Monday, 17 September 2018

HEAR YE! HEAR YE! DEVLIN HOBSON, TOWN CRIER!

FIRST PUBLISHED: 11th JUNE 2014
UPDATED AND RE-PUBLISHED 17th JULY  and 17th September 2014
RE-PUBLISHED 17th SEPTEMBER 2018 (FOUR YEARS ON)

UPDATE:
On the 17th September 2014 it was announced that, after a gap of a hundred years, Middlewich was to have a new Town Crier and that Devlin Hobson had been appointed to the post.
Congratulations to Devlin and his wife Jenny. We look forward to seeing you both at events in Middlewich for many years to come!
Dave Roberts, Editor.

Below is our original Diary entry on Devlin which was put together to publicise the idea of reviving a Town Crier for Middlewich. You'll note that, at this point, we didn't know that the idea was for Devlin himself to become our MiddlewichTown Crier.

DEVLIN and JENNY HOBSON Photo: Devlin Hobson

Just before the Middlewich FAB Festival of 2014 the question of whether or not Middlewich should revive the tradition of  having a Town Crier arose and, after initial scepticism and doubts, the idea was enthusiastically embraced by people seeing a great opportunity for this symbolic figure to help in promoting the town. Any lingering doubts were swept away at the festival itself when Devlin Hobson, Kidsgrove's Town Crier, came along to show us all how it should be done.

Here's Devlin's biography:

I'm 59 years old and been a town crier since July 2013. In my first competition in Nantwich I was placed 5th out of 13 criers and at the British Championship Huddersfield 2013 I achieved 15th place out of 24 criers. I have also  won best content of cry and, with my Escort, best dressed couple, both of these at Garstang 2013. Given the short time that I have been a Crier this was a pleasing achievement. I keep involved with my town and enjoy putting Kidsgrove on the map with the competitions.
I had an unusual job before I retired, I was a High Security Papermaking Technician I made it and you spent it Banknotes.
I was a Samaritan for 7 years 5 of which I spent in Prisons supporting inmates and staff. I helped to organise and train inmates for Listener scheme's which operate in prisons. I became part of a regional team which looked after 13 prisons in our area. I have seen and heard many things. I found this very fulfilling work and to see that you actually make a difference to someone is a fantastic feeling.
On retirement I moved to Nantwich and was able to attend St Marys Church regularly, I am now a sidesman and do duties every 6 weeks.
I take my Town Crying seriously and enjoy being a member of both The Loyal Company and The Ancient and Honourable, which enables me to promote the ancient art of Town Crying and my town of Kidsgrove throughout the country.
(from visitchester.com)
After a little research we were able to establish that Middlewich did indeed have its own Town Crier right up, it would appear, to the start of the First World War (and quite possibly beyond).

ORIGINAL DIARY ENTRY (JUNE 11th 2014)



by Dave Roberts

An extra special guest at this year's Middlewich FAB Festival is Kidsgrove's Town Crier, Devlin Hobson, who will be here on Saturday 14th to enliven the proceedings and make sure everyone knows what's going on and where.

There's been talk lately of Middlewich having its own Town Crier once again and reviving a tradition which was, surprisingly, still carried on in the town as late as 1906. Devlin will be here as a sort of trailblazer for the idea, as an ambassador for Town Criers in general and also, I imagine, as an additional blow to the Keep Middlewich Miserable Brigade, members of which desperately try each year to pretend that the Festival is not happening around them as they try to go about their same-old same-old business.
As you can tell just by looking at his photo, Devlin will be a hard man to ignore.
Watch (and listen) for him on Saturday.


When the idea of a new Town Crier for Middlewich was first mooted I was, at first, sceptical, being (to my eternal shame) under the impression that Middlewich had never had such an official in its long history and feeling uncomfortable with the idea of 'inventing tradition'.
This misconception is a little hard to understand as Allan Earl, invariably our first port of call for information on Middlewich history, mentions him  in Middlewich 900-1900 (Ravenscroft Publications 1990), a book which is required reading for anyone interested in Middlewich and its history and one which I have pored over numerous times over the years. 
Old age creeping on and causing memory lapses, perhaps?

