Tuesday, 23 June 2015


Although the annual Middlewich FAB Festival has come and gone for another year, we're still collecting memories and reminiscences from 26 years of this pivotal Middlewich event.

The FAB 26 Guide 2016

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The Middlewich Diary
29 Queen Street
CW10 9AR

First published 23/6/2015
Updated/Re-published 20/6/2016

Friday, 19 June 2015


by Dave Roberts

Times have changed, and so has Middlewich, in the twenty-six years* since the first Folk & Boat Festival in June 1990. Nothing illustrates this better than a glance at the programme from that first Festival. Sponsors for the inaugural event were BRS Northern, who had a depot in Middlewich at that time, and Middlewich Town Council. Quite why BRS should have been involved in sponsorship of the event is lost in the mists of time, but funding for the first Festival was gathered by the late and still much-missed John McAteer and John may well have been having dealings with the firm at the time and levered a few quid out of  them as part of some other deal. It's interesting to note that the Town Council was using its familiar canal-bridge logo all those years ago. It's stood the test of time, the only thing to have changed being the typeface. 
UPDATE: Shortly after this Diary entry was first published something quite remarkable happened. We were contacted by Mike Buckley, the man who originally created the very first Folk & Boat Festival artwork, as seen on the programme cover above, over a quarter of a century ago. Mike now lives in Cuddington.
He writes: 'John McAteer persuaded me to produce the artwork for the very first FAB event all those years ago. Computer design capabilities were limited in those days and I well remember John being meticulous with regard to the placement of the curved lettering. I'm sorry to hear of his passing. RIP. We used to share a pint or two in the Boars Head with someone called Len, who was a badminton player. His surname escapes me. I did the artwork while working for what was then ICI, using an early artwork generating programme. Incidentally, the same programme was used to produce the Winnington Park Recreation logo, though not by me'.
Congleton Borough Council also sponsored the event but, for some reason, didn't get its logo on the front cover. The price of the programme was, as can be seen, £1 and the cover price remained at this level for many years, on the grounds that people would reach into their pockets and hand over a pound very readily. Any more than £1 and some of them would think twice...
* Although we're celebrating the 25th Festival this year, it's still worth reminding ourselves that it was twenty-six years ago that MFAB started. The 2001 Festival never happened because of the Foot and Mouth disease which was causing havoc in Cheshire's rural and semi-rural communities that Summer.

Dorothy Roberts was Mayor of Middlewich in 1990 and wrote this introduction to the programme in which she managed to encapsulate in a  few words everything that MFAB is (or was) all about. The first committee listing follows. My name doesn't appear there because, although I was invited to join  the Festival as MC after the first meeting, I insisted that I would 'never' be on a committee! Before the first Festival had even taken place I found that I had become the publicity officer!
The Folk & Boat Festival was designed to bring people into the town and it was felt necessary to introduce Middlewich to our visitors, many of whom would have heard very little about the town, other than the 'Wiches of Cheshire' stuff taught to them in school geography lessons. So I donned my Middlewich Heritage Society hat to write this potted history. Note that I refer to the event simply as the 'Middlewich Folk Festival'. For the first few years the boat rally which runs alongside the folk festival part of the weekend was organised separately by the Trent & Mersey Canal Society (which invariably referred to the event as the 'Boat & Folk Festival') and the terms 'Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival' and 'Middlewich Folk Festival' were interchangeable. However, the shortened version, the 'Folk & Boat' has a certain ring to it (and, of course, sounds a bit rude if you say it quickly) and so that was the version which won out in the end. When Middlewich Town council took over the event in 2011 the name was officially changed to Middlewich FAB Festival to reflect the new way in which the event was funded and run and also to stress the move away from 'purely folk' and towards the willingness to embrace other kinds of music.

Our first ever guest, the legendary Bernard 'the Bolton Bullfrog' Wrigley. Bernard was part of the 'folk-comedy' boom in the 1970s, along with Mike Harding, Billy Connolly, Max Boyce and Jasper Carrott and has also made numerous TV appearances, as mentioned above. He appeared in a cameo role in Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies, combining his roles of actor and singer in a version of Jingle Bells with concertina accompaniment! Bernard also returned for the second Festival and in subsequent years, notably in 1994 when, to celebrate the first five years of MFAB he appeared as guest MC. His performance in this exacting role was shambolic, rambling, undisciplined and erratic. It was also hilariously funny. I'll never forget him introducing Marilyn Middleton-Pollock as Marilyn Middlewich-Pillock! Wouldn't it have been nice if he could have been here for the 25th anniversary?

