INDEX

INDEX

Sunday, 31 December 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018

Many thanks for following our Middlewich Diary throughout 2017. 
There's much more to come in 2018! Best wishes to everyone for the New Year!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

RIVER WHEELOCK FROM THE MIDDLEWICH BRANCH CANAL EARLY 1970s


Here's a nice colour shot by Jack Stanier to cheer us all up during the cold winter days.
Taken on a Summer day in the early 1970s, it shows the River Wheelock meandering its way from the aqueduct which takes it under the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch and flowing on alongside Nantwich Road, later to run under a bridge in Chester Road just outside the town and borough boundaries, on its  way to join the River Dane near the narrow canal aqueduct not far from Croxton Lane.
The combined rivers then flow on another five miles or so to join the River Weaver at Northwich.
The Chester Road bridge, is perfectly level, so that many people will not even realise they are crossing the River Wheelock as they drive in and out of Middlewich. The bridge was rebuilt a few years ago, resulting in it looking even less like a bridge than before.
In the middle distance can be seen the little bridge which takes Mill Lane across the river on its way to Stanthorne. The whole footpath from Nantwich Road to Stanthorne is, by the way, a public right of way, although the owners of Stanthorne Mill (the white buildings seen to the left of the photograph) always made a point of disputing this in former days.
Close to this bridge is a weir which you can see here in a black and white photograph taken around the same time, or possibly a little earlier. The weir is very difficult to photograph these days, so overgrown has it become - a point we were making here, when we were looking back at the general area as it was in 1967.
In fact a quick glance at Google Earth will show that the whole course of the river, certainly between Nantwich Road and Chester Road, has become completely engulfed in trees, making it very difficult to follow.
I originally thought that this was a recent phenomenon but, in fact, as a glance at page 52 of Allan Earl's Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) will show, these trees have been here for many years and were at one time being cultivated by Boosey's Nurseries until the First World War intervened and they were left to run wild
The village of Wheelock, by the way, was named after the river and Middlewich's main street was named after the village.

To see the aqueduct this picture was taken from go to SUC AQUEDUCT OVER THE RIVER WHEELOCK 2012

First published 30th December 2011
Re-published 30th December 2017

Friday, 22 December 2017

MIDDLEWICH IN WINTER 2017



Snow is  not a very common feature of the Middlewich winter scene. Our low-lying and sheltered position on the Cheshire plain between the Derbyshire hills to the east and the Mersey estuary to the west usually means that we are protected from the worst of any snow showers (though we do get more than our fair share of rain). December 2017 was somewhat different, though, as exceptional circumstances brought a dusting of snow, transforming the town and bringing with it some great photo opportunities. At just after 8 o'clock on the morning of the 9th of December, Jennifer Jane Snelson, who works on Hightown, was able to capture this classic view of Middlewich town centre in the snow. Our magnificent Christmas tree takes centre stage, unusually seen with its lights switched off. This photo first appeared on the Middlewich Community Group.

Jim Moores of the Canals & Rivers of Middlewich Facebook page (link in the left hand column) took this frosty early sunrise shot of the junction between the Trent & Mersey and Shropshire Union (Middlewich Branch) canals.  The relentless road traffic in Booth Lane thunders on, while the canal sleeps.

A couple of miles outside Middlewich, spanning the SUC Middlewich Branch as it winds its way through the Cheshire pasture lands towards Nantwich, is bridge no. 26, known locally as 'Norman's Bridge'. Norman's Wood lines the towpath to the right. Norman's Bridge carries Coal Pit Lane, which runs from Stanthorne crossroads to join Chester Road just outside the town boundary. The picture-postcard scene is captured beautifully by Natasha Harrop.

Commentary by
Dave Roberts

SEE ALSO: WINTER IN MIDDLEWICH 2016

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

THE BOGOTA BOYS AT MIDDLEWICH CARNIVAL 1949

© Phillip Shales 2011  All rights reserved
with acknowledgments to Kerry Fletcher and Dave Thompson of Middlewich Town Council

