Friday, 25 January 2019


Peter Cox asks why we have not, so far, featured a photo, or any information on the famed 'Howe's Pies', one of those popular Middlewich institutions which all seem to have disappeared over the years

Update 2017: Sadly since this was written the Howes Pies Facebook Group, like Howe's Pies themselves, seems to have disappeared. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

In the wake of the devastating news of the closure of Howes bakery, Jamie Campell started a Facebook support group for those suffering the trauma of HPD (Howes Pie Deprivation) and the link is above.
Sadly, I was never a devotee of this particular Middlewich delicacy, although I have, over the years, eaten my fair share.My point of view on this subject was made clear in an earlier post when this brief exchange took place:

Facebook Feedback:

Geraldine Williams: Middlewich seemed to go into mourning when Howe's closed!

Dave Roberts At the risk of being run out of town on a rail, I must say I never rated them very highly. You can get much better ones today at Cynthia's or Reid's in Wheelock Street. We had them for a while at ERF Middlewich on Saturday mornings, but got fed up with them and the pie run was switched to Dave Brooks' in Winsford. In my opinion the 'Wonderful Howe's Pies' myth grew up because people believed what other people told them, not what their taste buds told them. (Comment from Facebook)

Geraldine Williams  Oooh! You're a brave man - talk about 'light blue touchpaper and retire'..........!!

Dave Roberts My partner Lynne comes from Huddersfield, in real pie territory, and, when she first came to Middlewich was offered 'a real treat' in the form of a Howe's pie. She pronounced it 'nowt special' and was amazed when I agreed with her. The other great Middlewich fast food claim to fame, about the superiority of Etta Mault's fish and chips was, and is, fully justified. As you can gather, we're very keen on health food.

If you have any other  photographs of this famed Middlewich establishment, or any information on the famous Howe's Pies, please let us have them. Don't let my disgraceful prejudice put you off - taste in pies, as in everything else, is very personal!

In the meantime, here's probably the most useful link we've provided so far. We're grateful to the gentleman who runs this site for his knowledge and diligent research,
and also the above photograph of the bulletin posted on the door of Howe's when it closed, rather like those sombre announcements on the gates of Buckingham Palace when a Senior Royal has expired, or is about to do so.

UPDATE (JANUARY 2019) Sadly, the CHESHIRE PIES site has, since this diary entry was last updated, also become defunct, in this case because TalkTalk has closed all such sites. Is there, perhaps, a plot to prevent the glorious history of the glorious Howe's Pies becoming better known? We think we should be told - Ed.

New Facebook feedback from July 2011:

    Geraldine Williams Howes' had two adjoining shops in Lewin Street: the baker's, run by Mrs Howe (the bakery was behind the shop and the baker was her son, Cephas - wonderful name!) and the other was a sort of second-hand shop run by the other brother, Rowley, who did house clearances, etc. There was also a daughter who helped out but we can't remember her name.

    Dave Roberts I used to spend a lot of time in the second hand shop talking to Roland. At that time,, in the early 60s, people were getting rid of such things as wind-up gramophones and the accompanying 78 rpm records and I bought an old HMV 'table' model from him once and transported it back to King Street, via Lewin Street, Leadsmithy Street and Kinderton Street on my trusty 'go-cart' (built, in the fashion of the time, from old pram wheels, a wooden box and other bits and pieces.
    After that I would buy boxes full of 78s at half-a-crown a time and take them back to our garage where the gramophone had taken up residence (it wasn't, of course, allowed in the house). I'd spend hours playing such classics as 'Rose, Rose, I Love You', 'The Ballad Of Robin Hood' and 'The Man From Laramie' Roland heated the shop in winter with a paraffin heater, and the fumes from this, combined with the warm smells from the bakery next door produced a delicious drowsiness as I sat and listened to him talking about all the fascinating stuff in the shop.
    Geraldine Williams You were such a hell-raiser.......!! hehe

        The worrying thing is that I can remember most of the words to all the tunes you mention! 
       First published 5th July 2011.
       Reformatted and re-published 25th January 2019

Apologies for the formatting errors in this Diary Entry. They'll be sorted out soon.

