Wednesday, 10 October 2018

ERF MIDDLEWICH IN THE 1980s

PHOTOGRAPHED BY
REG HOLLAND

By Dave Roberts

This collection of photographs came to light after we commemorated the end of the ERF Service Centre in Middlewich with our feature The Last Days of ERF Middlewich.


Those photographic memories of the dying days of the Service Centre prompted Ray Scragg, who worked in ERF's Export Department, to get in touch offering to let us have some photographs of ERF Middlewich twenty years earlier, in the 1980s.

These photographs were taken by Reg Holland who spent many years in export packing. Reg, who is pictured in the title header (above) has marked most of the photographs as '1980' but one or two of them may be a little later, as we'll explain as we go along.

Please bear in mind that they were taken a long time ago and memories can get a little confused over such a period. I don't profess to be an expert on ERF Middlewich. I was there, after all, to do a job rather than study how the place worked.. I'd love to hear from anyone with greater knowledge than mine of the places and faces in this diary entry. All contributions gratefully received, and acknowledged.

A technical note: These photos were, of course, taken long before the wonders of digital photography. Some of them are very much under-exposed - something Reg wouldn't have realised until he got the prints from the processors.  We've tried our best to brighten these photos, but obviously we can't work miracles. We just have to accept that this is how photography was in the early 1980s.

The first few photos appear to explain why Reg should have taken his camera into work in the first place...


High up in ERF's 'high-racking' stores one of Middlewich's local robins decided to build a nest. This pallet full of what look like T-Shirts, or some other item of promotional clothing, must have seemed an ideal, warm, dry place to start a family. And, as Reg says, in a note on the back of the photo, the robin seems to have chosen well. Items were taken out and put into this pallet all the time the robin was there, building its nest and rearing four young robins.


Reg seems to have taken the robin under his wing - so to speak - and to have made something of a pet of it. Here the robin sits on one of several packing cases which are ready for shipment to ERF South Africa.



Here's that robin again perched on another packing case. In the background is a white-coated  David Briscall.

In a quiet corner of Export Packing, Reg's pet robin takes a little nourishment.


Plastic cab backs being packed for export to South Africa. Quite why Reg decided that these parts, out of all the thousands upon thousands sent out to South Africa over the years, should be worthy of a photograph is not clear. 

ERF Middlewich's Export Packing bench. The whole building, like all such buildings in the motor industry, was full of little areas just like this.


Reg describes this as the 'new spares delivery trailer 1980'. You'll note that at the time the company was still using the name 'SUNPAR', derived from the Sandbach factory, 'Sun Works'. Edwin Richard Foden was, it seems, a great believer in the health-giving powers of the sun. It was ERF's use of this name which led to the probably apocryphal tale that rival Foden's were at one time thinking of using the name 'Fo-Par' for their parts operation, but dropped the idea for obvious reasons.
Eventually the 'SUNPAR' name was abandoned and everything was labelled simply 'ERF Parts'.
When I first saw this photo I thought it was probably taken in a corner of the repair shop which adjoined the parts stores. Reg's description soon put me right. It says, 'new cab shop at rear of repair shop', and the obviously newer construction of the building seems to confirm this. The vehicles (or rather one vehicle and one cab) in the picture suggest that this was a separate facility for the repair of cabs. I seem to recall, though, that new cabs were also sent down from Sandbach for attention...


...and that's what seems to be happening here. Driver Derek Raymond poses next to his vehicle, which replaced a venerable ERF LV cabbed lorry used to carry spares between Sandbach and Middlewich. The old vehicle was painted in exactly the same way as this newer B series truck. And when the cab sides were, from time to time, removed for repair or repainting, they had to be marked up to ensure that they went back in the right place on the vehicle. They were always marked thus: LEFT FRONT, RIGHT FRONT, LEFT BACK, RIGHT BACK and...R SEND.


ERF's Repair Shop as it was in the early 1980s. It was the fact that trucks and tractor units would be heading for ERF Middlewich either towed by a breakdown truck or under their own power which caused the then Middlewich Urban District Council to remodel the whole of Brooks Lane and to make part of 'Poppityjohns' into 'Road Beta' in the early 1970s.
 Legend has it that ERF didn't relish the idea of a local, whimsical, name like 'Poppityjohns' on its letterheads, hence the replacement by the council with the
go-ahead, thrusting 1970s - style  replacement 'Road Beta'. 
In the end, the company used neither and the address was simply ERF Service, Middlewich.




