Thursday, 15 January 2015

THE ROYAL OAK, LEWIN STREET circa 1900


by Dave Roberts & Malcolm Hough

Waiting patiently in the wings for many  months now has been long time Middlewich Diary correspondent Malcolm Hough of Wych House Lane who came across this photograph of Lewin Street with an inscription on the back indicating that it was taken during Middlewich's celebrations for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. At first Malcolm was inclined to take this inscription at face value.
Later, after the photo was cleaned up by his wife, Jen, Malcolm took a second look at it, and had a change of mind, thinking that the photo may have a connection with the second Boer War (1899-1902) because of the letters
CR fashioned out of flowers which can be seen on the wall on the right of the shot.
 Malcolm was wondering if the letters CR might stand for Cheshire Regiment?
The Cheshires were certainly involved in the 2nd Boer War, although the troops involved in the Siege of Mafeking were mainly recruited from Rhodesia and surrounding areas by Colonel Baden-Powell who had decided to hold the Cape Colony town due to its strategic position. He successfully did so for 217 days from October 1999 until the 17th May 1900 when British troops from Lord Roberts' army brought the siege to an end.
After a chance meeting with Middlewich historian Allan Earl and consulting Allan's book Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) (see Page 16 - Ed) Malcolm decided that the photo may well have been taken in May 1900 as the people in the photo are dressed in light Summer clothes.
In 2012, when we were looking at a photo of Hightown donated by Kath and Barry Walklate, we mentioned the then unusual way in which the people of Middlewich first heard the news about the Relief of Mafeking. The article can be read here.

Malcolm writes:

'I have been talking to Trevor Williams, who has lived in Lewin Street for most of his life. He remembers Maureen Condra (nee Hitchen)* very well. We have come to the conclusion that the 'Royal Oak' was demolished at around the same time as Niddries shop was built in the 1950s.
This was around the same time as the Cotton Houses (see this diary entry -Ed) where I used to live were demolished and we should have moved to George VI Avenue. The Hitchin family did move there, but we moved to Hayhurst Avenue instead. This would be in mid-1958.
On the extreme left-hand side of the photo you can see the corner of a three-storey house. Trevor said it was Georgian and was demolished at the same time as Niddries was built.
I can vaguely remember this building, as my Auntie and Uncle lived there in the early 1950s. It had tall stone steps and wrought iron railings and, from the top, it looked like miles down to the footpath.
I think that's why it sticks in my mind so much. Terrifying!
Trevor Williams says that part of the back wall of the 'Royal Oak is still standing, with a fence on top of it. He is now in the process of doing an oil painting of this photo.
Returning once more to the CR letters, on the right hand side, I wonder if the man with the ladder is hiding more lettering?
There is a sign below the letter C, with what looks like it might be a steam train. Could it have been to do with the opening of the Cledford Railway Halt in 1911? (I think it very doubtful. The opening of Middlewich Station itself in 1867/8 was not, it appears, an occasion for much ceremony, so the opening of Cledford Halt, which was some distance away and was only a small wooden platform probably wouldn't have caused a lot of celebration either. The halt only lasted  a few years, closing during World War II - Ed).
We do know that the picture has to be after 1898, which is when the Victoria Building opened.

- Malcolm Hough

* Maureen now lives in America and is an enthusiastic reader of the Middlewich Diary -Ed.



Let's take another look at Malcolm's photo in order to compare it with a modern-day shot. The imposing bulk of the  Victoria Technical Schools can be seen, patriotically flying the flag, in the background. This building later became known as the Victoria Building, and housed the council chamber and offices of the Middlewich Urban District Council, as well as Middlewich library, replacing the old Town Hall on Hightown. 
More recently it has been the home of the Middlewich Town Council and has been officially given the name it should have carried for many years - Middlewich Town Hall. The small area in front of the building was, at one time, called Victoria Square. To the right of the building and the three Lewin Street chimney pots the castellated roof of St Michael's church tower can just be seen.
To the left of the Victoria Building the white roof with the ball ornament at its apex belongs to the Working Men's Institute, which was later converted into the town's second fire station and is now the site of a floral clock and flagpole.
Next come two houses, White Horse Alley, and then the 'White Horse' pub.  It's unclear whether the building actually was a pub  at the time of this photo. If it was, it would have been right next door to the 'Royal Oak', but such a situation has never been very unusual in this country. Certainly the fact that the alley-way next to the building was named after it tends to indicate that the White Horse has been there for a very long time.*
Then comes the 'Royal Oak' itself which is, of course, long gone and its site given over to the 'White Horse's' Car Park and part of the now-derelict Niddries site.
The buildings on the right hand side of the picture still survive (see below).

