Thursday, 21 November 2019


We believe this image to be out of copyright. If you own the copyright, or know who does, please let us know
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.)

First published 29th February 2012
Re-formatted and re-published 26th February 2017
Re published 21st November 2019 (links updated)


Tuesday, 19 November 2019


If you own the copyright on this picture please let us know
This photo from the Carole Hughes collection has all the hallmarks of being taken by a professional photographer, possibly working for the press, and the quality of the image seems to indicate that it was taken either from the original negative or from a very good print.
It dates back to 1969 when the Duke of Edinburgh, seen on the left of the photo, visited Middlewich to perform the official opening of British Salt's new factory in Booth Lane, which replaced all the other salt works in the town and is still going strong today, forty-three years after it opened.
The Duke obviously took the opportunity to visit the nearby RHM Foods Factory (which, until the year before, had been known as Cerebos) and inspect the Saxa Salt packing line.
When Carole posted this photo on Facebook, Robert Sheckleston, Martin Spurr and Andy Kendrick were swiftly identified as being part of the scene and we've no doubt at all that it won't be long before someone identifies others in the picture.

When this entry was first published Andrea Astles added this comment:

I've just shown this to my Mum, as she worked there at the time. The lady on the left is Anne Buckley and the lady on the right is Cynthia Barlow. The gentleman on the right was the boss, but she can't remember his name, sorry.

UPDATE (JANUARY 21st 2017):

In January 2017 Mike Jennings sent us two additional photographs of what we think must be the same occasion (on the grounds that, as far as we know, Prince Phillip wasn't a regular visitor to RHM, and most likely only ever went there once)

Prince Phillip is obviously keen to learn what's in store for him as he makes his way into the factory. Some of the people with him will probably be secret service men, but some will, no doubt be from top management at RHM and British Salt. Can anyone recognise any of them?

The Prince  can't wait to get cracking on his tour of RHM. Does anyone know who the gentleman to his right is? And who's that bringing up the rear?

Do you remember this auspicious occasion in the life of one of our town's biggest  industries, now sadly defunct?
If you can help put more names to faces, please don't hesitate to get in touch either here or on our Facebook Page. Or you can email us at

Many thanks to Mike Jennings for the additional photos and to Andrea Astles for her information.

And here's another photo taken on the same occasion, this time from Gaynor Smallwood and reproduced with her permission.
This appeared on the RHM FOODS MIDDLEWICH Facebook Group in March 2017

Photos of, and information on, the Prince`s visit to the adjacent and then brand new British Salt works, can be found on their website

First published 3rd April 2012
Revised and re-formatted 21st January 2017
Updated and re-published 16th March 2017
and 19th November 2019

Thursday, 14 November 2019


Kerry Kirwan writes....

Me and the team at Middlewich Heritage Trust are more than half way through our community restoration of Murgatroyd’s Brine Pumps. Our first year of regular opening hours will start next April 25th and 26th 2020 after more than 11 years of hard work.
Industrial heritage sites are disappearing every year in the UK, often they are left to local communities to deal with, some are just beyond repair. Our site is a scheduled Ancient Monument, one of the highest protections a site like this can have and yet it was all near to collapsing to the ground.
Over the years we’ve worked hard to seek funding, gain permissions and carry out work on the site, we are now finally in sight of the last phase of works, thanks to our funders Historic England, Heritage Lottery Fund and Association of Industrial Archaeology.
Local history and local resources are so important to keep and understand, they teach us so much about the importance of industry to the community and about the people themselves.

On November 21st 10am to 12 noon at Victoria Hall, Civic Way, Middlewich, there will be a free talk available to everyone interested in heritage, archaeology and local history.
Who was George Murgatroyd and why are the brine pumps so important? Explore how the project has evolved, where we are now and what we hope to do over the next three years.

All photographs courtesy of KERRY KIRWAN

Saturday, 9 November 2019


'....each a glimpse, and gone forever...'
                                         -Robert Louis Stevenson

by Dave Roberts

Courtesy of Bill Armsden and John Bailey here's a rare chance to see a few fleeting glimpses of Middlewich and Winsford as they were towards the end of the 1960s, captured on 8mm cine film and digitised so that we can enjoy them today. The scenes we see here are just part of a longer film chronicling a family day out at Chester Zoo, circa 1968, and offer us the chance to see our town at the very end of what we like to call its 'salt town days' (the open pan works all having closed in 1966/7) and before major housing development and 'gentrification' started in earnest. There are also some glimpses of Winsford taken at the same time.

