INDEX

INDEX

Thursday, 26 December 2019

INTIMATIONS OF DISASTER




UPDATED 8th April 2015: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN THE PAGE

by Dave Roberts

 Like most people I have never seen a railway accident, and hope I never do but, many years ago, on a bitterly cold evening in the winter of 1962-3 the Roberts family witnessed something  which we couldn't at first account for, and the explanation for which only became clear to us as the story of a disaster unfolded before us on our TV screen.


'...caused by the last coach of the Birmingham train rearing up and
striking the overhead wires'.
Photo: Middlewich Rail Link Campaign
It was Boxing Day, Wednesday the 26th December 1962, and we were all huddled around our ten-year old black and white television set. 

Snow had started to blanket the country just before Christmas and the famous Big Freeze would set in in the New Year, lasting through until March without a break. Almost the whole of England and Wales was frozen solid for weeks on end, bringing the country to a virtual standstill (and, incidentally, delivering a crippling blow to the canal carrying industry).

On this night, which was clear and very cold, we hadn't drawn the curtains on our living room window, which overlooked our back garden, Middlewich gasworks and Seddon's salt works.

 A few miles away, beyond the town, were the outskirts of Winsford where the West Coast Main Line ran on its way from Crewe to Liverpool and Scotland. The line had only recently been electrified and brand new colour light signals, some of them automatic, controlled the new electric and diesel hauled trains.

Suddenly, shortly after six o'clock, we saw a vivid  flash of light in the night sky above the salt works.We  were all stunned for a few seconds and at a loss to account for what we'd seen. It was rather like a flash of lightning, but, it seemed to us, about ten times brighter and a deep, vivid blue in colour.

We had to assume that it was some kind of strange meteorological phenomenon. There seemed to be no other explanation, but the experience was, somehow, deeply unsettling.

We continued with our television viewing (I'd love to know what programme was on that night. We only had a choice of two channels - BBC TV and Granada (with ABC TV at the weekends). I wonder what we were watching?)

I do know that, about an hour after we'd seen the bright blue  light in the sky, the programme was interrupted by a newsflash - something which doesn't seem to happen often in these days of 24 hour news but was a fairly common ocurrence back then when something really important happened. It was always rather nerve-wracking, especially when the NEWSFLASH caption was kept on screen for several minutes before any announcement was made.

This particular report brought us dreadful news.

A diesel-hauled Glasgow to Euston express had run into the rear of a Liverpool to Birmingham train at Coppenhall Junction, near to the former Minshull Vernon Station, just four minutes away from Winsford (drivers on the road to Nantwich pass close to the site when they cross the bridge a few yards away from the Verdin Arms).

Frozen points at Crewe had caused delays and the Birmingham train had been halted at a red signal. The driver of the London train had also been stopped by a red signal further down the line but, fatally, decided that this was a fault with the signalling (he had tried to phone the nearest signal-box but couldn't get through). He moved forward and, failing to see the train in front of him, crashed into it at about 25 miles per hour.

The bright blue flash we had seen just after six o'clock was caused by the last coach of the Birmingham train rearing up and striking the overhead wires. Eighteen people were killed and 34 injured in the crash.

This, it has to be remembered, was the time of transition from steam hauled trains to diesel and electric ones (although there were still plenty of steam-hauled trains on this and other lines in the North-West where steam wasn't phased out until August 1968) and the drivers and signalmen involved were all from an older tradition where things were done rather differently. 

The driver of the London train was used to steam locomotives which could not 'make up for lost time' as easily as the new diesels and electrics, and was thus very anxious to be away. 

The fact that the next signal ahead was at red should have told him that there had to be another train there but, unfortunately, this changed to a yellow as he approached. The brightness of this yellow signal apparently made it difficult to see the tail lights of the train in front. These factors, coupled with the atrocious weather conditions, had conspired to cause this terrible accident on one of the safest railway systems in the world.

The 1962 Minshull Vernon crash was the first major British railway accident which did not involve a steam locomotive.

It wasn't the first time that disaster had struck this section of railway. It had happened before, in 1948, and was to happen again (though with much less serious consequences) in 1999.

But none of us will ever forget that strange vivid blue flash in the sky all those years ago.