Thursday, 24 January 2019


'Wedding Bells' (1938)
Please click on the button to see the film

by Dave Roberts

Nowadays, of course, practically everyone has a wedding video made when they get married, but seventy-four years ago a filmed record of your wedding (even a small part of it) was comparatively rare.

Members of the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society, though, were lucky.

Not only did they have cameras and film to hand (mostly from Eachus Bros in Northwich, who were members of the society themselves), but there was also no shortage of willing volunteers to make the film.

Thus this precious record of a Middlewich wedding comes down to us through the years (by a happy accident, actually, as was the case with all the films in the Roberts Collection - they were all destined to be binned when my Uncle Bill was clearing his house in Mill Lane in the 1970s, until I asked if I could have them).

It's May 21st 1938 and Uncle Bill (Mr William G Oakes) is marrying Auntie Winnie (Miss Winifred Roberts) at St Michael & All Angels Church in Middlewich.

In the background the town goes about its daily business as usual - we can see workmen giving Hulme's grocery shop (now the Accord Clinic) a new coat of paint, but most people stop to take a look at the bride and groom and assembled guests as they arrive at the church gate.

Note the cheeky little chappie in the cap who is ready, willing and able to open car doors for everyone.

You'll also notice that the iron railings which ran along the top of the church wall were still in place in this last full year of uneasy peace.

When war came in September 1939 those railings were carted away for the war effort.

There are brief glimpses of the Town Hall and adjacent shops as the wedding cars drive up Hightown (interestingly, travelling in the same direction as present day traffic - the road was probably two-way in those days).

Half way through the film the scene suddenly changes and we find ourselves in a beautiful garden in King Street for some scenes in full colour.

Colour film was quite rare before the war, particularly for amateur use.

This was around the time that Kodachrome was introduced and we know that Eachus Bros were stocking it right from the start.

The MCACS would be keen to try out the new film, and what could be better than a wedding as a subject?

The garden seen here stood between King Street and the alleyway which runs behind New King Street (where the Roberts family lived at the time).

By the time the next generation of Roberts' moved from Nantwich Road to 27 (later 33) King Street - just across the road - twenty years later, this lovely garden was derelict and overgrown and remained so for many years until a bungalow was built on the site quite recently.

In fact, at the time of filming, 27 King Street itself was yet to be built. Work started on its construction in 1939

After some good-natured and rather self-conscious fooling around for the camera, the wedding party move to that same alleyway at the rear of the Roberts house where the wedding cake is on view,

A very short but very poignant film, made more so, we'd like to think,  by the music we chose to accompany it.

It's not, perhaps, an obvious choice for a film about a wedding, but I think the music makes the images seem even more wistful and yearning, emphasising the fact that the scenes seen here were shot many many years ago, just before the world was once again to experience the horrors of war.

Remarkably, neither the film nor the music needed to be edited in any way (except for the insertion of a music credit caption lasting one second) to make them fit together.

The way they do match, particularly during the closing title sequence is quite spooky.

It's almost as if music and film had been waiting nearly three quarters of a century to be united.

In fact, given that the music was written in 1838, you could call that an even century.

We recommend that you watch the film on Youtube by clicking on the link below


Or here's another chance to watch it right here

'Wedding Bells' (1938)
Please click on the button to see the film

Original comments:

Chris Koons What a strange place to cut the cake - in the alleyway?

Dave Roberts Yes, and just across the road from where your Mum and Dad live, too.

First published 4th May 2012
1st Revised version published 6th May 2019

2nd Revised version published 8th May 2012

Re-formatted and re-published 21st January 2019
and 24th January 2019


From the Mike Jennings Classic Collection comes this newspaper ad from forty years ago in which the Boar's Head Hotel, Kinderton Street, advertises itself as a prospective wedding venue.

We're not sure what the difference is between a 'casual' wedding and a 'formal' one.
1972 was way before even Shaun Devaney's time at the BH. Does anyone remember who was in charge at the time? We have vague memories of an American gentleman running the pub at some point during the seventies, but it was all a very long time ago.

