPDATE: 10th January 2012:
There appears to have been some sort of mishap at Manor Lodge. The stone gatepost which had been painstakingly put back together has been knocked over, and this time the ball on the top has sheared in half. The window behind it (seen on the bottom most Hough Construction photo above) is boarded up, and the corner of the roof has been damaged. It looks as though a large vehicle has either run into or backed into the driveway and gone out of control. Does anyone know what happened? -Ed


UPDATE: 11th January 2012:
Well who better to tell us than the owner of the property, Ewan Macdonald, who posted the following on our Middlewich Diary Facebook Group page:


'A car hit the gatepost at high speed. Knocked one of the blocks up into the roof, damaging eaves, while another block went straight throught the front window. Happened late Boxing Night while we were away. Hopefully Patrick will be able to fix it!'


We're very grateful to Ewan for taking the time and trouble to tell us what happened. Here's a set of recent photos for those who like puzzles. See if you can figure out how it all goes back together...-Ed


CLUE: This is what it's supposed to look like........
SEE ALSO: MANOR LODGE EARLY 20th CENTURY


UPDATE (29th February 2012):


We're grateful to Ewan Macdonald for supplying this photo of the brand new gatepost at Manor Lodge:


As Ewan himself says, let's hope it stays vertical for a few years now!

SEDDON'S OFFICES PEPPER STREET 1920s



When Hentry Seddon & Sons Ltd issued the brochure from which the above illustration of the firm's Pepper Street offices is taken, they were obviously keen to make an impact as a modern, go-ahead company in the spirit of the age.
Hence the somewhat stylised depiction of the Middlewich HQ seen here with the very latest in road vehicles parked outside, giving an impression of dynamic but quiet efficiency.
Most of the photographs we use on A Middlewich Diary are very little altered before publication; sometimes we increase the contrast or alter the colouring slightly to make them a little clearer, but mostly they're pretty much as they always were.
This is not the case with this particular photograph.
The original was graced with blue spot colour in an attempt to give the impression of those perennial clear blue skies which everyone likes to think were once common over Middlewich.
We've rendered the whole thing into black and white to make it look a little more natural.
Once again, as with other photos in the brochure in question, the art of the re-toucher is much in evidence, particularly on either side of the main building. This was obviously done to make the office block itself stand out from its surroundings. So why, then, was the row of houses on the left included in the picture?  (those houses, incidentally, still exist and are now the whole extent of modern day Pepper Street - one of them is the house in which our old friend Sherry Hill Smith once lived)
We're wondering if it's because it would have been too difficult to preserve the outline of the motor lorry on the left?
Incidentally, as we've mentioned before, re-touching of photographs was very common in this era. Many people considered photographs to be almost akin to paintings, and the 'artistic license' afforded to painters - who often painted what they would have liked to have been in a scene, rather than what they were actually looking at - was extended to professional photographers too. The problem in many cases was that the methods used were crude, and they were often clumsily executed.
We're wondering if the SE DD ON lettering in the windows was placed there especially for the photograph? It just doesn't look very convincing somehow.
Or was it another little touch added during processing by the re-toucher?
And why has one of the windows, top centre, been blacked out?
But, in any case, the whole attempt at portraying businesslike, thrusting modernity is marred somewhat by some feckless member of the lower orders leaving his bike propped up in the open doorway.
The re-toucher doesn't seem to have noticed.
You can see these offices as they were after the works closed  here . Note that in the later view  of the office building (from the 1970s), that upper central window has been considerably altered.


Facebook feedback:


Geraldine Williams: This pic shows off perfectly the godsend side wall (not a window in sight) where we local girls honed our twosie-and-threesie tennis ball skills most evenings during the Summer.