A more detailed account of the crash can be found here (pdf file) on the Railways Archive site,  and the definitive accounts of both this and the 1948 Winsford accident are featured in Disaster Down the Line by J.A.B. Hamilton (George Allen & Unwin Books 1967)


Facebook Feedback:

Philip YearsleyAs we had got off the train at Winsford after returning from Runcorn, I have often wondered about the facts of this accident.
I seem to recall hearing that a soldier on his way home on leave was travelling on the first train, and, as he lived in the Minshull Vernon area, pulled the emergency stop cord, then fled off over the fields.
Thanks for the info, Dave.



Geraldine Williams Yes, that was the tale we heard Philip. It must have been a rumour that spread round Middlewich. Glad to know it wasn't true.

Dave Roberts Sadly the story of the soldier is true, but it relates to the 1948 crash and not the 1962 one (the Winsford area has had three train accidents, 1948, 1962 and 1999). The soldier was coming home on leave and, realising that he was near his home in Winsford but that the train was not scheduled to call there, pulled the communication cord to stop the train. He then ran across the fields to his home. He later came forward and owned up. All he was trying to do was save himself the additional journey from Crewe Station back to Winsford. But he didn't cause the crash. A train brought to a standstill like this should be perfectly safe, but the train crew didn't take the necessary precautions to protect it and the crash happened. That soldier must have blamed himself for the rest of his life, but the train could have been stopped for any number of reasons. It was a million to one chance that his actions should have resulted in disaster.

Lindsey Daniels Thank you for publishing this story. I didn't know about it and found it an interesting read

UPDATE (2013)

Richard Maund contacted us during 2013 with a link to more information on the circumstances surrounding this tragic accident (see 'comments'). Here's a direct link to that information:

http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_Coppenhall1962.pdf


The Ministry of Transport report 1963


UPDATE (DECEMBER 2014):

Following our re-publication of this diary entry on Boxing Day 2014 (the 52nd anniversary of the accident), Geraldine Williams wrote:

...this brought back some memories. We lived in Kinderton Street at the time and Jonathan (Jonathan Williams, the late Middlewich Town Clerk - Ed) was only seven months old. Father Down, our Parish Priest, called to see us on his way back from the Post Office. He'd just arrived when the Newsflash came on, so he had to rush off back to the Presbytery, as he was expecting he would be called out to the scene of the crash.

Facebook Feedback (2014):

Darren Roberts That was a good read and very interesting. I'll admit I've not heard about this before. It just goes to show how easily mistakes can be made in bad conditions on the railways as well as the roads.

Facebook Feedback (2015):

Joan Barnes I remember this train crash well, as I worked at Northwich Telephone Exchange when it happened. it was awful.
Jacqui Cooke I was only 12 years old, but my brother worked at Winsford Station signal box at the time.



First published 26th December 2012

Updated and re-published 26th December 2014, 8th April 2015, 26th December 2016, December 17th 2018. Re-published 26th December 2018, 
Updated and republished 26th December 2019












Tuesday, 24 December 2019

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM THE NAVIGATION INN 1917

Pat Nancollas/Malcolm Hough



Here's a small reminder of how Christmas cards looked  a hundred years ago. This card which was sent from the Navigation Inn in Middlewich  by Mrs Ida Malpass is tiny, measuring only 10cm by 7cm (approximately 4 inches by 2 1/2 inches), but its lack of size is made up for by the elaborate way it has been made.

Its sentimentality is, perhaps, partly explained by the fact that the Great War was in its penultimate year. Many postcards of the same era also carry similar messages showing a collective yearning for some sort of security after long years of war and the heartbreak of separation and loss.


A card such as this would have been very expensive to produce and to purchase and only the relatively well-to-do, or people 'in trade', such as Mrs Malpass, and her husband George (landlord of the Navigation from 1903-1928) would have been able to afford such extravagances.




We're grateful to Malcolm Hough, who runs the House Of  Feathers in Wych House Lane for passing these items (along with many others which will see the light of day in the Middlewich Diary in due course) to us.


Pat and her husband Derek are regular customers of the House Of Feathers and Pat, knowing of Malcolm's interest in the history of Middlewich, lent him the Christmas card and the photo of Ida, who was Pat's great-grandmother. 

According to Malcolm, Ida's husband George was also landlord of the nearby 
Talbot Hotel in Kinderton Street for a time.