On page 170 of the above publication Allan is talking about C.F Lawrence becoming Clerk to the Middlewich UDC in 1904 and says:

Mr Lawrence would have known the town crier of this time, a man named Peter Jackson. His nickname was 'Crutchy P' because he was crippled in both legs and had a humped back, but managed to get along on crutches. He would stand in the Bullring under the centre gas lamp, ring his hand bell and shout 'Oh Yes! Oh Yes!' and then announce such things as a crockery sale at the White Bear, giving the date and time. This type of bell man followed the bell man of earlier years who announced parish meetings, declarations, changes in the law, victories or defeats in war etc.

On the left of this old view of Middlewich Town Centre is the gas lamp where 'Crutchy P' would announce the local news all those years ago. The Parish Church in the background gives us a clue as to what the scene looks like now.

Allan Earl's Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) also mentions the Town Crier who was still around in 1905/6 (and was, presumably still 'Crutchy P' although Allan doesn't say so) and was able to announce the building and completion of the Council Schools in King Edward Street.

The foundation stone of the new Council School was laid on Wednesday January 3rd (1905) by Col. France-Hayhurst and by the following November 1906 the building was completed and opened.....The new Council School was designed to accomodate 288 junior and 297 senior (pupils). The Town Crier was still operating at this date and he would have announced the school information as well as the dates of bazaars, smoking concerts etc.
The Council School in King Edward Street, now Middlewich High School and still going strong.
Paul Hough Collection

And having thought about the idea of Middlewich having a new Town Crier, I'm all in favour of it. Not only would it be a quite legitimate revival of an old tradition, it can serve a very useful purpose, particularly at events like the FAB Festival where a crier could act as an audio Notice Board, telling people what's going on.
A kind of human PA system (only much more entertaining and authoritative) which doesn't need batteries or electricity.

We'll leave the last word to Devlin....
(Please note that, in this instance, the use of capitals is not intended to denote SHOUTING!!!!! but merely talking in a loud, well projected, voice)

'I WILL BE IN MIDDLEWICH ON SATURDAY, HELPING WITH THE FESTIVITIES! IT'S A GREAT EVENT! COME ALONG AND ENJOY A GREAT DAY!'

Acknowledgments:Kidsgrove Town Council
                                     Devlin Hobson
                                     Jenny Hobson
                                     Margaret Poniznik (whose idea it was to revive a
                                     Middlewich Town Crier)
                                     Allan Earl


Facebook Feedback:

Geraldine Williams Great piece about the history of Town Criers in Middlewich, Dave - and a timely reminder of the days when the world was populated by 'Crutchies', 'Stumpies' and many other non-PC names for anyone unfortunate enough to have a physical or mental disability.

Dave Roberts Absolutely Geraldine. I don't care what people say, we now live in a much more compassionate and caring society than we did before. And what a lot of people refer to as 'political correctness gone mad' is, in most cases, just plain common decency.


Photo: Devlin Hobson
UPDATE JULY 17th 2014

Devlin (extreme right) and Jenny (extreme left) with a whole host of colourful Town Criers at the National Town Criers' Competition in  Lichfield, 2014
The competition was held, appropriately enough, at Lichfield's Speakers' Corner. 
Devlin in full flow. He was placed a very respectable 5th out of 12 contestants
Devlin and Jenny enjoy the company of  fellow town criers including, in the background, Shrewsbury Town Crier Martin Wood (in red and blue and sporting a white beard) who, at 7ft 2ins, is the world's tallest Town Crier!




 Although he's only been in office for a year, Devlin Hobson is already a veteran of quite a few competitions. Here's a particularly good report on the 2013 Nantwich event from our friends at the CREWE NEWS, featuring many photographs and even a video:

NANTWICH TOWN CRIER COMPETITION 2013

Devlin and Jenny can be seen at this year's  Montgomery event on July 19th, and at the Nantwich Competition on July 26th. They'll be back in Middlewich for the Makers' Market on the 30th August.