Monday, 27 February 2012

FILLING SALT SACKS AT MURGATROYD's 1960s

If you own the copyright on this image, or know who does, please let us know
A photograph which is fairly self-explanatory. The lady shown here, and the worker behind her (presumably another lady) are filling sacks with salt by the simple expedient of opening a hatch in the salt store and letting the free-running salt flow into them.
By this time women had, through the introduction of various Factory Acts and other legislation, long been banned from working in the arduous salt making process itself, but many of them were employed in jobs such as this, and also in stitching and check-weighing the sacks before despatch.
Others spent their working hours packing batches of boxed table salt or in loading boats, lorries and railway wagons.
As can be seen from the photograph, the working conditions were very basic, and would never be tolerated these days.
There's a photograph on page 29 of Wych & Water (Middlewich Vision 2009) showing exactly the same process being carried on at one of the Seddon's works.
In the present day anyone travelling on the road from Middlewich to Sandbach - or travelling in a more leisurely way on the Trent & Mersey Canal -  can get a good view of the vast salt stockpile at British Salt where pallets full of bagged salt are loaded onto lorries for onward despatch. Occasionally you can see a dumper truck loading loose salt in the same location. This is not to be confused with the 'salt mountain' in a different part of the site which famously helped rescue the country's roads a few years ago during bad winter weather.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

NOW and THEN: WHITE HORSE ALLEY

Mike Jennings' photos of White Horse Alley provoked such a response, particularly from people who remembered, or knew people who lived in, the little cottages behind the White Horse itself, that we thought it would be a good idea to feature a comparison between the area as it was in the early 1970s and the present day.
The 1970s picture, taken from the Paul Hough collection, is reproduced full size below.
The obvious difference between the now and then shots is, of course, that the cottages were still recognisable as such in the early 1970s. In fact the middle one of the three appears from the photograph to have been more or less intact at that time, and there might even have been someone living there. Does anyone know if that was the case?
The one furthest away from the camera in the 1970s shot seems to have lost its upper storey and to be close to the end of the line. This was the cottage which, in our earlier Diary entry, provoked the comparison with the 'smallest house in Britain' on Conway Harbour.
It was a very tiny house indeed.
Looking at the 2012 picture it is not at all clear which houses the surviving walls actually belonged to. There seems to have been much rebuilding of those walls and those who never saw the cottages in earlier days could be forgiven for not knowing that that length of wall in the middle of the shot was ever part of a building.
But that grey sheet of corrugated iron seems to have a raised doorstep underneath it and so is probably the location of the doorway of the middle cottage (the window having been filled in to form a solid brick wall) and the length of low wall beyond it may well be the last remains of that tiny cottage next door.
 If you own the copyright on this image, or know who does, please let us know.
From the Paul Hough Collection, the Lewin Street end of White Horse Alley as it was around the early 1970s. The rear wall of the White Horse is on the left and between that and the boarded up house next door is what looks like a bricked-up alley or ginnel.
The three cottages in this little row are all of different sizes and different designs, and appear to have been built in a piecemeal fashion, most likely by various builders and over a lengthy period of time.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

WHITE HORSE ALLEY 2012


by Dave Roberts

Mike Jennings was out with his camera at the start of 2012 to bring us these pictures of White Horse Alley which, for those who don't know, runs from Lewin Street (alongside the pub which gives it its name) and past Market Field (best known these days as the venue for the Middlewich FAB Festival) to join with St Ann's Walk immediately adjacent to the Oaklands Medical Centre.
The right of way then continues across the High School's car park and around the back of the Sports Hall to eventually reach St Ann's Road.
At one time pedestrians could take a more direct route through the school grounds, but this was never popular with people who at times had to run the gauntlet of some  cheeky and appallingly bad-mannered schoolchildren.
When Mike originally sent these photos to us in January, he was asking if anyone knew why White Horse Alley had been blocked off at both ends.
Seemingly, the answer is quite obvious: it's been sealed off pending the start of work on the extension to the aforementioned Oaklands Medical Centre in  St. Ann's Walk which, since there seems to be no sign of the work in question starting, would appear to be something of a premature move.
The main picture (above) shows the alley looking towards Lewin Street. Part of the Wych Centre on Market Field is just visible top left. 
This part of White Horse Alley was always a good short cut from Market Field to the White Horse during the original Folk & Boat Festival. The festival's compere could make it back to the mainstage in less than a minute after a Festival Saturday afternoon drinking session with Jerry at the pub.
I know, I was that compere.
The alley does not run in a straight line; there is an S-bend close to the remains of the little houses which once fronted onto the alley (see below).
On the other side of the hedge on the right is a field where Mr Smallwood, who lived nearby, kept sheep.
It was the presence of those sheep just yards away from the main Folk Festival site which led, among other considerations, to the cancellation of the 2001 Folk & Boat Festival in the middle of a Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak.
The risk was just too high.
Some have claimed that 'the festival went ahead anyway' because a couple of pubs held music sessions.
Not so. A couple of sessions in a couple of pubs do not a festival make.

