Saturday, 25 March 2017


Every year the Middlewich Town Council produces its guide to the many and varied events happening in the town throughout the year.

The 2017 guide is out now and is being distributed door to door. 

Copies are also available from the Town Hall and from shops and other venues around the town.

Find out more about EVERYTHING happening in Middlewich this year. Pick up YOUR copy NOW!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


Whenever this celebrated newsagents shop crops up in the Middlewich Diary we always seem to express surprise that it still exists. But it does - largely due, we suspect, to the existence of the flats associated with it and accessed from the rear.
We've discussed the shop in previous entries, notably, of course, in this one in which we first saw that fascinating 1948 shot.

 Now, for the first time, we can make a direct comparison between the shop as it was in Challinor's day and as it is now.
The most obvious difference, of course, is the loss of the tiny cottage tacked onto the left hand side of the shop. Before everything was covered with  white rendering it was possible to see signs of the building's truncation in the bricks on the left hand side. This is clearly visible in the photo in this entry.

On the right hand side, one of the shop windows has  gone; bricked up and with just a small window in its place for ventilation.
As if to make up for this, there's an additional upstairs window where the shop sign once was. This is a fairly new addition, possibly installed to provide more light for one of the upstairs flats.
The low building to the left of the shop has gone, to be replaced by Lex House, once home of Doctors* and Solicitors. Note that there is still a chimney sticking up above the roof of that building, presumably in connection with some modern central heating equipment.
It's interesting to note that there is still Victorian style scrolled decoration on either side of the shop, but close inspection reveals that it is different in each photograph; the 2012 version seems to be longer and slightly more elaborate than its 1948 counterpart.
As mentioned in previous entries, this shop was once the premises of J&M Print, after that firm moved from the basement of the Civic Hall, but, as far as we know, the  'shop' part of the premises is unused at present.

* In 2017 the doctors, at least, were back and  occupying  the whole building

UPDATE: 22nd March 2017:

And that was the way things were up until 2012. The problem, of course, with 'Now & Then' features is that 'Now' is a moveable feast. Fortunately, working on the internet enable us to update these diary entries with relative ease, and we're able to show you how things  have changed over the last five years.

Here's our updated photo of the area, taken on the 22nd March 2017:

And straightaway we can see that the old shop premises, now occupied by Peter Forshaw Funeral Services, have been altered yet again to suit their new role. To the left 'Lex House' has become the Water's Edge Doctors' Surgery, and to the right, where the old Infants' School, the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and the Wych House Lane Salt Works and its attendant workshops once were, is the Salinae Centre, set in its own gardens.

First published 21st March 2012.
Revised and update 22nd March 2017

Thursday, 16 March 2017


If you own the copyright on this picture please let us know
This photo from the Carole Hughes collection has all the hallmarks of being taken by a professional photographer, possibly working for the press, and the quality of the image seems to indicate that it was taken either from the original negative or from a very good print.
It dates back to 1969 when the Duke of Edinburgh, seen on the left of the photo, visited Middlewich to perform the official opening of British Salt's new factory in Booth Lane, which replaced all the other salt works in the town and is still going strong today, forty-three years after it opened.
The Duke obviously took the opportunity to visit the nearby RHM Foods Factory (which, until the year before, had been known as Cerebos) and inspect the Saxa Salt packing line.
When Carole posted this photo on Facebook, Robert Sheckleston, Martin Spurr and Andy Kendrick were swiftly identified as being part of the scene and we've no doubt at all that it won't be long before someone identifies others in the picture.

When this entry was first published Andrea Astles added this comment:

I've just shown this to my Mum, as she worked there at the time. The lady on the left is Anne Buckley and the lady on the right is Cynthia Barlow. The gentleman on the right was the boss, but she can't remember his name, sorry.

UPDATE (JANUARY 21st 2017):

In January 2017 Mike Jennings sent us two additional photographs of what we think must be the same occasion (on the grounds that, as far as we know, Prince Phillip wasn't a regular visitor to RHM, and most likely only ever went there once)

Prince Phillip is obviously keen to learn what's in store for him as he makes his way into the factory. Some of the people with him will probably be secret service men, but some will, no doubt be from top management at RHM and British Salt. Can anyone recognise any of them?