You can find out more by going to Devlin's Facebook Page:


And, assuming that Middlewich embraces the idea of a Town Crier, which it surely must, how long will it be before we have our own Town Crier competition?

We're guessing not too long...

(UPDATE: In fact after Devlin had arranged for a National Town Crier Competition to be held here in 2015 the first Middlewich Competition was held in 2016. The contest is now a permanent fixture on the Middlewich events calendar each year. - Ed.)




(ARCHIVED)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

THE LAST DAYS OF ERF MIDDLEWICH



by Dave Roberts

When we talk about the last days of ERF Middlewich, we need to be perfectly clear that we are talking about the last days of the ERF Service Centre which opened in 1971 and closed in 2000. 
We are not talking about the make-believe 'factory' which was built at the end of Middlewich's truncated stub of a 'by-pass' at the fag end of the 1990s, and was so obviously not really intended to be a factory at all, but a warehouse. 
Which is precisely how it has ended up, with all its production facilities long removed. 
The last I heard, that 'factory' was a distribution centre operated by Wincanton Logistics.
ERF has been wiped off the face of the earth and it is not for us to speculate on how and why that happened. The whole sordid story can be found in the archives of many a truck magazine and journal. (See 'A Sad Allegory' - link below)
No, we're talking about the real ERF Middlewich, built on part of what had once been the ICI alkali works halfway along a public footpath which rejoiced in the name of Poppityjohns




The part leading from Brooks Lane to ERF was made into a road and christened Road Beta which, as a name, is hardly much of an improvement.
And from 1971 until it all came to a juddering halt in the year 2000 ERF Service Centre was the hub of ERF's parts distribution network and also provided at various times vehicle repair facilities, training schools, production lines and more.
I'm writing this in the early hours of the 12th of September 2017. This is my 65th birthday, and the day on which, if things had worked out as planned, I would have been retiring from ERF. But things didn't work out as planned. They very seldom do. 
I worked at ERF Service from 1974 until it closed in 2000. By that time it was plain that the Service Centre's days were numbered and that we were all going to be moving to the new 'factory' across the railway line and a couple of fields away from where we'd been working for all those years. 
The word factory is in inverted commas, like so much concerning the end of ERF in this diary entry, because so many of us remember the feeling we had at the time that the wool was being pulled over our eyes and all was not as it seemed.
The problem was that ERF stores wouldn't be moving to ERF Way as the spur road off the 'bypass' had optimistically and, as it turned out, unfortunately, been named.
We'd heard tales of some autocratic ERF exec spotting the words Parts Distribution on the plans for the new site and abruptly drawing a line through them. 
Whatever jobs we were all going to do at the 'new place', they were not going to involve spare parts.
'Progress reports' on the building of the new 'factory' were pinned on notice boards at the Service Centre, and the more we saw of it the more puzzled we became. It just didn't look like a factory. It looked like a warehouse.
Our union reps held shopfloor meetings and expressed their concerns. Those concerns reflected our own.
'We just can't see how this new facility can replace the existing works', they said. 'It just 
doesn't look like a truck factory'
Of particular concern were the proposed cab line arrangements, with cabs having to be lifted and moved around on fork-lift trucks rather than on a proper production line.
Like all management, then and now, the management of ERF considered everyone who worked for the company, particularly at our lowly level, to be mere units and completely interchangeable.
This attitude was what put an end to my career with the company on my first day at the 'new place'. But that's another story.

Before ERF Service passed into history I took a few photographs, mainly to capture for posterity some of the people who worked there and the place where we all spent our working lives. I fully realise that they will be of little interest to most people who never worked there, and quite a few people who did. 
But these photographs, mundane and workaday as they might be, are at least a record of a Middlewich workplace which has vanished never to return, and of just a few of the people who worked there at the time.
The photographs aren't in any particular order, and don't try to tell a story. 
But they do, I hope, give a flavour of ERF Middlewich seventeen years ago. What better way to spend the day I should have retired than looking back at days which have, like, I'm sorry to say, a couple of the people pictured here, gone forever.