The programme of events for Festival one. Note that this is the entire programme of events for the whole weekend!
The Friday concert in that first marquee consisted of songs from the Middlewich Paddies interspersed with 'poems' from me (more correctly monologues and comic verse).
The main concert on Saturday was Bernard with - you've guessed it - me again!
Fortunately Bernard appreciated my attempts at comic verse, and we later collaborated on a few things, including the Lion & Albert follow-up, Albert & The Drink (1992). 
Notice that the Token Women were appearing at a ceilidh at the Wych Centre at the same time. They are the 'Female Ceilidh Band' referred to in the (in)famous publicity below.
Also appearing at the first Festival, but not listed here, were Flotsam from Manchester and Dempsey's Lot who joined us from Birmingham. And making the first of many appearances at the festival over the years was the legendary Boat Band.

The first ever publicity for the Festival, which appeared in the Middlewich Chronicle in May 1990, leading those not in the know to think that the Middlewich Paddies were 'a female ceilidh band'
They're not, of course. A ceilidh band, I mean.
The actual ceilidh band in question was The Token Women.

As might be expected, the programme for the first Festival is packed with advertisements for local businesses, some of which are still with us. Others, however, have now passed into history, including Margaret's (although Margaret herself is, thankfully, still very much with us) and that well-known Middlewich name Harold Woodbine Ltd, a firm which has now decamped to Sandbach. Note that Woodbine's are following  T&M Society practice and referring to the Festival as Middlewich Boat & Folk Festival!

Other businesses, notably public houses, have changed hands over the years, and it comes as a bit of a novelty to find ourselves welcomed to the Big Lock by 'Tom and Jean'. It's helpful of them to point out that the Big Lock is 'adjacent to the canal', though. Elsewhere in the programme 'Sean and Maureen' are welcoming us to the Boar's Head and 'Liz and Ray' to the Newton Brewery. And at the other end of town, we're invited to the long-defunct Kinderton Arms by 'Ken and Marie'.
Other advertisers in the 1990 programme include: Barry Fleet Insurance Services at The Old Post Office, Wheelock Street; Martrim Coach Trimming & Supplies, St Michael's Way; Dillon's in The Bull Ring and Pineland at the same address; Just Jems (Sue and John Foy) in Sutton Lane and Cheshire Electrics, Hoover Cleaner specialists, at 69 Wheelock Street.

It all seems such a long time ago. And it was. A different time and, in many ways, a different world.

Illustrations in this Diary Entry courtesy of Richard Devaney/Liz Rosenfield

Wednesday, 17 June 2015



Organisers Derek and Julie Millington show 'em how it's done at the FAB Festival
Over the years the Middlewich FAB Festival has always provided a wide range of entertainment above and beyond what is normally found at traditional folk festivals; the aim being to cater for the general public and those not necessarily too interested in the folk world.
The Middlewich Rock 'n' Roll Dancers are a case in point. They're hugely popular with the crowds, and rightly so.
They present their version of authentic 1950s Rock 'n' Roll with enthusiasm and style and they always look immaculate in period dress. -Ed (from the Middlewich Diary, 2013)

Derek and Julie Millington write:

Once again,  and for the 14th consecutive year, we are  organising the Rock'n'Roll dancing at the Middlewich FAB Festival.

Watch out for us on Sunday 21st June.

There will be dancers from many parts of the surrounding areas including the Potteries, Manchester, Wilmslow, Chester, North Wales and Liverpool as well as  local dancers from  Middlewich, Sandbach, Crewe and other towns and villages in the area.

The dancers will be dressed in their colourful 1950's Rock 'n' Roll costumes  and will be dancing to authentic 1950's and 60's Rock'n'Roll music and bringing you an impressive display of design, colour and movement.

Outside dance music will provided by our very own Jiving Jim's'  mobile disco.

We will be dancing on the Kinderton House Hotel front car park from  12 noon  until approximately 12.40.p.m., after which we'll move on to the Amphitheatre,   where we'll dance from 1.00.p.m. until 2.00.p.m.

After that we'll be back at the Kinderton House Hotel, where dancing will continue to the group Night Flight.

We look forward to a great afternoon's dancing and a good audience. See you there!

'Just let me hear some of that Rock and Roll music...

'...any old way you choose it....'

.....gotta be Rock and Roll Music....

'...if you wanna dance with me!'
Photographs taken at the 2009 and 2010 FAB Festivals by CLIFF ASTLES

Rock 'n' Roll with style at the 2011 FAB Festival

One of our special M-FAB25 commemorative Mastheads, featuring six rock 'n' roll ladies and one rock 'n' roll gent!