By Dave Roberts

Here's another vintage picture from the Phillip Shales collection. It's a scene from the 1949 Middlewich Carnival procession as it passes along Lower Street. In the background are several buildings we've seen before in our Middlewich meanderings but never before at this particular period in time.
They are, from left to right, the White Bear, Dewhursts butchers, the shop later to become Vernon Coopers - does anyone know when Vernon Coopers moved into this shop and what kind of shop it was before they took it over? I have a feeling that 1949 is a little early for the radio, TV and electrical retailer to be there - and Stanways fishmongers (or 'fish dealers' as the sign on the premises would have it).
Don't forget, also, that the 'Vaults' was still there, set back from the road and hiding in the space between the White Bear and Dewhursts. Many people mistake the Vaults for a new building which replaced what was on the site before but no - it was there all along.
To the left and right we can see evidence of the huge crowds following the procession. And there are still more taking in the scene from the upper windows of the shops, which is something people rarely do nowadays. As we've seen before, large numbers of people attend events in our town centre these days, but in former times masses of people approaching football crowd proportions thronged the town centre and the streets leading to it.
Which neatly brings us to the 'float' taking centre stage.
As far as I can make out, the 'Bogota Boys' must be a reference to the World Cup which was revived for 1950 (amid much controversy, apparently) and the qualifying heats would be taking place at the time of the 1949 Carnival. I can't, however, find any reference to a team from Bogota having qualified for the contest, and to be heading off for Rio De Janeiro where at least some of the matches were played (hence the sign saying NOW TRAINING FOR CUP TIE AT RIO).
The link with Rio is an interesting one; both Rio and Middlewich have always been famous for their carnivals, although it has to be said that one of them knocked the other into a cocked hat. Poor old Rio.
I'll leave it to those better versed in football history to decide why this particular team of Middlewich athletes should have decided to name themselves after a Colombian team.
Our Bogota Boys look much more likely to be heading to the British Legion than footballing glory in Brazil.
One of the hand made signs on the truck says, quite rightly:


HELP THE LEGION TODAY. YOU MAY NEED THEIR HELP SOME DAY.


But they do appear to be a genuine football team. Another sign  says  
THINKING OF LAST YEAR'S GOOD FRIDAY SUCCESS, THE OLD CROCKS KEEP IN TRAINING, EVEN WHEN IT'S RAINING

In accordance with another long standing Middlewich tradition the truck (or 'lorry', to be more in keeping with the spirit of the times) was provided by W.E. Jones of Middlewich, something the firm would continue to do for many years to come.
And there's another Middlewich link here, in that the lorry was made by the then only sixteen year old ERF Ltd at the Sun Works in nearby Sandbach. (the company later had a more direct involvement in Middlewich when it moved its spares and repair facilities here in the early 1970s). You can just make out the 'sunray' ERF logo underneath that hand-lettered sign on the front of the vehicle.

If you want to get your modern-day Middlewich bearings, that lorry would be just to the right of the access road that now runs from the Bullring past The Vaults and out onto St Michael's Way.
And finally, just take a look at what is occurring as the Bogota Boys make their way along the streets of post war Middlewich.
Their lorry is a tipper and the driver has, for the amusement of the crowd, decided to operate the tipper mechanism, humorously threatening to decant the Bogota Boys onto Lower Street.
We all get a bit fed up with Health & Safety requirements these days, but sometimes you can see where some of them came from...
UPDATE (31st December 2016) We have now found out the identity of the lorry driver. It's none other than Ivor Niblett (Senior), father of Ivor (Junior), Jessica, Don and Chris. Or, as Don himself put it, in fine old Middlewich style, 'our owd chap'. 


Editor's Note: Other photographs found in the same computer file as this one have been proved to actually come from the 1952 Carnival. Because of the 'World Cup' connections mentioned above, we've decided to leave this one dated as 1949. If you have any information as to the true date of this photo, please get in touch.


Facebook feedback:


Such a stunningly evocative picture of a long lost era couldn't fail to provoke a lot of comment. Here's some of it -ed.


Geraldine Williams This is such a good photograph showing how important an event the Carnival was in those days with people turning out in force. I can just about remember when the King and Queen drove along Wheelock Street as part of their tour of the country celebrating the end of the war. The street was packed for that historic event too. My father had an electrical shop in Wheelock Street and fitted coloured lights round the window. Of course he wasn't allowed to have them switched on because of the restrictions on power still in force but Dad flicked the switch on and off as the royal car passed by and they caught the King's eye, much to Dad's satisfaction. I don't think anyone had ever heard of Bogota before the football connection. The Old Crocks football match on Good Friday was an annual institution but I can't remember who their opponents were. The shop at the corner of Pepper Street was once a crockery shop owned by a family from Winsford called Dutton, probably about the time of this photograph. My mother was keen to start collecting Wedgewood crockery - the original blue with the raised white grapevine border - which the Duttons sold but her entire collection comprised of two dishes so I don't know whether it was because the Duttons sold up or mother's funds ran out!!

Andrew Tomlinson They couldn't be the Bricker Cup winners, could they? There were major riots and unrest in Bogota in 1948 - could they have picked the name as some strange pun?
There does seem to be some kind of cup or trophy on the roof of the lorry's cab.
And does it really say that  W E Jones' phone number is Middlewich 26 on the door?
By the way, the 1950 World Cup was held in Brazil and England went out in the group stages, famouly losing 1-0 to the USA! 


Geraldine Williams Didn't the England team do their training in Bogota to acclimatise for the World Cup?

