Saturday, 23 March 2019


By Dave Roberts

Photo: Robert  Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A Middlewich rail enthusiast's dream as the first steam train for forty years passes through the town on the 4th May 2008.
The Cheshire Gardens Express was run under the auspices of the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign's parent organisation, the Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association (MCRUA), and carried passengers, including many civic dignitaries such as the Mayors of the then Boroughs of Congleton* and Vale Royal, on a trip to Altrincham. From there it formed a  shuttle service, running backwards and forwards throughout the day between Altrincham and Chester.
The train started from Crewe and travelled down the Manchester line to its first stop at Sandbach, where it pulled into the refurbished Platform 3 (the platform that trains on the revived Crewe-Northwich service will use) to pick up more passengers.
The train then diverged from the Manchester line at Sandbach North Junction, just a few yards east of the station, onto the Middlewich branch line and made its way to Middlewich, where, as all Northwich-bound trains do, it entered the Middlewich Loop at the Holmes Chapel Road Bridge (aka Station Bridge) and regained the single line just beyond the King Street bridge.
At Northwich it took the eastern curve of the Northwich triangle and travelled along the Manchester line to Altrincham, where the engine was detached and ran to Manchester to take on water for the shuttle service between Altrincham and Chester. In the evening the train returned to Crewe, again via the Middlewich line.
The engine used was Ian Riley's Stanier 'Black Five' no 45407 Lancashire Fusilier. 
A fabulous day out for all concerned which not only celebrated the return of steam to Middlewich, but also the varied and beautiful gardens to be found all over this green and pleasant part of the country.
I was on the train for the first leg of the journey from Crewe to Altrincham and it was quite touching to see the amount of interest the sight of a steam train running through Middlewich after all those years created. Doting parents and grandparents stood at the trackside with little children, all waving and smiling as we passed.. At times it was just like a scene from The Titfield Thunderbolt.

* The Mayor of Congleton Borough at this time was Cllr Mike Parsons.
Photo: Robert Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A trip through Middlewich by train is always a worthwhile and fascinating experience and much easier to arrange than might be thought. The line is becoming increasingly popular with railtour organisers, and there's also the possibility of getting aboard a diverted Virgin Holyhead service when engineering work on the Chester line is in progress at weekends.
It's a good chance to see a completely different view of the town. One which, we all hope, will become quite commonplace before too long.
The first picture  shows The Cheshire Gardens Express negotiating the Middlewich Loop and approaching the King Street bridge. The second photograph shows it on the Northwich side of the bridge and  about to exit the loop and take the single line to Northwich.

Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association
                   WHERE AND WHAT IS SNJ?

First published 17th September 2011
Amended and re-published 23rd March 2019

Monday, 18 March 2019


Photograph courtesy of Joan Smith
by Dave Roberts

We're grateful once again to Bill Eaton for sending us another pair of photographs from the collection of the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft, reproduced here by courtesy of his wife, Joan.
During our previous Middlewich Diary excursions to Kinderton Street we've occasionally been able to glance briefly at this group of buildings at the junction of Kinderton Street and King Street, just up the road from the Boar's Head Hotel:


But Frank has managed to tease me with this photo. That huge wooden building which dominates the picture, as it dominated Kinderton Street at the time, is seen in  Frank's photo from a very unusual angle.
The brick building on the left looks like an ordinary house here (although it's obvious from the whitewash on the left hand wall that part of the building has recently been demolished), but it's actually Earl's distinctive office. The unusual curved front window, as seen in our earlier entry, faces away from the camera on the other side of the building.
The building in the distance on the extreme left seems maddeningly familiar.
In fact, it's the Catholic School (now the church's community centre), a few yards away down King Street  where that well known thoroughfare meets New King Street.
The ventilator on the roof, typical of so many Victorian schools, is the giveaway.
It will be noted that, by this time (the early 1970s), Chris Earl's name was  on the building, and obviously had been for quite a few years, although the redoubtable Ernie Earl had not been forgotten.
He certainly was still in the mind of  Earl's most loyal  employee, Billy 'Cocky' Wilkinson (aka 'Billy Wilk') who lived a short distance away in Seabank and regaled me night after night in the Kings Arms with tales of the doings of the Earls while blowing evil-smelling clouds of pipe tobacco over me and everyone else within reach.
We had many a Condor moment together.
Billy was a steadfast employee of the Earls, while, at the same time, remaining firmly of the opinion that they were all 'rum buggers'.
(Billy thought, even then, that I was also  a 'rum bugger', and it's quite likely that subsequent events have proved him right.)