That white box on stilts was the Goods Inwards (or Goods Receiving) office and underneath was Steve Farrington's domain. Steve was responsible for unloading, unpacking and checking deliveries. He'd then pass the advice notes to myself and Mr J.S. Davenport in our eyrie at the top of the stairs.


Steve's domain. Note on the left hand side of the bench the computer which I can't recall Steve himself ever using. Like most shop floor people at ERF he regarded computers as the devil's work, and made a lot more use of the broom seen on the extreme left.


A general view of the Goods Inwards office at the top of those stairs. The eagle-eyed observer will notice a portent of the future, in the form of the logo affixed to the computer screen in the foreground. A future which was, unfortunately, to be very short-lived. 
Note the printers by the window. These were used for printing Goods Inwards Notes(or 'GIN' notes) telling people which location in the stores to take spare parts to.
Because of another one of those inexplicable management decisions you'll notice that the paper stock used to print these notes was a vivid - almost fluorescent - orange colour. This was to ensure that anyone with even a slight hangover (which was most of us, most mornings) would end up with a blinding headache when trying to read them.
Occasionally these printers were  clandestinely used for printing posters etc for the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival. You had to be very very sure which printer you were sending your illegal poster to, though. If you'd made a mistake and sent it to, say, the printer in the parts manager's office, the consequences don't bear thinking about...


Here's a rare photo of your Middlewich Diary editor in uniform making a very important telephone call (probably concerning the Folk & Boat Festival). The fact that
the stores are in darkness (as evidenced by the windows) tells us that this was probably taken on one of those Friday nights when we'd spend hours waiting for spares to reach us via the M6 which, then as now, was the most accident-prone motorway in the country.




Everyone at ERF Middlewich had, apparently by law, to have some sort of a nickname. Thus we were always surrounded by people called things like Ferret, Weasel, Hippo, Stumpy, Wingnut, Arkwright, Goyle and so on. There was at one time a concerted effort to christen me 'The Prof' because of my having a preference for the clerical side of  working in the stores, the fact that I took to working on a computer (the work of the Devil, let's not forget) like a duck to water, and the fact that I refused to contribute my full quota of 'f-words' to the daily conversation. Just to prove that I could hold my own with anyone on the shop floor I only went and passed my fork-lift truck driving test. This was conducted by Mr Terry Carthy who, as well as being the FLT instructor in 1987, was also one of  our foremen. Perhaps not the best foreman in the world but, nevertheless, wildly popular with everyone. You'll note that my precious licence only entitled me to drive counterbalance trucks. The much more difficult reach trucks were only for the truly talented. It's worth remembering that Steve Farrington (see above) didn't have to take an ERF fork lift driving test, on the grounds that it was he who  taught Terry (the instructor) how to drive the trucks in the first place. That's how ERF rolled in those days though, to be fair, Terry had to go on an instructor's course somewhere or other before he was let loose on the rest of us. Eventually, of course, this whole silly 'in-house' FLT driving thing had to be abandoned and people had to take properly accredited courses run by people who really knew what they were doing. But at least my passing of the test - to the minor astonishment of all, including me, led to the dropping of the 'Prof' nickname. You never see a Professor driving a fork-lift.


Something of a rarity - in fact unique in my experience - a lady storekeeper. Her name was June, and if I ever knew her second name, I've forgotten it.
Update: Our old friend 'Anon' has put forward the name 'Proudlove' as June's second name.



Also brightening the place up somewhat was Theresa, an agency worker brought in to help out with our 'heavy workload'.


So little time...so much to do....just a tiny fraction of our 'heavy workload'. Note that someone appears to have dumped the telephone on one of the paper trays, possibly through sheer frustration after being 'mithered' once too often by material control at Sandbach.


Here's Theresa again, this time with the late Harry Bayley.