Andrew Tomlinson Are you thinking of 1970 in Mexico? In any case that wouldn't have been in 1949. I still think this team looks more like a Bricker Cup side.
I'm just talking to Mum now and she seems to think there was a team called 'The Old Crocks' who played once a year for a cup - she can't remember who they played, but thinks it was against the same team every year, and the game was played Easter Weekend, although she can't be 100% certain.
I seem to remember similar matches to the one Mum thinks she can remember, being played on the same day as the Bricker Cup final. The reference to Rio will be the FIFA World Cup for certain, as 1950 was the first year that England took part.

Daniel Preston Relatives of ours lived in the upstairs flat at the Vernon Cooper building in the 1950s. They were my dad's cousin and her family. I can remember my second cousin playing with his lead soldiers by the fire.

Dave Roberts By coincidence, I knew the family which lived there in the late 60s/early 70s. They were Frank Ryder and family, formerly of the ICI farm near Wimboldsley. Their son Stuart, now sadly passed away, was my first 'best friend' at Wimboldsley School when i started there in 1957.

First published 20th December 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 20th December 2017




  • Tuesday, 19 December 2017

    SANTA'S SLEIGH ROUTES 2017 (ARCHIVED)



    And thank you  to Middlewich Round Table for inviting Santa to tour Middlewich once again this year. To find out more about the Round Table and the excellent work they do, not only at Christmas but all the year round, take a look at their website:



    Once again this year the Round Table collected food on behalf of

    Marc Holmes writes...
    On behalf of The Salvation Army in Winsford I would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to the community of Middlewich and also to Santa and his snowmen of Middlewich Round Table for your generosity, support and donations over the last couple of weeks. 

    It has been my privilege to have come and collected your donations of food/gifts/toiletries and the amount collected is mind blowing! My car has been full 3 times (and almost overflowing tonight!)!

    This Christmas we have noticed the need for support even more than other years. We have already supported more than 200 families with food parcels, (which include festive goodies and a gift for every member of the family) with more going out over the next few days. 

    In addition to the food parcels we will also be opening up our hall on Christmas Day to those who would otherwise be on their own, where they can enjoy a Christmas dinner, fun and fellowship.

    Thank you just doesn't seem enough!
    Without your help we wouldn't be able to help so many people. It really does make a difference to their lives.
    God bless you all and we wish you all a very Happy, Healthy Christmas and New Year.



    Photo used with permission
    To finish our Santa Sleigh run in 2017 we donated a very special trike for a very special young man ! Santa's sleigh and the snowmen delivered William his dream transport allowing him to have a little of his own mobility. This could not be achieved without all our Round Table, our family, friends and those in the community who support the work we do. Happy New Year all !! - Middlewich Round Table, 2nd January 2018


    Santa's sleigh routes for 2017 were...







    First Published 4th December 2017
    Re-published 11th December 2017
    12th December 2017
    13th December 2017
    14th December 2017
    15th December 2017
    17th December 2017
    18th December 2017
    19th December 2017

    Sunday, 17 December 2017

    CHRISTMAS POEM 2017




    by Rachel Hughes


    'I'll have one. Then just another...
    'Oh, go on then! It's Christmas time, brother!'
    A couple of shots, a few more pints.
    'I'm not paying for a taxi...I'll be all right!'

    'I'll be home soon, love!' - She's asking again.
    'I ain't walking, it's started to rain...'
    Laughing and joking, the time passes by,
    Enjoying the company stood by your side.

    'I really  must go now; my tea's in the dog!
    And it's been a few hours since I finished my job.'
    As wobbly legs take this Human across the road,
    It tells itself it's in 'driveable mode'.

    Key's in the starter, the mirror's in view.
    'I'm on my way home love! I love you, I do!'
    Driving along with thoughts of its bed,
    The drunk-driving human hits a tree up ahead.

    A knock on the door wakes the family inside.
    Tears start to fall from the loved ones' eyes;
    'How has this happened? I can't believe...
    'Why would our loved one decide to leave?'

    An individual's act; a choice that was made,
    Another human life that could have been saved...
    Think of the others you'd leave behind,
    At any time of year, not just Christmas time.

    ©Rachel Hughes, November 2015
    (reproduced with permission)



    Editor's note: We thought this excellent poem by Rachel Hughes deserved as wide an audience as possible, partly because of the time of year, and partly because of the powerful writing and the message it gets across. A message which can't be repeated too often. It first appeared on the Middlewich Community Group on Facebook - DR







    Monday, 11 December 2017

    AN AWKWARD TURN TO THE LOMPON

    We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know.