Friday, 12 June 2015


The year 2015 is a very special one for our town's original and unique music festival, as we celebrate twenty five years of the 'Folk & Boat'.
This milestone should, of course, have been reached in 2014 but, as we all know, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 meant that that year's festival had to be abandoned.

Here's the story of the festival's origins, according to current festival organiser Dave Thompson:

The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival came about following a conversation in the Boars Head, one evening in 1989…
Folk singers the Middlewich Paddies were keen to start-up a festival and, just by chance, the Trent & Mersey Canal Society wanted to organise a boat gathering- and in no time at all the `folk & boat` festival was born! 
A group of willing volunteers were quickly rounded-up and thanks to welcome support by Middlewich Town Council, Congleton Borough Council, and BRS Northern, the first festival took place on 15-16-17 of June 1990.
Hosted by the Middlewich Paddies the weekend featured a concert by folk-comic, Bernard Wrigley and a ceilidh (a bit like a barn dance) by Token Women. 

The first Talent Competition took place in the Wych Centre. There were music sessions in the beer tent and local pubs, along with Morris dancing by SIX TOWNS MORRIS and the boat rally provided the activities and entertainment for the weekend- a wonderful occasion that just had to be repeated 

The original committee comprised- 
Colin Barrass (chairman), Sally Fallon, Derek Clayton (treasurer), Richard Devaney, John McAteer, Mike Parsons, Peter Cox, Dave Thompson. Concert MC Dave Roberts*

* Editor's note: Although my original role was supposed to be strictly that of MC, and although I was at pains to point out that I was not prepared to be on any committee, John McAteer, the guiding light behind MFAB and the man who did a lot behind the scenes to make sure the festival actually happened, had other ideas. He invited me to go along to one of the first committee meetings 'to see what it was all about'. I left that meeting feeling excited, slightly bemused and wondering how I had somehow, almost without realising it, become the festival's publicity officer! - DR

The Festival's first logo. The lettering was originally shaded and the violin surrounded by musical notes. Repeated photocopying (the only kind of reproduction possible in those pre-computer days) meant that the lettering gradually wore a bit thin and the musical notes faded away.

The very first MFAB publicity from 1990, featuring 'Female Ceilidh Band' The Paddies! (Middlewich FAB Festival)*

*Dave Thompson points out that the 'Female Ceilidh Band' in question were actually The Token Women.
More than any other event it was the 'Folk & Boat' which steered Middlewich in a new direction after several years in the post-industrial doldrums.
As recounted above by Dave Thompson, enthusiastic members of the community put forward the idea of a Music Festival based on successful events in places like Newcastleton and Melrose in the Scottish Borders and, nearer to home, Nantwich and Chester.
The 'Folk & Boat' (and, yes, we did realise right from the start that if you said it quickly it sounded a bit rude - that's one of the reasons why we chose the name) was intended to be a mostly low-key pub singaround style festival hosted by the (far from female) Middlewich Paddies and featuring as special guest Bernard Wrigley who had already made several appearances in Middlewich at the Boar's Head Folk Club.
The compere was the then ubiquitous Mr Roberts who filled in time between acts (all two of them) with some of his allegedly funny poems.
Everything took place in a small marquee  on Market Field, at the Civic Hall (since renamed the Town Hall) and in various pubs around town.
The programme for the first F&B festival, also featuring some of Mr R's allegedly funny poems

The first festival, although very simple by comparison with  MFAB events in later years, was a resounding success and the organising committee knew before the weekend was over that there was no going back and that the Folk & Boat was an opportunity to put Middlewich on the map.
Feedback from visitors to the festival made everyone realise that the town, with a history stretching back at least to Roman times, had  a story to tell and that people would gladly come from far and wide to hear it.
Some of the 1996 Folk Festival team help to publicise the local Chronicle's Stacey Pushchair appeal. 
Over the years MFAB was involved with many local charities, and also helped provide educational resources to local schools and institutions. The Stacey Pushchair Appeal, organised by the Middlewich Chronicle, raised funds for a specially adapted pushchair for a local youngster.

On its tenth anniversary in 1999 the FAB Festival was  featured on the 'floral clock' close to the Council offices (now the Town Hall) in Civic Way. Members of the committee are seen posing with the floral design which featured the festival's original 'fiddle' logo
In 1999, when its tenth anniversary came around, the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was well established as one of the top ten music festivals in the North-West and Middlewich was getting more and more enthusiastic about using its own history and heritage as a way of attracting visitors.