Mike's other photographs show (clockwise from top left): 1: A little further down the alley, towards Lewin Street. Some of the gates, fences and sheds of the gardens of Rosemount, backing onto the alley, can be seen on the left; 2: The view across the top end of what was once Mr Smallwood's sheep pasture looking back towards the property across the road from the White Horse in Lewin Street; 3: The last remains of the cottages (at least one of them a serious rival for Conway's 'smallest house in Britain' claim) which once fronted onto White Horse Alley, looking up towards the start of that 'S bend' 4: The same properties seen looking in the opposite direction, towards Lewin Street. the late Mr Smallwood's house is on the opposite side of the fence on the left. The barrier recently erected to prevent access from the Lewin Street end of White Horse Alley can be seen centre left. The White Horse pub itself is immediately to the right of it.
White Horse Alley is sometimes erroneously referred to as a 'cobbled alley'. Those are not cobbles, but setts - square shaped dressed stones, much more uniformly sized than cobbles and giving a smoother surface.
Many of Middlewich's main streets were laid with setts, and they're still there under the modern Tarmac surfaces.
Whenever the roads need to be dug up it's possible to see the original setts. 
Which, Middlewich being the way it is, means that the opportunity arises very frequently indeed.


Here's an older photograph of the Lewin Street end of White Horse Alley, showing those tiny cottages before they fell into complete disrepair. This comes from our diary entry 'Now & Then: White Horse Alley' which can be found here




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


Cat Cotterill My Nan used to live next door but one to the alley, and I can remember her taking my cousins and I to the smaller field behind the White Horse to see John's cows.
Also I can remember the fair moving to the field behind that (which I believe now has tennis courts on) (Quite possibly Cat means the all weather football pitch at the top of the alley - Ed)


Daniel Preston I remember windows in the cottages along there, the glass green and bulging at the bottom, the sound (sic) having slowly succumbed to gravity over the centuries.


Andy Kendrick The cottages which used to be on White Horse Alley were where my parents used to live when they had just married. My Dad told me some good stories about the characters who used to knock around in those days.



Thursday, 16 February 2012

LEWIN STREET 1950s

We believe this image to be out of copyright. if you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
by Dave Roberts
One recurring theme in our Middlewich Diary is the fact that although the streets of Middlewich have changed over the years, they have not changed so much as to be unrecognisable. And here's a case in point from the Paul Hough Collection.
This photograph must be getting on for sixty years old and yet if you were to stand in the same place today with a camera you could take a photograph which would be almost startlingly similar to this one.
To the right is the Cheshire Cheese, now extended somewhat to encompass the little cottage to the right of it, but basically the same place. Is that a Ford Prefect standing outside?
How many people remember the shop next door, now just a terraced house like all the rest in the row?
In fact Lewin Street was never a shopping street in the way that Wheelock Street was (and is); it was always a mixture of houses, shops, pubs, churches and public buildings.
Most of the shops were found further down the street towards the town centre in the area where the Winsford Co-Op dominated, but in this part of Lewin Street, around the British Legion Club (out of shot to the left and at this date occupying its old premises - the present club was built in the early 1960s) were a few shops including 'Lil Brock's' Newsagents  (behind and to the left of the camera, and now part of Cash's Garage) and  Horace's barber's shop in the row of houses on the left (now replaced by Larry's, just across the road from the camera and out of shot).
Then there was Annie Blackburn's fruit shop (relocated at some point from further down the street) and Cy Gillett's grocery shop, both in the middle distance, round about where the van is.
But I think that most, if not all, of these were  in the future when this photograph was taken.
I'm sure that people will come forward with a few (approximate) dates.
Just above the black car on the left is the location of one of Mike Jennings' Guard Stones, at the end of what is now a pathway which runs from Lewin Street alongside Bembridge Court and connects onto Bembridge Drive. This little passageway appears to have no name and is not marked on any maps (we've marked it in red on the OS map below).
The top end of this passageway would probably not have existed at the time of our photo (although the bottom part of it would, of course, have given access to the rear of the houses on either side of it) and would  not have had anything to connect with anyway, except, perhaps, Derbyshire's orchards..
Oddly Bembridge Drive, although it is shown on the map, is  not given a name either, though this is probably just an omission by the printers..
We welcome your memories of Lewin Street