The Prince  can't wait to get cracking on his tour of RHM. Does anyone know who the gentleman to his right is? And who's that bringing up the rear?

Do you remember this auspicious occasion in the life of one of our town's biggest  industries, now sadly defunct?
If you can help put more names to faces, please don't hesitate to get in touch either here or on our Facebook Page. Or you can email us at

Many thanks to Mike Jennings for the additional photos and to Andrea Astles for her information.

And here's another photo taken on the same occasion, this time from Gaynor Smallwood and reproduced with her permission.
This appeared on the RHM FOODS MIDDLEWICH Facebook Group in March 2017

First published 3rd April 2012
Revised and re-formatted 21st January 2017
Updated and re-published 16th March 2017

Saturday, 11 March 2017


By Dave Roberts

We're taking the opportunity to bring together three photographs of a remarkable group of buildings, one from our own collection and two from the Frank Smith collection. Chris Earl carried on the builders and builders merchants business he inherited from his father, Ernie, at the top end of the land now occupied by the Factory Shop in Kinderton Street.
You can find the original diary entry describing these photos here.
Our main photo is a Kodachrome slide taken in 1973 showing the ramshackle and life expired buildings in Kinderton Street. The white building immediately behind them is the Masonic Lodge, and the junction with King Street is immediately out of shot to the left.
It's that huge wooden building right centre which got the attention of Frank Smith, because he knew its history.

In the first of Frank's photos, taken a couple of years later, demolition of the roadside buildings has begun. To the left St Mary's Catholic School in King Street (now the Parish Centre) can be seen. On the right is the frontage of the long timber structure which was such a feature of the premises, although it was largely hidden from view until the very end of its days.

And here's a side view of this remarkable building which, but for Frank Smith's foresight, might have been lost to posterity.
This much altered, patched up and decidedly wonky building was, according to Frank, a drill hall used by the Home Guard during the Second World War. On the extreme left the building which in later years became the Factory Shop has made an appearance.

The Earls were local builders for many years. You may even, without realising it, live in one of the many houses they built in the town over the years.

Ernie himself used to call into the rates office in Lewin Street, where I worked from 1969 to 1972, and pay the greater part of his rates bill in cash.

Later, Billy 'Cocky' Wilkinson, who lived on Seabank, just  a short distance away from Earl's yard, used to regale me in the Kings Arms with tales of working for Chris Earl both at the yard and at the family home in Chester Road.

And, of course, one of the Earl family is justly famous as a local historian and expert on all things Middlewich.

Allan Earl's books Middlewich 900-1900 (Ravenscroft Publications 1990) and Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) are required reading for anyone wishing to know about the true history of our town. Coincidentally, while I was working in the MUDC rates department, Allan was working across the corridor in the council's Surveyor's department.

Chris Earl died in 2007 at the age of 92.

Do you have memories of the Earl family? Did you work for Earl's builders? We'd love to hear from you.

Don't hesitate to get in touch, either on Facebook or by email, or by phoning us on 01606 833404.

Friday, 10 March 2017


ICI staff in the 1930s.
(l to r) Mr Brotherton, Mr Wrench, Unknown, Frank Smith, Bill Wakefield, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.

Mike Jennings has unearthed another photo from his classic collection, and we're looking at some of the workers on the administrative side of the ICI Alkali Works in Brooks Lane in the 1930s.

We hesitate to call them 'office staff', although they're standing outside the company's offices, as they were far more than that. 

Many of them were self-taught engineers and scientists who, to employ a well-worn cliche, were 'not afraid to get their hands dirty' in making sure the operation ran smoothly.

Among them is Frank Smith who, in later life, was one of the founding members of the Middlewich Heritage Society and wrote many articles on the subject of Middlewich and its industries.

We've been delighted to be able to make use of some of Frank's work in the Middlewich Diary. For example his evocative 1920s Christmas story A Middlewich Christmas Tale.
Frank also made posthumous contributions to our diary entries on

He was also a member of the works rugby team, as can be seen here.

We'd like some information about the other people shown in Mike's photo and, of course, to fill in the names of all the 'unknowns'. Can you help us put names to faces?