We have looked at the Navigation Inn before in the Middlewich Diary, notably in this entry:


NAVIGATION INN circa 1894

The pub, which was in Mill Lane, off Kinderton Street, was, according to Ken Kingston ('Middlewich Hospitality', Middlewich U3A Local History Group 2014), at one time called The Coffee House, then the Canal Coffee House, the Canal Inn, the Bridgefoot and finally, from around 1816, the Navigation.

The Navigation Inn, on the corner of Kinderton Street and Mill Lane around 1894. Middlewich Town Bridge and the Trent & Mersey Canal are behind the building
Paul Hough Collection

Acknowledgments:
Malcolm Hough
Pat Nancollas
Ken Kingston

This was the first Middlewich Diary entry produced in Queen Street,
Christmas Eve 2015

First published Christmas Eve 2015
Revised and re-published 23rd December 2017, 12th December 2018, Christmas Eve 2019.

CHRISTMAS EVE - A MIDDLEWICH CHRISTMAS TALE



EDITOR'S NOTE

For Christmas Eve  we have something very special for you, courtesy of Bill Eaton, who is custodian of a lot of photographs and written material by the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft.

When the Middlewich Heritage Society started in 1985 and I found myself in the role of Newsletter Editor my main, and best, source of material was Frank, who had an enduring interest in the town and its history. Frank wrote many articles for the Newsletter and kept up a reliable and seemingly inexhaustable supply of unfailingly interesting material.

This tale of old Middlewich has, to my knowledge, never been published before and gives us just a glimpse of Middlewich as it was in the 1920s.

It was written, in 1989, in Frank's distinctive and very evocative style, and would, as Bill Eaton says, have been particularly interesting for older residents who may just have remembered some of the places mentioned.

I'm delighted to be able to bring you this story, so very appropriate for Christmas Eve, and hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

My thanks to Bill Eaton for passing this on, and to Joan Smith for permission to publish it.

Dave Roberts
Editor
Christmas Eve 2012

UPDATE (CHRISTMAS 2018):
It's nearly thirty years since 1989, when Frank wrote this  atmospheric little tale of a Middlewich Christmas in the late 1920s. 

Even then he was recalling a time sixty years before and, in 2018, it's worth remembering that he's talking about things which happened (or may have happened)  ninety years ago - way beyond the recall of nearly everyone alive today.

As I said in the original introduction (above) in 2012,  back in 1989 Frank's story would, for some people, have been an exercise in nostalgia; a few - a dwindling few -
people would have remembered the names of the shops and shop-owners which Frank artfully inserts into the text, giving those with long memories a trip back in time.

Now, of course, it's all history and we can't really expect anyone to remember all those Middlewich traders of the 1920s. So please don't worry if you don't recognise any of those long-gone names. Almost no one else does either.

Still, we may, when time allows, take a look at a Middlewich Directory of the period and see if we can correlate the names in the story against its pages.

And despite all the changes over the years, Middlewich is still recognisably the place Frank describes in his story.

Wheelock Street is a remarkable survivor, and its basic structure would still be familiar to those citizens of the 1920s if they could return and see it as it is today. 

That's why we've been able to include the photographs (some of them relatively modern) showing just where Frank's mysterious old man went on his travels all those years ago.

So please enjoy Frank's story, and take it for what it has become - a piece of Middlewich history, somewhat romanticised, for us all to enjoy, now and into the future.

