INDEX

INDEX

Thursday, 31 October 2019

AN IMAGE FOR HALLOWEEN

Photo: Cliff Astles
by Dave Roberts

Here's a striking image which Cliff Astles sent to us a while ago and we thought might be appropriate for Halloween.
Behind all the 'ghosties and ghoulies' and the rather unpleasant fake blood and plastic daggers and silly masks and so on lies the real Halloween, or Eve of Hallowtide, which was celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November in Medieval times.
Hallowtide (or, in Ireland, 'Samhain') has (or had) little to do with the supernatural (and absolutely nothing to do with blood, horror and screaming skulls and the like - that's an American invention which only came into being when Hollywood started to get a grip of people's imaginations in order to promote its cheap blood and gore horror films).
It was a Christian festival and a time of feasting and celebration of the start of winter.
It later became linked with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, again celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, in which the church celebrated its saints and martyrs and the departed souls of all who had gone before.
In England, until recent times, Halloween was regarded simply as a time when the 'spirit' world was closer to the every day world than usual.
Now, like Christmas and Easter, Halloween serves as another chance to make money for big business with sweet manufacturers and makers of novelties cashing in more and more with each passing year..
Good fun for the kids, of course, but a world away from its origins in the mists of time when people would pause for a while in their busy lives to remember those who had passed beyond the veil into unknown realms which we can only wonder about.

Halloween in Middlewich in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a fairly low-key affair, as it was elsewhere in Britain before the blatant commercialisation of the festival took hold.
We certainly made lanterns, but not out of pumpkins, which only went on sale here in recent years.
Our lanterns were  hollowed-out turnips with candles inside them, and they used to reek to high-heaven when they got hot.
In actual fact we were following a tradition which went back a lot further than the Americans' pumpkin carving. 
The original English medieval  Halloween tradition involved making lanterns from turnips and we were, whether we knew it or not, following that tradition.
I have vivid childhood memories of listening to ghost stories broadcast by AFN (the American Forces Network) on long-ago Halloween Nights over fifty years ago. They were broadcast on medium wave to the many American soldiers stationed here and all over Europe in those days.
The static and crackling and Radio Luxembourg-style fading in and out of the signal only added to the atmosphere.
Occasionally, but only occasionally, someone would organise a Halloween Party.
One such took place, I recall, in the late 1950s at the Manor, when it was still inhabited by the Willing-Denton family. As we were living in Nantwich Road at the time, it was just a matter of walking down the road and under the aqueduct to Manor Lodge, then making the arduous journey along the carriage drive to the Manor itself.
Once there, we were introduced to such quaint American customs as 'bobbing for apples'.
'Trick-or-treating' was discouraged because of  stories which reached us from America of people giving children apples with razor-blades in them and other such horrors. The stories were mostly complete nonsense - urban legends designed for the credulous. In fact, as far as we can gather,  there has only ever been one recorded instance of anyone trying to cause harm to trick-or-treating American children. The woman in question poisoned some candy and was later found to be insane. No one came to any harm.
But true or not, these gruesome stories put us off the idea of going from door to door asking for sweets, and the idea has only taken off in fairly recent years along with the rest of the Americanisation of Halloween.
Halloween in those days was just a distraction. Most of our energy was spent on preparing for the much more popular Bonfire Night a few days later.

Cliff's picture is made up of  images taken in and around Middlewich on two separate occasions. If you are wondering where the tree is, here, taken from his original comment on this entry, is what Cliff has to say:

As you pass the newly built houses along Warmingham Lane, look at the fields on your left hand side as you are going out of Middlewich (into Moston). After about 200 yards you will see the tree, just over the hedge and about 50 yards into the field.

- but please bear in mind that the rapid rate of housing development in Middlewich as in towns all over the area, means that the tree, and indeed the field, may not be there for much longer
Special Middlewich Diary Masthead for Halloween 2017


Our 'Three Witches' motif has been borrowed from the Middlewich Salt Company's letterhead.
Halloween has always had a particular resonance in the Cheshire salt towns, in all likelihood simply because 'wich' sounds like 'witch'. Carnivals and parades, particularly in Middlewich, always featured at least one 'Middlewich Witch'. This association was exploited by the Middlewich Salt Co. when it adopted as its trademark 'Middle-Witch Salt'.

Here's the full letterhead, this version of which dates back to 1946:



and here's a link to the Diary entry which, since we started in 2011, has always been our most popular entry:

MIDDLEWICH SALT CO LETTERHEAD

...and  finally, here's a genuine Middlewich Witch at the 1973 Carnival in company with a lady advertising RHM's 'exceedingly good' Mr Kipling cakes...


First published Halloween Night (31st October) 2014
Revised and re-published Halloween Night 2016
 Halloween Night 2017
Halloween 2019 ('Not Brexit Day')

Thursday, 24 October 2019

LEWIN STREET 1983


Photo reproduced by kind permission of Joan Smith

by David Roberts

We're very grateful once more to Middlewich Diary contributor Bill Eaton who has sent us another item from the collection of the late Frank Smith of Ravenscroft.
And we're fortunate in this case that the scan we received from Bill includes Frank's original caption to this view of Wheelock Street.  It reads as follows:

1983. A...view...taken from the church tower. The small red brick building in the left foreground was the Fire Station of the Middlewich Local Board

Obviously that first Middlewich  fire station, which we looked at here was the focus of Frank's attention at the time. He was one of the people who tried to save it from demolition and was instrumental in ensuring that the terra cotta work mentioned in our earlier diary entry was saved for posterity.