Andy Newall, once described by one of the foremen as 'doing the work of ten men'.
The foreman was Andy's brother-in-law, mind you... Actually, somewhat ironically, the last time we had news of Andy, he was a fork-lift truck driving instructor. A proper one...



 Andy Newall again, this time with Herbert Hampton, a distant relation of the author, 
and thus dubbed 'Cousin Herbert'.




David 'Brisket' Briscall. Note, in the background, the whiteboard with the words 'ERF SERVICE 1971-2000' written on it. 



Even a clapped-out old whiteboard has a tale to tell. That tale is told in ''A Moment in Time' (link below).
                                                       



The 'high-racking stores', invariably referred to as the 'new stores' due to the fact that they were built later than - you've guessed it - the old stores. Special guided trucks operated here, very much on the same principle as guided buses and it was possible, when using 'lift trucks' (from one of which this photo was taken) to climb right into the roof of the building. An ideal method of getting out of the way and hiding from the foreman for a while.


Originally  published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts Group February 2018

The late, and still very much missed, Steve Farrington. At work...


...and at play, in the White Horse one Saturday lunchtime in the 1990s. That's Steve's brother Peter on the right.
Steve was a true friend and, as I've said, we all still miss him after his untimely death a few years ago at the comparatively early age of 61.

Note: Sadly, Peter Farrington also passed away in August 2018, after a short illness. R.I.P. Pete.


It's That Man Again! Here's Steve, pictured in October 1997, on the phone to someone or other (most probably Material Control) sorting out just one of the endless series of problems which beset us every day of our working lives. Apologies for the damage to this print.                                                         (Photo added 3rd October 2017)

First published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts  Group, February 2018
Note: When the above was published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts group someone responded to my warning about the story being 'a little on the naughty side' (put there out of politeness, because one never knows if delicate flowers who are easily offended might be looking in) by saying that if I thought that this was ' a bit naughty' I must have a 'very tame' sense of humour! OMG, as the expression goes - anyone who has ever worked in a factory environment will know that the sense of humour generated in such a place could never be described as 'tame'. Totally lunatic, bordering on the psychotic, would be a better description...😁

Mr Mark Wayne Brett Nevitt, storeman extraordinaire. Now working for Network Rail as a signalman.


The 'square'. The area where goods were unpacked and checked ready to be placed in the stores. Mr Nevitt, ever eager to be photographed for posterity, adopts his 'I'm getting some work done, honestly Terry!' pose.


This dark and almost completely useless photo is included because it is the only known photograph of Mr John Stuart Davenport (in the background with red hair and blue shirt). We never were able to get a photograph of his face (which, some would say, was just as well). This photo was taken in the old, ground-floor Goods Inwards office (one of several we had over the years) which was very vulnerable to the attentions of fork-lift drivers who spent a lot of their time bending its tin walls, the chief exponent of this practice being Cousin Herbert Hampton, who also liked to bend the metal shutter doors of the stores about twice a week.


First published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook Group, April 2018




The somewhat unprepossessing main entrance to the ERF Service Centre. The office block shown here no longer exists (although the main buildings are still in use). The single story building on the left was, in the 1970s, the works canteen. In the 1980s, in the days of mainframe computers, it became the 'Computer Room' where huge spools of magnetic tape whizzed to and fro and little lights blinked on and off in the approved manner.


..and here's one of the terminals that mainframe computer would have been connected to. A CRT monitor with the then standard green-on-black screen and the letters ERF made up of smaller characters, something we all thought pretty impressive at the time. This was not even our first computer system. The earlier one, introduced at the very start of the 1980s, was in just plain black and white and the terminals had valves in them, just like your old-fashioned TV set. They had to be 'warmed-up' each morning. Later, like everyone else, we moved to desktop PCs. An interesting piece of ERF ephemera the like of which you'll never find in any museum of the British motor industry. You'll note that the user no. and the password necessary to log on to the system are plastered over the front of the terminal in Dymo tape. Computer security, ERF style!