Many of the trucks seen here in the repair shop seem to be undergoing rather more than minor repairs. Several of them appear to be new builds undergoing adaptations.
What was originally the repair shop later became a manufacturing facility, notably for the Steyr-cabbed ERF trucks of the 1990s.


ERF Repair shop electricians (l to r) Colin Proudlove (Foreman) and Dave Johnson


All Work and No Play... repair shop personnel enjoy a lunch-time game of football. The very edge of that huge ERF neon sign can be seen to the right of the photograph.

The insurance compound, where vehicles were quarantined pending investigations for insurance claims. There's an interesting array of tractor units here, not least the blue one nearest the camera. What sort of truck is that?



An array of new ERF cabs in the yard at Middlewich The buildings in the background are the new works canteen and accommodation for Technical Services, built between 'Poppityjohns' and the railway line in the 1980s. The buildings still exist and are used for the sale of - whisper it - second-hand Volvo Trucks...

THOMAS HARDIE USED TRUCKS




In one corner of the ERF Middlewich site, close to the King's Lock pub, was the ERF Training School. The Trent & Mersey canal separated ERF from Booth Lane, the road to Sandbach. Above the motorbike and to the left is the famed 'Etta Mault's Chippy' still thriving today and still serving locals, motorists and canal travellers. At this time there was an access gate from the King's Lock car-park into the training school car park and many ERF workers avoided the long walk via Brooks Lane bridge and 'Road Beta' to the Service Centre by using it. ERF management soon got wise to this practice and determined to put a stop to it.
Instead of  a sign saying  'Please do not use this gate' as you might expect, the management, in true ERF style, opted for something along these lines...


Many thanks to our old friend Ian Murfitt for this information. At the time Ian was living with his family on a canal boat moored close to the Service Centre.


In the training school itself, Steve Alcock points out an important component on a diagram. The computer revolution had, obviously, not yet reached this little corner of  ERF Training to a great extent.
Later, the training school expanded and took up some of the space in the main office block vacated by Technical Services.


Reg has marked this one as 'Training School 1980 Keith Johnson' Can anyone tell us which gentleman is Keith Johnson and who the other one is?

Entrance to reception, circa 1980, with Debbie Greenwood. The parts administration department is to the right and the forbidding entrance into the 'stores' to the left. Over the years all this changed. Reception was moved to the front of the building, near the new computer room until, in the end, it was abandoned altogether. Note the high-tech device being used to hold the door open. This is the same door shown in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich,  the door by which I first entered ERF Service in 1974, and the door I used when I left for the last time in 2000.

A relic of the past - the telephone switchboard at ERF Middlewich. Everyone knew the ERF day was ready to begin when a single 'ting' on the office telephone told you that the switchboard had made contact, ready for the fray. Advances in technology meant that in due course the switchboard shrunk to a little unit the size of a transistor radio perched on the reception desk. Not too long after that it disappeared altogether as direct lines to all and sundry were introduced. The entirely separate internal phone network was also disconnected and thrown in a skip at the same time. Occupying the operator's chair is Judith Challinor.


Before the computer age was in full swing, telex machines were vitally important for urgent parts orders and communications. Can anyone tell us who this lady is, so obviously happy to be among the telex machines?


Three happy ladies. Marilyn 'Mal' Whiston and Debbie Greewood are two of them (from left to right) but who is the third one? Can anyone tell us? To the right is a symbol of creeping computerisation - a printer with the distinctive blue keys found on many parts of our first computer system.

Marilyn again, this time with a lady Reg remembers as Alison. Does anyone know her second name?
On Marilyn's desk is one of our earliest pieces of computer equipment, the lesser-spotted VDU, or Visual Display Unit.


And here's another VDU, this time in the capable hands of Denise Carter. These were the VDUs mentioned in The Last Days of ERF Middlewich which worked on valves and had to be 'warmed up' every morning.


...and here's what was on the other end of the cable. It goes without saying that this was only a small part of the vast array of computer equipment needed to run the rather limited computer services we had in those days. The tapes seen in the racks on top of the machine were used to send such things as parts catalogues out to the distributor network. Perhaps someone well-versed in the history of early computers will be able to tell us just what sort of system this was.

Warranty Claims department 1980s. Janice Davies (right) is joined by a lady remembered by Reg simply as Carol. Can anyone supply her second name? I wonder if the gentleman just visible in the office to the left might possibly be Warranty Claims manager Ron Hyde?


Also in the Warranty Claims Department are Margaret Neville (left) and Margaret Ledland.


Technical Services. Reg Holland talks to Bill FitzSimons. Does anyone know who the third gentleman is?

ERF Technical Services 1980s.


A Cossington Commercials vehicle ready to collect spares from ERF Service. Reg remembers the driver as Eric. Can anyone supply his second name?

Now here's a scene which many drivers will remember. Just one incarnation of the almost legendary  ERF 'Parts Counter' with the late Derek 'Smoky' Ryder doing business with a couple of repair shop personnel, Geoff Challinor (left) and welder Jim McIvor.

Brew time! The first of quite a few 'brew time' photos. Reg was only able to get photos of stores personnel during their rest periods. The rest of the time they were moving so fast no camera could capture them. And if you believe that...
Here's 'Smoky' again with, on the left, Harry Bayley, partially hidden by Ken Alcock.
Ken was one of several stores people who joined the company when the Post Office sorting office in Middlewich closed down. In fact it was said at the time that ERF Middlewich had three main sources of personnel: Fodens, the Co-op and the Post Office. Reg Holland himself was an ex Sandbach Co-op man.



Derek Whittaker enjoying a brew in slightly more salubrious surroundings than the usual locker room. Derek's another ex-Middlewich Postman and, at the time of writing, is still going strong and spending a lot of time in his cottage in Ireland.


Back to the old locker room and, as a change from the endless games of dominoes, a card game is in progress with (l to r) John Longworth, Pat Hopkins and Gary Hopwood. A fourth player, on the right, obviously wishes to remain anonymous.
This photo seems to have been taken at the same time as the one above, and features the same card game. 
On the extreme left is John Smith, who is mentioned in The Last days of ERF Middlewich as the man who organised the End Of An Era party at  Pochins Club when the Service Centre closed down. To the right of John is a man who looks familiar, but whose name escapes us. Next to him is  John Longworth again.
The gentleman in the grey coat with a white collar is Norman 'The Storeman' Hulse who drove the van between Sandbach and Middlewich carrying stock transfers. Norman, who was yet another Middlewich postman in a former life, is immortalised in the poem Norman's Story. And next to Norman is another unknown gentleman. As always, if anyone can help with names, please don't hesitate to let us know.

This photo is so underexposed that it's really only included for completeness. In fact, if it wasn't for the white table and Derek Ryder's white coat we probably  wouldn't be able to see anything at all. Peering through the gloom are (we think) (l to r) Harry Bayley, Derek Ryder, Ken Alcock and someone we can't recognise. If you can, let us know.

Brew time, as well as being a time for games of cards and dominoes, was also a time for catching up on what was happening in the world. here we see Pete Latham (left) and Alan Moran perusing the papers. Alan was, for many years, our union rep.

Which brings us to the piece de resistance of all brew time photos, not least because it features your Middlewich Diary Editor (left) in the days of lots of hair and not much stomach (a situation which the intervening years has reversed) and Steve Farrington, who actually unloaded and checked most of the goods being delivered.
We're pictured in the 'new' Goods Inwards office -  though 'new', as you can see from the luxurious and sparkling clean surroundings, is a relative term. Out of shot to the left was a sliding glass window next to the main door where delivery drivers would 'report' and hand in their delivery notes. The first thing they would see would be the handsome countenance of Mr John Stuart Davenport, perched on the high stool just visible on the left, and chain-smoking incessantly. Out of shot to the right was our first, primitive, 'Computer Office' (in reality a lean-to constructed from bits of scrap wood and glass) where I would sit booking in goods on one of those blue-keyboarded VDUs, once the valves had warmed up.
Reg has labelled this photo '1980', but in reality it must be a couple of years later, because the 'newspaper I'm holding (The S*n), has the headline 'Di Takes Baby Home', and Princess Diana didn't give birth to Prince William until June 1982.

And it was in this little office that we would have our lunch with one Peter Sutcliffe, who worked for Clark's Transport bringing  us spares from Kirkstall Forge Engineering (later part of GKN) in Leeds. The story of our strange visitor is told here.
This photo may be extremely nostalgic, but that nostalgia is tinged with sadness. Steve, who was one of the best friends anyone could ever have, passed away a few years ago at the early age of 61.


Another office, another games of dominoes, and  some once familiar ERF faces. On the left is Graham Cherrington. The remaining two gents were at the coalface when it came to ERF's Warranty Claims department, spending their days among bins full of brake chambers, alternators, diffs, gearboxes, clutches, tachographs and a myriad of other parts, up to and including engines.. Tachographs which were B.E.R. (Beyond Economical Repair) were particularly sought after, as they made handy clocks. And there were plenty of them, due to what the Warranty Department referred to, darkly, as 'driver sabotage'. The gentleman in red is ERF Legend Bill Ravenscroft, another ex-Co-op man. His full name was William Atherton Ravenscroft which led me, not unreasonably, to stick a large sign on his office wall with his initials on it. It read: WAR OFFICE.
I think Bill secretly quite liked that, but it did lead to the 'Battle Of the Signs', the story of which will be added here in due course.
Next to Bill, in the white coat, is Inspector Ray 'Raymondo' Colley (or, occasionally,
'Colley Dog'). Ray was one of the few people from ERF who kept in touch after the company disappeared, and he only died a couple of years ago. A very nice man.
This picture is also of interest to me, personally, as it marks the very spot where I started my somewhat inglorious ERF career way back in 1974. The desk they're all sitting at was where  I would sit, writing out Goods Inward Notes ('GINs') on self-inking duplicate sheets - green, blue, yellow, pink and white. One copy was sent to the data firm in Manchester which, in return, would send us weekly print-outs of what were supposed to be our stock figures. All hopelessly and irredeemably out-of-date the moment they were printed, of course.
At this time Goods Inwards shared this office with Warranty Claims.
Notice the telephones. The white one is what we always called the 'national' phone, connected to that switchboard (see above) and the grey one is part of the internal phone system which did, at least, connect the Sun Works and the Service Centre together. There was a brief but glorious time when Mr Ravenscroft had two identical phones - one external, one internal. It was a matter of honour for us to swap the receivers over, causing confusion and a lot of merriment for everyone. Except Bill, of course. There was another ritual connected with Bill's telephones. If we had cause to answer one of them we'd shout, 'Phone, Bill!' to which he'd invariably reply, 'Phone Bill? How much?' Silly and childish, but it was how we got through the long ERF days.

Mr William Russell, usually known, of course, as Billy, in the Despatch Dept , having just returned from his daily lunchtime bowls game at the ICI Club (later Pochins Club)  at the other end of 'Road Beta' in Brooks Lane. This was the venue for our 'End of An Era' party in the year 2000. Despite the fact that the building is now Middlewich Community Church, the bowling green is still there; one of only two greens left in the town. In the background are the 'grey bins - so called because they were bins and they were grey. This was a veritable rabbit warren of bins, labelled with the ubiquitous Dymo tape, containing small parts. The bins were on three floors, with a flight of steps and  a lift enabling them to be accessed. The management, remarkably even for them, once suggested that the lift could be done away with. The suggestion was greeted with the shopfloor's usual mixture of incredulity and contempt.  Many storekeepers would spend the vast majority of their working days in those bins.
Billy Russell worked in Warranty Claims, parcelling up goods marked 'No Fault Found' and sending them back to distributors, no doubt much to their dismay. On the back of this photo Reg Holland has written the words Long May Your Lum Reek, a reference to the fact that Billy was Scottish. Very Scottish.


A little horseplay in the 'New Stores Loading Bay'.
(l to r) Alf* Davies, 'Foz' Foster and David Briscall

* Reg actually has Alf down as 'Joe Davies'. He was obviously thinking of the snooker player.

Before we go, we ought to include a few token shots of people actually getting a bit of work done. Here are (l to r) Terry Holland and Derek Whittaker in the High Racking Stores picking orders with a lift truck (or 'Translift').

Tony Vawdrey doing the same thing with another (or possibly the same) truck. The strange white thing above his head is actually scores of parts labels with twists of wire attached, for those parts which couldn't be identified  with the usual stick-on label.
'Foz' Foster and Alf Davies, looking slightly lost and confused in the Despatch Department. To the left, those grey bins can be seen again. The office below was the HQ for the stockcheckers, who were on a perpetual mission to check the quantity of every part in the building against the stock figures. The office on stilts was the foreman's office and underneath was, at that time,  the parts counter.

We end as we started with that photo of Reg Holland, the man who took all these photographs.
A little bit of lateral thinking leads us to believe that this particular shot must have been taken by Derek Raymond.
I little thought way back in the 1980s when I worked at the Service Centre, trying to keep my head down and blend into the background, that I would one day help to chronicle at least a little part of ERF Middlewich history.
We're grateful to Reg for preserving these memories of a part of ERF (and Middlewich) history which otherwise might well have ended up  existing only in the memories of those who worked at the Service Centre all those years ago.
Many thanks also to Ray Scragg who kindly let us see , and use, these precious photographs.
We hope you've enjoyed seeing this little glimpse into what seems, at this point in time like  a vanished world.

Dave Roberts

Middlewich

10th October 2018.

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