Wednesday, 21 March 2018


by Dave Roberts

We're very grateful to Kath and Barry Walklate of Warmingham Lane for this beautiful framed photograph of the Bullring, Middlewich, which they came across in a shop in Cornwall while on holiday there about fourteen years ago.
It's rather an unusual photograph which, we think, dates back to around 1908, or possibly even earlier.
The main clue to the approximate date lies in the fact that The Carbineer Inn, halfway up the slope of Hightown (its sign can be seen in front of the church tower) was, according to Allan Earl, forced to close around 1909 because it was out of date and would have been too expensive to modernise. The Junction Inn on Brooks Lane Bridge closed at the same time for the same reason.
To the left of that Inn sign is another shop sign painted, in the fashion of the day, under the eaves of the shop's roof, which, as Kath pointed out when we were looking at the photo, is almost a pointer to  shopping days to come in Middlewich. We're talking, of course, about Summerfield, a name which would make a comeback - albeit with a different spelling - eighty-odd years later when Gateway became Somerfields.
Now, of course, it's Tesco's main Middlewich store.
Across the road from  Summerfields and the Carbineer are a group of very old buildings which would later be demolished to make way for Fitton's/Vernon's butchers (in the 1920s) and the National Westminster Bank (originally the National & Provincial)
Moving to the right we can see Kinsey's Grocery shop.
Interestingly, again according to Allan Earl, it was Mr William Kinsey, owner of this shop and proud possessor of one of the few telephones in Middlewich at that time, who received the news of the Relief of Mafeking on behalf of the town in May 1900. He told the Council of the news and an impromptu torch-lit procession, accompanied by the Centenary Band,  was organised on the spot.
By the 1950s Kinsey's had become Cooper's, as seen here, but disappeared at the end of the 1960s to make way for the Co-operative Superstore, part of which is now Tesco Express.
Next to Kinsey's is the County Stores, with its prominent adverts for GIPSY Brand black lead.
The curly-haired little girl in the doorway, according to Kath, looks very much like her Mother.
And that crowd of children has obviously gathered because of the photographer being there.
In the early 20th century someone taking photographs was a rarity and must have been fascinating to those children.
Cameras in those days were enormous polished wood and brass boxes mounted on equally enormous wooden tripods and used large glass plates instead of negatives.
More than likely the photographer would have had his head underneath the voluminous black cloth necessary at that time for him to see the scene he was photographing, upside down in his ground-glass viewfinder.
The children must have thought him some kind of magician.
By coincidence I walked by the very same spot today with my Blackberry phone snapping digital photos right left and centre, and no one gave me a second glance.
The shop behind that ornate gas-lamp on the left was Lees Butchers (but always called, in Middlewich fashion 'Butcher Lees'). 
This shop, oddly enough, served its time as the National & Provincial Bank before being demolished to make way for the war memorial in its original setting, the bank by then having built its new premises across the road.*
The gas-lamp itself is interesting. It served to light up the whole of the town centre and was also the traditional place for the Town Crier to stand to make his pronouncements. Originally, before the widespead use of newspapers, these would have included 'news headlines' letting people know what was happening in the wider world, but later became much more localised with news of Middlewich events, sales being held in the local pubs, and all the other information needed to make small town life run smoothly.
Thus our present Town Crier, Devlin Hobson, is carrying out very much the same role as his distinguished predecessor and when he stands under one of the new LED street lamps at the Wheelock Street end of the amphitheatre, he's very much following in the old Town Crier's footsteps.

Devlin Hobson, Middlewich Town Crier

Many thanks to Kath and Barry for letting us see this fascinating photograph.

The Carbineer Inn on Hightown during one of those well-attended Middlewich celebrations. (Photo: Ken Kingston. From his book Middlewich Hospitality
[Middlewich U3A Local History Group 2014])

*UPDATES: What had by 2015 become the National Westminster (or NatWest) Bank on Hightown was, in the late Summer of that year, being converted into a carpet shop. Only the general design of the building betrays the fact that it was ever a bank.

In the event the carpet shop never materialised either and as at Summer 2016, the premises remained empty and waiting to be put to some good use.
Also during the Summer of 2015 our town's one remaining bank, Barclays, announced a reduction in its hours of business - a sign that its days, too, might be numbered, leaving Middlewich with no bank premises at all. A sign of the times.
By March 2018, both our banks had shut up shop; the NatWest had become a furniture showroom, and the Barclays branch, which closed in 2017, remained empty.

