Saturday, 26 December 2015

INTIMATIONS OF DISASTER




UPDATED 8th April 2015: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN THE PAGE

by Dave Roberts
Please forgive the grandiose and over-dramatic title, but I was looking for something which would fit the bill without giving the game away too soon. Like most people I have never seen a railway accident, and hope I never do but, many years ago, on a bitterly cold evening in the winter of 1962-3 the Roberts family witnessed something  which we couldn't at first account for, and the explanation for which only became clear to us as the story of a disaster unfolded before us on our TV screen.
'...caused by the last coach of the Birmingham train rearing up and
striking the overhead wires'.
Photo: Middlewich Rail Link Campaign
It was Boxing Day, Wednesday the 26th December 1962, and we were all huddled around our ten-year old black and white television set. Snow had started to blanket the country just before Christmas and the famous Big Freeze would set in in the New Year, lasting through until March without a break. Almost the whole of England and Wales was frozen solid for weeks on end, bringing the country to a virtual standstill (and, incidentally, delivering a crippling blow to the canal carrying industry).
On this night, which was clear and very cold, we hadn't drawn the curtains on our living room window, which overlooked our back garden, Middlewich gasworks and Seddon's salt works. A few miles away, beyond the town, were the outskirts of Winsford where the West Coast Main Line ran on its way from Crewe to Liverpool and Scotland. The line had only recently been electrified and brand new colour light signals, some of them automatic, controlled the new electric and diesel hauled trains.
Suddenly, shortly after six o'clock, we saw a vivid  flash of light in the night sky above the salt works.We  were all stunned for a few seconds and at a loss to account for what we'd seen. It was rather like a flash of lightning, but, it seemed to us, about ten times brighter and a deep, vivid blue in colour.
We had to assume that it was some kind of strange meteorological phenomenon. There seemed to be no other explanation, but the experience was, somehow, deeply unsettling.
We continued with our television viewing (I'd love to know what programme was on that night. We only had a choice of two channels - BBC TV and Granada (with ABC TV at the weekends). I wonder what we were watching?)
I do know that, about an hour after we'd seen the bright blue  light in the sky, the programme was interrupted by a newsflash - something which doesn't seem to happen often in these days of 24 hour news but was a fairly common ocurrence back then when something really important happened. It was always rather nerve-wracking, especially when the NEWSFLASH caption was kept on screen for several minutes before any announcement was made.
This particular report brought us dreadful news.
A diesel-hauled Glasgow to Euston express had run into the rear of a Liverpool to Birmingham train at Coppenhall Junction, near to the former Minshull Vernon Station, just four minutes away from Winsford (drivers on the road to Nantwich pass close to the site when they cross the bridge a few yards away from the Verdin Arms).
Frozen points at Crewe had caused delays and the Birmingham train had been halted at a red signal. The driver of the London train had also been stopped by a red signal further down the line but, fatally, decided that this was a fault with the signalling (he had tried to phone the nearest signal-box but couldn't get through). He moved forward and, failing to see the train in front of him, crashed into it at about 25 miles per hour.
The bright blue flash we had seen just after six o'clock was caused by the last coach of the Birmingham train rearing up and striking the overhead wires. Eighteen people were killed and 34 injured in the crash.
This, it has to be remembered, was the time of transition from steam hauled trains to diesel and electric ones (although there were still plenty of steam-hauled trains on this and other lines in the North-West where steam wasn't phased out until August 1968) and the drivers and signalmen involved were all from an older tradition where things were done rather differently. The driver of the London train was used to steam locomotives which could not 'make up for lost time' as easily as the new diesels and electrics, and was thus very anxious to be away. The fact that the next signal ahead was at red should have told him that there had to be another train there but, unfortunately, this changed to a yellow as he approached. The brightness of this yellow signal apparently made it difficult to see the tail lights of the train in front. These factors, coupled with the atrocious weather conditions, had conspired to cause this terrible accident on one of the safest railway systems in the world. The 1962 Minshull Vernon crash was the first major British railway accident which did not involve a steam locomotive.
It wasn't the first time that disaster had struck this section of railway. It had happened before, in 1948, and was to happen again (though with much less serious consequences) in 1999.
But none of us will ever forget that strange vivid blue flash in the sky all those years ago.

A more detailed account of the crash can be found here (pdf file) on the Railways Archive site,  and the definitive accounts of both this and the 1948 Winsford accident are featured in Disaster Down the Line by J.A.B. Hamilton (George Allen & Unwin Books 1967)


Facebook Feedback:


  • Philip Yearsley  As we had got off the train at Winsford after returning from Runcorn, I have often wondered about the facts of this accident.
    I seem to recall hearing that a soldier on his way home on  leave was travelling on the first train, and, as he  lived in the Minshull Vernon area, pulled the emergency stop cord, then fled off over the fields.
    Thanks for the info, Dave.


