INDEX

INDEX

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

FIFTY YEARS ON...NOVEMBER 22nd 1963



Heading based on 'Alhambra After Dark' by Bill Armsden


by Dave Roberts


Friday, 22nd November 2013

It would be difficult to tell this story without using some well-worn cliches and hackneyed language, so apologies in advance.
The cliches about Middlewich and how it has changed over the years are part and parcel of the Middlewich Diary, and the cliches about the momentous happenings of  half a century ago have been with us and part of our lives all through the decades since the day a dream died in America while I was watching the antics of Charlie Drake in Middlewich, so the story wouldn't seem right without them.

If you're venturing down to the Alhambra Chinese Restaurant* tonight, try to imagine me, my Mum, my sister Cynthia and her friend Mary Moreton (of Moreton's Farm) sitting in that very same building 50 years ago to the very night watching what some now regard as 'a sixties classic' film, completely oblivious, in those days decades before the advent of mobile phones,  to the events unfolding over four and a half thousand miles away across the Atlantic.
I was 11 and in my last year at Wimboldsley Primary School; Cynthia was 7 and at the same school. Mary was just a little bit older than Cynthia and also went to the same school.
Oh, and Mum would be  44 - seventeen years younger than I am now...
We were keen picture-goers in those days and rambled all over Mid-Cheshire following our favourites. Anything with Hayley Mills or Julie Andrews in it was fine by us.
Two years earlier we had  trailed around the area watching Whistle Down The Wind in Middlewich, Northwich and Sandbach (probably in Winsford, too, I'm not sure).
It was one of our favourites and we couldn't get enough of it, so the only way to see it more than once was to get on the bus and follow it as it did the rounds of local cinemas.
We were luckier than some in this regard, as many of the local cinemas were independent and not tied to any particular distributor.
In 1962 we had spent what seemed like several days at the Alhambra watching Lawrence of Arabia.
All I can remember was thousands of shots of the merciless sun beating down on the arid Arabian desert, and desperately  hoping that the film would end soon.
If you were going to get trapped in a cinema, though, the Alhambra was probably the one to try for. It was comfortable, clean, had a large and very clear screen with good projection equipment and sound and was a very pleasant place indeed to spend time.
The only time the place took on the aspect of the more disreputable 'flea-pit' cinemas to be found in some towns was during Saturday matinees, when scratchy old Three Stooges shorts, cartoons and other short features would be shown to the accompaniment of near-riots in the cheap seats at the front.

The question of whether or not The Alhambra ran Children's matinees ha long been a vexed one, with some locals adamant that it never happened and others, including myself, having vivid memories of being there and watching short features such as The Three Stooges films. This press cutting from 1960 proves that, at least in that year, there was a matinee - and indeed a 'Children's Club'. But they weren't Saturday morning matinees, they started at the unusually late hour of 2pm. I wonder if there was an 'Alhambra Children's Club' badge? - Cutting courtesy of ROB DYKES



These were my formative years and the years when I was learning what was funny and what wasn't (the Three Stooges  weren't, as far as I was concerned, but then again it was difficult to make out what was going on during a film shown in the turbulent atmosphere and ear-splitting rowdiness of a Saturday Matinee).


The Alhambra (left), an early 1920s building with a beautiful art-deco frontage which has, mercifully, survived into the present day. At the time of this photograph, the early 1970s, the cinema had closed and Bingo reigned. The actual frontage (and most of the interior) were unchanged, though. Posters advertising the films showing or 'coming shortly' would be pasted on the boards on either side of the entrance (where the word BINGO can just be discerned). (photo: Paul Hough Collection)




One such poster, which would have been seen on  the front of the cinema in November 1963 was this one for a 'comedy classic' which attempted to team up the knockabout clowning of Charlie Drake and the smooth urbanity of George Sanders and Dennis Price.


We thought Charlie Drake was funny. We loved his slapstick style, his cheeky grin and his catchphrase.

Charlie was one of the biggest comedy stars of the early sixties. We'd watched his antics in all sorts of TV Shows, for both children and adults.
On one memorable night in 1961 we'd even seen him knocked unconscious during a live TV show, and watched as the show ended in silence and confusion.
And that's why, fifty years ago this very night, we made the short journey down from King Street to Wheelock Street to see Charlie in The Cracksman.

I don't remember being particularly impressed by the film. There was too much George Sanders and Dennis Price and not enough Charlie for my taste, but the film has, according to those who know about these things, stood the test of time, and is regarded as a minor classic.
One scene in The Cracksman, where Charlie was putting his locksmithing skills to good use,  featured electronic sounds created by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, whose most famous creation was to make its debut on BBC Television the following night as  the theme music, written by Ron Grainer, for a new science fiction series for children. We'd no idea, of course, how these sounds had been produced, but we knew it was all very 'space age'.



Having followed the somewhat predictable plot of the film to its conclusion, we walked out into the cold November air of Middlewich

-a very different town in those days.

Middlewich was going through what might be called its 'yellow' period.
At night the whole of the town centre was suffused by a ghastly yellow glow from the sodium vapour street lamps (intended, according to someone from the Middlewich UDC, talking to me a few years later, to resemble 'sunlight'. If this was the intention it failed miserably).
It seems to be impossible to capture that dismal and unearthly yellow glow either on film or digitally - it always comes out a kind of nasty red colour - but when it was mixed with fog, or rain or snow as it was in the winter time, it produced an effect  unsurpassed in its  dreariness.
As a finishing touch, even the face of the Church clock had one of these yellow sodium lamps inside it, giving it a jaundiced and palsied look.
There are still quite a few yellow street lamps around, but the effect has been toned down by the fact that new, brighter, white lights have been introduced, interspersed among the dreary yellow ones.
Other than the street lamps, there were few sources of illumination.
The pubs and clubs  kept themselves to themselves, with perhaps a couple of lights over their signs, or a courtesy light so you could find the door; there were no restaurants, no cafes, no wine bars, no Chinese or Indian takeaways, no kebab shops.
In fact, nothing. Once the cinema and the pubs closed, the town went to sleep.
Except, of course, for that marvellous northern institution, the fish and chip shop.

We walked down Wheelock Street through the November gloom.
Everything we all remember about our 'lovely little town' was present and correct.
Beyond Wheelock Street in Pepper Street were the salt works of Henry Seddon & Co, simmering away in the darkness and getting ready to produce clouds of salty steam and dirty black smoke all over again on the following Monday.
 Beyond the Town Bridge, Seddon's other works in Wych House Lane and Brooks Lane, and Murgatroyd's Works nearby were all in the same state of suspended animation.
The works had another three or four years to go before our  salt town days would be done.
Lower Street was still intact in those days, with Vernon Coopers, Stanway's fish shop and Harold Woodbine (Radio TV & Electrical) all in place opposite Hightown with its Victorian Town Hall and shops still standing and still doing useful jobs.


Lower Street shops as they were just before demolition in the early 1970s.
 The chip shop we used in 1963 is hidden behind Woodbine's shop

Incidentally November 22nd 1963 was also the day on which With the Beatles was released and I ordered my copy from Woodbine's a few days later. It took weeks and weeks to arrive.
Next to Woodbine's was an oasis of light and cheer - the chip shop which, I knew from my short-lived career as a choirboy in 1960, did a great cod and chips (the 'piece of cod which passeth all understanding').
We walked in, and  were told the news which, as David Frost said the following evening on  That Was The Week That Was, was the most unexpected news ever.
The last thing we expected to hear. The last thing anyone expected to hear.
President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
I can still remember the feeling of bewilderment and disbelief.
It was, as they say, a defining moment.
We were all young, of course, and knew little about politics - any politics, let alone the politics of the American Presidency - but we all knew, instinctively perhaps, that President Kennedy was a good man, intent on doing good things and that, at that moment, evil seemed to have triumphed.
It was the first time I can remember feeling that impotent anger which comes from being powerless to do anything except feel sorry.
We hurried home, over the Town Bridge with the Trent & Mersey canal in the darkness below, coming to the end of its long commercial career and waiting for better times in the future with the advent of pleasure boating, past the Talbot Hotel and the Boar's Head, and the row of shops and houses leading up to Moreton's Corner (the place where the Middlewich Diary began its perambulations around the town in 2011) and turned left into King Street.
Back at no 27 (later 33) our television was not, as would be the case these days, pouring out endless news reports and analysis on the tragedy, but quietly showing a programme about zoo animals ('a change from the advertised programme') as a mark of respect.
Life went on, of course.
The following day Dr Who, with Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire's amazing theme music, made its debut and, in the evening, we watched the remarkable tribute to the late President put together by David Frost and the TW3 team.
On Monday morning our teacher at Wimboldsley, Miss Mason (my mother's cousin), was beside herself.
She had only recently come back from a trip to the USA and, like so many at that time, was a fervent admirer of 'JFK'.
Miss Mason knew, as we all knew, that an era had come to an end; an era that had promised so much.
Nothing, to use another cliche, would ever be the same again.
Of course the greatest cliche of them all is to say that everyone can remember what they were doing when John F Kennedy was assassinated.
Well I certainly can.

Footnote: The American Presidency was very much in the news in November 2016 when the election of Donald Trump concentrated minds all over the world. This is how we reminded Facebook followers of this grim anniversary fifty-three years on from the Kennedy assassination.

'Time marches on, and now it's fifty-three years since our world turned upside down. We pause to look back at a time when the US Presidency was a cause for optimism and hope rather than fear and misgivings, and remember how, on a cold and grey November night in Middlewich we learnt how events thousands of miles away had blighted those hopes and quenched that optimism.'


Photo montage: CBS News

 © Dave Roberts 2013

First Published 22nd November 2013
Re-published 22nd November 2016
22nd November 2017
28th November 2018


The fiftieth Anniversary on Facebook:


* Since this was written the Alhambra Chinese Restaurant has become the Alhambra Bar and Restaurant. It's still a popular place of entertainment, and it still retains that lovely 1920s art deco frontage - Ed.

FROM FACEBOOK, 22ND NOVEMBER 2015:

Jacqui Cooke I was 13 and had a paper round at that time. It was about this time that The Sun newspaper took over from the Daily Herald. But my biggest interest at the time was The Beatles!

Dianne May I was 6!

Gemma Collins I didn't exist.

Rob Dykes I was one day old.

Geraldine Williams I was devastated by the news of JFK's assassination. He had withstood all the anti-Catholic prejudice to become President, had a lovely young family (who could not have been moved by the sight of John Jnr. saluting his father's coffin?) and on the face of it the Kennedy dynasty was doing a great job in promoting the USA (although some history books may disagree!)

Cllr Bernice Walmsley Thanks for posting that again, Dave. I enjoyed it. It captures perfectly the time and the events.

Dave Roberts Thanks Bernice!

Donald Jackson I had a paper round in Middlewich. I used to sell papers at the pictures, and then go round all the pubs and clubs.

Peter Dickenson I was 19 at the time and working on the night shift at Foden's when I heard the news.

Liz Corfield It's great to read how Middlewich was back then, along with your memories of such a poignant time in history. Thank you for sharing your memories. I enjoyed reading them.

Dave Roberts Thanks Liz!







Tuesday, 27 November 2018

BIG LOCK COTTAGE 1974


The lock-keeper's cottage at the Big Lock in 1974.  

For some reason this slide is undated but it's likely that the cottage was knocked down before it fell into the River Croco which is directly below its rear wall at the bottom of a sheer drop.

The cottage always had a precarious existence and. Messrs Curzon and Hurley confirm that it was 'demolished before it collapsed in the 1970s'.

An overflow channel from the pound above the lock runs into the river near the back of the cottage. An attractive garden associated with the Big Lock pub 
has replaced this building.

For more on this see this entry

First published 10th June 2011

Revised and re-published 27th November 2018

Sunday, 25 November 2018

WHERE AND WHAT IS SNJ?




When this was first published on Facebook at the start of June 2011, we presented it as a bit of a 'puzzle picture'.


 Here's the original description:

A bit of a puzzle picture today. Where is this sign? There are various clues: one is the blue brick to which the sign is attached; another is the pleasingly traditional design of the sign and a third is the lettering which does, in fact, tell you exactly where the sign is if you know what 'SNJ' stands for. Despite its rather old-fashioned look the sign hasn't been there very long (probably about 7 or 8 years) and, finally, thousands of people pass it every day.


This picture was first published on Facebook on 2nd June 2011. Below is the original feedback. If you haven't seen this before, why not try to figure out what 'SNJ' means before reading on?


Tim Moon  S stands for Staffordshire, J for Joint?

Dave Roberts Sorry, Tim. No and no.

 ‎...but I think you're on the right...er...track...

Tim Moon North Junction?


Dave Roberts Correct, Tim. So you've only the 'S' to figure out. You obviously already know what kind of sign this is.


Sherry Hill-Smith Sandbach north junction in 3 miles & 935 yards? But where it is - don't know. Can't come up with a blue building is it a train sign or a canal sign?


Dave Roberts Very good, Sherry. 'SNJ' is indeed 'Sandbach North Junction' (Sandbach South Junction disappeared many years ago). The blue brick is the brickwork of the Holmes Chapel Road bridge, close to where the old station was and, indeed, close to where the new station will be. I've always thought it odd that this sign, which is obviously for the benefit of railway personnel, should be on the 'road' side of the bridge rather than the 'railway' side. Railway distances are still measured in miles, yards and chains, btw.

 ‎...oh, and '12' is simply the number of the bridge, of course.


Tim Moon Bridge plates are often on the outside as maintenance staff would often travel to a site on the road.

Dave Roberts In fact, there are at least two of these signs on the bridge; the one shown in our picture, and one on the 'Northwich' side of the bridge at track level. This can just be made out on the photo included in the 'Subterranea Brittanica' link below.


First published 7th July 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 25th November 2018

PANTO TIME! CINDERELLA AT NORTHWICH MEMORIAL COURT, 9th - 31st DECEMBER


To find out more, go to:



Thursday, 22 November 2018

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS SWITCH-ON AND MEXON MARKET 2018 (ARCHIVED)







Route for the parade:


from Jacks car park, into St Ann’s Road, then Newton Heath, down Darlington Street then up Wheelock Street to the Bull Ring (many thanks to Nicci Anthoney for this information).

FULL DETAILS:

SCHNITZEL HOUSE
Today we will be joining Middlewich once again for its fantastic Christmas light switch on 4-8pm.We will be situated by the Vaults pub.

Pop along and see us for some tasty Bratwurst and Schnitzel.Even a kids deal  £3.50
________________________________________________

DRINKS & BITES AT NO. 35
HAPPY MASSIVE FRIDAY!!!
It’s lights switch on day & we are going for it!!! We’ve got: Slutty Brownies both PB & Oreo, Cookies, Choc/Orange cupcakes, Snowy Road, Rocky Road, Choc/Orange GF DF Brownies, MINCE PIE MONSTER SPONGE...& all your faves!!!
Hot choc with Baileys/Amaretto, Mulled Wine, Bakewell Fizz, Prosecco, Bombardinos & Peroni!!
We cannot wait!!! Let’s make it a fantastic day!!! Support your local business in YOUR TOWN!!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


From five years ago...our Musical Christmas Card!


MERRY CHRISTMAS!


The (new) Annals Of Middlewich:

2018 - Kerry Katona fails to make an appearance at the Switch-on to plug the Northwich panto she's appearing in. End of civilisation as we know it. Rioting in the streets. Council confirms that, as per their publicity, she wasn't due to switch on the lights (that was the Mayor and the Rose Queen) and wasn't going to be paid (and neither were any of the other guests who appeared).
Keep Middlewich Miserable brigade welcomes two chances of having a good moan: one moan because KK was invited in the  first place, and another moan because she wasn't there..

Monday, 12 November 2018

SOUTHWAY 1987 and 2018


Southway in 1987 (photo by Diane Parr). The dirt track (with rudimentary pavement ) leads to the rear of the buildings to the left, including the Alhambra Cinema (or Bingo Hall as it was at the time the photo was taken). This area was mostly used for car parking. The original Southway (or 'Tannery Alley' to give it its time-honoured name) is the footpath to the right which leads from Wheelock Street to St Ann's Road.
Middlewich's first real supermarket, Gateway, is being built in the background.


Thirty-one years later and the scene is still recognisable, though much smartened up. Southway still runs up the right hand side of the photo, on its way to St Ann's Road but the buildings to the left have been incorporated into Wheelock Street's shopping area, with a hairdresser and florist where that rather grim looking industrial building once was. The recently refurbished and hugely successful Drinks & Bites At No 35 is on the left. The grim-looking oversized 'lamp post' is one of the town's CCTV facilities, forever looking for trouble in Wheelock Street, and the 'pagoda' in the middle distance  welcomes Wheelock Street shoppers to what has now become Tesco's 'superstore' - or, in Middlewich parlance, 'Big Tesco'. (MD Photo)

Update: Once again the changing Middlewich shopping scene renders our information out of date. From October 2018 the sign on the 'pagoda' (and the signs on the store) read 'JACK'S', a low-cost supermarket which is, we're assured, 'part of the TESCO family'.

First published 1st April 2018
Updated and re-published 12th November 2018

Thursday, 8 November 2018

MIDDLEWICH IN AUTUMN, 2018, photographed by Rebecca Page


'Of the three wiches, Middlewich is rather a hag, unredeemed, uncouth and disfavoured...'

- J.C. Walters, 'Romantic Cheshire' 1930

by Dave Roberts

Poor old Middlewich, eh? That's telling us, J.C.! 

To be fair, though, he did go on to say, '...nor is her dark visage today a discredit, for Middlewich knows the meaning of hard toil under conditions which give her little chance of any cheerful display.'

If you'd approached any Middlewichian in the 1930s and talked about 'the beauty of Middlewich', you'd have been looked at askance and met with hollow laughter.

And poor old Middlewich's dark and gloomy visage lasted for another thirty-seven years until, in 1967, its remaining open pan salt works closed.


An accident of industrial history  resulted in Middlewich being an unredeemed, uncouth and disfavoured hag for so many years. 

In most of the local salt towns the salt industry was, for various reasons, situated away from the town centre, enabling those towns to preserve at least a little bit of civic pride. 

Not so in poor old Middlewich, where the sprawling Pepper Street Works was just a matter of yards away from Wheelock Street, and the Wych House Lane Works backed onto Lewin Street.

The penny-pinching ways of the salt works owners, who only used the cheapest coal they could find to fuel their salt pans, ensured that Middlewich was a grimy old town indeed.

After a rather grim interim period in the 1970s, when it seemed that half the town was being torn down, a much more pleasant  and attractive town slowly began to emerge - the modern day Middlewich which prospective new inhabitants, putting to one side our horrendous traffic problems and lack of amenities, fall in love with.

Rebecca Page has been out and about with her camera, capturing the beauty of Middlewich in Autumn in 2018.

And no one's laughing.

The photo above shows a stretch of the Trent & Mersey canal between the Big Lock and Town Bridge. Fifty years ago this was a very industrialised stretch of waterway, with Seddon's Pepper Street works to the right, just beyond the overhanging trees in the centre of the photo - the area is now the site of 'The Moorings' - and, to the left, Middlewich's gas works, once dignified with the elaborate title of the Middlewich Gas Light & Coke Company Ltd.


Taken from underneath our utilitarian and almost brutalist early 1930s Town Bridge, the resplendent Autumn colours on the canal bank mark the spot where the gas works once stood. The River Croco runs in a culvert on the other side of the canal bank, stretching from Brooks Lane to Harbutt's Field where it joins the River Dane, and acts as an overflow for the canal.

Beyond the Big Lock and heading in the direction of Northwich we see the new housing to the left which has replaced the old Nestle Condensed Milk Factory, in more recent years British Crepe's silk works.

Beyond that, many years ago, stood the Dairy & Domestic salt works, one of many open pan works which have been dotted around the town over the years.

Opposite, and beyond  the trees to the right, is the place where the Croco meets the Dane.

The field on the extreme right is Harbutt's Field, the site of Middlewich's Roman fort.

Middlewich's swan population is thriving as never before and you'll find these magnificent creature in several locations along our waterways.

You can find out more at


...and now we're back where we started, but heading in the opposite direction, towards the Big Lock.

The Newton Brewery Inn and its large gardens are out of shot to the left, and to the right, on the other side of the canal and the River Croco, where yet more housing development has taken place in recent years, is the area we all knew in childhood days in the fifties and sixties as 'Down Bill Hewitt's'.

This was a huge area of scrubland which had, years before, been the site of yet more traditional open pan salt works.

A brine shaft, rudimentarily fenced off, could be found at the far end, close to Harbutt's Field. 

This has now been permanently capped and few will even know of its existence.


Many thanks to Rebecca Page for permission to use these photographs showing the beauty of this part of our town in Autumn 2018.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

PEPPER STREET , EARLY 1969 (2)


Once again we find ourselves in Pepper Street in 1969 with a picture which should help to make the layout of things clearer.
(The white 'flashes' to the left, by the way, are caused by damage to the original Kodachrome film, illustrating all too clearly why we need to preserve this collection wiihout delay). The houses to the left are what now makes up modern-day Pepper Street. For the first time, at the end of the row, we can see the side wall of Seddon's office building. On the right of the picture is the end of the row of cottages which have been replaced by our famous 'grass verge'. What's the building to the left of them with the tall, central chimney, just above the Robin Reliant?



This photo was first published on Facebook on 26th April 2011. 

The original Facebook feedback is below:


Geraldine Williams Oh yes! that side wall of the Seddon's offices was the perfect place to hone one's twosie, or even threesie, tennis ball skills! Not sure about the other building. Some demolition had obviously taken place where the chain-link fencing stands (and the forlorn figure sits!) so it's a bit out of context for my recollection.

Dave Roberts I've been waiting for someone to tell me it's not a Robin, but a Regal Supervan or something.
Colin Derek Appleton Is that building the pub that was called the Lord Hood ?

Geraldine Williams
Yes, according to Google.


(Editor's note: In fact subsequent research indicates that the Lord Hood actually stood on the waste ground where the Reliant car (can be seen).

Colin Derek Appleton Cool! cant take all the credit though, my dad told me the locations of all the vanished pubs when i was a boy !!

Geraldine Williams I understand that the pubs near the salt works used to open at 5.00am to enable nightshift workers to re-hydrate after working on the open pans.

Colin Derek Appleton That's very possible. My Grandfather worked on the pans in the Pepper Street works as well as working for Seddon on his fleet of boats.

First published 10th July 2011

Reformatted and re-published 3rd November 2018