First published 20th March 2012
Re-published 16th September 2015,
19th June 2016, 21st March 2018


by Dave Roberts

In fact, a very serious breach indeed, of the bank of the Shropshire Union's Middlewich Branch in the early hours of Friday 16th March 2018. 

The breach occurred where the canal crosses the River Wheelock, close to Nantwich Road. Early reports described the breach as 'a huge sinkhole' in the bed of the canal, suggesting that  the aqueduct had collapsed and the  water from a three-quarter mile stretch of the canal from Wardle Lock in Middlewich to Stanthorne Lock* had poured through it into the river beneath, causing it to burst its banks and flood the surrounding fields. Local farmers were at one point forced to move their livestock to safety. Some of this flooding can just be made out to the left of the photo.

In fact what really seems to have happened is that the almost 200 year old aqueduct  remained intact and the canal bank collapsed, causing the water to flow around the side of the aqueduct into the river below. A tribute to the design and construction skills of the canal builders of the early 19th century, towards the end of the canal building era.

Eoin Anderson's drone shot of the breach dramatically shows the extent of the damage to the canal. This photo spread like wildfire throughout the internet on the Friday after the incident. It's reproduced here with Eoin's permission. 

Towards the top of the photo, away in the distance, can be seen the accommodation bridge which marks the position of Stanthorne Lock.* Beyond the lock the canal is intact.
There were 'up to twenty' boats in the affected section of canal but, fortunately, no one was injured. Those boats, though, will remain stranded for the foreseeable future.

* sometimes known locally as 'Sherrif's Lock'

Paul and Emma Westmacott who live on Nantwich Road, close to the canal, were first on the scene.

Paul writes:

'We were lying in bed and heard strange noises outside, so went to investigate.
Believe me, you have never seen or heard anything like the sight and sound of that canal water going through that hole in full flow.
We called 999 and were told by the police that they would pass a message on to the Canal & River Trust.

While we were waiting for the police patrol car to arrive, it became apparent that the situation was even more serious than at first thought. We could see the stranded boat on the other side of the breach and tried to make contact with the boat owner, but we couldn't make him hear because of the noise. 
So we called the police again. They arrived shortly afterwards, followed by quite a few more. Lights were shone on the scene and the full scale of what had happened became clear. It's a night we will never forget.'

Note: Emma is the grand daughter of the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, who would, no doubt, have had a lot to say about this incident, and would also have some great ideas on how the damage should be repaired. -Ed.

Photo: Vision Aerial Photography
The massive size of the breach can be seen even more clearly in this photo from Vision Aerial Photography, as can the proximity to the houses in Nantwich Road, which can be seen coming in from the right (the white building is Manor Lodge). The town of Middlewich is at the top of the photo and the canal can be seen veering to the right to join the Wardle Canal and, ultimately, the Trent & Mersey in the distance at Booth Lane.

Vision Aerial Photography
Here the damage caused to the River Wheelock and the garden of the house on the bank above Nantwich Road can be seen. That's Nantwich Road on the upper right as it passes Manor Lodge before running under the canal via the road aqueduct which is the twin of the one where the breach occurred.

Photo: Vision Aerial Photography
The aqueduct itself, showing how the breach in the canal caused massive amounts of water to pour down into the river valley, overwhelming it and causing massive flooding in the fields on either side. At the top of the photo Nantwich Road can be seen coming down from Stanthorne and running past the trees (top middle). The river at this point is very often flooded after heavy rain, but not usually to this extent.  Brynlow Drive which runs from Nantwich Road up into the 'Manor Estate' is top left.

Many thanks to Vision Aerial Photography for permission to use these photographs.

 Patrick Hough walked up the canal early on the morning of Friday 16th March and took some photos of the breach from ground level. 

Many people have commented that photographs can't do justice to the enormity of the crater which this breach caused in the canal.

Seemingly the drone shots from Eoin Anderson and Vision Aerial Photography (above) come closest to showing just how catastrophic this incident was.

Looking back towards Middlewich from the site of the incident, the canal looks curiously unlike a waterway, with only a small trickle of water evident.

The enormous amount of silt found in all canals these days can be seen, making the canal  much more shallow than it ought to be, particularly at the sides.

This silt, together with the rubbish which people still, for some reason, feel justified in throwing into the water, can sometimes make boating difficult and even hazardous.