...and here's the office building they're all standing outside, as it was in its final days in 1973. The building stood on what is now a lawned area in front of the current Pochin building. Shortly after this picture was taken the old offices were demolished, the new ones already having been built behind it. The ornate railings which enclosed the  meagre front garden had long gone - probably taken for the war effort, like the railings around the parish church. Interestingly, though, part of the ornate 'pagoda' style railings can be seen reflected in the window in our main photo. A small remnant of these railings survives next to the Bare Bones Marketing building around the corner, which is itself a remnant of the former ICI works.

The ICI Alkali Works, Middlewich. The King's Lock pub is just out of shot to the left.
 Bill Armsden/John Bailey

Wednesday, 8 March 2017


We're very grateful to Sammi Hatton who, quite a while ago now, sent us this photograph of a rare piece of early 19th century needlework.

Sammi writes: 

'I thought this might be of interest. I came across it in the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh.

It's some needlework from the early 19th Century - apparently used as a way of teaching geography to children. I was quite excited when I spotted it!'

A great find, of course, and one which shows Cheshire in the days when the Wirral was part of the county and we had at least a short stretch of coastline stretching as far as New Brighton.

We think the correct term for this type of work is a 'sampler' and it will have served the dual purposes of, as Sammi says, teaching children about the geography of the county, but also of  helping them to practise their sewing skills.

It's obviously only a small item and whoever made it has shown great skill in representing even a small county like ours in such detail using only needle and thread.

Of course, this being the Middlewich Diary, we have managed to find a few mysteries and reasons for conjecture even in this small item.

Everything to the north of us is represented, quite tersely, by the word 'Manchester'.

To the left, the Wirral Peninsula, with the Mersey on one side, and the Dee on the other is indicated by Woodside, a name still current today for one of the ferry stations used by Mersey Ferries which ply between Liverpool and Birkenhead.

Inside the representation of Cheshire itself, only the places deemed important at that time are shown.

Naturally Middlewich comes first, albeit somewhat away from its true geographical position, with the county town of Chester a close second (representing in visual form that oft-repeated assertion that, in its heyday, Middlewich was 'second only in importance to the County Town of Chester' - an indication of just how vital the salt industry, and the money it brought in to both county and central governments, was).
Quite possibly Middlewich only gets first billing because of the shortage of space, the name being longer than that of Chester.

To the right of Chester we see Acton. And, as is our wont here at the Middlewich Diary, we immediately wonder which 'Acton' we are talking about. 

Is it the Acton which lies due west of Nantwich?

Or is it the village now known as Acton Bridge on the River Weaver near Northwich, which was originally also 'Acton' but had the word 'Bridge' added to save confusion with the Nantwich Acton? 

Who can say?

Below Acton is what appears to be Chad - or is it Ched? Can anyone shed any light on this? Is there, perhaps, some connection with St Chad's in Winsford?

And below Chester is another mystery name. Honley? Henley? Certainly not Hanley which is miles away to the south in Stoke-on-Trent.

Malpas just sneaks in at the bottom of the map, even though half of its name has, for reasons of space, ended up in Flintshire.

Update: Andrew Fielding, a member of Paul Hurley's Northwich & Mid-Cheshire Through Time group,  suggests  we might be looking for 'Malpas St Chad' and 'Handley' for 'Henley', also in the rural Deanery of Malpas. See also the comments below, which we suspect may also be from Andrew, making the interesting point that 
the Parish of Malpas was, at one time, partly in Cheshire and partly in Flintshire, making the placing of the name more accurate than we thought.

Perhaps whoever made this sampler was from the Malpas area, or at least went to school there? Or was the pupil in question from Middlewich, making this the real reason why our town is given such prominence?

To the left of the map is the County of Flint with what seems to say Mole, which we're thinking is probably Mold and below that Holt near Wrexham.

Shropshire just creeps in at the very bottom and then, to the right, is Derbyshire with its county town and Ashburn or Ashbourne.