Tuesday, 14 February 2012

LOADING SALT AT SEDDON'S BROOKS LANE 1920s

We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know.
This photograph, which was originally titled 'loading block salt', actually shows two types of salt - block salt and common salt - being loaded at Seddon's loading bay in Brooks Lane, a facility which we were able to see the (much altered) last remains of here  in 1974. 
Practically nothing is left in the present day.
The picture has all the hallmarks of a specially posed publicity picture.
Everything is simple, clean, neat and tidy and quite a lot of airbrushing has been going on, particularly in the background where, on the other side of the railway, the countryside has been doctored to look more like the rolling downs of Sussex than Cheshire meadowland.
For example, surely there would have been far more barrows full of block salt waiting to be loaded into that box wagon, and far more people doing the loading?
Similarly, there would have been an army of workers loading the common salt into open wagons from those little tramway trucks.
The whole loading area would have been cluttered and slightly chaotic, as anyone who has ever worked in such an environment could tell you.
Notice that the block salt appears to be being loaded into an ordinary box wagon with a curved roof rather than the specialised 'cottage tops' which the Middlewich Salt Company used, as seen here. Seddon's did use 'cottage tops' too, as shown below:
Seddon's Salt Wagon. Notice the distinctive shaded lettering in Seddon's house style, as also seen on the brine tanks at the Brooks Lane, Pepper Street and Wych House Lane works. The wagons in the photo above would also have been painted in these Seddon's 'red lead' colours with the characteristic black and white lettering. Simpson's, who shared part of the site with Seddon's, and packed salt there (they also had premises in Nottingham and described themselves as 'salt-refiners') also had trucks of this kind , but painted a brighter shade of red.


The tramway is also of interest; at various times there were tramways all over this site (see page 38 of Wych & Water (Middlewich Vision 2009) and one extended from the main entrance of the works and across Brooks Lane to a loading bay on a short spur off the Trent & Mersey Canal.
That loading bay is now Middlewich Dry Dock.
Seddon's on Brooks Lane, along with the adjacent Murgatroyd's, had the luxury of its own loading facilities connecting directly with the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich branch of the LNWR (later LMS) via the salt siding, but the Seddon's works in Pepper Street, although it lay on the Trent & Mersey Canal, had no direct rail facilities.
Salt from there was taken by horse and cart to Middlewich Station and loaded into the same vans and open wagons.
We have dated this photograph as '1920s' because of its style and presentation but, as with every Middlewich Diary entry, we are open to corrections and additional information and look forward to hearing from you if you can tell us more about this picture.


Monday, 13 February 2012

CROXTON FLINT MILL, CROXTON HALL FARM AND THE D&D SALT WORKS

Following on from our deliberations on the weir (or 'water fall') at Croxton, here's a section from an old Ordnance Survey map of 1909 (with additions to 1938), showing the location of the flint mill adjacent to the aqueduct where the Trent & Mersey canal crosses over the River Dane.
It is, of course, just our luck that the weir itself is a matter of millimetres off the map, as are the buildings we are trying to identify - in particular that large house which appears to have stood on the river bank close to the weir.
Our problem being, of course, that the house in the photo appears to be too close to the river bank to be Croxton Hall Farm.
Is it just a foreshortening effect?
It's certainly not the farm which is there now.
But, in the end, we have to conclude that the large house shown here must be the original Croxton Hall Farm. What else could it be?
This entry contains information which may help clear up the mystery