The MFAB team 2000
(l to r)(back row) Ian Murfitt, Mike Parsons, Dave Roberts, Dave Thompson, Mike Hough, Lynne Hardy
(front row) Richard Devaney, Peter Cox, Rita O'Hare, Julie Bickerton, Alison Roylance-White
By the year 2000 the festival had become a must for many people who travel around the country year after year on the folk festival circuit. The Millenium was celebrated in typically idiosyncratic Middlewich style with 'Middlewich's own Millenium Dome' and the story is told here.

Photo: Dave Thompson/Middlewich Town Council
The Festival of 2005 was the first one to make use of the newly-completed 'Amphitheatre' in Middlewich Town Centre  and this photo illustrates just how popular the dance and music displays are with people of all ages, whether local or from further afield.

And so the story of MFAB continued...

After many years as an independent festival the Folk & Boat Festival eventually ran into financial difficulties, a fate shared by so many similar festivals over the years.
Happily, the Middlewich Town Council, which had supported the festival from the very beginning, stepped in and rescued this iconic Middlewich event, enabling it to continue and to carry on bringing fun and entertainment to both townspeople and visitors for many years to come.
The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was subtly renamed to become the Middlewich FAB Festival, reflecting the change in the way in which which the festival was funded and organised. At the same time the 'strictly folk' policy of the festival was relaxed and music of all kinds began to be featured.
To many, of course, it will always be the 'Folk & Boat', whatever its official title might be.

(A Salt Town Productions video)
One man's fight to appear at the
Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival!
Features some great photos of the Festival by local photographer Cliff Astles.

The winner of the FAB Festival's 2015 'Design a logo' competition

The official MFAB25 poster

The 2015 Festival Guide - available now all over town!
A selection of Middlewich Diary mastheads celebrating the festival's 25th anniversary

First published 10th October 2014
Amended versions published 9th April 2015/12th June 2015



I remember looking after the camp site on Sutton Lane Playing Fields for a few years.
We used to accommodate over two hundred units -caravans, motor homes, tents etc, and each unit had anything from one to eleven or twelve people in it!
That represented a tremendous number of visitors from outside the area visiting the town.
I was a one woman guardian of that field and got practically every penny owed by the campers. 
The money went towards the cost of hiring the field and changing rooms and associated expenses.
Not much got past me!
Living with a garden gate leading onto the field meant that we had times when we were called upon to tow units out of the muddy field at midnight, or later. 
Cleaning the changing rooms and  attending to the toilet facilities regularly wasn't fun but was very necessary.
Additional  water for the toilet block was fed from our garden tap, so our plants suffered in hot weather!
I took our caravan onto the field for use as a site office and would spend the entire weekend there.
I even used to sleep in the caravan, though I wasn't missed much as my husband was usually on stewarding duty. 
Several times, I went to bed extremely late on the Sunday night but was up in time to 'man' the field gate by 6am, when security left, in order to prevent an influx of approaching 'caravans'!
There was an incredible amount to organise, and it was hard work, but very rewarding!
Day passes and weekend passes for campers, morris dancers, performers, all had to be organised, along with arranging a taxi service to and from the camp site and town. On top of this there were many other ancillary items to be attended to.
When we eventually got them all settled, I sometimes went into town to join my husband in  doing  a bit of stewarding.
I think the  most problematical - and funniest - thing that ever occurred during my time at the camp site was when the security man went to relieve himself at the Gents' urinal in the changing rooms during the early hours of the Saturday morning.
He reported to me that he thought there must have been an earth tremor, because as he stood there, doing what comes naturally, the floor literally heaved upwards under his feet and then gave way resulting in  a large dip across the floor and leaving him feeling quite disorientated!
Later inspection showed that the drains had collapsed and the 'facilities' were taped off as dangerous! 
Try explaining to the male masses that there were no Gents' loos for the weekend! 'Emergency measures' were brought in and many had a good laugh at the expense of the poor security guy!
Great fun was had on the camp site with people returning year after year.
I still miss the buzz!
There are lots more stories I could tell, but most of them are not necessarily for public consumption! 
Many many people have been involved in running the Folk & Boat Festival over the years. Those who I remember from my time include Laura Holmes, Julie Bickerton, Stephen Dent, Lizzie Rosenfield, Andy Johnson, Ray Archer, Andrew Bickerton, Kate Nichols Fletcher, Sarah Butler, the late Keith Bagnall and so many more people who made MFAB a superb success for many years. 
And thank you to Middlewich Town Council for taking over the reins when costs prevented us volunteers from making it break even due to costs beyond our control.
No one notices the back room guys. But it never mattered to us. We loved what we did and threw ourselves into it for the weekend and  never expected recognition. What was important was the success for the town and the enjoyment of the visitors.
If the visitors were happy, then we were too. Happy people, job done!
Such a shame we no longer have visits from people from outside the area. But I'm glad the festival survives in its new format.
I'm left with so many happy memories and recollections of people who came to our town year in, year out - from all over the UK.