Note (March 2019): Billy's nephew Stephen emailed us recently with the following information, using Billy's Sunday name:

Just a note to your words on C Earl.

William Wilkinson was my uncle and I now live in the house William lived in on Seabank.
Williams best mate was a man called Reg Manley.
William was gardener to the Earls for many years.

Stephen Wilkinson 

But the real revelation comes in the note which Bill Eaton has supplied with these photographs:

'Frank's notes say the big wooden building, prior to being Ernie Earl's workshop, was a drill hall. 
It's possible that local men trained there before and during the Second World War.'

Now there's something I didn't know. Frank's second picture (below), shows what an extraordinary building that old drill hall had become just before its final demise.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the second photo is from a later date than the first, shows the old drill hall from the opposite direction, and that the modern building on the left is the building now enjoying  great popularity as the 'Factory Shop'.

Although I am, as always, open to correction.

Many thanks to Bill Eaton and Joan Smith for letting us see these photos.

Photograph courtesy of Joan Smith

There was no diary entry for the 25th June 2011 but the day before, on June 24th,
we featured this celebrated Middlewich Diary entry, instigated by Sharon Mather and bringing about our first in-depth investigation. As a result, there's a hairdressers shop in Wheeelock Street which will (to us, anyway) be forever known as SHARON'S CAFE:

First published 25th June 2012
Amended, re-formatted and re-published 18th March 2019

Saturday, 16 March 2019


Photos by Ruth Sproston
Commentary by Dave Roberts

In the early hours of Friday 16th March 2018 catastrophe hit a quiet, semi-rural part of the Shropshire Union Canal's Middlewich branch as part of the bank  gave way directly above the aqueduct carrying the canal over the River Wheelock.

It's an oft-told story and doesn't need repeating here. Our series of 'Serious Breach' features, written shortly after the incident, will tell you all you need to know. And there are further links to various other sites, including those of the Canal & River Trust. They can be accessed via the main link (below).

Here's the link to our original Diary entry :


Our coverage was used by respected railway blogger and author Paul Bigland to counter claims that that old familiar Mid-Cheshire foe, brine subsidence, may have contributed to the collapse, indicating that the ground in the area is too unstable to sustain the projected High Speed Rail line (HS2) which will run close by. Unfortunately there is still talk in the comments on Paul's blog of a 'sinkhole' and of the aqueduct 'collapsing'. I've hastened to correct this with my own comment.


The Canal & River Trust wasted no time in setting to work and repairing the damage. The canal re-opened to traffic quietly and without fuss on the 21st of December 2018, just nine months after the breach happened.

Throughout that time Ruth Sproston was keeping a close eye on what was happening, and has kindly given us permission to use the photographs she has taken chronicling the canal's journey from disaster area back to the restored and once more delightful spot beloved of boaters and walkers alike that we all know.

The morning after the night before. The plight of the boater who woke up on Friday morning to find the canal beneath his boat rapidly disappearing in the direction of the Wheelock valley below, was extensively featured on radio and tv news reports, and even in a TV documentary which, unfortunately, saw fit to repeat the widespread fallacy that the breach was caused by a 'sinkhole' in the bed of the canal. If it had been a 'sinkhole' it could only have been on the aqueduct itself, meaning that the structure had collapsed. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. The fact that the canal bank gave way was what caused the problem, and the early 19th century Wheelock aqueduct stood its ground as firmly as ever.

Water from the canal makes its way into the  valley below, rushing through tons of silt and mud into the River Wheelock.

A scene of devastation, shortly after the breach. The only damage to the aqueduct, though, seems to be the loss of a few coping stones from the sweeping, curved buttress which actually served to channel the water from the canal into the river.

Once repairs were seriously under way, the bed of the canal at this point more closely resembled a roadway than a waterway. An access road was built across the fields from Coal Pit Lane so that materials and heavy machinery could be brought in for the repair work.

For a while this usually quiet and tranquil spot was host to all kinds of noisy machinery, all doing work to ensure that before too long that quiet and tranquility would return.

The canal bank and embankment above the aqueduct was re-shaped and re-modelled to hold the rebuilt section of the canal in its appointed place. Many of the trees which once crowded around the aqueduct have been removed during the course of the work. Repair work has been done on that sweeping buttress, and a new white stone stands out like a filling in a row of teeth. Before too long, the driving Cheshire rain and the passing of the seasons will ensure that that stone will weather and look exactly like all the others, making it hard to imagine that anything untoward ever happened here.

Here we can see that the rest of the buttress has been repaired with what look mostly like the original stones. The bank of the River Wheelock at this point has also been remodelled.

In fact this side of the river now bears a pleasing resemblance to some kind of 'beach' but, no doubt that same Cheshire rain will ensure that it all soon becomes as green as the rest of the area.

Seen from the canal above, the resemblance to a beach is even more striking. The white building just visible through the trees is Stanthorne Mill.

The restored section of canal, shortly after the refilling last December.

This favourite section of canal is open once more for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.

All serene. The first boat on the re-opened SUC Middlewich Branch,
 21st December 2018.                                           Photo: Bob Shoosmith

And as the sun sets, Middlewich welcomes back the SUC Middlewich Branch and looks forward to a memorable summer with many boats coming down the 'new' canal ready to join us for the FAB Festival and all the other Middlewich events happening this year.

With many thanks to Ruth for the use of her excellent photos

Our March 2019 MD masthead, featuring another beautiful sunset picture of the restored canal, this time by Lupeta Evans.

Photos: © 2019 Ruth Sproston
Masthead Photo: © 2019 Lupeta Evans
First Boat photo: © Bob Shoosmith
Text: © 2019 Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions



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.

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:

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.

The Middlewich Diary's 2018  Festival Quiz (incidentally, the last ever FAB Festival Quiz) raised £80 towards the cost of the re-building. A drop in the ocean (or the canal?) perhaps, but a nice way for local people to be involved in helping the appeal.

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
All serene. The first boat on the re-opened SUC Middlewich Branch,
 21st December 2018.                                           Photo: Bob Shoosmith

Text © Salt Town Productions 2018

First published 17th March 2018
Updated, expanded and re-published 18th March 2018, 19th March, 21st March
Updated and re-published 21st December 2018, the day the SUC Middlewich Branch re-opened to traffic after repair work was completed. This was nine months to the day since this entry was first published.
Re-published 16th March 2019, the first anniversary of the breach.



Saturday 13th APRIL


David Tulloch writes:

Hi to everyone! It is with great regret that we have to announce that Derek and Julie are to retire from Middlewich Rock & Roll.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank them both for their hard work and dedication over the last twenty one years. Without them Middlewich Rock & Roll would not be what it is today, and we would not have been able to carry on over the last few years either.

We can assure you we will do our utmost to keep things going at Middlewich Rock & Roll  with everyone's support.

Once again a massive Thank You to them both for all they have done !!!!!

We started Middlewich Rock'n'Roll twenty years ago at the Middlewich Royal British Legion Club and from a small difficult beginning it developed into an accepted venue on the Rock'n'Roll circuit. 

All profits were donated to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Seven years ago however, due to work commitments out of Middlewich, we had to hand over running of Middlewich Rock 'n' Roll to our then resident disc jockey Jivin' Jim Kiley, who has been running the events ever since.

Jim recently made the decision to move on.

We  therefore decided to take back the running of  Middlewich Rock'n'Roll as from January 2016, with the help of a small team of dedicated volunteers and sponsors and using the same successful format which has served us well over the last twenty years.

We have an excellent  live Rock'n'Roll Band and  great  disco each month and there is also frequently a 1950's gear stall where you can buy everything from 1950s dresses for the ladies to crepes and drapes for the gents. 

Our first gig 'under new (old) management'  was on  Saturday 9th January 2016  and featured Juke Box Jive from Bradford - appropriately, the group we
booked for our first gig twenty years ago. 

JBJ was supported by one of Stoke-on-Trent's best disc jockeys, Cadillac Dave.

We're proud to be continuing the tradition of donating any profits to the Poppy Appeal.

- Derek and Julie 2016

(More FAB pictures from CLIFF ASTLES)

13th JANUARY 2018
14th JANUARY 2018
13th FEBRUARY 2018
4th DECEMBER 2018
8th DECEMBER 2018
9th DECEMBER 2018
7th JANUARY 2019
15th JANUARY 2019
22nd JANUARY 2019
9th FEBRUARY 2019
10th FEBRUARY 2019
16th MARCH  2019