And here's something else you won't find in any museum of the motor industry. Dave's V.O.R. board, rescued from the ruins of ERF Middlewich in the year 2000. It's just a crummy old clipboard but, just by chance, it has preserved a tiny bit of ERF history in the form of the various labels stuck onto its surface. They were stuck there because...well...where else would you stick them? Rest assured, there were various suggestions, of varying degrees of obscenity, at the time. At the top of the board are the dreaded words 'Held V.O.R.'. Each day we would list parts which were expected to be delivered and were to be set aside for that greatest of emergencies, a 'Vehicle Off Road' (V.O.R.). Any vehicle which was not running (and earning revenue) needed to be back on the road as soon as possible, of course, and this is where we listed those vital parts, ready to be sent out to the network to remedy the situation. But let's take a look at those stickers: The Gardner Diesel parts ones were stuck on every part received from the works in Patricroft, and just for good measure, the company would also send us great wads of the things with every delivery. The smaller Gardner sticker reads: 'Remanufactured at the Gardner Engine Plant, Patricroft, Manchester' and (a sign of the times) 'Specialists products from the Perkins Engine Group'. Then there's the standard 'Genuine ERF Parts' sticker, from the time after the 'Sunpar' (from 'Sun Parts') label had been dropped. We'd stick these all over various spares, sometime removing the manufacturer's label to do so, sometimes not. Then there's an 'intERFfit' label for the ever-increasing number of parts which would fit both ERF and other makes of trucks. 
There's a blue 'Stock Rotation Required' label and accompanying April, May, June, Oct stickers for such things as vehicle batteries, and the notorious green and orange stock labels to be affixed to goods inwards notes (GINs). The green ones indicated that one of the team of inspectors was needed to check that the parts in question were up to spec. For ordinary run-of-the-mill parts, a simple orange 'Pass Direct To Stock' label was used, creating great opportunities for the foreman to blame anyone and everyone if something went wrong. Then there's a standard ERF Genuine Parts label and a white and orange label used in the high-racking stores which, unusually, doesn't use the standard ERF logo. But it's that 'Encore' label which sticks in the memory. 'ERF Encore' is an obvious name for a range of re-manufactured parts and the company used it for several years before quietly dropping it. Sometime in the 1990s ERF decided that its range of re-manufactured parts should once again be given a special name. Almost unbelievably, no one could think of a name, and so the company asked its staff if anyone could come up with one, even offering a cash reward. Some bright spark came up with 'ERF Encore' and was thus paid for giving ERF back one of its own trade-marks. All the time that original 'Encore' label was sitting there on my clipboard, and I was wondering why the company didn't seem to have seen it before. It's a cliche, I know, but you couldn't make it up. You really, really, couldn't.
(originally published in the 'Foden & ERF Enthusiasts' Facebook page, 9th May 2018.)


The other side of the board contains a simple injunction asking people to refrain from nicking  it, clipboards of all types being much in demand in all stores. By the time the year 2000 came along, no one cared.
(originally published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook Page, 10th May 2018)


For the final time - I promise - here's that clipboard again with a piece of paper listing just a few of the thousands of part numbers we dealt with day in and day out for all those years. Sadly there are no descriptions on this list of parts received from 'ERF Production' (our name for the Sandbach works) without a valid purchase order (which we needed in order to book the parts onto the computer system). If you're wondering how it could ever be possible to supply parts without a purchase order, we wondered the same...constantly...What was really going on, of course, was that ERF Production's stores were periodically having clear-outs of parts which were less in demand as production of certain models was reduced. They needed the room for new parts for newer models and so used the service stores for the overflow. Thousands and thousands of parts were sent to us this way as 'stock transfers' on little white notes ('STS' notes). The parts distribution network used the same tactics under the guise of 'stock returns' and we'd all work hours and hours of overtime checking the old, dusty, frequently rusty and occasionally damaged parts into our stock, filling our limited space to bursting point. Anything which was so knackered and disreputable looking that it didn't meet even our very low standards was marked 'UFR' ('Unfit For Resale') and binned.
(an abridged version of this was published on the Foden & ERF Enthusiasts Facebook page on the 10th May 2018).