There is, however, much more of interest in this photo: for example, it's startling to think that the Middlewich CofE Infants' School survived as late as 1983 though its forlorn look in this picture show that its days are clearly numbered.. The 'Square One' shop to its right is also still there.
We're used to thinking in terms of all those buildings between Leadsmithy Street and Middlewich DIY being 'swept away in the 1970s' but, as we can see here, it didn't happen quite like that.
Seddon's Wych House Lane works  along with the Central Methodist Chapel  had  disappeared quite a few years before this picture was taken (presumably by Frank himself on one of those church tower open days which Jack Stanier and I also took advantage of a few years earlier).
The MUDC road maintenance depot on the canal side of the site had also been and gone by this time, which was well into the Congleton Borough era, but on Lewin Street, opposite the library (just out of shot to the right) the site of the former Seddon's waggon repair depot (later used by the MUDC) appears to have only just been levelled.
In the left  foreground Lex House is still housing the doctors' surgery and solicitors' offices and  Gibbins' Newsagents (formerly Challinor's) is still in business in the centre foreground.
Both these buildings still exist in 2012, but are empty and awaiting new tenants (apart, of course, from the flats above and to the rear of the newsagents).
Above the roof of the infants' school can be seen the new building housing Oates Builders Merchants which replaced the old Co-op shop fronting onto Lewin Street opposite the bottom of Civic Way.
Out on the skyline, beyond the remains of Seddon's Pepper Street works, is prime Cheshire farmland waiting for the industrial estates yet to come.
We look forward to seeing more from the Frank Smith collection


Here's the photo again with a key to the buildings: 1 Lex House 2 Old Fire Station 3 Newsagent's (Challinor/Gibbins/Tams) 4 CofE Infant School 5 Square One Hardware 6 Site of Seddon's Waggon repair shop and various other buildings in Wych House Lane, including the first Catholic Church 7 Oates Builders' Merchants Warehouse (now Jewson's) 8 Andersen Boats 9 Council Yard (site of Seddon's Wych House Lane salt works) 10 Site of Seddon's Brooks Lane salt works 11 Maidenhills (now a housing estate) 12 Stott's Chemist (now Jennie Edwards).
Update 16/1/2014: Both Lex House and the newsagent's shop (1 & 3) have now been bought and are undergoing refurbishment. The newsagent's is, apparently, to become a funeral director's headquarters.

UPDATE (24th October 2019): The shop did indeed become the headquarters of Peter Forshaw's funeral business, and Lex House has, in the interim, become the Water's Edge G.P. Surgery. Older readers will remember that part of this building was dedicated to the same purpose some years ago before the Oaklands Surgery in St Ann's Walk was built.



First Published 1st June 2012
Revised 16th January 2014
Updated and re-published 24th October 2019


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

MIDDLEWICH BEER FESTIVAL 2019

Middlewich & District Round Table

The Mayor and Mayoress will be there on Friday evening at 8pm to open the festival, and Linda Boden, our new Deputy Mayor, will also be there with her husband John, making her first public appearance in her new role.



Jack Roberts writes:


First off,  the drink - the most important bit of the weekend.


We have over forty ales, ciders and gins to try. Some locally sourced and some from further afield. Beer and cider are priced at only £2.50 a pint and a double G&T is only a fiver! We haven't skimped on tonic either as we are providing Fevertree!

Over the weekend we also have The Pie Guys providing you with some lovely pie, mash and peas.

Friday evening's entertainment will be provided by The Bohemian Kings.

As this year our Chairman is Scottish we are asking you to come along in your best tartan (Scottish theme)

Saturday afternoon, as usual, is a little bit more subdued (thankfully as we are normally a bit tender after Friday).

We have music by Dave Speakman Music and Deep Waters, both fantastic artists and we guarantee you will be entertained.

Lastly, on Saturday evening, we have our resident DJ, DJ Dizzy giving us a blast through the decades. The Saturday evening we are also asking you to dress in your best Halloween outfits.

We hope to see you all this weekend supporting our amazing Beer Festival. We have lots of awesome beer for you to try!

We still have tickets on sale at The Middlewich British Legion, Chisholms Newsagents and online at http://b.link/middlewich82


This also appears on THE MIDDLEWICH YEAR

Thursday, 10 October 2019

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT!


(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.

THE ALHAMBRA - NINETY-NINE YEARS OF ENTERTAINMENT

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 PRESENT-DAY ALHAMBRA






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 BAR AND ENTERTAINMENT ON FACEBOOK








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....




UPDATE - 29th MARCH 2019.
Photo courtesy of David Cantona Lee

The Alhambra was reborn as a restaurant on the 29th March 1999. Here's a photo taken on the opening night and featuring well-known local residents including the then Mayor of Middlewich, Fred Johnson. Please don't hesitate to get in touch and  help us put names to faces.

The Alhambra's twentieth anniversary as a restaurant coincided with the weekend of Mother's Day 2019.




UPDATE:

In July 2019, after another period of closure, it was announced that The Alhambra was to re-open as an Italian Restaurant called Il Padrino.



Il Padrino (the name translates as 'The Godfather') opened its doors on Thursday 10th October 2019 and that famous frontage gained yet another new look. The iconic 'Alhambra' art-deco work, though, remains and will be enhanced and restored in the months to come, ready for the building's 100th birthday in 2020. We wish the owners of Il Padrino the very best of luck as we welcome this new addition to the Middlewich culinary scene. -Ed 

Many Thanks To:

ROB DYKES
COLIN PIERPOINT
DAVID CANTONA LEE
RICHARD DENTON
CINEMA TREASURES
THE LATE BILL ARMSDEN
DANIEL PRESTON
THE LOCAL DATA COMPANY LTD
GAY SHERRY
MIDDLEWICH GUARDIAN

First published 16th January 2019
Updated and re-published 29th March 2019 (the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Alhambra Chinese Restaurant)

Updated and re-published 10th July 2019.
Updated and re-published 10th October 2019