It goes without saying that the Boar's Head is still going strong and still offers everything seen in this advert and more. Even the telephone number is the same, except that you need to add '83' at the beginning.

However, we don't seem to hear much these days of 'basket meals' which were a bit of a 70s phenomenon, usually to be found at places like Jollees in  Longton where you could enjoy them while watching Mel Scholes introduce the Stylistics or Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.

Mostly there was a simple choice between chicken & chips and scampi & chips. But you were never allowed vinegar for your chips, which put a bit of a damper on things.

First published 19th July 2012
Re-formatted and re-published 24th January 2019

Monday, 21 January 2019


As we've deduced from our studies of these old Instamatic slides, the building of St Michael's Way (the 'Middlewich Inner Relief Road') and the demolition and redevelopment work in Kinderton Street were actually two separate and distinct projects, separated in time by a couple of years (and physically by the Town Bridge, of course). And, as Geraldine Williams has pointed out, Kinderton Street was not actually 'widened' to any great extent, and neither was the Town Bridge, so it was perfectly feasible by 1972 for St Michael's Way to be built and to be feeding traffic towards Holmes Chapel,the motorway and King Street via the original Kinderton Street formation, which must have dated back to 1931 when the current Town Bridge was built. In the case of traffic heading onto King Street, part of the redevelopment of Kinderton Street was aimed at improving its junction with Kinderton Street, meaning the loss of that wonderful old farmhouse.
And it also should be remembered that the traffic using the new relief road was not 'new' traffic, but traffic which would formerly have used Wheelock Street to get through the town, so there wouldn't have been significant 'extra' traffic. Not then, that is. The country's road traffic nightmare hadn't fully begun in 1972.
There were (and are) those who  resented the coming of the new road, and it was rather startling to see the way it carved its way through the old town, but it has meant that Wheelock Street has survived in very much its original form, and  we never suffered the same indignity as nearby Winsford where half the High Street was knocked down to accomodate that unfortunate town's 'relief road'.
Our present slide was taken in 1972 and shows St Michael's Way under construction. Out of shot to the left is Pepper Street (or what's left of it). The low brick building with the white weather boarding is Middlewich Telephone Exchange which, having started life mooning away unseen and unregarded in its own little compound off Pepper Street, suddenly found itself thrust into the limelight and standing alongside a major road. The intervening years have seen it blossom and more than double in size, sprouting all kinds of mobile phone aerials and the like on the way. Now we're promised fibre optic broadband, which can't come too soon. To the right of the telephone exchange is Powell's sewing factory (now the site of a block of flats and the ubiquitous town houses, connecting St Michael's Way with Wheelock Street.
As this new road emerges into the sunlight and with it the start of the new, post-industrial Middlewich we know today, we can see on the skyline a reminder of the older Middlewich in the form of  Seddon's salt works chimneys in Brooks Lane (to the left of the Church in this photo) still there, but soon to be no more.
Finally, a nice subtitle for this slide would be 'Me and My Shadow'. In the bottom left hand corner is the shadow of the then 20 year old Mr Roberts in the act of snapping the scene for posterity.

First published 5th July 2011
Re-formatted and re-published 21st January 2019

Wednesday, 16 January 2019


(Photo: The Local Data Company)

This was going to be a simple little diary entry called 'Going to the pictures - 1960-style' based on the press cutting above. As we went in search of photos and information on The Alhambra it suddenly occurred to us that the building celebrates its hundredth birthday in 2020, which is just a year away. So this has turned into something more than just a little look at what was on at the pictures in July 1960 - though we'll still be doing that, of course. Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this article. If you have memories, mementos and photos of The Alhambra in any of its guises, it goes without saying that we'd love to see them - Ed.


by Dave Roberts

We're grateful to Rob Dykes who last Summer sent us this scan of an Alhambra Cinema ad from The Chronicle dated 9th July 1960.

This was, you may be surprised to hear, a Saturday. 