The original purpose of Frank's diagram was to explain the large mound still to be seen (from the Croxton Lane Bridge) in the field next to the river.
At one time there was an ornamental pool close to this mound, stocked with fish and fed from the River Dane, as shown.
Frank's theory was that the well-to-do inhabitants of Croxton Hall Farm would sit on the mound on warm summer evenings and enjoy the sight of the pool and the surrounding countryside.
The mound was made up of the earth excavated to make the pool, which was filled in during the 1950s by silt from 'the ICI reservoir'.
A row of poplar trees was planted along the river's edge to screen the salt works (marked here as 'D & D' salt works) from view.
The 'D& D' Salt Works, by the way, is the 'Dairy & Domestic' Salt Works, which was adjacent to the Condensed Milk Factory alongside the Trent & Mersey canal. It was at its most extensive in the late 19th century, and we looked at the last remnants of it here.
Waterside Way and adjacent developments have now obliterated all traces of it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

THE BEST OF MIDDLEWICH: THE CANALS AND RIVERS OF MIDDLEWICH (FACEBOOK PAGE)

Croxton Lane Bridge

This  photograph is by Jim Moores and is just one of many superb photographs and videos on  Jim's  Facebook page  The Canals And Rivers Of Middlewich.  Well worth looking at and subscribing to.

SAXA SALT WAGON - THE REAL THING

Following our entry showing a Hornby Dublo model of a Saxa Salt railway wagon, here's  the real thing, as photographed by Chris Beard, who discovered it in a Scottish museum some years ago.
This picture shows one of these wagons as it would have looked prior to 1948, as evidenced by the fact that the return location for the empty vehicle is shown as MIDDLEWICH LMS (LNW).
The inscription above that indicates that the wagon is the property of THE MIDDLEWICH SALT Co Ltd (as, of course, does the SAXA SALT lettering emblazoned across the side).
It will be noted that the SAXA SALT lettering shown here is actually different from the lettering on the Hornby model. The 'S', in particular, appears to be in a completely different typeface.

Further evidence of the wagon's private owner status is in the words NON-POOL on the left, designed to prevent some railway yard foreman somewhere appropriating it for another use.
This would seem to be unlikely to happen anyway, due to the vehicle's high-profile yellow and red livery.
The Middlewich Salt Company features in this entry, which has proved to be one of our most popular diary entries, with the second highest number of  'hits' since we started in June 2011.
Many thanks to Chris for sending us the photo and for going to the trouble of tracking down the name of the museum where this restored wagon can be found. Here's a link.

SEDDON'S SALT PACKERS AT PEPPER STREET

We believe this photograph to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
Today, from the Carole Hughes collection, we feature a remarkable photograph of women workers (and one gentleman) at Seddon's Salt Works in Pepper Street, probably in the 1930s or 1940s. We have no information on this photograph, so we're assuming that they were salt packers. If you know differently, and/or can put names to some of these ladies, we'd be interested to hear from you.
We're placing this photo as no later than the 1940s, because of the Middlewich Gas Works, which can be seen in the background.
Most of the works, as seen here, including the tall chimney, had disappeared by the end of the 1950s but, as we know, that bridge carrying the gas over the Trent & Mersey canal and into the town survived until the early 1970s.
In fact we have seen this little corner of Seddon's works before in 'A Middlewich Diary', and below are the two photographs together for comparison.
The works, in common with all traditional open pan works, looked almost as dilapidated when it was in full production as it did just before demolition.
Carole Hughes Collection/Salt Town Productions
Facebook feedback:


Robert Sheckleston I think a couple of those ladies moved on and worked ont he salt floor at Cerebos/RHM on Booth Lane


Liza Cornall Are two of those ladies twins?


Robert Sheckleston No, I don't think so.



Saturday, 11 February 2012

MIDDLEWICH HISTORY IN MINIATURE



Illustration: Vintage Model Trains
There was a time when no model railway layout was complete without at least one of these.
It is, of course, a Hornby-Dublo Saxa Salt wagon, with its distinctive peaked roof.
Saxa Salt is still the country's leading brand of salt (although these days, the brand is part of  Premier Foods and its actual place of origin is never made clear).
Saxa was launched in 1907 by the Middlewich Salt Company, later to be absorbed by Cerebos and was the core brand of both companies.
Nowadays, as explained on the Premier Foods website (link below), people asking for 'Saxa' are just as likely to be after sea salt, or rock salt or even 'low-salt' salt as ordinary table salt.
The younger element were always fascinated by the Saxa Salt railway wagons (Murgatroyd's and other salt companies used them too) resembling as they did, little 'houses' on wheels.
In fact, railway workers habitually referred to them as 'cottage tops'.
The 'house style' roof was there for a very good, and quite obvious, reason.
Salt had to be kept dry and the sloping roof was intended, just as a house roof is, to keep off the driving rain.
The wagons' roofs were covered in roofing felt, giving them even more of a look of a yellow garden shed on wheels.
Although these vehicles were very common in this and other salt districts, they were not unique to the trade.
They were also used for carrying lime and other powdered chemicals which needed to be kept dry.

PREMIER FOODS - SAXA

P.S. The illustration above is borrowed from e-bay. A piece of Miniature Middlewich history could be yours for less than a tenner, if you're quick.

Following the publication of this diary entry, Chris Beard got in touch to tell us of a preserved example of the once numerous Saxa Salt wagons in Scotland. Here's Chris's photograph of the real thing.




 Find out more here




Friday, 10 February 2012

MIDDLEWICH GUARD STONES


Mike Jennings writes:

I was asked how many mounting stones were left in the town?
I have had a look around and found two. One at Brooks Lane bridge (above), which used to be against Hamnett's Bakery.

The other is against the entry to the Red Lion yard (below)


There may be more, but I have not seen them. My father tells me that there were mounting stones at The Boar's Head, The Kinderton Arms, The Golden Lion, The Crown (now The Narrowboat -Ed), The Kings Arms, The White Bear and The Big Lock. Would all these places have had stabling facilities?
I'm sure there will have been more of these stones around the town. I'm not sure they were all mounting stones, but may have been there to protect corners of buildings from wheels?

Many thanks to Mike for the photographs. I think that the vast majority of these stones were guard stones, rather than mounting stones, although one or two of them were high enough to have been used for both purposes.
Most mounting stones, though, have a little flight of stone steps leading up to them.
The purpose of a guard stone is self-explanatory. They were placed near walls, usually near gateways, to prevent the metal-tyred wheels of carriages and waggons causing damage to the brickwork, a precaution made necessary by the fact that the drivers of such vehicles were not always aware of the turning radius required to negotiate corners, situated as they were (particularly in the case of carriages and stage-coaches) quite a distance from the actual wheels of their vehicles.
Added to this was the fact that the wheels of horse-drawn vehicles often had iron hubs which protruded quite a distance from the actual wheel and could cause additional damage to property.
And there are many variations on the theme - some buildings have metal cladding wrapped around their corners; others have an entirely separate iron post for the purpose.
Nor is the idea entirely a thing of the past.
Some modern shops, for example,  have such metal guards to prevent damage from pushchairs.

We welcome reports, and photographs, of  other guard stones around Middlewich. Below are close up views of the stones Mike has seen.


Nantwich Road



Brooks Lane
Facebook comments:

Colin Dutton The guard stone at the Red Lion was to protect the hay barn as it was a coach house and is over 3 ft deep as the gas board had to dig around it to supply gas to the house.

Ash Powell  There's one at the end of the alleyway opposite Daves Of Middlewich (in Lewin Street - Ed)