Merry Christmas!
Dave Roberts
Christmas Eve
2018




CHRISTMAS EVE

by Frank Smith



As the North-Western bus pulled away from its stop near the bottom of Darlington Street a rather old man in well-worn clothes appeared among the passengers who had alighted.
It would be hard to give a description of him, as everything about him seemed indeterminate. The only two details that seemed positive were that he seemed very old and by the bright lights from Hodkinson's Greengrocery it was evident that he had a white beard.
He stood for a moment looking at the fruit and vegetables and the tinsel that was draped over them. He moved on to Wilson's Fruit Shop and looked over the half-door which was closed to keep out some of the chill air which gave promise of snow before morning. He sniffed appreciatively at the aroma from the barrel of Canadian Dr Mackintosh apples with their purple tissue paper wrappings before he moved on and gazed over the heads of a group of children who were standing, gazing with looks of desire and excitement at the display of toys, garlands and silver stars in Ward's Toy Shop window. He hardly seemed to notice the rather mundane display of crockery in Niddrie's shop.
Before crossing the road he watched a smiling, rosy-cheeked Mrs Atkins serving a customer with a 1lb box of Red Rose chocolates. Obviously a Christmas present for a loved one.
He paused in front of Walker's shop, but there were many blank spaces in the display where boxes of toys and games had been removed to meet the requirements of parents in their Christmas Eve rush to fulfil promises to their children.
There was, however, one box which had not been moved from its pride of place in the centre of the display. It was a large doll in a magnificent silk dress, with the lace of a petticoat peeping below the hem. Its porcelain face was almost too beautiful to be true, especially with the long eyelashes of its moveable eyelids. How many little girls must have yearned for it as a Christmas present, but the price label of 18s 6d effectively put it beyond the range of many people.

Heathcote's was the next shop to catch his eye. They seemed to have made a special effort to show off their confectionery skills. There were several Christmas cakes with their robins and holly decorations and, even as the old man paused, the largest of the cakes, complete with Santa, his sleigh and reindeer, was lifted from the shelf for a beaming customer within.



The Alhambra Cinema, despite its bright lights, did not seem to impinge on his consciousness. Obviously Buster Keaton held no attraction for him. 
What appeared to have caught his eye were the ducks, geese and fowl hanging outside Butcher Mountfield's shop, but strategically placed in the centre of the row was a large, beautiful turkey with its black/bronze feathers glinting in the gaslight. A few more paces and he mounted the steps and looked over the half-door of Cauley's shop. He looked in admiration at the kissing bush which hung from the ceiling. Inside the paper decked hoops hung a fairy, complete with wand, who moved gently in the incoming air. It was almost impossible to see her for the pink sugar pigs and mice, the sugar pocket-watches and the sugar birdcages with their white lace mesh. A small boy stood near the counter, enraptured by the magic of it all, almost forgetting what he had come for when Mrs Cauley asked him for the second time what he wanted.

It seemed strange that the people who passed in front of the old man never heeded or spoke to him even though they cheerfully wished each other a 'Merry Christmas'. 





The Meadow Dairy window seemed to outshine all the other shops with the intensity of its lighting, and many of the highly-coloured slab cakes on display seemed almost garish in the harsh light. The Christmas cakes seemed to be rather overdone with coloured, piped icing and, while they didn't appear to be of the same standard as Heathcote's, their prices of 4s 6d and 5 shillings were somewhat lower.

The display of chocolates and sweets in Paul Whittaker's held his attention for a few moments, as did the tall glass display jars with their spiked glass tops as they dominated the shelf at the back of the window. A burst of laughter and some cheerful back-chat between friends across the road indicated that Brown's Vaults were helping to capture the Christmas spirit. As the old man moved on he saw the harrassed staff in the Co-op attending to the needs of their customers while two of the counter-hands were busy making up final orders while the delivery man stood impatiently by, grabbing the order as soon as the cardboard box  was filled, and almost before the counter-hand had time to write the customer's name on it in indelible pencil.



Butcher Hulme, too, was busy as he dealt with a steady stream of customers.
Kinsey's also seemed to have its fair share of customers, although the atmosphere seemed somewhat calmer than the Co-op. The old man seemed intrigued by the overhead arrangement whereby the customers' cash and bills travelled in little wooden pots to the cashier, and the receipt and change returned to the counter.
Although it was only eight o'clock the smell from Gatley's Chip Shop indicated that soon the first house from the Alhambra would be coming on to the street, and they were ready to catch the trade.



The new premises of Fitton's butchers was making the most of the opportunity and they had put on a very creditable display. The right-hand side of the shop seemed to have its rails full of all types of poultry, a few hares, some rabbits and several turkeys, which seemed to indicate that it was becoming a popular Christmas choice. The rails on the left-hand side of the shop were hung with carcasses, mainly beef and pork.
The window displays were of various cuts and joints of meat, but centre-stage in each window was a pig's head with an orange in its mouth.
Opposite, Brauer's the Chemist were closing their shop and it was just possible to see all the exotic perfumes, bath cubes and other toiletries before the lights were switched off.
Pegrams, too, was busy, and the open spaces in the shelves where the dried fruits were kept indicated that many people had been busy preparing their mincemeat, puddings and cakes for the festivities.
Next door, at Hulme's, the fragrant smell of fresh ground coffee floated on the air, but the old man appeared not to notice.


The sound of music floated on the air as Bailey's Band began to tune up in the Town Hall for the Christmas Eve dance which was due to start. This was apparent from the number of young men in their bowler hats and navy blue serge suits, and the young women in their 'flapper' dresses with small brown paper parcels containing dance shoes under their arms, entering the Town Hall.
At the bottom of Queen Street the two small shops, a butcher's and a greengrocery belonging to Wright's were still open but, perhaps due to their position on High Town, didn't seem to be so busy.
Perhaps the magnificence of Fitton's was drawing away much of their custom.

The rest of Hightown and much of Lewin Street seemed rather less busy, although there were plenty of shoppers about.

At the top of Wych House Lane Robinson's Chip Shop was advertising its wares by the smell drifting across the road on the East wind. 


Opposite, the pyramidical displays of fruit in T. Oakes window hardly merited a glance from the old man.


He seemed to be tiring and walked as if every step was an effort.
He turned up to the Market by the Fire Station, and paused as if to gather his strength.
Again it seemed strange that no one seemed to notice him.
By the guttering light of the naptha flares it was possible to see from the haggard look on his face, and his deep sunk eyes, that he was ageing quickly.
Despite this he looked at the different stalls; the fish stall with the fishmonger almost giving his wares away, as he knew that tomorrow (Wednesday) being Christmas Day his unsold fish would be a dead loss as he had no facilities to keep them saleable until Friday.
The stall selling cheap German toys for a few pence; the glass birds with glass fibre strands for their tails which would decorate Christmas trees along with the gaudy glass baubles and the coloured wax candles.
Finally, he turned and painfully dragging his feet between the stalls, walked to the darkness of the Vicarage Field.
A small boy, who appeared to be the only person to see him, ran after him and called, 'who are you?'
As the figure disappeared into the gloom the boy heard an old voice say,
'I am the year 1928...'

Frank Smith
Ravenscroft
1989
© Joan Smith 2012

Originally published CHRISTMAS EVE 2012
Re-published 16th DECEMBER 2013
and CHRISTMAS EVE 2014

Revised, reformatted and re-published Christmas Eve 2016

Revised and re-published Christmas Eve 2018. Re published Christmas Eve 2019




Saturday, 23 November 2019

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 1959, 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.'


UPDATE (November 23rd 2019) And now time has marched on again. On the 22nd November 2019 the Alhambra building had become the home of an Italian restaurant called Il Padrino

Photo montage: CBS News

 © Dave Roberts 2013

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

23rd November 2019

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.
…as it does, still, in 2019 when Il Padrino, the Italian Restaurant has taken over the ground floor. The owners tell us that the cherished art deco frontage is not only to be retained, but also refurbished in the years to come. 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!