Our local newspapers were very different publications in former days, much more akin to regional newspapers, and carried items of national and regional news as well as stories relevant to Chester and Mid-Cheshire in the case of The Chronicle series and Warrington and Mid-Cheshire when it came to the Guardian series of newspapers.

And one of the most eagerly scanned sections of the newspaper in 1960 was the cinema listings.

For the week commencing Monday 11th July, Middlewich's Alhambra was showing, as can be seen, The Shakedown starring Terence Morgan, and Destiny of a Man (wrongly printed here as Destiny of Man, which may well have given some people completely the wrong idea of the scope of the plot).

On Thursday the programme changed and audiences could see No Time To Die (aka Tank Force)  in Cinemascope and Technicolor, supported by Gun Men From Laredo starring Robert Knapp and  Jana Dupui, another Technicolor film. 

You'll note that the films shown during the second half of the week are 'U' certificate, reflecting the fact that family audiences were more likely to attend the cinema at the weekend. There appears to have been no Sunday performance at this time.

Before we take a look at the films showing in Middlewich all those years ago, here are a few observations on the advert itself and a look at other cinemas with a link to the Alhambra.

It seems odd that, as late as 1960, the telephone number should be Middlewich 18. Perhaps the low number is accounted for by the fact that Middlewich's telephone exchange at the time was just across the road from the Alhambra, at the rear of the Post Office. The very first exchange, by the way, was in Brooks Lane and one of the first operators was my Auntie Cissie (Griffiths). The Wheelock Street premises are now a betting shop.

The advert also reminds parents of the existence of the 'Children's Club' at 2pm on Saturdays. This lays to rest another long-running Middlewich mystery. I was always told by locals that 'there were never any children's matinees at the Alhambra'. And yet I can always vividly remember going there to see a matinee performance featuring the (to me) staggeringly unfunny Three Stooges. I remember the foot stamping, the jeering, the throwing of missiles and the huge amount of cheeky remarks hurled at the usher, known to one and all as 'Torchy'.

The programmes are shown as being 'continuous from 5.15'.

Here's where we bring in our guest contributor, Colin Pierpoint for the first time:

'The words "Continuous from 5.15" are significant because it meant that you could stay in all evening if it said that, and see the films more than once. Usually there was a double bill, so you got about 3 hours before it repeated.'

And it was also quite usual for people to arrive late at the cinema and start watching a film part-way through. They'd then stay until the film started again and, when the point was reached at which they'd started watching, would leave, with the time-honoured phrase, 'I think this is where we came in!'

We're  told that The Alhambra was 'A Miles Jervis Cinema'. This was a company based in West Bromwich which owned a few cinemas in the fifties and sixties, mostly in the Midlands. 

Miles Jervis Cinemas  took over The Alhambra in 1960, the year we are looking at here, at the same time that they took over the Palace in Sandbach.

The Palace was somewhat similar in appearance to The Alhambra but, sadly, has not survived, being demolished in 1985 after several years of disuse.

The Palace Cinema in Congleton Road Sandbach, in the early 1950s. Although the exterior of this cinema, as built, was quite ornate it couldn't compare with the art-deco decoration of The Alhambra, which has survived to the present day. Ironically, it was Sandbach Cinemas, owners of The Palace, who ran The Alhambra in the 1930s. (Photo: Andrew Tilley)

By the 1970s, when The Palace was in its last days as a cinema, the ornate frontage had been altered and whatever charm the building possessed largely obliterated. The Palace, like many other former cinemas, served its time as a bingo hall before succumbing to the bulldozers in the 1980s. (Photo: Sandbach Photos Past and Present)

The histories of The Palace and The Alhambra seem, to a certain extent, to be intertwined. The Alhambra was opened in 1920 and was originally owned and operated by Clement Whitehead. Sandbach Cinemas, who ran The Palace in that town, took over the Alhambra from 1930. 
Clement Whitehead also operated the Star Cinema in a building still very familiar today.