SEE ALSO ANOTHER MIDDLEWICH GUARD STONE

Thursday, 9 February 2012

MIDDLEWICH ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY IN KING STREET 1968

by Dave Roberts
On a warm afternoon in the Summer of 1968 members of the Middlewich Archaeological Society work on one of the Society's digs in King Street.
This particular site, long since built over, was at the very top of the public footpath, known to us all in those days as 'Bill Hewitt's', which ran, and still runs, from King Street  past the 'Stone Houses'  and along the River Croco to a point just on the south-west corner of Harbutt's field where two footbridges take it, and the other footpath from King Street, across the river and canal at the Big Lock.
The existence of the Roman Fort at Harbutt's Field was not officially confirmed until 1993, when modern geophysical methods were brought into play, but was long suspected, not least by members of the Archaeological Society, of which my Dad was a founder member.
Excavations were made on the field in the early 1920s aimed at establishing the existence of  a permanent Roman fort, which had been the subject of speculation for many years previously, but no evidence of the fort was found.
The excavations the Society made in the years 1964-1969, under the direction of one John D Bestwick, centred around the King  Street area and discovered much evidence of salt, iron and leather manufacturing as well as Roman pottery and coins.
The point was, as my Dad used to tell us frequently, if there was not a major military Roman presence in the area, what was all that industry doing there? Who was it serving?
Several members of the Archaeological Society are pictured above, hard at work.
I suppose it might have been a good idea to line them up and take a proper picture of them for posterity, but they were a little bit touchy about being disturbed during their endeavours.
At least two of them are, it will be noticed, sporting the sleeveless pullover and shirtsleeves look as worn by Percy Thrower on Gardening Club during this period.
The gentleman in the light coloured jumper to the right of the trench is my Dad, Arthur Roberts, and also present on the day, among others, were Middlewich UDC surveyor Donald Stubbs and local schoolteacher Ken Laundon, who lived just across the road from this particular dig.
Behind the camera is the path leading 'down Bill Hewitt's' and the greenery just visible top left is part of the then unspoilt farmers' fields leading up to Harbutt's Field itself.

              ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 1973

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

NEW MIDDLEWICH RAIL LINK CAMPAIGN BANNER FEBRUARY 2012

Coming to an event near you this summer is this brand new banner bearing a simple but heartfelt message, as the campaign to re-introduce passenger trains on the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich Railway continues unabated.
The banner was commissioned by the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign (MRLC) and funded by Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association (MCRUA) and will be displayed at such local events as the Middlewich Transport Festival and the Middlewich FAB Festival.
Several colour schemes were suggested by MRLC committee members for the banner, some of them bearing a striking (but purely coincidental) resemblance to  favourite football team colours, but in the end this black and yellow livery (to use railway parlance) was selected.
Thanks are due to Dave Thompson at Middlewich Town Council for helping get the banner made.
The new website address shown on the banner will be going live in the next few days.
In the meantime, if you're interested in MRLC's plans for a new Middlewich Station, you might like to join the campaign's Facebook group (link below).
Lovers of correct English usage will be pleased to see that the banner refers to MIDDLEWICH RAILWAY STATION rather than MIDDLEWICH TRAIN STATION.





Monday, 6 February 2012

A FOGGY DAY...

Photos by Paul Greenwood       Descriptions by Dave Roberts
A foggy day in old Middlewich town in February 2012, captured in this beautifully atmospheric shot by Paul Greenwood. The Church of St Michael & All Angels  can just be glimpsed in the background and, to the left, the lights of the amphitheatre glow fitfully through the gloom.
As ever cars jostle for position outside the Tesco Express and, a little further up Hightown on the right, we can just make out the outline of the former Fitton's/Vernons butchers shop, now home to the Balti  Spice takeaway.
In the foreground is evidence of the work being done by National Grid all along Wheelock Street to replace ageing metal gas pipes with plastic ones.
Looking, if anything, even more out of place than usual, on the right, is one of those ghastly street lamps dubbed 'glorified patio heaters' (probably by me) which so disfigure our town centre with their plasticky cheapness.
Let's hope they prove to be as temporary as the road works.

A short distance away, in Wheelock Street, further evidence of the National Grid's endeavours can be seen on the right and, to the left, the lights of Reed Rains Estate Agency and Bargain Booze glow almost eerily through the fog. Also on the left can be seen the Alhambra, the town's second cinema, built in the 1920s, with its ornate facade, and its name, thankfully preserved. The building is now enjoying a new lease of life after being a cinema, bingo hall and amusement arcade in its time.
The amusement arcade, it will be remembered, was, like most things associated with the youth of the town, going to bring hellfire and damnation down on us all, and mean the end of civilisation as we know it.
Strangely, it never happened and now it's a Chinese restaurant - probably the only Chinese restaurant in the country named after a Moorish palace in Spain.
It's almost possible, looking at this picture, to imagine oneself back in the Middlewich of a hundred years ago.
Despite all the changes over the years, Wheelock Street is still recognisably the same place we see in pictures from 1912 and even earlier.
The fog, and the black and white photography, lend a timeless quality to the scene and, on days like this, all our Middlewich ghosts come back to haunt us.