    A what? Middlewichians (or 'Middlewichers', which seems to be the favoured current term) of long-standing might just understand why I have used this particular title for this posting. It's another one of those familiar postcards of old Middlewich scenes we all grew up with and 'An Awkward Turn To The Lompon' was the title/description hand-written on the original negative, although it's missing from  this particular print, which we’ve borrowed from the invaluable Paul Hough Collection.
    So what does it mean?
    I always, without really thinking it through, had a vague idea that it might, in some way, be a corruption of 'lump pan' but this, of course, is a dead end. The nearest lump pans were some distance away in Wych House Lane or Pepper Street.
    But the word 'lompon' does have a kind of authentic Cheshire dialect ring to it, so I consulted A Glossary Of Words Used In the County Of Chester  published by Robert Holland of Frodsham in 1885 and found this:

    LOMPOND (or, as it should probably be spelt, LOM POND) - the pond in a farm yard into which all refuse runs.
    There is a place at the junction of two brooks,the Allum and the Croco at Kinuerton (sic -ed)called Lompon - The Cheshire Sheaf (The Cheshire Sheaf was a regular column featured in the Chester Courant newspaper)

    So 'Lompon' was, or could have been, a Cheshire word for a kind of muck hole or cesspit. But how does this fit in with the picture above, which has teased and tantalised many of us for years? According to Brian Curzon  in Images of England - Middlewich (Tempus Publishing 2005)the large building in the centre of the photograph is  the Navigation Inn, which was one of those split level pubs with entrances at street level and canal level, and stood immediately next to the old Town Bridge, and the motorcycle and sidecar are turning from Mill Lane (where Town Bridge Motors now is) to take an immediate left turn onto the bridge.
    But, if Brian Curzon is right, here's the enigma: when you turn out of Mill Lane today onto Town Bridge, you turn right, not left.
    If we take the picture and flip it horizontally it makes more sense.

    In this case Kinderton Street would come in from behind the camera and in front of  the buildings on the extreme left of the picture. Mill Lane should have joined Kinderton Street to the right of this shot, but there doesn't seem to be a gap in the pavement to allow for this. It all seems a bit tenuous and unlikely.
    And, in any case, could a picture like this have been published 'back to front' for so many years without anyone noticing?
    (In any case, John Capper has pointed out that, in the reversed version, the sidecar is on the wrong side for the UK, which is 'not out of the question, but unlikely'.)
    It just doesn't seem to ring true, whichever way you look at it (to coin a phrase). The road in the foreground is much more likely to be Kinderton Street itself,  but, if we take that to be true the picture remains a bit of an puzzle. 
    Perhaps the building on the left (of the top picture) wasn't the Navigation Inn at all. Perhaps the hostelry in question is, in fact, out of sight behind the building on the right? This would make the road in the foreground Kinderton Street all right, but what, then, were all those buildings to the left?
    Are they the buildings seen on the right of this picture? 




    They don't look like them.
    Now we can begin to see why this particular postcard has always puzzled people. We all know what it depicts, or is supposed to depict but, somehow, the pieces won't fall into place properly. We have a nagging feeling that, somehow, in some way, the picture is 'the wrong way round'.
    To simplify our dilemma: I've looked at this old postcard thousands of times as a straightforward picture of a motorbike and sidecar travelling down Kinderton Street on its way to pass over the old town bridge. Why, then, is it turning left?
    The answer has to be that the alignment of Kinderton Street was drastically altered when the new bridge was built and that was a lot more demolition than I'd thought. (Another red herring, with hindsight, when you know the real solution to the mystery -Ed).
    But just where was the ‘Lompon' anyway? It must have been a familiar local name, to have been thought worthy of a mention on a postcard. But why would a cesspit be a local landmark? Then again, this is Middlewich...
    Was it a reference to the River Croco itself which, as we've discussed before, seems to have been used as a drainage culvert for most of its long history?
    On the other hand, the name Lompon, as used here, may have nothing whatsoever to do with cesspits and drainage, and might have another source altogether.
    And what about the other brook, the Allum, which is supposed to join the Croco somewhere near here?
    Well, actually I have a theory about that which will have to wait for another day.
    Incidentally, non-Middlewichers may like to note that the word 'awkward' in our title should be pronounced 'ockud'.

    Cliff Astles says: Sure this one was taken of the old Middlewich Town Bridge over the Trent & Mersey Canal, some time in the early 1900s, The motorbike and sidecar are a giveaway. This would be well before the new 
    Town Bridge was built (1931-Ed). The corner of the building on the right may even be the Talbot Hotel.



    As is usual with this kind of problem, the actual answer is very simple, and was 'there all the time'.

    We have indeed been looking at the picture 'the wrong way round' but not in the way we surmised.

    Here's the answer.

    The following was originally published as a separate Diary entry. For convenience, we've combined the two entries together.

    We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
    We're very grateful to Dave Thompson of Middlewich Town Council for sending us an aerial view of Middlewich as it was in 1928. I've seen this aerial view many times, as it hung for a long time  in a corridor in the Boar's Head Hotel in Kinderton Street.

    The picture above is a section of that aerial view showing the  Town Bridge area as it was then, and solving, after all these years, the mystery of where the 'Awkward Turn To The Lompon' photo was actually taken.

    It's strange indeed that no one I ever spoke to about this ever made the connection between the two photos, because the truth is plain to see. That's a very distinctive group of buildings.


    When we said  that we may have been looking at the picture 'the wrong way round' we were closer to the truth than we knew.