  • Geraldine Williams Yes, that was the tale we heard Philip. It must have been a rumour that spread round Middlewich. Glad to know it wasn't true.



  • Dave Roberts Sadly the story of the soldier is true, but it relates to the 1948 crash and not the 1962 one (the Winsford area has had three train accidents, 1948, 1962 and 1999). The soldier was coming home on leave and, realising that he was near his home in Winsford but that the train was not scheduled to call there, pulled the communication cord to stop the train. He then ran across the fields to his home. He later came forward and owned up. All he was trying to do was save himself the additional journey from Crewe Station back to Winsford. But he didn't cause the crash. A train brought to a standstill like this should be perfectly safe, but the train crew didn't take the necessary precautions to protect it and the crash happened. That soldier must have blamed himself for the rest of his life, but the train could have been stopped for any number of reasons. It was a million to one chance that his actions should have resulted in disaster.


    Linsey Daniels
     Thank you for publishing this story. I didn't know about it and found it an interesting read



    UPDATE (2013)


    Richard Maund contacted us during 2013 with a link to more information on the circumstances surrounding this tragic accident (see 'comments'). Here's a direct link to that information:

    http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_Coppenhall1962.pdf



  •                                            The Ministry of Transport report, 1963



  • UPDATE (DECEMBER 2014):


    Following our re-publication of this diary entry on Boxing Day 2014 (the 52nd anniversary of the accident), Geraldine Williams wrote:


    ...this brought back some memories. We lived in Kinderton Street at the time and Jonathan (Jonathan Williams, the current Middlewich Town Clerk - Ed) was only seven months old. Father Down, our Parish Priest, called to see us on his way back from the Post Office. He'd just arrived when the Newsflash came on, so he had to rush off back to the Presbytery, as he was expecting he would be called out to the scene of the crash.


    Facebook Feedback (2014):

    Darren Roberts That was a good read and very interesting. I'll admit I've not heard about this before. It just goes to show how easily mistakes can be made in bad conditions on the railways as well as the roads.

    Facebook Feedback (2015):

    Joan Barnes I remember this train crash well, as I worked at Northwich Telephone Exchange when it happened. it was awful.

    Jacqui Cooke  I was only 12 years old, but my brother worked at Winsford Station signal box at the time.

    Comments

Thursday, 24 December 2015

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM THE NAVIGATION INN 1917

Pat Nancollas/Malcolm Hough



Here's a small reminder of how Christmas cards looked nearly a hundred years ago. This card, which was sent from the Navigation Inn Middlewich  by Mrs Ida Malpass is tiny, measuring only 10cm by 7cm (approximately 4 inches by 2 1/2 inches) but its lack of size is made up for by the elaborate way it has been made.

Its sentimentality is, perhaps, partly explained by the fact that the Great War was in its penultimate year. Many postcards of the same era also carry similar messages showing a collective yearning for some sort of security after long years of war and the heartbreak of separation and loss.


A card such as this would have been very expensive to produce and to purchase and only the relatively well-to-do, or people 'in trade', such as Mrs Malpass, and her husband George (landlord of the Navigation from 1903-1928) would have been able to afford such extravagances.




We're grateful to Malcolm Hough, who runs the House Of  Feathers in Wych House Lane for passing these items (along with many others which will see the light of day in the Middlewich Diary in due course) to us.


Pat and her husband Derek are regular customers of the House Of Feathers and Pat, knowing of Malcolm's interest in the history of Middlewich, lent him the Christmas card and the photo of Ida, who was Pat's great-grandmother. 

According to Malcolm, Ida's husband George was also landlord of the nearby 
Talbot Hotel in Kinderton Street for a time.

We have looked at the Navigation Inn before in the Middlewich Diary, notably in this entry:


NAVIGATION INN circa 1894

The pub, which was in Mill Lane, off Kinderton Street, was, according to Ken Kingston ('Middlewich Hospitality', Middlewich U3A Local History Group 2014), at one time called The Coffee House, then the Canal Coffee House, the Canal Inn, the Bridgefoot and finally, from around 1816, the Navigation.

The Navigation Inn, on the corner of Kinderton Street and Mill Lane around 1894. Middlewich Town Bridge and the Trent & Mersey Canal are behind the building
Paul Hough Collection

Acknowledgments:
Malcolm Hough
Pat Nancollas
Ken Kingston

This was the first Middlewich Diary entry produced in Queen Street,
Christmas Eve 2015

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER (ARCHIVED)


ARCHIVED
A MEMORY OF CHRISTMAS 2014

A Christmas to Remember

On Saturday 13th December, Chris Eaton and Abby Scott will be in concert at St. Michael and All Angels Church, Middlewich at 7:30pm.  The Middlewich Festival Choir, based at St. Michael’s, will also be taking part. 
The evening will be a very special concert which will commemorate 100 years of the Great War and also celebrate the ultimate Peace and Hope of the Greatest Promise given to us at Christmas through the birth of Christ.
Chris Eaton is a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter who has recorded his own albums and also written songs for numerous artists: he wrote “Saviour’s Day” the 1990 Christmas number 1 for Cliff Richard.  
Chis has written a new song called ‘1914 , The Carol of Christmas’ and it has been recorded by an ensemble of military voices and soloists. It is to be released as a single to raise money for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, and ABF The Soldier’s Charity. 
Chris says: "My hope and prayer is that my song '1914, The Carol of Christmas' will move and inspire all generations as they listen, to remember with honour and respect  those, past and present, engaged in war, and be filled with hope for everlasting peace through the message of Christmas!"
The song will be available for download on iTunes from 15th December with 100% of the profits from the sale of the single going to the three charities. 
Tickets for the concert cost £7.50 for adults and £5 for concessions with refreshments included.  All proceeds will be donated to St. Michael’s Restoration Fund.  Tickets are available from the Church Office at No. 28 Hightown or by calling 01606 619721.


This entry also appears on our
site


(Part of the Great War Centenary commemorations in Middlewich)


Facebook Feedback:

Peter Cox Absolutely Marvellous! A great show and a good night's entertainment.

Originally published 10th December 2014
Re-published 22nd December 2015

Saturday, 19 December 2015

MAKERS MARKET MIDDLEWICH 2015 (ARCHIVED)

ARCHIVED


The Makers Market


Middlewich's Makers Market has continued to go from strength to strength during 2015 and has proved its worth as an asset to the town. The Market has been an additional attraction as each highlight of the Middlewich Event calendar came up throughout the year. This diary entry has been updated as the year has flown by and has now been archived. The Makers Market will continue monthly during 2016 and we will be bringing you Market news month by month.
The final Makers Market for 2015 was on 

SATURDAY 19th DECEMBER
from 10am - 3pm

featuring Santa's Grotto
brought to you by
St Luke's Hospice!

Kelly Roberts wrote:

Saturday the 19th of December…. WE ARE BACK!!!
We will be popping up on Wheelock street in the heart of Middlewich. With Christmas upon us we thought we would jump on the festive hype and pull together the very finest local food, drink, art, craft and design artisans from Cheshire and the North West especially for you!
With this being the last Middleiwch Makers Market for 2015 we thought we would make extra special and joining us will be the fabulous Tarpoley Brass Band joining us and will be keeping us entertained throughout the day…. Make sure you pop down! This Saturday promises to be your one stop shop when it comes to Christmas shopping… from Vintage watches to handmade bespoke Jewellery, beautiful ceramic pottery and stunning Ladies Fashion and accessories, if it’s something for your pampered pooch we will be brining you the finest pooch couture which are guaranteed to be unique!

If you are more of a food and drink lover we promise to have your taste buds tantalised with award winning pies and cheeses, the finest ales. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to sample our brownies, cup cakes, scones and biscuits. We have it all covered, Christmas shopping has never been so much fun!

Join us on Wheelock Street, 10am – 3pm on Saturday the 19th of December for this fabulous Christmas community event.
See you there!




Here's our little musical Christmas Card featuring the Christmas lights as they were in 2013:

Direct website link:

And here's a great video by MILES WEST featuring
Pastry Shoes at the Makers Market
Miles West

CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO










First published: 29th January 2015
Re-published: 28th February 2015
                    28th March 2015
                  25th April 2015
                 30th May 2015
                  27th June 2015
                 25th July 2015
                      29th August 2015
                            26th September 2015
                           27th November 2015
                          19th December 2015

FOR INFORMATION ON THE MAKERS MARKET 2016, SEE THIS ENTRY

Friday, 18 December 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME at MIDDLEWICH TOWN HALL 18th & 19th DECEMBER 2015 (ARCHIVED)

ARCHIVED


PERFORMANCES:
FRIDAY 18th 7pm
SATURDAY 19th 1pm and 7pm

Facebook Feedback:

(We're sure FIONA CHESTERS won't mind us sharing this and recording it for posterity!)

'I just wanted to say a huge congratulations and thank you to Middlewich Youth Theatre for producing an outstanding panto this year. What a talented cast that are an absolute credit to young people and our community, led by such a dedicated team of adults. Xx'

Thursday, 17 December 2015

THE RIVER WEAVER, DECEMBER 2015


by Dave Roberts

Occasionally we like to relax our 'Middlewich only' rule in order to bring you something truly exceptional. And this is just such an occasion. 
This photo, by Julie Kavanagh who lives in Northwich, first appeared on Paul Hurley's Mid-Cheshire Through Time Facebook page, and immediately struck a chord with a lot of people. 
It was taken on the afternoon of December 16th 2015, from Hunt's Lock, Northwich, looking towards Hartford Road Bridge. 
Very little else is required by way of description because, as they say, a picture paints a thousand words. 
But aren't we lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world, and to have people around us with the talent to capture that beauty?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

SANTA'S SLEIGH ROUTES 2015 (ARCHIVED)

ARCHIVED


Courtesy of 
Middlewich Round Table


With grateful thanks to the Round Table, the 41 Club, those skilful tractor drivers who successfully steered Santa around our streets and to Marc Holmes who kept everyone informed!


Direct links:
(website)

(Facebook)
First published 29th November 2015
Re-published 9th/10th/11th/15th/16th December 2015



Tuesday, 1 December 2015

STRANGE VISITOR

by Dave Roberts

(First published 18th August 2011)

This morning I was looking through some photographs taken during my time working for ERF Ltd in Middlewich (1974 - 2001) and, among all the photos of trucks, fork-lifts, pallets and boring workaday stuff, found this photograph, which struck a rather sinister note and reminded me of just one of the hundreds of truck drivers who came to the site over those twenty seven years.




One of ERF's biggest suppliers was Kirkstall Forge Engineering of Leeds (later part of
the GKN Group) and most of their deliveries were made by a transport firm called Clark's.
The 'Yorkshire Ripper' murders which took place during the years 1975 - 1981 gripped the entire nation and, in particular, the North of England. The murderer seemed to  possess almost supernatural powers which enabled him to escape without detection from the scenes of his appalling crimes time and time again. Of course, as it turned out,  he had no supernatural powers at all, but he did have extraordinary luck.
ERF Middlewich had a constant stream of spares deliveries from early in the morning until early evening and some of the drivers would drop into the Goods Inward office to eat their sandwiches. Clark's driver, Peter Sutcliffe, a quiet, softly-spoken little man with strange eyes and a camouflage army 'bush hat' always seemed to arrive around lunch time and would sit with us, telling us about his life - how his wife Sonia was 'very artistic' and was planning to set up her own pottery business; how they were re-decorating their new house and all the other tedious little details of everyday life which everyone talks about.
Occasionally we would all comment on the news of the day (we were well supplied with daily  newspapers, taking in The S*n, The Mirror and The Daily Star every day) and the 'Ripper' murders, which filled the tabloids for days on end  were always cause for comment.
'He's Mad,' 'I hope they string him up when they catch him', 'He should be shot' - the usual remarks flowed whenever the subject came up. And, of course, Peter Sutcliffe joined in with the rest of us.
When the truth came out our colleagues at ERF Sandbach, where Sutcliffe also made deliveries, reported that on one occasion he had parked his truck in front of the entrance to the company's Sun Works, which was immediately adjacent to Sandbach Magistrate's Court in Middlewich Road, and shouted abuse at a prisoner who had been brought in for a preliminary hearing accused of murder. Whether this is true or not, I can't say. 
Now, thirty years on,Sun Works has gone, and so has the Magistrates Court.
In 2015 the building disappeared to make way for a sheltered housing scheme.
What did happen when the truth came out was that we immediately rushed to our 'returnable empties book', where details of empty pallets returned to Kirkstall Forge were recorded, and found umpteen carbon copies of Peter Sutcliffe's signature.
Unfortunately for us, before we could do anything about it, a foreman from the repair shop borrowed one of these signatures and sold it to the Evening Sentinel for £40, effectively destroying the market in Sutcliffe signatures.
'Epitaph' found in the cab of  Peter Sutcliffe's truck
Naturally we were all a little bit stunned at having on several occasions been in the company of Britain's most notorious serial killer and I, at least, have taken a great interest in the case ever since. Hence the photograph above of Barbara Jones' book Voices From An Evil God (Blake Hardbacks, 1992) sitting among the computer equipment and telephones of the Goods Inward office. I took it into work for a little light lunch time reading. The over-dramatic lighting, by the way, is not deliberate - it came about because of the camera's flash bouncing off the book's cellophane dust-jacket.

UPDATE (1st December 2015)
In early December 2015 psychiatrists at Broadmoor, where Peter Sutcliffe had been detained since 1984, determined that he was 'no longer insane' and was fit to be moved to a conventional prison.

UPDATE (26th August 2016)
On the 25th August 2016 it was announced that Sutcliffe, now calling himself Peter Coonan, had been moved from Broadmoor to Frankland Jail In Co. Durham, A spokesman said that Coonan would continue to be under observation because of his psychiatric condition and would 'never' be released.

P.S. The telephone which you can just make out in the background was rescued from a skip when ERF Middlewich closed in 2000 and was the Middlewich Diary office telephone until October 2015 when it was finally scrapped while we were moving house. Waste Not Want Not!

First published 18th August 2011
Re-published 1st December 2015