Facebook feedback:

Paul Greenwood WOW!!! Thanks ever so much mate - I'm on the cover of Salt Town Productions. :)

Dave Roberts Very prestigious indeed. Talent will out, though. There aren't many people who could have taken those pictures, you know.  

Geraldine Williams Terrific pic Paul, very atmospheric. All it needs is a couple of hansom cabs and Jack the Ripper lurking in Vernon's doorway.........!!

Helen Kerr Wow what a fab pic x

Dawn Lee  Cracking piccie Paul... I love black 'n' whites. If the modern road works weren't there... it cuddav gotten away with looking like a really old picture... xxx 

Julie Westray I was just thinking the same thing

Friday, 3 February 2012

NEW RADIO MAST ON THE MIDDLEWICH BRANCH LINE

This photograph taken from Prosperity Way, the access road to Middlewich's Sewage Treatment plant, on Friday 3rd February 2012, shows another new addition to the assorted trackside paraphernalia which adorns the Sandbach, Middlewich & Northwich Railway in the modern age.
It's Network Rail's new GSM-R mast (Global System for Mobile communications - Railway, since you asked).
Network Rail are erecting these masts along every railway line in the country - one every four or five miles - and in many places they are causing controversy, particularly in 'areas of outstanding natural beauty'.
Brooks Lane, Middlewich, does not, unsurprisingly, fall into that category.
Because the masts are on railway property NR do not have to ask for planning permission to put them up. They did, however, inform Cheshire East Council, Middlewich Town Council and other interested parties, including the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign, of their intention of siting the mast in the town.
MRLC did not object to the mast being erected, but pointed out that the site chosen is perilously close to the site of the proposed platform for the new Middlewich Station.
Local Authorities have told Network Rail officials that they must be prepared to move the mast if it is found to interfere with the building of the new platform.
It's interesting to note that with all the new signalling and communications apparatus needed to run railways these days, the trackside in Middlewich is now more cluttered with signals, equipment boxes and safety fences than ever before.
However, this has had the beneficial side effect of making the area more secure and a lot tidier than it was.
Incidentally, an inspection of the track made at the same time  the photograph was taken shows that the rails are nice and shiny - always a sign that the line is being well used.
All the railway scene in Middlewich needs now is that station. And some passenger trains, of course.

LINK: PAUL HURLEY

Illustration: Tempus Publishing 2005
Paul is the author, with the late J Brian Curzon, of Middlewich, a book in the 'Images of England' Series published by Tempus Publishing. Details of some of Paul's other books and stories can be found on his website.


LINK: MIDDLEWICH CLEAN TEAM





Wednesday, 1 February 2012

WELCOME BACK!

Hello again! Apologies if you've been trying to access our Middlewich Diary over the last few days and been getting nowhere.
We've been making a subtle change to our website address, which is now simply 'middlewichdiary.com', a domain which is our property, meaning that all the content on A Middlewich Diary belongs to Salt Town Productions and, by extension, to the town of Middlewich and can be preserved for posterity (as long, that is, as someone who cares about our town owns the domain name).
If, like me,  you automatically type 'www' in front of every web address, that's fine too, as www.middlewichdiary.com will also find us.
None of this will make any difference at all to most people, particularly those of you who pick up new entries on the Middlewich Diary through the links we post on Facebook.
All the old entries, going back to last June, are still available as are the prototype Middlewich Diary pages on The Salt Town Site.
We're sorry for the inconvenience while the mysterious machinery of the internet (and believe me, you probably know as much about it as I do) has been grinding away in the background to bring about this change, but it's done now.
Normal service resumes tomorrow.
Thank you for your time.
Dave Roberts, Editor