All in all, a fascinating piece of history. Many thanks to Sammi for sharing it with us.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017


by Dave Roberts

We were very taken with the Middlewich Heritage Trust's new logo, illustrating as it does the 'Wych & Water' aspects of Middlewich's history, by showing a stylised representation of Seddon's Salt Works in Brooks Lane with an equally stylised canal boat  floating sedately by. In actual fact the boat appears to be floating sedately along Brooks Lane itself, but we'll have to put that down to artistic license. What's very striking about the logo is the colours used, which reflect those used by Seddon's Works right up until their closure in 1967.The large brine holding tanks which were a feature of all three works in Pepper Street, Wych House Lane and Brooks Lane were painted in red lead and signwritten with the words SEDDON'S SALT WORKS (or simply, when space was limited SEDDON'S) in white with black shading.

This encouraged us to  take another  look at our own photo of the Brooks Lane Works, taken on Kodachrome film in 1969 using the then popular Kodak Instamatic camera. The works themselves had closed two years earlier in 1967 but remained remarkably intact, demolition only beginning in earnest in the early 1970s. You can read a detailed description of this photo here. Take particular note of the feedback this photo generated.
Brooks Lane, 7th March 2017

...and this in turn, encouraged us to return to Brooks Lane to see what the scene looks like in 2017. It's still possible to tell that this was once an open pan salt works, as several sections of the original retaining wall along Brooks Lane remain, although the lane itself has been widened (this happened in the early 1970s as part of a deal with ERF Ltd who opened their Service Centre further up the road in 1971 and needed better access for deliveries and trucks travelling to and from the ERF repair shop on the site). Most of the site has now become home to Tarmac Readycrete and presents a rather dismal face to the world these days. The old salt works, while no oil painting, did have a sort of gloomy utilitarian grandeur to it, which the hotch-potch collection of concrete making apparatus and modern industrial buildings lacks. There are ambitious plans to transform the whole area surrounding Brooks Lane into a housing estate and marina development which will change things beyond recognition, if it ever comes to pass. It's worth remembering that the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich railway line is just a few yards away on the other side of these industrial buildings and the site suggested - 'suggested' being the operative word - for our new railway station is just out of shot to the left. If the new development does happen as planned, and the new station is indeed situated here, local residents will be ideally situated for travel to Manchester and Crewe. But isn't that a lot of 'ifs'?

Note: Murgatroyd's brine pumps, which are currently undergoing preservation are just at the top of the hill, behind the gym and tankwash buildings.

Sunday, 5 March 2017


Our February 2017 Masthead (also used in October 2016)

Our masthead photo for February 2017 (also used in October 2016) features a foggy day in Middlewich captured by Bill Armsden. Bill says that, as far as he remembers, the photo was taken in the winter of 2015.
It's something of a mystery photo as, at first glance, it appears to be a rural scene, perhaps taken on the outskirts of the town on the Shropshire Union heading towards Minshull Vernon? Or maybe on the T&M somewhere near Whatcroft?*
In fact we're looking at a scene which is very urban indeed. This is King's Lock in Booth Lane. Out of shot to the left is the pub which takes its name from the lock - one clue to its nearby presence is those picnic tables which, during the summer, are thronged with people enjoying a drink in the open air. 
Out of shot to the right, on the other side of Booth Lane, is that justly famous Middlewich institution,Etta Mault's chipshop.
And lurking in the mist behind the bush, left of centre, are the utilitarian industrial buildings which were once part of the ERF Service Centre, built on part of the old ICI Alkali Works. 
Perhaps the only real clue as to the true location of Bill's photo is the HGV tractor unit on the right trundling through the fog on its way to Sandbach or the M6 motorway.
They say that every picture tells a story. But the story is not always what you might think it is...

* This would, of course, be impossible. There are no locks on the Trent & Mersey between Middlewich and Preston Brook.

Friday, 3 March 2017




2017 Winners:
Business of the Year: Cups & Cakes
Volunteer of the Year: Stephen Dent
Senior Citizen of the Year: Sheila Cawley
Young Person of the Year: Jake Humphreys
Music, Arts & Culture Award: Phil Latham & Ian Hill-Smith
Young People's Champion: Jackie Latham
Community Service Award: Geoff Williams
Local Hero Award: Wendy Lomas
Excellence in Education Award: Amy Boon
Quality of Service Award: Aiden Devaney Butchers
Heritage and Respect Award: Geoff & Salli Page
Town Mayor's Special Award: David & Yvonne Moore

First published January 9th 2017
Re-published February 1st 2017
February 3rd 2017
March 3rd 2017
March 7th 2017