A general view of part of the ERF Service stores. The 'square' is in the foreground, with the 'high racking' stores beyond.


A group of storemen (or, to use the more correct term 'storekeepers') at the end of the high-racking stores in 2000. The gent with the white shirt on the left is John
(or Jon?) Owen, a larger-than-life character from Birmingham, inevitably nicknamed 'Brummie'.

As the time drew near for the move from Brooks Lane to the new, pretend 'factory' the company began transferring equipment to 'ERF Way'. Here local firm Paces of Arclid loads fork-lift trucks in the yard, ready for the short trip 'up the road'.



Moving out. Off down Brooks Lane to Kinderton Street and then to ERF's brand new promised land in a field near the sewage works.



Poster produced  by ERF inspector Frank McPhillips, one of the first people
to have his own personal computer at home. Note that the entertainment was provided by the Salt Town Poets, early forerunners of Salt Town Productions, without whom you wouldn't be reading this!

To ERF Management, of course, the closure of the ERF Service Centre was of little consequence, or interest. The parts operation was contracted out to a firm with facilities in Burton-on-Trent, and we were all given the great honour of teaching some of the new company's staff how to do our jobs so that we could be 'phased out' and given completely unsuitable jobs on the 'production line' at ERF Way. 
Although it may not have mattered a jot to the powers-that-be, some of us thought that the passing of the Service Centre deserved at least a little respect and ought to be marked in some way.
Accordingly, storeman John Smith, who had been staging Sixties Revival Nights at Northwich Memorial Hall, got everyone together for a social evening at the Pochin's Club just at the end of Road Beta (the building, formerly the ICI Club, is now home to Middlewich Community Church).

The former ICI/Pochin's Club in Brooks Lane, Middlewich, where we all gathered in October 2000 to commemorate the end of nearly thirty years of the ERF Service Centre.

I recall making a short speech in which I said something along the lines of, 'the management may not care about ERF Middlewich, but we do. We've all worked together for so many years, and we think it's only right that we celebrate the fact.' Words to that effect, anyway.

The Salt Town Poets sang a song I wrote specially for the occasion, The Storekeeper, and there wasn't a wet eye in the house.

The words of this  little ditty, telling the story of my working life at ERF and the closure of the Service Centre, are featured below:

THE STOREKEEPER
(Tune: The Wild Rover)

1: I've been a storekeeper for many a year,
And I've spent hours and hours wishing I wasn't here,
Booking in all the parts for your ERF truck;
But now I'm disheartened, and...don't really care....

Chorus:

And it's no, nay never,
No nay never, no more,
Will I play the storekeeper...
No never, no more.

2: I've booked in your gearboxes, propshafts and things
Such as nuts, bolts and washers and fuel tanks and springs,
And pins, flanges, screws, hinges, spacers galore,
But I never will play the storekeeper no more.

Chorus

3: And now things are changing, our time here is spent,
They're shifting the whole lot to Burton-On-Trent,
Where things will be perfect, all sweetness and light;
And if you believe that, you'll believe..almost anything...

Chorus

4: Rip up all your picking notes, burn all your GINs,
A new day has dawned, a new era begins;
And it's quite plain to see, as they show us the door,
They don't want us to play the storekeeper no more.

Chorus

5: And if you should wonder why we've gone to hell,
The answer is ringing out, clear as a bell,
But we'll try not to worry, we're sure we'll be fine,
You can stick your spare parts where the sun doesn't shine.

Chorus

6: Farewell to the old stores, farewell to the new,
Farewell to Goods Inwards and Goods Despatch too;
Now God alone knows what these years have been for,
But we never will play the storekeeper no more.

Final chorus

© Salt Town Productions 2000/2017

Notes:

Verse 1: Most of my working life at ERF Middlewich was spent 'booking in' parts, at first by hand on notes later sent in batches to an IT firm in Manchester which compiled weekly print-outs of stock figures. These print-outs were always wildly out-of-date, of course. From the early 1980s I did the same job using a succession of computers.