The Calm Before The Storm! All set up and having a nap before the onslaught of campers! The year would be either 2008 or 2009. We once had nine Morris Dancers in full costume in the caravan office - all excitedly 'doing their thing' while booking in! I must admit to having been worried as to the strength of the floor, but it coped admirably with their antics! (Photo: Wendy Johnson)
Edited by Dave Roberts
With thanks to: Simon McGrory
 and Middlewich FAB Festival

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


Illustration: Middlewich Town Council

Cheshire people will not need to be told that they live in a very photogenic county. This part of the world has everything, from beautiful pasture land to rugged hill country (don't forget that a lot of the Peak District actually falls within our boundaries). We have more than our fair share of historic and picturesque buildings, such as the unique Moreton Old Hall. And added to all this is the legacy of our industrial past, particularly around the salt towns in the centre of the county.
The annual photographic competition, organised by Middlewich Town Council in association with Jugglers Management Accounting Services, is a chance for the county's photographers, professional and amateur, to capture the beauty and heritage of Cheshire for posterity, to win prizes and to see their work exhibited at the Middlewich FAB Festival. More details are available from MTC's Heritage Officer, Kerry Fletcher (link below)

Sunday, 7 June 2015


by Dave Roberts

Middlewich has taken its annual Rose Fete to its heart in recent years. The event, held on the Saturday of the FAB Festival weekend every June, was rescued by an enthusiastic and highly professional committee of local people a few years ago when it looked likely that it would fold. The Rose Fete is a strong and growing part of the 'local' element of the FAB Festival and.now that the festival is moving away from its 'strictly folk' policy and embracing music and events of all kinds to become more of a community event, the Rose Fete has come into its own.
The event is a chance for children of all ages to take part in a unique local occasion paying homage to the past and making memories for the future.
The Middlewich Rose Fete has its roots in Cheshire's tradition of rose queens, dairy queens, salt queens, carnivals, village fetes, Whit Sunday processions and many more town and village celebrations including, of course, the more recent festivals of which the Folk & Boat Festival was one of the first a quarter of a century ago.
The Rose Fete is anxious to preserve its own history as well as the history of some of those other traditional local events, and we're delighted to be able to pass on this message from the organisers:

Michelle Game writes:
Hi Everyone,
It's not long now until  the Rose Fete and I am hoping that you can all help.
I am trying to create a display in the Rose Fete Marquee this year (and for future years) of past Rose Fetes, and I need pictures, newspaper clippings, and a few other bits.
I know we have already started a fantastic collection on the Rose Fete's Facebook page (link below), which I will also use, but I would like more.
So here's what I need:
Copies of pictures of:  past parades, crowning ceremonies, queens and retinues with information on the year, and the people in the picture.
Copies of newspaper cuttings of:  past parades, crowning ceremonies, queens and retinues with the year, and details of who is in the picture.
If anyone has scrap books, tiaras/crowns, trophies, cloaks etc.that they will be willing to loan us for the weekend, I'd be grateful if you could write on a piece of paper who it belongs to, their role and the year.
We also want pictures etc from the Carnivals and other  Middlewich events before the Rose Fete became established as an event in its own right.
You can either post the pictures on the 

with their details or email me at: middlewichrosefetechairman@outlook.com.
If you have scrap books etc that will need collecting again either email me or txt/call: 07800 50 35 79 and we'll sort out collection.
Thank you everyone for your help and I look forward to seeing your fantastic pictures and items!

Monday, 1 June 2015


Issue number 52 of GO LOCAL is out now, spanning the months of June and July, and has been delivered to every household in Middlewich, giving it unrivalled access to the population of the town and supplying residents with a great source of information.

If  you haven't opened your copy yet, this is what you can expect:

WHAT'S ON listings for June and July
READY REFERENCE - your guide to local services
COMMUNITY PAGE  - Announcements and information on community matters
DID YOU KNOW? - Strange and unusual facts.
MIDDLEWICH HERITAGE - Julie Elizabeth Smalley celebrates a milestone with her 50th heritage article for Go Local, summing up all the many and varied aspects of Middlewich history she has covered in the series so far.

...and much more!

There are also pages of adverts for local businesses, forming an additional local reference service in itself. On pages 18 and 19 you'll find all the information you need on this month's 25th Middlewich FAB Festival.

It's  recommended reading for all Middlewichians!

courtesy of GO LOCAL