Middlewich's first cinema, The Star, now the home to 'Triffic Togs' aka 'The Cabin'. The Star was, by later standards, rather primitive, with patrons seated on wooden benches and the projector on a platform behind them. There was no separate projection room. As the Alhambra opened in 1920 The Star can only have operated for a few years. Or were the two cinemas run concurrently for a time? Does anyone know? This building, before becoming the Middlewich institution it is today, also served time as an auction house and a car repair workshop.

The Alhambra around 1970 when the building was a bingo hall. And a very popular one at that. People were bussed in from as far afield as Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Liverpool. At this time the shop next door, adjoining Southway, was still owned by James Vernon and was selling furniture. Later it was to become one of the many premises in the town which has housed our Post Office. It was also, for a time, home to C.A.T.S. Opticians, which can now be found right across the road. The shop later sold wedding dresses and accessories and is, of course, currently the highly popular  Drinks & Bites At No 35. On the other side of Southway the off-licence (now closed) is selling the notorious Watney's Pale Ale. (Photo: Paul Hough Collection)

The bingo hall slightly later. This is the closest we can get to a photo of The Alhambra in its cinema days. The building was altered relatively little for its new role and rumours persisted for many years that the projection equipment had been left in situ. The proscenium arch was 22 feet wide and the cinema was fitted with a Western Electric sound system around 1930 when Sandbach Cinemas took it over.

Incorporated into the elaborate scrolled decoration beneath the curved frontage is a large capital W which, presumably, stood for Whitehead.

Here are some memories of The Alhambra from Colin Pierpoint, brother of Joan Pierpoint who was a well-known dance teacher in Middlewich for many years. 

The following account was first published on the Cinema Treasures website, and is reproduced with Colin's permission:

'I spent many hours in The Alhambra as a boy. 

We saw films like Oklahoma, High and Mighty (about flying), many Tarzan films, Errol Flynn swashbuckling, and Boris Karloff horror films.

For the latter there was often a suitable noise made by someone in the audience at the back. I remember seeing The Fiend without a Face (1958 version) with a good mimic of the man who lost half his brain, from the audience.

The projectionist sometimes put the reels out in the wrong order, which made the Tarzan plot confusing.

Another peculiarity of the Middlewich Alhambra was that there were two ways into the auditorium with different prices. The cheaper seats were up a ramp from the ticket desk. If you paid more, the customer went up the stair to what you expected to be the circle. However, it came out at the same seating but further back! 

There were a lot of US American service men (and possibly women) in there during the second world war because there was an air base at nearby Byley.
They were very annoyed to pay more for the same seats.

Another feature of  The Alhambra in the 1950s was Tommy Wilton. He was a socially disadvantaged man who they let in every evening free of charge. 
He sat in the front row.

When he got very excited during car chases and cowboy fights, he would jump up and down in his seat. The programme was changed twice a week and Tommy attended every night, so when he already knew the plot he would stand up to tell the audience what happens next! 

When cinemascope arrived, both sides of the picture were projected over the wall and exit doors.

Eventually they got the right lens for the screen size.' 

Colin Pierpoint 8th January 2018.

Richard Denton* says, 'The Alhambra was my introduction to the world of cinema. I loved the 'Allybarmy'. From Thunder Road and It Came From Beneath the Sea to Fess Parker in the Davy Crockett movies, and Brando in Mutiny On The Bounty.
I would go at least once a week, and often twice. In those days 'Pearl & Dean' were 'Pearl, Dean and Younger'. Whatever happened to Younger?

*Richard Denton is a member of the well-known Willing-Denton family, formerly of Middlewich Manor.

Colin Pierpoint: Yes, I remember the 'Pearl, Dean and Younger' advertisements. Many had a shaky overprint which said 'Only five minutes from this cinema!' The ads were followed by a trailer for the next presentation. If the trailer was in colour, people were heard to say 'Colour!' out loud, because it was so unusual an occurrence.

And Gay Sherry, who now lives in Australia, tells us:

I remember going there in my early teens to see the Dracula horror movies. My friend and I would dash home from school, make sandwiches and a flask of tea and sit at the back terrified, more often than not the only two in the cinema at the early showing!

So what were the films showing in Middlewich that week in 1960 like? Let's take a look at them.

