Tuesday, 30 October 2018


If you own the copyright on this photograph, please let us know

Looking almost impossibly narrow and confined, this is the junction between Pepper Street and the area where Lower Street became Wheelock Street. It's very early in the 1970s - quite possibly 1970 or 1971.
In fact it's rather difficult to say which particular street Pepper Street is joining here - Wheelock Street is to the right, and Lower Street to the left.
Perhaps it might be more apt to say that this is where Pepper Street meets The Bull Ring.
Across the road is the then brand new building built by the Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd and known as the Co-operative Superstore, reflecting its purpose as a place where all the previously scattered Co-op departments in Middlewich were, for the first time, gathered together under one roof.
It's rather disconcerting to note that the shop's entrance wasn't always on the left hand side, as it is now that Tesco Express rules the roost there. The right hand part of the building,  occupied for many years by Pineland Ltd, was at this time the Co-op's chemists department.
The windows in the building on the left belong to the flat above Vernon Coopers' Radio, TV and electrical shop, and the brick wall on the right was part of the house next to Dewhurst's butchers shop.
This junction, together with the reverse side of that ridiculously tall (for sighting purposes) STOP sign can be seen in this entry

as it appeared from a camera position looking in the opposite direction from just underneath the Co-op's long vanished canopy.
As Seddon's Salt Works was in Pepper Street it might be thought that this cramped and inconvenient junction might cause problems for vehicles wanting to reach the works but, in actual fact, the entrance and exit for carts (and later lorries) taking loads of salt from Seddon's was further down Lower Street, next to the gas showroom near Town Bridge.



by Dave Roberts

As might be expected, the original Diary entry
 'Pepper Street/Lower Street Junction Early 1970s' has attracted a lot of interest since it was first published in 2012. 

We thought it might be worthwhile trying to illustrate how the old, longer, Pepper Street used to look and how it gave people coming from Webbs Lane access to the town centre. 

This photo is as good a place to start as any, particularly as it shows the houses which now constitute practically all of modern-day Pepper Street. Here's the original description of the photo as it first appeared on the Middlewich Diary.

Our favourite contributor, 'Anonymous', said, in relation to our original diary entry which featured this photo:

'This brings back memories. If you were to turn around and walk back towards Webbs Lane, there was an open space opposite Seddons Salt Works. We use to play football and cricket there.'

Well, we think the space to the right of our main picture, where the Reliant car is parked, must be the space in question.

This picture, taken in 1969 with our trusty Instamatic camera, is fascinating as it provides a link between the Pepper Street of those days,at the very end of the open pan salt works era and the Pepper Street of today.

The building to the right with the single chimney is interesting.

Previous MD feedback seemed to suggest that it was once The Lord Hood public house, but this is not the case.

Ken Kingston's Middlewich Hospitality (Middlewich U3A Local History group 2014) tells us that the pub, built in 1782, was closed and demolished in 1920, and replaced by a workshop and timber shed in 1929. These premises were themselves demolished just after World War II, so it appears that the waste ground itself was the site of the pub and its later replacement. What the building with the central chimney was remains a mystery.

Today's street is, as we've said, more or less just that short terrace on the extreme left. What used to be the roadway is now a slip road connecting Webbs Lane to St Michael's Way opposite the Vaults.

The large building at the end of the Terrace is Seddon's Salt Works offices.

Seddon's offices in Pepper Street in the 1920s. The still extant terraced houses can be seen behind the building.

 Beyond that is the salt works itself, by this time closed and awaiting demolition.

Here's what the other side of the street looked like:

To get to the town centre you walked towards the salt works, and then took a sharp right turn between the works and the building beyond the Reliant car to wind up in the Bull Ring. 

Middlewich's automatic telephone exchange, built in 1967 and now much expanded and fronting onto St Michael's Way, was in a small compound, just out of shot to the right.

Powell's Clothing Factory, connected with the company's retail premises in Wheelock Street, could also be found in the area, on land now occupied by St Michael's Way. 

It is this connection with the textile industry which has led to the new housing development next to the telephone exchange being given the rather fanciful name 'Spindle Whorl'. Put simply, a 'spindle whorl' is one of the many tools used by cloth weavers. It's a kind of flat disc with a hole in it. Spindle whorls are made from many diffferent materials and are very collectable.

Another development on the site, closer to Wheelock Street, has been given the more prosaic and, some might say, more appropriate name of 'Powell House'.

Powell's Tailors itself, once the smartest shop in the town, is now in a semi-derelict state after  Eric Alcock electrical moved out a few years ago.

Eric Alcock Ltd, pictured in 2012. The electrical goods firm's tenure of the former impeccably smart Powell's Tailor's premises did its appearance no favours at all, and now (2018) the shop is in a semi-derelict state and looks even worse.

Here's a bit more of 1969 Pepper Street, taking us further towards the town centre:

To get to the town centre today you have to take more or less the same route, but you'll be walking towards the entrance to 'The Moorings' rather than the salt works and, once you make the right turn, you have St Michael's Way, with heavy traffic heading to and from the M6, to contend with before you can reach the Bull Ring.

First published 2nd March 2018
Revised and re-formatted 30th October 2018


Another excellent shot from the camera of Jack Stanier and a companion shot to the one shown here. It's 1970 (as evidenced by the 'Back Home' World Cup poster in Vernon Coopers window). To the right of Vernon Coopers is Stanways fish shop with its lettering removed but the name just about still visible. Adjoining this we can get a better view of an establishment we've mentioned a few times before - Harold Woodbine Ltd in its original Lower Street premises. It's obvious from the configuration of this shop that it was once  separate premises; probably two or three small cottages. Note that while Vernon Cooper promotes the virtues of Ferguson and Ekco sound and vision, Harold Woodbine favours Philips.
Vernon Cooper advertisement from the Northwich Chronicle of Saturday May 16th 1953, urging people to buy a TV set in time for the Coronation which took place on June 2nd. Note that the address is given as 'Wheelock Street, Middlewich' and that there were also Vernon Cooper shops in Winsford, Crewe, Sandbach and other local towns
Here's a little reminiscence from me about Harold Woodbine's which featured in an earlier posting:

I still remember the excitement when I called in to order a record album in 1963
(actually, we didn't call them 'albums', we called them L.P.s)
The record seemed to take weeks and weeks to arrive but when it did, I played it
until the grooves were white with wear. It was 'With The Beatles'
(the mono pressing, of course). A year earlier my eldest brother, Glynn,
had brought home 'Love Me Do'. The perfect ending to this story would be
for me to say that I thought this early 'waxing' was great, but I didn't.
I thought it was boring. By the following year I'd obviously changed my
mind about this Liverpool beat combo. (original comment from Facebook)

Moving to the extreme right of the picture we can see the very edge of the Town Hall complex of buildings and, to the left of that, the JayGee Fireplace building which is now  Town Bridge Estate Agents. Left of this is the North-Western Gas Board showroom and, to the left of that, the first signs of demolition along the row as the showroom manager's house is reduced to rubble.
To take this picture Jack stood outside what is now Pineland*. If we were to take a picture from this viewpoint today we'd see mostly dual carriageway with the Bullring bus interchange to the right of it. (see 'Now & Then: The Bullring . Link below).
There are a few interesting little details about Vernon Coopers shop which will replay a bit of clicking and double clicking: First of all, above the 'Ltd' on the left hand side is a small sign directing people down Pepper Street to The Vaults and its car park. Secondly, what might appear at first to be a satellite dish on the left hand wall is, in fact, a STOP sign for the Pepper Street/Lower Street junction, placed at this height to make it visible from further down Pepper Street.
And if you look to the left hand side of the building's tall chimney, there is a fine array of vintage VHF TV aerials. The giant X is for band one, BBC 1 on channel 2 and the other, classic 'ITV' aerial is for band three, Granada Television on channel 9. Incidentally, if you should happen to have a surviving ITV aerial on your roof, you could use it for receiving DAB radio, as the aerials are exactly the same. Somewhere, by this time, there must also have been one or more modern  aerials for 625 lines UHF (with colour on all three channels).

* Update: Pineland has now joined the long list of closed businesses in Middlewich (Sept 2014)

See also: LOWER STREET 1970
               LOWER STREET 1969
               NOW and THEN THE BULLRING

Facebook feedback:

Ian Hill-Smith What's the road leading out of the right of the pic, Dave?

Dave Roberts Hi Ian. The road in the right foreground is Hightown which is still more or less in the same position, although the traffic flow now runs in the other direction - i.e. towards Lewin Street, The road leading off into the distance (and the Town Bridge) is now the bus lay-by and part of St Michael's Way.

Originally published on 1st September 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 30th October 2018

Sunday, 28 October 2018


by Dave Roberts

We're grateful to Dave Griffiths who contacted us in September this year with the news that a set of four aerial views of 'Middlewich in the 1930s' was being offered for sale on Ebay.

Dave couldn't resist the temptation, and bought all four photos.

He's kindly sent us copies of them so that we can show them to a wider audience and give people just a taste of how Middlewich looked no less than eighty-eight years ago (or more).

We've already encountered a couple of these photos over the years, but never before in such high quality.

English Heritage's Britain From Above website*, which features aerial photos of towns and villages all over the country, carries copies of at least two of them and, a few years ago appealed for people to contact them with information as to what they showed. 

Which is what the Middlewich Diary did in respect of the Webb's Lane/Finney's Lane view (see below).

You'll note that these views are all labelled 'c1930' and this is an approximation which we'll gladly go along with for a couple of these photos. But for two of the photos we think the date may be earlier than that, for reasons we'll explain as we go along.

And so to the first photo (above). Nearly ninety years on (or perhaps even more), but still recognisable as the Middlewich we know today. Our reference point, as always, is the Parish Church of St Michael & All Angels.

We sometimes hear complaints - and tend to agree with them - about the number of trees in the churchyard today, tending to obscure the building itself from some viewpoints. 
This old photograph shows us that this is nothing new. It should be remembered that at the time of the photograph the churchyard had been disused as a graveyard for many years, the last burials  taking place in the 19th century.
So the grounds of the church were, apparently, being left to their own devices at this time. 

The triangular cluster of buildings in front of the church, comprising the old town hall and various shops, was swept away in the early 1970s to make way for first the much-hated 'Piazza' and more recently, in 2005, the 'Amphitheatre'.

The other main change, of course, is the loss of the old Town Bridge and its replacement by a much wider and larger concrete bridge, followed forty years later by the re-alignment of Kinderton Street and the building of St Michael's Way, cutting a huge swathe through the property on the left hand side of the picture.

But most people, of course, will want to know how this photo relates to what can be seen today, and this is probably best achieved by use of a numbered key.

* Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Britain From Above website seems to be inaccessible.

1: The old town bridge. A traditional 'hump-backed' canal bridge dating back to the building of the Trent & Mersey Canal in the 1770s. Several buildings clustered around the old bridge including the Navigation Inn. The bridge was demolished in 1931 to make way for the present bridge.
The old town bridge, circa 1914. The Navigation Inn can be seen
 in the middle of the photo.

2: Seabank. A road which ran (and still runs) from Kinderton Street down to the banks of the River Croco and the T&M Canal. The footbridge seen here follows the original route from Kinderton into Middlewich (before the coming of the canal there was a ford across the River Croco at this point). 

In medieval times, salt houses belonging to the Barons of Kinderton were clustered around this area. The remains of the footbridge, which disappeared when the new town bridge was built,  can still be seen in the form of blue-brick abutments on both sides of the canal.
The building just below the footbridge is a canal warehouse, part of the Middlewich Town Wharf group of buildings. The only other surviving building now is the Wharfinger's Cottage below the warehouse and slightly to the left. 

The people of Middlewich would dearly love this area to be developed and turned into an attraction for the many boaters and other visitors to the town each year. 

There have been suggestions that the buildings could be used as restaurants, museums, laundry facilities for boaters and so much more.
Unfortunately the whole idea of developing the area as the 'Gateway To Middlewich' seems to be blocked by whoever it is who now owns the land.
No progress has been made in bringing the idea to fruition and the buildings are steadily getting more dilapidated with each passing year.

3: The huge buildings fronting onto Lewin Street shared this site, between the road and the canal, with Seddon's Wych House Lane Salt Works and its associated wagon repair shop. The main buildings were the Church of England Infants' School and the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. 
Everything on the site was swept away during the 1970s and 1980s and the site is now occupied by the Salinae Centre and its grounds.

4: Across the road was another large building, and one we haven't yet covered in the Middlewich Diary, due to a lack of information. The Congregational Centenary Sunday School (below) shared this site with the Conservative Club and Heathcote's Cafe.

There was a chronic shortage of space in Middlewich's schools after the First World War and the Sunday School was used as an 'overflow' for the CofE School across the road.

In the late sixties this building was used as the local valuation office. 

Middlewich Library now occupies the site.

5: Lower Street and Hightown. Now occupied by the 'amphitheatre', with the war memorial on a strip of land between the amphitheatre and the churchyard.
The original site for the memorial, erected in 1934, was at the apex of the triangle formed by these buildings, replacing a shop which did service both as a butcher and as a branch of the National Provincial Bank. Oddly, though, the bank preceded the butcher's shop. For some reason, I'd always assumed that it was the other way round. The whole area is also known as 'the Bull Ring'.

The angled building at the rear of the site is the old Victorian town hall. When the new town bridge replaced the old in 1931, Lower Street was widened by slicing off a section of the old churchyard. The part of the town hall fronting onto Lower Street was also removed to enable this work.

A section of what was Lower Street survives in the form of the lay-by used by buses and taxis in front of the 'amphitheatre'.

6: This is where we tentatively part company with the date of 'c1930' for this photo. According to all the information we can gather, the butcher's shop on Hightown which we immortalised as The Butchered Butcher's Shop and which is now a Chinese takeaway, was built in 1920 (the same year as the Alhambra Cinema, local 'historians' might like to note) but there's no sign of it here. It is, however, possible to see that one of the buildings on Hightown has recently been demolished, and we think it's possible that this is the site of the butcher's shop. If this is correct the shop to the right of the demolition is the site of what was until fairly recently the NatWest Bank (Allan Earl in Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) mentions that in 1920 '...the construction of the new bank in the Bull Ring was well on the way').
So that would put the date of this photograph a decade earlier at c1920.

 If you think we're wrong, we'd love to hear from you.

7: Queen Street. The old police station. Like so many old Middlewich buildings this disappeared in the 1970s, to be replaced by a small brick box looking like many other identikit stations around the country. 

Note the terraced houses stretching from the police station towards Hightown. In the street's days as 'Dog Lane' many more tiny cottages were to be found here.

8: The oblong tanks are salt pans and are  part of Seddon's Pepper Street salt works. Unlike most such pans, they're out in the open air and they were used for the making of fishery salt, used in the preservation of fish and meat.

9: The site of Cooper's (formerly Kinsey's) shop. Approximately the site of the current Tesco Express store.

10: Brown's Vaults (now simply 'The Vaults') and Dewhurst's butcher's shop.
At the very end of Pepper Street which, at that time, connected Middlewich town centre with Webbs Lane. Until the early 1970s The Vaults was hidden away behind Dewhurst's, which was demolished to make way for the current pub car park.

The same view from a slightly different viewpoint. More of Seddon's Pepper Street works can be seen in the left foreground with the Trent & Mersey Canal which served it on the extreme left. Pepper Street can be seen running past the works in the middle foreground.

Towards the top left you can see the cluster of buildings around the old town bridge, then the Seabank footbridge.
Just above and to the right of the footbridge is Seddon's Wych House Lane works. and, right at the top, the bottom lock of the Brooks Lane flight. 

Top right, Lewin Street continues, to become Booth Lane on its way to Sandbach.

Pepper Street, early 1969.

Finney's Lane and Webb's Lane. We have already covered this photo in the Middlewich Diary and full details can be found here. You'll note that when we originally published this we took an educated guess at the photo dating from the 1920s. Could it be that this photo, too, is earlier than we first thought?

This one is new to us and is very much of interest because it shows the Electrolytic Alkali Works in Booth Lane, the  site of which has very controversially been in the news in recent years as the home of Cheshire East's new waste recycling facility. If this photo was indeed taken in 1930 the works must have  just closed.

(Photo: Cheshire Image Bank)

This was one of the sites that Edwin Richard Foden looked at in 1933 for the manufacture of the E. R. Foden diesel-engined lorry, better known as the E.R.F. 

So the Sun Works,  Sandbach could very easily have been the Sun Works, Middlewich, had things turned out differently.

As it was, of course, the site  became a pottery works owned by Steventon's and later Ideal Standard, manufacturing bathroom equipment.

A last-ditch effort to keep the factory going as a pottery manufacturer was made by OURS Bathrooms, but the operation closed completely in  2013. 

The Trent and Mersey Canal runs from bottom left to middle right and the old Cledford Lane canal bridge, replaced in the 1960s by a modern structure, can be seen just below the office block, the remaining portion of which is just about the only part of the original works still in existence.

Cross Lane comes in from bottom right and that distinctive double-ended building gives us our present day bearings, but many of the present day housing in Booth Lane, Cross Lane, Cledford Crescent and Hutchin's Close has yet to be.

That thin grey line running from left to right in the top part of the photo is the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich railway line.

This stretch of road has for many years been the site of salt works. 

Just out of shot to the right were at various times the works of Verdin Cooke, Bowfields and the Middlewich Salt Company (later absorbed into Cerebos Ltd). 

The tradition, of course, continues to this day with the British Salt Works, built on part of the Verdin Cooke site, providing much of the country's requirements for salt.

Many thanks to Dave Griffiths for sharing these fascinating photographs. As always, we're always open to correction and love to hear alternative theories as to what we might be looking at in this type of photo.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you think you can help set the record straight!

Dave Roberts

Monday, 22 October 2018


Margaret Scarlett writes, on behalf of the Royal British Legion, Middlewich branch

The Middlewich Branch of the Royal British Legion would like to thank all their sponsors both business and personal, for the wonderful display of poppies on lamp-posts throughout the town.

Many thanks also to  SP Energy for placing the poppies on the lamp-posts. 

The presence of the poppies impressed both residents and guests at the recent unveiling of the WW1 fourteen  extra names on the War Memorial, and helped in enabling Middlewich to show its respect for members of the armed forces,  past and present. 

Thank you all for helping the town to commemorate Remembrance in this way.


Friday, 19 October 2018


One of those street scenes in which nothing really seems to have changed much but which, on closer examination, has altered considerably. In 1969 Lawrence Avenue was one entity - an unadopted road linking Wheelock Street with Webbs Lane. The coming of  St Michael's Way in the early 70s cut the Avenue in half and necessitated the demolition of several properties, including the white building in the middle of the picture, and a huge wooden fence cordoning it off from the new dual carriageway. The buildings in the foreground of our 1969 shot are now part of Lawrence Avenue West and those beyond St Michael's Way constitute Lawrence Avenue East. Note the elegant swan necked concrete street lamp. This was still in existence in 2011 and a similar specimen once graced Seabank.*
The building on the extreme left is now Brooks & Bostock Jewellers Shop, a block of new garages has been built on the right, and there have been various other changes on the Lawrence Avenue scene.
Nowadays, for many people, the words 'Lawrence Avenue' mean only one thing - a trip to the dentist. I'm one of them and I'll take the opportunity of my next check up to procure a modern day version of the scene for a 'Then & Now' feature.

But there's more to Lawrence Avenue/Lawrence Gardens than meets the eye. When this posting was first written I made the assumption that Lawrence Avenue was named after Charles Frederick Lawrence, the late Middlewich historian and Clerk to the Council. But it was Charles Frederick Lawrence himself who made Neolithic discoveries in 'Lawrence Gardens', so the name predates him.

And there are records of people from Lawrence Gardens buried in Middlewich Cemetery going back long before CFL's time. But when did Lawrence Gardens become Lawrence Avenue?
See Facebook Feedback below. -ed

Photo: Middlewich Heritage
Charles Frederick Lawrence was born in 1873 and was, from a very early age, interested in the history of Middlewich. After being employed at several local firms he became clerk to the Urban District Council in 1904. He retired in 1938 and died in 1940.
Among his written works  are 'A History Of  Middlewich' (1895), 'The Annals of Middlewich' (1912) and 'Middlewich Doings In Olden Days (1925). He also wrote  poetry, including anthologies of patriotic verse published by the UDC and sent out to  the trenches during World War I.
'CFL' was a pioneer in Middlewich local history, and one of the inspirations for the Middlewich Heritage Society in the 1980s.
(acknowledgments to Alan Earl for some of this information. A fuller biography of C. F. Lawrence appears on page 55 of 'Middlewich 1900-1950')

*This lamp was replaced by a modern LED lamp on 26th January 2017

Facebook feedback:

Geraldine Williams It always used to be called 'Lawrence Gardens'. When did it get the 'Avenue' status?

Dave Roberts A very good point. And I thought for a moment I'd made one of those embarrassing slip-ups which occur when I rely on my memory. But no - it is definitely called Lawrence Avenue East & West. Was I making an assumption, too, when I said that the road was named after C F Lawrence? According to Wikipedia it was CFL himself who made archaeological discoveries 'in Lawrence Gardens', so the name must pre-date him. These are deep waters, and I sense another epic struggle to get to the bottom of things.
‎...still, we did it with Sharon's cafe, didn't we?
Here's one clue: When the road was sliced in half and the Wheelock Street end became 'Lawrence Avenue West', the word 'West' was added on a separate sign, so it must have been an 'Avenue' prior to the early 70s, if you get my drift.

Geraldine Williams
 Charles Frederick and his wife Kitty's house was actually off Lawrence Gardens, and had a large orchard. If you come in from the Webb's (who were they???!!!) Lane end there's a big house on the right where the Bennion family lived and a bungalow built sideways on (I don't know if it's still there) and this path led on to the Lawrence house. I can just about remember Kitty. She was a St Mary's parishioner.
According to a Google site, Charles Frederick and two other brothers, Augustine and Thomas, were the sons of John Lawrence and his second wife Hannah. John, a joiner/builder lived in Wheelock Street but the 1901 Census shows him being retired and having moved to Lawrence Gardens. Perhaps he built the house there and Charles Frederick eventually inherited the family home.


First published 7th September 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 19th October 2018

Saturday, 13 October 2018


Editor's Note: We are currently, as time allows, replacing the majority of the photos in this diary entry with higher quality versions. The photos which have been replaced are marked with an 'H'. Several new photos of ERF Middlewich in its last days will also shortly be added.

by Dave Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally  published on the Foden and ERF Enthusiasts Group February 2018

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

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

Note: Sadly, Peter Farrington also passed away in August 2018, after a short illness. R.I.P. Pete.
And in the early months of 2018, the pub itself was consigned to history. The building still stands and looks much the same, though the ground floor has been converted into offices.  The former living accommodation upstairs has, somewhat appropriately, been turned into overnight facilities for visiting truck drivers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Tune: The Wild Rover)

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

Final chorus

© Salt Town Productions 2000/2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Commercial Motor

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

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

Dave Roberts
12th September 2017


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

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

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

ERF Sticker. The truck shown is a 'B' series, introduced in 1974, the year I joined the company - photo added 28th November 2018

(From Christine Foster)
Photo taken outside the ERF Service Service Centre office block, early 70s.
(Can anyone supply the missing name?)
15th September 2017

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

First published 12th September 2017
Updated 15th September 2017
19th September 2017, 3rd October 2017.
Re-published with additions 19th February 2018, 22nd February 2018, 25th February 2018, 29th April 2018, 10th May 2018, 12th September 2018 (one year on)
13th October 2018