Thursday, 21 November 2019

MURGATROYD'S SALT WORKS AERIAL VIEW

We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
(ORIGINAL DATE OF THIS DIARY ENTRY 25/02/2012)
by Dave Roberts
This diary entry has been revised several times as I tried to reconcile what I thought I knew (and remembered) about Murgatroyd's  Works with what is shown in this photograph from the Carole Hughes Collection.
The Murgatroyd's Salt Works in Brooks Lane is  familiar  to those who study the history of the local salt industry, but what concerns us here is that part of the works in the centre of  this aerial view alongside the railway line.
When Murgatroyd's closed in 1966 (the first of the four then remaining open pan works to do so) the works as we knew it consisted of the buildings in the lower middle of the picture and a few ancillary buildings including the wagon repair shop and, of course, the building housing the no 2 brine pump, which is being preserved to stand as a representation of the town's long history of salt making. Incidentally the pdf document about the brine pump which we have linked to includes a plan of the site at its fullest extent, but  with no date.
In the 1980s the Cheshire Museums Service published a poster featuring a cut-away diagram of the works showing how it was constructed and how it operated.
The poster can be found on page 37 of Wych & Water (Middlewich Vision 2009) by Tim Malim and George Nash.
This book, incidentally, is a must for anyone who wishes to learn about the Middlewich Salt Industry - and the canals which served it - and is available for purchase from Middlewich Town Council.
The County Museums poster shows the works as it was at the time of its closure and includes the buildings seen in the section of our main photo shown below:
We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the coyright, or know who does, please let us know
This section of the photograph is remarkable similar to the view of Murgatroyd's in the Cheshire Museums poster; so much so that the diagram must have been based on the photograph.
But the poster is titled 'Murgatroyd's Open-pan Salt Works Middlewich 1889-1966' and there is no indication that we are only looking at a part of the works.
So when was that large section of the works running along the railway line built, and when did it disappear?
Turning once again to Wych & Water and the invaluable series of maps showing the comings and goings of the various salt works in Middlewich over timewe can see that it  appears in the 1898  OS map (dated as 1889) and is  included in the 1909-14 and 1939 OS Maps.
So it must have been built some time between the years 1889 and 1898 and been closed some time after 1939.
It may well be that the remains of this part of the works was still there in the 1960s, but I can't remember them.
Another interesting point is this: what has happened to the network of railway lines which are shown on all the OS maps from 1898 onwards?
There were, from the late 19th century (possibly from the earliest days of Murgatroyd's), connections to the LNWR Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich branch line, (via The Salt Siding from 1918), serving the ICI Mid-Cheshire Works and Murgatroyd's.
In fact the works (the part which survived until 1966) was, at one time, circled by railway tracks in a way which irresistibly reminded us of a model railway layout, as shown in this section of the OS map of 1907/8 (with additions to 1938):
The tracks in question must have been removed  before 1966, possibly during the 1950s (Murgatroyd's were certainly using road transport during that period) or even earlier, leaving only the connection to the ICI Works, running behind the Scout Hall, across what is now 'Road Beta' and through the wrought iron works gates, which survive to the present day as part of Pochin's premises.
The ICI works itself was closed in 1962, but the rusting railway tracks lingered on for a few years after that.

Which puts the date of our main picture somewhere after 1939 and before 1966.
So what is intriguing me is this: was that  vanished  section of Murgatroyd's Salt Works still there as late as the 1960s?
When did it actually close down, and when was it demolished?

Facebook Feedback:

Geraldine Williams: See what you mean about the likeness to a model railway layout. It also strongly resembles the 'paperclip' pattern made by the planes when they are put 'on hold' at Manchester!
I was also intrigued by the 'Roman Road (site of)' shown on the OS map. Has this featured in any of the Roman Middlewich literature?


Editors Note: It appears that Newton Farm (later to be the site of Murgatroyd's Works) had well recognised Roman connections, and that may be the reason why Murgatroyd bought the site, possibly reasoning that the Romans must have identified a source of brine nearby. Follow the link to 'No 2 brine pump' for more on this from Kerry Fletcher's Middlewich Heritage site.

We're grateful to Kerry for the following additional information:




Kerry Fletcher

Just a couple of notes for you. The last salt lump at Murgatroyd's was produced in December 1966, Manchester Evening news came to take photographs of the last shift.

Demolition was in 1968 with the famous Common Pan Chimney coming down in April 1968.

The Open Pans were in operation for 76 years almost to the day, as the first salt lump was produced as the New Year of 1890 was seen in.

I don't know the exact year of when the railway side buildings disappeared, I'll find out for you but it must have something to do with the fact that the Common Salt Pans were last used in 1962-3. I have a picture of common salt being tipped into the wagons below from those buildings. As vacuum salt was being produced at the main factory I suppose those buildings wouldn't be required for anything.

I've discovered quite a few photographs taken around Seddons and Murgatroyd's, some taken by people who worked there, some publicity shots taken by local but now closed photography businesses, some by the papers and the aerial shots were by airview of Manchester or similar company. hope that helps.

Here's one of the photos mentioned by Kerry:


Last 'Baggin' time' at Murgatroyds. Left to right: Jack Clarke, Tom Gallimore,  Bob Peach, Bill Challinor. Photo Manchester Evening News (attrib.)

SEE: BAGGIN' TIME AT MURGATROYDS
First published 29th February 2012
Re-formatted and re-published 26th February 2017
Re published 21st November 2019 (links updated)




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