    It's obvious from the above that the motorbike and sidecar combination was not in Kinderton Street at all, but in Lower Street and travelling in the opposite direction, towards Holmes Chapel.

    To drive home the point, and to coin another phrase - X Marks The Spot.
    There even seems to be another motorbike and sidecar combination on the bridge in this shot.

    So Kinderton Street itself may not have changed its alignment very much in the sweeping changes of 1931, but, on the other side of Town Bridge, Lower Street certainly did. In fact it's still hard to get one's head around that abrupt turn off the bridge. But it has to be remembered that a section of Middlewich churchyard was removed in 1931 to enable the widening of Lower Street. Part of the Town Hall was also demolished at this time, and the building can be seen in its original form at bottom right. In the changes of the 1970s the 'Church' side of  the street was left alone, and all the demolition took place on the opposite side of the road.

    At the top of the photo, Middlewich Town Wharf can be seen, seemingly in those days much more a part of the town centre, rather than being separated from it as is the case today (a situation which, we hope, will change once again when the 'Gateway To Middlewich' scheme finally comes to fruition).

    All the buildings around the Town Bridge also went in 1931, of course, and the  road crossing it was considerably altered and widened.

    We'll be returning to this fascinating 1928 view of our town to study other sections of it in future postings.

    Very interesting stuff of course (for some of us, anyway) but we still have to find out why this particular part of Middlewich should be called 'The Lompon'. So on we go...

    John Capper I'm glad that has been solved. That 1928 picture is fascinating. Looking at the position of the sidecar on the road in that picture I think confirms it was an awkward turn. It's a good job the roads were quiet then.

    Dave Roberts Yes. Were there a lot more motorbike/sidecar combinations about at that time, John? Because that could explain the title. That turn from Lower Street onto Town Bridge may have been notorious among the biking fraternity, and well enough known for everyone to 'get the joke'.

    John Capper. I believe there were. An alternative to the family car which would have been unaffordable to a lot of people then.




    First published 7th/8th December in two parts December 2011

    Re-published 11th December 2017 as a combined entry.




















    Wednesday, 6 December 2017

    THE MID-CHESHIRE RAIL LINK CAMPAIGN 1992-2015

    by Dave Roberts


    The campaign's official logo, based on an illustration used in our first ever publicity leaflet. This design was never used extensively, as certain members of the group felt that the type of train illustrated would lead the public to expect 'better' trains than the clapped out Sprinters and Pacers the service would, initially at least, undoubtedly be provided with!


    For me it all began in the early 1990s with a photograph and short paragraph in RAIL magazine announcing that the section of the Sandbach-Northwich branch line between Middlewich and Northwich was to be closed to all traffic, leaving only the section from Sandbach Junction to Middlewich, including the Middlewich loop, open to cater for dwindling traffic from British Salt and Hay's Chemicals.

    The news, as can be imagined, caused more than a small pang of regret.
    I had grown up with this railway, having lived across the road from it in King Street from 1959 to 1983.
    I was old enough to have travelled on 'The Dodger' during its last year of operation, and had spent hours in the signal box, along with many other local youngsters, and listened to the tales of, among others, signalman David Myles who was in later years to become a drinking partner in the Kings Arms.

    Middlewich signal box and the closed station in 1963. Photo: J.H. Priestley/Subterranea Britannica


    'Jock' Myles was a legendary figure.
    As another of his followers, railway writer Alan Wilkinson, has said, he found the actual running of trains more of a nuisance and an inconvenience than anything else and would have preferred to concentrate on his hobbies - betting on the horses (the signal box radio, an early transister model, was permanently tuned to racing commentaries) and drinking in the nearby Boar's Head Hotel where, local legend had it, he was a member of the domino team.
    One of our favourite Jock stories told of the time when the driver and fireman of a goods train from Crewe found themselves held at a red signal in Brooks Lane for an inordinate length of time.
    Telephone calls to the signal box were unanswered ( this was, of course, many years before mobile phones and 'cab to shore radio') and so the fireman took a stroll down the track to the Boar's Head to hoist Jock away from a game of dominoes.
    Whether the story is true or not - most likely not, of course - the fact that we used to believe it is an indication of 'Jock's' status as a local celebrity.



    A coal train enters the Middlewich Loop, 3rd July 1964. Was this the one Jock Myles was rumoured to have held up while he played dominoes? Photo: Alan Wilkinson
    The Middlewich line was very busy in the 1960s and 70s, even though the passenger service had ended at the end of 1959 and goods services at the station itself been withdrawn in 1967 (coincidentally a hundred years after the line opened). 
    My childhood years in King Street were lived to the accompaniment of clanking and hissing steam locomotives (slowly merging, as the sixties gave way to the seventies, into the throbbing and high-pitched whistling of diesels) and the clattering of shunting in the goods yard across the road.

    Like many people in Middlewich I had always hoped that one day passenger trains might return to the line and our town get back its station (a hope which, it seems almost incredible to recall, could as recently as the early 1990s, easily gain you a reputation as 'a dreamer', a 'hopeless romantic' or even a 'nutcase') and so British Rail's 'death sentence' on the Middlewich-Northwich section of line, to be followed, no doubt, soon afterwards by the inevitable closure of the rest of the line as the salt and chemical traffic disappeared was a bitter blow.

    I decided to do some investigating and found that just beyond the River Dane aqueduct in King Street a 'Limit Of Shunt' sign had been placed across the track, indicating that no more trains would be passing that way.
    It didn't make sense. What would happen to the passenger trains diverted along the line when the Crewe-Chester line was closed (a use for the line still cited frequently today as evidence of the line's suitability for passenger trains)?
    Could this vital section of railway really be gone forever?

    The answer wasn't long in coming.
     A few days later where once there had been a 'Limit Of Shunt' sign an inter-city train (in 'full regalia' as I reported at the time) could be seen making its stately way along the supposedly 'closed' section of line heading for Northwich.


    Inter-City HST 'in full regalia'. The one I saw on the Middlewich line wasn't travelling quite as fast as this one. Photo: Mark George Photography
    So what had happened to the closure?
    It was, apparently, all down to internal politics within British Rail.
    At that time the various sectors of the 'business' were responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the network's infrastructure.
    In the case of the Middlewich line, the Railfreight sector had clashed with the Inter-City sector over who should pay for the line; toys had been thrown out of prams and a major hissy-fit had resulted in the closure of part of the line for about three days.

    Then, of course, not for the first (or last) time, the importance of that short piece of line had been realised and a compromise had been reached.

    Suppose - just suppose- it hadn't and the Northwich section had remained closed? As I've hinted above the rest of the line would surely have closed shortly afterwards due to dwindling salt and chemical traffic and the task of re-opening the line to passengers would have been made infinitely more difficult.

    As if it isn't difficult enough, I hear you cry!

    This close shave sparked a renewed interest in our local railway line, and I wondered again if there might be some mileage in a campaign to bring back passenger trains and re-open the station.

    The idea had been mooted twice before (to my knowledge).
    Shortly after closure, in the early sixties, none other than Signalman Myles had put the idea to the then British Railways, and received very short shrift.

    A decade later County Councillor Dorothy Roberts tried again, but, again, with little success.

    Quite simply, the time wasn't right. And wouldn't be for another twenty years.

    Contrary to popular belief, the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign was never 'my' campaign.
    I didn't start it and wasn't even its chairman for a few years after I first got involved.

    In 1992, before it was possible for most of us to find out anything we wanted via the internet, information was hard to come by but, eventually, I heard about the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association (MCRUA), the body which looks after the interests of passengers on the Manchester-Chester (via Northwich) line.

    One of the aspirations which MCRUA had for the local railway network was the re-opening of the Middlewich line to passengers, the establishment of a regular Manchester-Crewe service on the line and the re-opening of the station at Middlewich.

    As well as giving our town its railway service back, this would also provide passengers using stations east of Northwich with a direct service to Crewe without the need to travel via Manchester or Chester.
    This point, although considered almost incidental at the time, has been the catalyst for the revived campaign, under its new name of the Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign.

    A tie-up with MCRUA seemed an obvious way to push forward the idea of re-opening Middlewich station to passengers, and I phoned Andrew MacFarlane, who was the Association's chairman at that time. Andrew invited me to a meeting at the Lion & Railway Hotel, close to Northwich station (now,like so many pubs, given over to 'apartments').
    The Lion & Railway, Northwich, close to Northwich railway station, the scene of my first MCRUA meeting in 1992, reached by push-bike. Since the pub's conversion to 'apartments' the Lion & Railway sign (the hanging one, that is) has been retained, but whether by accident or design is not clear. Photo: Creative Commons

    Incredible as it may sound I travelled to that meeting not by car or bus (and, of course, certainly not by train) but on my trusty old pushbike.
    Once there I learned all about MCRUA and its support for the idea of passenger trains on the Middlewich line. Before I could stop myself I had volunteered my services as representative 'on the ground' here in Middlewich of what would, eventually, become the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign.

    Reaction to the idea of a re-opening campaign here in the town was mixed.
    The vast majority of people were, and of course still are, very much in favour. There were, though, a few dissenters and, human nature being what it is, those are the people whose views stick in the mind.

    One local councillor, who it is kindest not to name, said, 'it's ridiculous. Everybody has a car these days!' - as neat an example of missing the whole point as you'll ever find. The very fact that 'everyone has a car these days' is what has led to the need (and the ever-increasing demand) for rail services.

    From others came the usual, dispiriting, 'you're wasting your time!', the traditional cry heard in Middlewich every time someone comes up with a good idea, and originating usually from those who do nothing most days of their lives except themselves waste time.
    But my favourite of all the 'anti' comments - and, in truth, when you consider that the original MRLC Campaign ran for 23 years, there have only been a handful - was reported to me by someone who was listening to a group of distinguished railway 'experts' in the Kings Arms one day.
    According to these transport gurus I was 'an idiot' who ought to have known that the Middlewich branch line had been closed, and the line lifted, 'years ago'. 
    Which must have made the going a bit difficult for all those freight and diverted
    passenger trains which have been using the line for all these years.

    I've been saying for almost twenty-five years now that if someone can come up with a reason - a good reason - why the Middlewich line should not re-open to passengers, I'd listen. 
    No one has.

    Of course there have been one or two people who have opposed the re-opening for their own reasons.
    People, for example, who live alongside the track and fear that increased rail traffic will mean increased noise and vibration.
    We have argued that small, lightweight, passenger trains will cause little, if any, extra noise and vibration and pointed out that all railway lines are used as and when required and the Middlewich line could at any time be used for frequent heavy freights as it was in the past.
    There would be nothing that anyone could do about it.
    The ultimate solution, of course, as we've also repeatedly pointed out, is not to live near a railway line.

    Soon the regular monthly meetings held at the Boar's Head came under the umbrella of MCRUA's Middlewich & West Cheshire Committee (the West Cheshire line is the now-lifted link from Mouldsworth on the Mid-Cheshire line to Helsby which, along 
    with the Middlewich line and the now also-defunct Sandbach-Alsager line, once formed an important route for oil trains from Ellesmere Port to Stoke.
    It has been one of our functions to keep a 'watching brief' on the West-Cheshire line to ensure that the track-bed is kept clear for possible re-use some enlightened day in the future.

    These early Middlewich meetings were originally chaired by then MCRUA Chairman Andrew MacFarlane, who continued the tradition of using push-bikes by cycling to Middlewich from Northwich Station once in a while, having travelled from Altrincham by train.

    The Middlewich and West-Cheshire Committee did sterling work in keeping the idea of re-opening the line before the public and, slowly but surely, we began to win the doubters over.

    Naturally, one of our first ideas was to involve what was still British Rail at the time and to ask them to send representatives to talk to us.
    Amazingly, they accepted and two 'network development' bods came down from Manchester to talk to me at a hastily-arranged site meeting on Middlewich Station Bridge in Holmes Chapel Road.

    Also present were Peter Cox (MRLC Deputy Chairman) and the then-ubiquitous Norman Macklin, son of Middlewich's last station-master.

    The whole meeting can best be described as a farce, and went something like this:

    1st BR BOD: So where does this line go to?*
    ME: Haven't you looked at a map?
    2nd BR BOD: No.
    ME: Well it goes to Northwich in that direction (pointing north) and Sandbach (gesturing across the road) in that direction.
    1st BR BOD: And what's at Northwich? Are there spring-loaded points?
    ME: (puzzled) Not as far as I know.
    2nd BR BOD: When did the line close?
    ME: It didn't. It's still open for freight.
    2nd BR BOD: (surprised) Really!

    ...and so on.

    *Of course, the reply to 1st BR BOD'S first question should have been, 'it doesn't go anywhere, it just lies there,' but I decided against it.

    There were, as can be imagined, frequent interjections from Norman Macklin.
    As can also be imagined, they didn't really get us any further forward.
    But wouldn't you have thought that, before coming out to look at our line, these BR 'network developers' might have taken the trouble to read something about it, find out  something about its history and/or potential. Or, at the very least, look at a map?

    Sadly, this has been our experience with representatives of the railway industry throughout (until, it has to be said,very recently). 
    They all seemed to know little and care less.

    Around the same time as this odd encounter a local developer told me that he had been approached by British Rail suggesting that the Middlewich line should be turned into a road to serve one of his new estates in Holmes Chapel Road.
    With 'friends' like that, who needs enemies?

    Soon the Middlewich Committee, which was never really a 'committee' in the true sense of the word, had become the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign with me as Chairman and Peter Cox as Vice-Chairman and we settled in for the long-haul, winning hearts and minds and trying in vain to get the then transport authority, the Cheshire County Council, to do something about at least starting the ball rolling.




    The CCC would send a representative down to Middlewich once a year to explain how the Council were 'supporting' the re-opening of the Middlewich line. 
    And the more we asked them to define 'supporting' the more evasive they got.

    Significantly, the CCC would not do for Middlewich what they had done for the campaign to re-open Beeston Castle & Tarporley Station - i.e. commission a feasibility study. 
    The reason why was obvious to us; the Beeston scheme (as someone at the CCC will have known full well) was proved to be a non-starter.
    But had the County had a different result from a Middlewich study - which it most certainly would - it would have meant actually doing something about our scheme rather than just talking about it.

    MRLC, working with CEC and other bodies later commissioned  no less than two feasibility studies - the Chapman Report and the Railway Consultancy Report which both gave a resounding YES to the proposals.