After being released from prison, Augie Cortona sets up a blackmail operation, fronted by a model agency. When the authorities get wind of his activities, they send in an undercover police woman, but when she is recognised, the police need to move in on the operation, before Cortona can take his revenge. The poster alone must have been enough to bring the local Middlewich lads flocking to The Alhambra. And what, we wonder, did Tommy Wilton make of it?

The story of a man (Andrey Sokolov) whose life was ruthlessly crippled by World War II. His wife and daughters were killed during the bombing of his village, he spent some time as a prisoner, and his only son was killed in action only a few days before the victory...
Hardly a bundle of laughs, by the sound of it.

During WW2 in North Africa, an American sergeant serving with the British 8th Army is captured by the Germans but he hatches various plans of escape from the POW camp. Retitled No Time To Die in the UK. A British film, but made very much in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Middlewich will have loved it.

One of thousands of Western potboilers, a genre very popular at the time, both at the cinema and on TV. This one's about some Gunmen from Laredo.

So there we are. Your entertainment for the week commencing Monday July 11th 1960.

The Alhambra itself, as it was in 1937,  features in a film showing the Middlewich Coronation celebrations of that year. The film was made on 16mm film by the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Cinematography Society and was actually shown at the Alhambra shortly afterwards, on a projector placed halfway down the centre aisle. 

Imagine the excitement of some Middlewichians who were able to see themselves in the same cinema and on the same screen where they were used to seeing the Hollywood stars of the day.

You can see the film, which also features many other familiar Middlewich scenes,  by clicking on the link below.

A Salt Town Presentation

And here are some personal reminiscences of a trip to The Alhambra in 1963, on a day that has gone down in history.

We don't have a date for the closure of The Alhambra as a cinema, but we know it was open as late as 1966. If anyone can supply us with the dates that the cinema closed and the bingo hall opened, we'd be very grateful. The building was used for several purposes over the intervening years between its cinema days and its re-purposing as a Chinese restaurant. As well as the bingo hall, there was also a snooker club and, for a brief and controversial period in the 1980s, an amusement arcade.

This 1988 photo by Daniel Preston gives us a tantalising glimpse of the frontage of the building when the amusement arcade was providing entertainment to youngsters in a pre-computer games era, and incurring the wrath of adults who considered it the root of all evil and the cause of all trouble in the town. There were regular calls for it to be closed down. 

Bill Armsden's celebrated study of The Alhambra from 2012. Yet again the signage has been changed. The building has carried all manner of electric signs over the years but, in its cinema and bingo hall days, made do with the words THE ALHAMBRA in plasterwork above the door. Those words are still there and have helped ensure that whatever the building has been used for over the years, it has retained its time-honoured name. Even at night it's possible to see that the art-deco frontage itself was looking a little the worse for wear during this period. The shop next door was a bridal shop at this time. By 2013 it had become Drinks & Bites at No. 35

Yet another change of sign for The Alhambra. This photo from the Local Data Company shows the restaurant during the period it was closed. It has since re-opened. The frontage has been cleaned, tidied and repainted and now looks much as it must have done in 1920.


The Alhambra is a remarkable survivor. For nearly a hundred years it has served Middlewich as an entertainment venue and its current owner, David Cantona Lee is keen to bring all kinds of entertainment to this iconic Middlewich venue.

One intriguing and very appropriate idea is the possibility of once again screening movies at The Alhambra. The introduction of lightweight, high-quality digital equipment has meant that this is now a real possibility, rather than the pipe-dream it once was.
Cine-dining is becoming more and more popular all over the world and, who knows, Middlewich might become part of the movement.

It would certainly be very fitting for the building's centenary.

To find out what's happening right now at The Alhambra, check out their Facebook Page:


Alhambra advertisements for New Year's Eve 2016 and 2018

Many thanks for coming with us on this little trip into the Alhambra's past. There is, of course, a lot more to tell and we just know that people will have a lot to tell us about their experiences of The Alhambra over the years.

But, for now......I think this is where we came in....

Many Thanks To: