Monday, 31 October 2016


Photo: Cliff Astles
by Dave Roberts

Here's a striking image which Cliff Astles sent to us a while ago and we thought might be appropriate for Halloween.
Behind all the 'ghosties and ghoulies' and the rather unpleasant fake blood and plastic daggers and silly masks and so on lies the real Halloween, or Eve of Hallowtide, which was celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November in Medieval times.
Hallowtide (or, in Ireland, 'Samhain') has (or had) little to do with the supernatural (and absolutely nothing to do with blood, horror and screaming skulls and the like - that's an American invention which only came into being when Hollywood started to get a grip of people's imaginations in order to promote its cheap blood and gore horror films).
It was a Christian festival and a time of feasting and celebration of the start of winter.
It later became linked with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, again celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, in which the church celebrated its saints and martyrs and the departed souls of all who had gone before.
In England, until recent times, Halloween was regarded simply as a time when the 'spirit' world was closer to the every day world than usual.
Now, like Christmas and Easter, Halloween serves as another chance to make money for big business with sweet manufacturers and makers of novelties cashing in more and more with each passing year..
Good fun for the kids, of course, but a world away from its origins in the mists of time when people would pause for a while in their busy lives to remember those who had passed beyond the veil into unknown realms which we can only wonder about.

Halloween in Middlewich in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a fairly low-key affair, as it was elsewhere in Britain before the blatant commercialisation of the festival took hold.
We certainly made lanterns, but not out of pumpkins, which only went on sale here in recent years.
Our lanterns were  hollowed-out turnips with candles inside them, and they used to reek to high-heaven when they got hot.
I have vivid childhood memories of listening to ghost stories broadcast by AFN (the American Forces Network) on long-ago Halloween Nights over fifty years ago. They were broadcast on medium wave to the many American soldiers stationed here and all over Europe in those days.
The static and cracking and Radio Luxembourg-style fading in and out of the signal only added to the atmosphere.
Occasionally, but only occasionally, someone would organise a Halloween Party.
One such took place, I recall, in the late 1950s at the Manor, when it was still inhabited by the Willing-Denton family. As we were living in Nantwich Road at the time, it was just a matter of walking down the road and under the aqueduct to Manor Lodge, then making the arduous journey along the carriage drive to the Manor itself.
Once there, we were introduced to such quaint American customs as 'bobbing for apples'.
'Trick-or-treating' was discouraged because of  stories which reached us from America of people giving children apples with razor-blades in them and other such horrors. The stories may or may not have been true, but they certainly put us off the idea.
Halloween in those days was just a distraction. Most of our energy was spent on preparing for the much more popular Bonfire Night a few days later.

Cliff's picture is made up of  images taken in and around Middlewich on two separate occasions. If you are wondering where the tree is, see Cliff's comment below.

First published Halloween Night (31st October) 2014
Revised and re-published Halloween Night 2016


Melody Smith Animation
A short (ten-second) animation from Middlewich-based Melody Smith Animation for Halloween.
(originally produced in 2014)

Watch it here:

Or (for more information) Watch it on YouTube (recommended):

Friday, 28 October 2016


The Roberts Collection
Here's an interesting piece of Middlewich history in the form of a letterhead from the Middlewich Salt Co Ltd (incorporating Verdin Cooke & Co Ltd). The company was later to become part of Cerebos and had one of the earliest vacuum salt making plants in the country, as well as traditional open pan works. The letterhead itself repays closer inspection. From it we learn that the company's telephone number was Middlewich 117 (2 lines) and their telegraphic address was 'Witch, Middlewich'. Their registered office was at Willesden, London and this remained the case right up until the take-over by RHM Foods in the late 1960s.
The trade-marks are particularly interesting. For some reason stags have always been associated with salt (perhaps a simple matter of alliteration) and cruet sets containing stag salt and pepper shakers remain popular to this day.
Cerebos table salt, of course, still proudly displays the Royal coat of arms on its packaging: 'By Appointment To Her Majesty The Queen, suppliers of table salt and pepper, Cerebos, London'.
The other trade mark is based  on that old association which we've mentioned before between Middlewich and witches, and even includes a pun on the town's name in its 'Middle-Witch' brand.
This  heading comes from a letter of reference which my Dad, Arthur, obtained from the company in 1946 in order to get a new job at Benger's in Holmes Chapel.
This proved to be a costly mistake as he returned to his old job shortly afterwards having lost part of his pension entitlement.

UPDATE (28th October 2016)
Those three witches, of course, are too good, and too iconic, to be forgotten. This modest account of a long-forgotten salt company has, since the very start of the Middlewich Diary, been our most popular entry. So we've decided that an updated representation of them would be ideal to celebrate Halloween each year. Here's our special Middlewich Diary Masthead, first used on the 28th October 2016...

First published: 27th September 2011
Re-published: 28th October 2016

Friday, 21 October 2016

NOW and THEN: HIGHTOWN, 1972, 2011

Two photographs illustrating the dramatic changes in Hightown over the last 39 years. In the 1972 picture the Town Hall and adjacent row of shops are about to be demolished to make way for the ill advised 'piazza', a bone of contention locally from the start of and throughout its life. The problem was not with the design, but with its execution; the whole area was made up of pink, yellow and white paving stones and looked as if it was specifically intended to be bleak, windswept and rain-sodden. At one time it was a Middlewich rite of passage to do an 'all-nighter' on the piazza, staying up throughout the night, drinking, smoking and talking, though it's hard to think of a more miserable and depressing place for that sort of thing.
But it did, at least, provide an improved view of the church and a setting for the war memorial away from the traffic.
The current arrangement is a great improvement and resembles a Roman amphitheatre (or part of one, at least). It occupies more or less the same space as the piazza, but is far more attractive. In the summertime, when the Middlewich FAB Festival comes around, the space is used for morris dancing and concerts and attracts (and can accomodate) huge crowds.
And at night time, when approached along St Michael's Way, the town centre can look stunning.
In front of what is now Tesco Express, parking arrangements have varied over the years. In fact, until fairly recent years, parking there at all was almost impossible, as can be deduced from the 1972 picture. A parking spot outside Tesco is a much sought-after thing, and facilities have been extended bit by bit further up Hightown until we have reached a situation where the through traffic along the street is almost an afterthought.
Hightown in 1972 had character and history, but the property on the left hand side, including the Town Hall, was worn out, shabby and difficult to maintain and was definitely reaching the end of its days.
The 2011 outlook is much brighter and the town now has a centre it can be proud of.

The fact that the 'new Bullring' resembles a Roman amphitheatre is no accident as Town Clerk Jonathan Williams explains here.

Photo: Carrick Plant Ltd
The amphitheatre style is very much by design. In the early 2000s we received Heritage Economic Regeneration funding for the town centre; shop fronts, public realm etc. There were a number of designs drawn up to renovate the piazza area. The Town Council applied for an additional £60K from the Rural Recovery Fund, which allowed us to excavate the site and drop down in tiers from Hightown level to the former Lower Street line (now the bus lane). The amphitheatre was someone's daft idea (ahem!) but was designed to not only acknowledge the town's past history but also create a modern piece of public space with a performance area and built-in seating. Total cost was about £350k and we had some initial flack...'Should've spent it on a swimming pool' etc. Of course it was grant money, which would have been spent in another town if we hadn't come up with this scheme. Apart from our time as Town Council/Vision Officers of the day, the new Bull ring cost Middlewich £10,000. - Jonathan Williams

And, keeping things in the family. Jonathan's Mum, Geraldine, commented:

I couldn't agree more with your observations about present-day Hightown and the first impressions it gives of the town when approached from the Chester Road end of St Michael's Way. This is precisely why I took this photograph a couple of years ago.

First published 21st October 2011
Updated and re-published 21st October 2016

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


Memories of  Middlewich Civic Hall
By Dave Roberts

Adapted from ‘Middlewich Civic Hall – the first twenty five years’ as published in the Middlewich Heritage Society Newsletter, October 1994.


Author’s note:
When this article first appeared in the Heritage Society Newsletter I gave it the title ‘Middlewich Civic Hall – the first twenty-five years’, which might well have led people to expect a detailed account of EVERYTHING which happened there between September 1969 and October 1994.
 Although people have, as we have proved with the ‘Middlewich Diary’. a high tolerance for Middlewich trivia, that would have been too much for even the most avid Middlewich fan to take.
 The article was really just a first-hand eye-witness account of the Hall’s opening on September 12th 1969 with a few details of the slightly fraught pre-opening period (kindly supplied by Albert Robinson, by the way) and a couple of other memories of occasions when I was there as MC of a rock concert and the first Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival, and so I have edited and re-written it accordingly.
The Civic Hall will be in the news again during 2012 as the Town Council get involved in taking over its running from Cheshire East, and I thought it would be appropriate, for our last Middlewich Diary entry of 2011, to go back to the beginning.
The article is also appropriate for New Year’s Eve because it mentions the fight between the Young Farmers and the Cerebos Foods Transport Social Club (won, as you’ll see by the Cerebos faction) for the honour of hosting the very first New Year Party at Middlewich Civic Hall forty-two years ago tonight on the 31st December 1969.

I was at the Civic Hall on the day it opened in 1969, and twenty-one years later, in 1990, had the privilege of presenting the main concert at the town’s brand-new Folk & Boat Festival at the same venue.
Even before it opened, Middlewich’s new ‘showpiece’ was causing controversy.
Cerebos Foods Transport Social Club was at daggers drawn with the Young Farmer’s Club over the booking of the Hall for New Year’s Eve 1969.
The Cerebos faction were insisting that Clerk to the Council, Mr Joseph Alcock, had confirmed the booking, whereas the Establishment Committee were determined that the Hall should be let to the YFC who intended to hold a public dance.
Eventually, Cerebos won the day. They had, after all, splashed out £40 to hire a band, and this was ‘not refundable’.
And as if all this were not enough the sink unit chosen for the hall was the subject of heated debate.
Councillor Fred Stallard described the sink as ‘paltry’ and implied that, as council surveyor Donald Stubbs, who had ordered the sink, was a bachelor, he was ‘not well-versed in the field of washing up’.
Mr Stubbs retorted that even a bachelor could be interested in cooking.
Acting Deputy Clerk Terry Fitton was instructed to advertise the fact that the MUDC was offering free use of the hall to local organisations during its first week.
Meanwhile, probably oblivious to all the small town politics surrounding the Civic Hall, contractors Lanner Ltd of Wakefield were putting the finishing touches to the building and Charlesworths of Crewe were installing the sound system and stage lighting.
A firm of signwriters were asked to make a commemorative plaque to be unveiled by Council Chairman Wilfrid Faulkner – a plaque which, as it turned out, contained an unfortunate spelling error which was to cause red faces at the opening ceremony.
In what would nowadays be called the ‘run up’ to the opening of the hall, fresh controversy erupted.
Why, asked the Chamber of Trade & Commerce, had local shopkeepers not been asked to tender for the equipping and decorating of the hall? Even the flowers for the opening ceremony had been obtained from Winsford.
The Council replied that local traders had been asked to supply flowers and had been unable to do so – a reply which could have been predicted.
Despite all this wrangling, plans went ahead for the grand opening, which was to take place on Friday September 12th 1969.
I was working in the Rates Office at Middlewich UDC at the time (starting salary at 16 £330 per annum) and I have good reason to remember the day the Civic Hall opened.. It was my 17th birthday, and this meant I was in line for a pay rise (salary at 17 £380 per annum in accordance with Clerical Division Grade 1).
We were all given the afternoon off  to attend the grand opening. There were plates of ham and salmon sandwiches and some little puff pastry things which, we were assured, were ‘vol-au-vents’.
Small glasses of sherry were proffered, and we all stood around eagerly awaiting the opening ceremony.
I have been unable to find any written evidence for this, but I am pretty sure that the music in the afternoon was supplied by Percy Bailey and His Band, in what must have been one of their last appearances. Contemporary reports say that the afternoon music was provided by the Secondary School Band, but I don’t remember them, just the Percy Bailey Band. I even remember talking to Percy and one of the councillors patting him on the back and saying, ‘well done. Percy!’
Bailey’s Band was the mainstay of Middlewich music for many years and Percy himself was famous for his habit of propping his copy of the Evening Sentinel on the music stand of his piano and reading it intently throughout every dance session.
As we know, our minds can play tricks as we get older, but this is such a vivid memory that there’s no doubt in my mind that Percy and his Band were there and, if that fact is not recorded elsewhere, I’m glad to do it here.
When it came to the unveiling of the commemorative plaque, to the consternation of council officials and the amusement of Mr Faulkner, his name had been spelt WILFRED instead of WILFRID, something that, he said, had happened to him all his life.
A council spokesman said later that the mistake had been noticed but it had been too late to get the wording altered in time.
Mr Malcolm Bowden, chairman of the Establishment Committee, paid tribute to Councillor Clarence Costello who, he said, had fathered the whole project.
The new Civic Hall was now well and truly open and, in the evening, there was a special Celebration Dance featuring ‘the Ray Douglas Music’ (tickets fifteen shillings including refreshments).
This was, remember, September 1969.
By February 1970 Mr Bowden was accusing the public of ‘letting the council down’.
The Hall had been let on only a ‘tiny’ number of occasions and this was ‘heartbreaking’.
Perhaps the high charges were to blame? To hire the Hall for a whole day on a Friday or a Saturday would set you back £20.
A series of ‘beat dances’ came to an abrupt halt in January 1970 after ‘rowdyism’ and, for most of its first twenty-five years of existence the Hall was under-used.
Over that twenty-five years I made several appearances at the Civic Hall, as disc-jockey, compere and MC.
One memorable occasion was the night I introduced a Rock Concert in aid of the CND, featuring a band with the cheerful name of Death Wish.
The highlight of this strange (and deafening) evening came when the band decided to let off a ‘thunderflash’ – a kind of detonator affair which made a terrifyingly loud band, a bright blue flash and a vast amount of smoke.
I was about six inches  away from the thing at the time and, although I had been warned about it, I was still very nearly thrown off the stage by the explosion.
And when the first Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival took place in 1990 I was there, along with Bernard Wrigley to present the first of many mainstage concerts for a festival which helped  kick off the long, slow and laborious process of putting our town back on the map.
© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011
31st December 2011

UPDATE - 19th March 2013: The Middlewich Civic Hall was taken over by Middlewich Town Council in March 2013 and  rather fittingly, became the Town Hall Function Suite. At the same time the Victoria Building, home for many years to Middlewich's Council offices was officially given the name it should have had for all those years, the Town Hall. 

UPDATE - 12TH October 2016: By 2016 the running of the hall had been taken over by the Middlewich Community Trust* and the hall was renamed the Victoria Hall, a pleasing reference to its links with the Victoria Building and the former Victoria Square, the name given to the land between the building and Lewin Street.

*not 'Middlewich Heritage Trust' as we erroneously said earlier. Many thanks to Ken
Kingston for pointing this out.

First published New Years Eve 2011
Re-published New Years Eve 2014
Re-formatted and updated 12th October 2016

Thursday, 6 October 2016



Yes. It's Kinderton Street once again, this time in the early part of 1975.
One of Pochin's concrete pumps negotiates the Brooks Lane junction.

All traffic, at this time, was still using the old road formation and we can see from this shot that this was noticeably higher than the new formation (between the kerbstones and the flimsy wire 'fence' with red and white markers, approximately where Whittaker's shop once stood, with Costello's to its right).

It's interesting to note that the piece of road where the concrete pump and the van are standing was once the total width of the Kinderton Street carriageway, taking large volumes of traffic to and from the M6 Motorway.

Presumably, once the new roadway was able to accommodate traffic, the old formation was closed and lowered to make both sides level. Or, alternatively, was the new formation built up to be level with the old one?

In the background, of course, looking a little beleaguered in the wintry weather, is the Boar's Head Hotel. Some alterations must have been made to the carriageway outside this esteemed hostelry, in order to create the small parking area and grass verge, along with re-modelled entrance to Seabank and its carpark, which we see today.

Although it is not too apparent from this photo, the exterior of the pub was looking a little sorry for itself at the time and has since been brightened up considerably. The original Victorian detail has been restored and hanging baskets decorate the front of the pub, regularly winning the establishment prizes in the 'Middlewich In Bloom' competition.
It's also bigger, with an extension, built in sympathetic style, to the left of the building as shown in this picture.

First published 6th October 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 6th October 2016

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


Photo courtesy of David Myles

Old black and white photographs have their charms, of course, but don't you wish that, in this case, David 'Jock' Myles, Middlewich Station's most distinguished signalman, had used colour film?
Jock was a keen gardener and made use of his skills and his spare time creating this wonderful garden on the Up (Crewe bound) platform at Middlewich Station in the 1950s. 
In fact, so colourful and pleasing to the eye was the garden that it won Middlewich First Prize in the British Railways (London Midland Region) Best Kept Station Garden Competition towards the end of that decade (when, of course, the station closed to passengers).
This is just one in a series of pictures of the garden and shows BR's original 'lion & wheel' emblem above an exhortation to 'Travel British Railways'
Sitting on top of the whole assemblage is - what else? - another one of those Middlewich witches ( and there's another one to the right of the picture).
Original and creative use of railway equipment was made in putting together the garden, as we'll see in some of the other pictures in this series.

We're grateful to  Jock's son, also called David Myles, for passing these photographs on to us.

Originally published 4th October 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 4th October 2016