This carp was one casualty of the collapse. It was later rescued from the  confines of the very much reduced canal water.

The flooded River Wheelock. 

This is the 'Nantwich' side of the aqueduct where, passing under Nantwich Road, the river flows down from the village to which it gives  its name and heads towards its meeting with the River Dane near Croxton. The village was named after the river, and our main street was named after the village. The name 'Wheelock' comes from ancient Welsh and simply and appropriately means 'winding river'.

The meadowland in the river valley was extensively flooded by canal water. Mud, silt and other material falling into the river from the canal above made matters worse by effectively 'damming' the river and causing the water to spread widely over the fields on either side.

Note the trees actually growing in the bed of the river. 

The profusion of trees in the area is a legacy of William Boosey the nurseryman who planted thousands of them along the Wheelock before the Great War.

The start of hostilities meant that the trees were abandoned to their fate and have run riot ever since.

Work to repair the canal may mean that at least some of these trees are cleared, giving us a better view of this early 19th century structure.

Geoff Edwards' photo shows us what really happened to the canal during the early hours of Friday morning.

The bank above the aqueduct burst, spilling the canal's water into the river. 

Superficially at least the only damage to the aqueduct itself seems to be the loss of a few coping stones. But we can't, of course, second-guess the Canal and River Trust's engineers who will be making a thorough investigation into the structure and its surroundings prior to repairing the canal.

What would have happened if the breach had occurred in a place where there was no river to take the excess water?

What if it had happened, for example, at the nearby aqueduct over Nantwich Road, which causes much anxiety each time it's hit by a truck following  a faulty  satnav?

(Note: Since this Diary entry was first published we have heard intriguing suggestions that there was indeed a breach of the canal at the Nantwich Road aqueduct many years ago. Given that the Middlewich Branch is getting on for two hundred years old - which doesn't stop older Middlewich residents referring to it as 'The New Canal' - this would appear to be well within the realms of possibility. If you have any information on this, we'd love to see it - Ed)

This incident caused an almost unprecedented amount of interest in the canal from local people, and a great deal of speculation as to what was going to happen to it.

Foremost in many people's minds were the problems likely to hit the boating community, the  FAB Festival and the local economy.

Probably understandably, many local people assumed that repairing the breach would be the responsibility of Cheshire East council and feared the worst.

Given that council's perceived  appalling record when it comes to 'doing anything for Middlewich' people were assuming that there would be the usual delays, prevarication, switching of funds to other purposes etc. 

Thankfully, though, the repairs to the canal are not the responsibility of the council, but of the Canal & River Trust, successor to British Waterways, who will have to fund the project. 

Good news for Middlewich, but terrible news for the boating community. The Trust has only so much money to spend on repairs to the system and other projects may have to be postponed or abandoned altogether to pay for the repair of this important part of the network.

Others reasoned that the majority of boats visiting Middlewich did so via the Trent & Mersey canal, which is unaffected by this incident; that there are alternative routes (albeit much longer ones) into the town from the Shropshire Union; that the success of the FAB Festival is not entirely dependent on people visiting by boat and that canal breaches 'come with the territory' when you live in a canal town. 

Bob Shoosmith, who moved to Middlewich from Surrey nine years ago,  took to the town and its canals like - if you'll pardon the expression - a duck to water.

Bob was called to the scene of the incident on Friday

He says,

 'My connection with the Canal & River Trust (CaRT) is as a volunteer lock keeper on our three locks.* Out of season we do other tasks such as cutting back vegetation on the non-towpath side, crewing work boats, painting and maintaining locks etc. on our area of the system.

That is why I was called in on Friday to help block off the towpath along the drained section of the canal, and to put up warning signs. Other staff members of the CaRT were also in attendance, and it was from them that I gleaned a little information as to what would be likely to happen going forward.

As I'm sure you can understand at that time the full scale of the undertaking was still being assessed, so the information I could pass on to the public was limited.

The incident created a lot of interest in Middlewich and I was impressed by the concern expressed by a lot of the people I spoke to, and their obvious desire to help.

People were very interested in the possible time-scale for repairs, and all I could tell them was what I had been told by the CaRT, citing the land-slip above Croxton Flashes taking seven months to repair, and that I imagined it would take a similar length of time to repair this breach.

Many people were voicing their concerns about the effect on this year's FAB Festival, and the other detrimental effects this will have on Middlewich.'