* subsequent information from Malcolm shows us that the White Horse was certainly there, and operating as a pub, as long ago as 1860. So the two pubs were indeed in business right next door to each other -Ed.


Here's the same area on  January 14th  2015. The Victoria Building still dominates the scene, but looks a little foreshortened without a flagpole and flag waving in the breeze. The White Horse has come into prominence with the demolition of the Royal Oak and the other buildings to its left, and that surviving wall from the old 'Royal Oak' must be just out of shot to the left in among the rubble and desolation that  once was Niddrie's toy shop.
Remarkably, though, the shop on the right which was being garlanded with flowers all those years ago seems little altered.
To prove that appearances can be deceptive, please note that there is not a vehicle in sight in this view. Had it been taken a second before or a second after it was, the photo would have been chock-a-block with vehicles of all kinds. In fact, a true comparison photo was impossible as it would have needed to be taken from the middle of the road. 
Standing in the middle of the carriage-way in modern day Lewin Street is, it need hardly be said, not recommended..
The whole area looks a little forlorn and sorry for itself on a freezing cold January day but, come the Summer, when the crowds descend on the town for the FAB Festival, this area comes to life and looks a little more like it must have done when the town was celebrating the Relief of Mafeking (or was it Queen Victoria's Jubilee, or even George V's Coronation?) all those long years ago.

UPDATE - 17th January 2015:

This Diary entry generated a lot of interest, with 86 views in the first hour after it was published.

On Facebook Geraldine Williams came up with an alternative theory to explain the letters on the right of the photograph:

Geraldine Williams Could the year be 1911 and the floral letters actually be G and R for George V's coronation?


This sounds eminently plausible. George V ascended to the throne in 1910 and his coronation took place on the 22nd of June 1911, which ties in nicely with Malcolm's theory about the Summer clothes worn by the people in the photograph. So, is that a 'G' rather than a 'C'?


And Bill Eaton of New King Street emailed to say:

What a very interesting photo. I too can remember two cottages in Lewin Street with steep steps at the front, and the Hitchen family lived there, as, at one time did a Mrs Maddock and her son John. John emigrated to Australia at an early age and he and Maureen Condra, nee Hitchen, both attended St Mary's school at the same time as I did.
I also remember that, across the road from Niddries there was a dairy, which I think was owned by Maudley's.
Also, I was once told that the double fronted shop in the photo had been a bakery, which is, presumably, where the name 'Bakers Yard' (see below) comes from. I believe the premises were owned at one time by the Foster family.
          
Bill.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Hough still favours the Cheshire Regiment theory and  has  emailed us with this:

I am not certain if I have mentioned this to you before, but after a bit more research where the letters C. R. are on the wall, below them, surrounding the window frame and the window itself, are the Cheshire’s regimental colours. See image (below). - Malcolm Hough

Photo: Malcolm Hough

BAKERS YARD - circa 2011


Malcolm also sent us this view, culled from Google Earth's Streetview, showing the buildings opposite the former Royal Oak/Niddrie's site, complete with plaque indicating that the area is known as 'Baker's Yard'. As Malcolm points out, Google Earth is only updated occasionally, so this view will be a few years old, as evidenced by the shop just beyond the Victoria Building which is, at the time of the photo, still being shared between Rowlands Pharmacy (since moved to new premises in St Ann's Walk) and  Middlewich Post Office. Our caption, dating the view as '2011', is an approximation.

                      ROYAL OAK - THE TRUTH REVEALED

 First published 15th January 2015
 Updated 17th Janury 2015

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