Verse 3: A logistics firm was brought in to examine our parts distribution network, and concluded that it should be 'outsourced' to a firm operating from Burton-On-Trent, giving greater efficiency and effectiveness. We were, as you can gather, sceptical about this, with every justification as it turned out.

Verse 4: A 'picking note' is probably self-explanatory. It was a list of parts required by a customer with the stores location of each one on it. A storekeeper (usually a member of the legendary 'White Stick Gang') would 'pick' the parts from these notes and take them to the despatch dept. A 'GIN' was a Goods Inwards Note, used to put incoming parts into their correct locations. Well, most of the time...

Verse 5: The gentleman who masterminded the transferring of the parts stores from Middlewich to Burton-On-Trent was a Mr George Bell. An alternative location for those parts is also suggested here...

The song went down a storm. So much so that we had to sing it twice.

A memorable evening and, as Dave Lewis said on the night, 'only right and fitting'.


This door, at the side of the old ERF Middlewich office block was the one I used when I left ERF Service for good in the winter of 2000. Again, this was only right and fitting, because it was by this same door that I first entered the place back in 1974 for the interview with Bill McArdle which led to my working there for 27 years.

By contrast, my working life at the 'new place' lasted less than one day.

I'll never forget my time at ERF. I made some good friends and, of course, one or two enemies.

We all knew deep down that we were on the way out and that we were living through the last days of the independent British truck industry. 

And I think that, despite everything, most of us were proud to be a part of an industry which 'flew the flag' for Britain right to the bitter end.

Photo: Commercial Motor

This diary entry will be added to from time to time, as more photographs come to light.

If you have any which you think may be of interest, please don't hesitate to send them to us.

Dave Roberts
Middlewich
12th September 2017




UPDATES



Promises Promises...Here's a piece of ERF ephemera from the days when 35mm slides were the norm for presentations, rather than the now ubiquitous digital projectors attached to laptops. Most probably dating from the early 1990s, it's obviously just one of a series of slides shown to people from the parts distribution network to chivvy them up and get them passionate about selling diffs, gearboxes, propshafts and a myriad other spares, including everyone's favourite,the time-honoured 'No 10 pins' (said to be a remnant of the first ever parts list for ERF 1 in which the parts were simply numbered 1,2,3,4 etc. Part no 10 being a shackle pin for a road spring). Like all the best Middlewich Diary ephemera, this slide was rescued from a skip.
ERF 1          Photo: Truckphotos
(15th September 2017)



Promoting ERF. No self-respecting truck company would be without its enamel promotional badges, and you'll still see them pinned on lapels, hats and other bits of clothing at vintage vehicle rallies all over the country every year. These are a few unusual specimens sold on Ebay in 2013. Click on the link (below) for details.
22nd February 2018


That distinctive ERF typeface, which was used, with various different embellishments and variations, on the front of trucks built from the 1950s until the company's demise in the 21st century. We never did find out if it had a name, or whether it was specially developed for the company or just 'borrowed' from someone else. Does anyone know? We'd be interested to hear from you if you do.
22nd February 2018


(From Christine Foster)
(l to r) CHRISTINE FOSTER, ? , ANN ADDY, EVELYN MALAM, SUSAN MITCHELL
Photo taken outside the ERF Service Service Centre office block, early 70s.
(Can anyone supply the missing name?)
15th September 2017





(Basically factually accurate, but occasionally veering off
into fiction and fantasy)
SEE ALSO:  
                                                  STRANGE VISITOR
                                                        ERF BADGES
                                                        ERF SERVICE 1971-2000 (revised Sept. 2017)
                                                  EVERYTHING STARTS WITH AN 'E' (1990)
                                                        A MOMENT IN TIME (ERF MIDDLEWICH 2000)
                                       

First published 12th September 2017
Updated 15th September 2017
19th September 2017, 3rd October 2017.
Re-published with additions 19th February 2018, 22nd February 2018, 25th February 2018, 29th April 2018, 10th May 2018, 12th September 2018 (one year on)