* These are the three locks on the Trent & Mersey just off Brooks Lane, where the canal makes an abrupt left turn to drop down into Middlewich town centre. They're sometimes known locally as 'The Big Three', but their official name is, simply, 'Middlewich Locks' -Ed

Many thanks to Bob for getting in touch, and allowing us to use this account of his involvement in the incident on Friday.

He's promised to keep in touch with the CaRT offices at Red Bull Wharf and to forward any additional information to us.

So this is a particularly bad example of a canal breach which has caused additional concern to local people because of its close proximity to Nantwich Road.

 But it's by no means the first such calamity in the area,

As Bob Shoosmith says, there was, for example, one  at Croxton on the Trent & Mersey in 2012

To add a little perspective to our 21st century 'disaster' we should point out that, as mentioned in our earlier Diary entries (links above) the original Croxton Aqueduct, built by James Brindley in 1777, had to be replaced at the end of the nineteenth century due to that familiar Mid-Cheshire problem, brine subsidence.

In 1935 the replacement viaduct collapsed into the River Dane after flooding in the area caused by excessive rainfall and was then replaced by the current narrow structure, putting paid to any idea of wide boats ever reaching Middlewich. 

When the bridges on the Middlewich Branch were constructed in 1827, just at the beginning of the railway age, construction techniques had improved so much that, as we have seen, these later structures can withstand a lot of rough treatment.

So, here as elsewhere on the network, this canal breach is far from unprecedented.

We will be adding to this Middlewich Diary entry in the coming weeks.

See also:



Scroll down the page for a video featuring Clive Mitchell of CaRT giving an update on the situation. There's also plenty of other information concerning the breach on this Facebook Page.

Stanthorne Lock to Wardle Lock
UPDATE 19th March 2018


You can help the Canal & River Trust in its repair work on the  Middlewich Branch  by contributing to this appeal. The appeal was set up by the Trust following requests from several Middlewich residents.

Rescuing the fish, 17th March 2018                                    Photo: Canal & River Trust


Eoin Anderson

Patrick Hough
Dominic Devaney
Geoff Edwards
Bob Shoosmith
Paul and Emma Westmacott
Vision Aerial Photography
Josh Pennington (Middlewich Guardian)
BBC News (North-West)

Canal & River Trust

First published 17th March 2018
Updated, expanded and re-published 18th March 2018, 19th March, 21st March

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Keep watching the Middlewich Diary for news of our latest charity quiz on the eve of this years FAB Festival!


by Dave Roberts
Here's a happy discovery made while on a walk up the SUC Middlewich Branch a few days before the FAB Festival. At first glance just another immaculately turned out pleasure boat, one of thousands which pass through our town every year.
But a closer look at this boat should, if you're of a certain age, love music, and have any romance in your soul, bring a smile to your face.
For this  is no ordinary boat.
 It's named Mi Amigo, after Radio Caroline's original pirate radio ship (Update: Actually that's not strictly true. Someone's taken the trouble to point out that the original Caroline ship was the MV Fredericia (or 'Frederica' according to which account you read), later renamed Caroline - see 'comments' below).

and there's an excellent illustration of that famous (or 'infamous', according to the boat's builders, Braidbar Boats) vessel on the cabin side.

It's fortuitous that the new Mi Amigo should choose to visit our landlocked little town, as it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to give Caroline a plug in the Middlewich Diary.

For Radio Caroline is by no means a thing of the past (although, unfortunately, the original Mi Amigo is - it sank in heavy seas in 1980).

The station can be found broadcasting away merrily on the internet (and various other outlets) and is still actively campaigning for a licence to broadcast on medium wave.
The original Mi Amigo        Photo: Bob le Roi

UPDATE (June 2014):  Radio Caroline celebrated her 50th Birthday on the 28th March 2014 (and also at Easter 2014 - like all Queens she has an actual and an official birthday). Many congratulations to all concerned with keeping this broadcasting legend alive -Ed)

UPDATE(August 2017): In May 2017 the Medium Wave  campaign bore fruit and Radio Caroline was given a licence to broadcast to Suffolk and North Essex on 648 Khz, ironically a frequency formerly used by the BBC World Service.

UPDATE (March 2018) Transmissions from Orfordness began in November 2017 and full programmes began at 12 noon on December 22nd. 
Orfordness is the ideal location for the station' land-based transmissions. It's just about as close as you can get to the sea while still on land, and transmitter engineers, by all accounts, still have to travel to the site by boat.

And the Radio Caroline organisation still has  a ship, too, the Ross Revenge, which is currently at anchor in the River Blackwater, giving everyone the opportunity to take a tour of the broadcasting station and the rest of the vessel.

You can listen to the station, and find out all about its fascinating and astonishing history, by visiting


Roger Bowen

You can also find out more about the  NB Mi Amigo at


P.S. If, like me, you're a real pirate radio anorak, you'll know that in the sixties we in the north had our own Radio Caroline broadcasting from a ship called (what else?) Caroline, and anchored off the Isle of Man.
Halcyon days.


First published 9th July 2012
Updated and re-published 9th August 2017
and 20th March 2018.


Photo: Canal & River Trust
Following the recent breach in the Shropshire Union Canal (Middlewich Branch) the Canal & River Trust has introduced this link which you can follow to keep up with the work being done on the canal and the surrounding area.

With thanks to Rachel Walklate.


(Middlewich Diary entry)

Friday, 16 March 2018


Middlewich Town Council
Why was the Market cancelled?

Bev Cope writes:

As one of the team who organise this.Here is why: we can run a market in sun, rain, snow, sleet and ice on a hard surface. Wind however is a different issue. In October last year every town around us (except Middlewich) was put on a Met Office Yellow Weather Warning before the day. They cancelled. We decided to go ahead as it was fairly calm here. Our market traders were given the option to take part or not given there was no warning in place. However, on the day in question, October 2017, one hour into our market a Yellow Warning was issued and the wind was horrendous. Marquees were starting to lift despite weights. Indeed one marquee did lift - a traders own. This is way too high a risk and in such a close area along Wheelock Street we are not prepared to put people or premises at risk in this way. Based on this learning curve we changed our process. Our rule is: if a Yellow Warning is issued on the Friday and/or the Saturday we cancel for safety reasons. The decision is a group decision. We also consulted with Highways to ensure it was the right decision and they advised the same. For additional info we now give refunds to traders if a cancellation on the Friday (or earlier) occurs. Sadly we have no control over weather but we are hoping the next market on the 21 April - 10am until 3pm - is considerably brighter and warmer.
This material, written before the cancellation, remains here for archive purposes:

The Middlewich Mexon Market writes:

Middlewich Mexon Market




Followed in no time at all by this informative but somewhat melancholy version.

First published 15th March 2018
Revised and re-published 16th March 2018
Archived 16th March 2018

Sunday, 11 March 2018


Photo: Salt Town Productions 2012
by Dave Roberts
This, I can assure you, is a completely true story which happened in the heady days of  the summer of 2012 during the Middlewich FAB Festival.
The scene is the White Horse public house in Lewin Street which, like many of the town's pubs, was playing host to some of the festival's fringe acts.
Mindful of the need to ensure the safety of its customers the pub's management had helpfully put this warning on a boarded-up window so that no one would trip over while trying to negotiate the entrance to the pub  and its beer garden.
Whether this had been done specially for the festival I don't know, but the last time I visited the pub the sign was still there.
Late on the Saturday afternoon I walked into the bar and was intrigued to hear the bar staff laughing uproariously and, from time to time, mentioning the words 'uneven surfaces'.
When I asked them what was going on I was told that, earlier in the afternoon, a folk festival visitor, complete with anorak, pewter tankard, Festival Guide and perplexed frown, had called in and asked them what time The Uneven Surfaces were playing.
He could not, he said, find any mention of this particular band in the Guide.
It is unclear whether or not  the Please Take Care was a later addition to the sign, possibly designed to make its purpose clearer.
Perhaps it was already there when this hapless festival-goer wandered in from the street?
If so, I wonder if he thought that Please Take Care was The Uneven Surfaces' support band or that The Uneven Surfaces were such a wild and dangerous bunch that care should be exercised when watching them?
But honestly, you try to help people...

P.S. Stuart Warren Twigg says:

Great story.
 Sometimes the truth is indeed stranger than fiction. OK so the band is called Daryl and the album is Uneven Surfaces, but you couldn't write this stuff!

The White Horse in 2012                                                                                                       Photo: Bill Armsden
Note: After years of struggling to survive, the White Horse finally closed its doors for good on the 10th March 2018. The only reason for the pub's decline was its position on Lewin Street where heavy traffic roared perilously close to the front door. Had the pub been in a better position there's no doubt that it would still be open and thriving.

First published 23rd January 2013
Re-published 23rd January 2018
and March 11th 2018.