    Incidentally, it is heartening to see that information from these reports is, at last, set to be used as the basis for serious consideration of the re-opening scheme under the auspices of the new Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign.

    And so the MRLC years rolled by.
    Winston Lea gets a job as a temporary road sign...not really, of course. Winston is proudly displaying the old LNWR signal box sign which MRLC rescued from exile in  Uttoxeter. To the left is MRLC Vice-Chairman Peter Cox. The scene is Middlewich Station Bridge, which has since been re-modelled. Photo: MRLC


    We successfully managed to keep the idea of a new station and a passenger service for Middlewich alive. One of our best moves was to enlist the aid of Congleton MP Fiona Bruce, who presented our petition to Parliament and has never missed an opportunity to bring up the scheme with the powers-that-be both at Cheshire East and Westminster.


    Fiona Bruce in Parliament   Photo: Catholic Herald/BBC

    Incidentally, those who glibly assert that Fiona Bruce 'wouldn't know where Middlewich is' and all the rest of it, might like to note that she has attended many MRLC meetings here in the town since being elected and has always shown a keen and intelligent interest in our proposals, and done everything within her power to make sure they become reality. Please note that this is simply a statement of fact - we do not get involved in politics, local or otherwise, and never have.

    With the demise of the old CCC and the creation of Cheshire East Council we turned our attention to this new body and began lobbying for this much-needed service for Middlewich and, of course, for Cheshire and the North-West generally.

    Cheshire East has always made it clear that it considers the best hope for a new passenger service for Middlewich is as a feeder service for the proposed new HS2 hub station at Crewe.


    Photo: Cheshire East Council

    The council also has big, though as yet undefined, plans for railfreight facilities near Middlewich which, if they come to fruition, will change the face of what they have taken to calling the 'Middlewich Rail Corridor' beyond recognition.

    This is an oft-told story and I don't propose to tell it again.

    Suffice it to say that when the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign decided that pressure should be put on Cheshire East to consider the Middlewich scheme on its own merits
    rather than as a adjunct to HS2, and to revitalise the campaign, I decided to bow out as Chairman.

    The revitalised campaign would, in effect, be a new campaign, with the focus on the wider benefits the re-opening would bring to communities across Cheshire as well as to Middlewich, and I felt that, after twenty-three years, I would have little to contribute.

    What was needed was a new chairman, capable of talking with people at Network Rail, Cheshire East and all the other parties involved on equal terms, and the welcome appointment of Stephen Dent, ex-Assistant Town Clerk and a man with vast experience in local government and administration means that the newly-renamed Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign has just the man for the job.
    Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign Chairman Stephen Dent and Secretary Samantha Moss  Photo: Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign


    Local councillor Samantha Moss has enthusiastically taken up the role of Secretary to the new campaign, while Peter Cox remains as Vice-chairman.

    The relaunch of the campaign has also seen a much-needed influx of 'new-blood' with new members taking on  the vital administrative roles the campaign needs, most maintaining a high profile, but  some preferring to stay slightly disconcertingly in the shadows.

    The 'new' campaign has been kind enough to offer me the role of Honorary President, which I was  honoured to accept.

    I hope the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign has laid the foundation for the ultimate success of the Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign and it goes without saying that I will do everything I can to help achieve that success. 

    On this last day of 2015 I wish everyone involved the very best for the New Year and hope that 2016 brings the progress that everyone's hard work deserves.

    Many thanks to the many people who have been involved with MRLC over the years. They are, to employ a well-worn cliché, too many to mention...

    As far as I'm concerned, MRLC only failed in one regard. 

    Someone, who ought to have known better, once described our meetings as 'little more than a Gentlemen's Drinking Club'.

    Well I don't know about you, but I'd regard any Gentlemen's Drinking Club which only met for an hour every two months to be a bit of a damp squib.

    It's no Middlewich Beer Festival, that's for sure!




    Dave Roberts
    Queen Street
    Middlewich
    New Years Eve 2015

    © Salt Town Productions 2015

    This was the final posting on the now-archived MRLC site

    THE FIGHT CONTINUES WITH THE


    CAMPAIGN



    COMMENTS (from the MRLC SITE)

    Peter Hirst 1 January 2016
    1. An interesting synopsis that fills a few gaps for me. The danger is that we get a line and no station. A fascinating photograph of the old station.
    2. Thanks for your comment, Peter, and thanks also for your hard work for the campaign over the years as a councillor. You're one of the 'too many to mention', of course. I'm sure your help will be invaluable to the Mid-Cheshire RLC as it gets ever closer to achieving its goal.
    ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON NEW YEARS EVE 2015 AS 'THE WORLD'S MOST UNSUCCESSFUL GENTLEMAN'S DRINKING CLUB'
    RE-PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 6th 2017 AS 'THE MID-CHESHIRE RAIL LINK CAMPAIGN 1992-2015'