Watch it here:

Or Watch it on YouTube

Here's what you'll see:

We start in Booth Lane, and ahead of us is the bridge over the canal junction. To the right is that long-gone building which once stood at the junction of Booth Lane and Brooks Lane (currently causing much controversy as drivers choose to ignore the 'one way' restrictions on the bridge). For many years the building housed a bakery, but the Lyons Maid ice cream sign shows us that this film was made in the period when the shop was operated by Clarence Costello and his wife Mary. Costello's had shops in various parts of the town, including Kinderton Street and Wheelock Street, at various periods in the town's history.
If you inspect the Booth Lane side of the bridge today, you'll see that the wall once curved round to join the canal-side wall of the shop.
Next we leap ahead to Lewin Street, and get a glimpse of the CofE Infant School on the right. 
And this is where we know we really are in the past because, instead of bearing right to go down into Leadsmithy Street and the Junction with St Michael's Way, we go to the left to pass over Hightown and thus into the town centre.
Dead ahead is the old Town Hall and a row of shops where the amphitheatre is today.
In the town centre we see Dewhurst's butchers shop and, to its left and set back from the road, the Vaults, the sign for which can be seen on the end wall of the shop next door. Those two shops are still there,and are now both hairdressers. The one on the left we made famous a few years ago as 'Sharon's Cafe'.
We turn into Wheelock Street and again we know instantly that we're looking at a scene from many years ago, as the traffic is travelling both ways.
Notice, on the right, the Davies School of Motoring in just one of the row of shops which are now given over completely to the justly famous Temptations business.
Ahead of us to the right we can see a building which spent many years as Brooks & Bostock, after its move from just across the road. On its end wall can be seen another long-vanished Middlewich sight, the billboard advertising the many delights of Belle Vue.
Now to Chester Road, and, on the left, where now we find Morrisons, is Middlewich Motors with its Mobil Garage. Beneath the Mobil sign you might be able to catch a glimpse of another sign saying Boosey's Nurseries.
Next we're on Spital Hill, climbing towards Winsford. Of all the locations in this short film, this is the one which has changed the least.
Next we're approaching the bridge just before Winsford Station (or, as older people will know it, Gravel).
Here we turn right for a pit stop at the Railway Hotel, which once sported a sign depicting a slightly wonky looking Stephenson's Rocket, and is now known as the Brighton Belle.
And next we're in Winsford High Street, before the dual carriageway was driven straight through the heart of the town. Unfortunately for us, the camera concentrates on the right hand side of the road, showing us the Brunner Guildhall and other buildings which are still very much with us. There are, though, tantalising glimpses of the now-vanished left hand side of the High Street.
And so this all too brief glimpse into the past comes to an end as we take the old road out of Winsford and head for Chester and the delights of its famous zoo.
You'll notice the road signs, which give us a clue as to the age of this film. This type of sign, so familiar to us now, was only introduced in the early to mid-sixties, so would have been quite new at the time of filming. They look a little incongruous here, surrounded as they are by much older road infrastructure.
Of course we have to remember that the scenes of Middlewich and Winsford seen here - all of them just a few seconds long - were just 'setting the scene'. They were included in the finished film (which was, don't forget, a record of a Middlewich family's trip to the zoo) to show where that family travelled from on their day out. There was no thought of capturing Middlewich and Winsford 'for posterity'. At least we don't think there was.
Apart from anything else 8mm cine film was very expensive and the majority of it would have been saved for filming the animals at the zoo.
But aren't we glad the cameraman/woman* decided to expend just a little of that precious film on the journey?
* Apparently it was either John Bailey himself, or his wife doing the camera work.

Here's the film again, in slow motion

Watch it here:

Or Watch it on YouTube

Our thanks to Bill and John for going to the trouble (and not inconsiderable expense)
of rescuing this rare film for posterity and also granting the Middlewich Diary the privilege of bringing it to you.

VIDEOS © Bill Armsden/John Bailey 2017

First published 19th January 2017
Reformatted and republished 9th November 2019
Vimeo videos replaced by YouTube versions.

Sadly, since this Diary entry was published both Bill and John have passed away. We`d like to dedicate this Diary entry, which we know will be enjoyed for years to come, to their memory. Ed.

Friday, 8 November 2019


Photo: FBS Images
Now would seem to be a good time to go back 77 years to the original unveiling of our town's main War Memorial in the Bullring. 1934 is surprising late for the erection of such a memorial. Most of them were erected in the 1920s, a fact that probably accounts for Messrs Curson & Hurley in Middlewich - Images of England (Tempus Publishing 2005) captioning photos of the occasion as happening in 'the early 20s'.
As always, Allan Earl in Middlewich 1900-1950 (Cheshire Country Publishing 1994) has the truth of the matter. The unveiling was on the 18th November 1934 and a full account of the occasion is included in Allan's book (Pages 139-141).
The memorial (or 'cenotaph' as it is referred to by many locals) stayed in this position for 38 years until, as part of the 'Piazza' redevelopment of 1972, it was moved closer to the churchyard and re-dedicated as shown in the series of slides we've been featuring over the last few months.
In 2005, as we have seen, the area was redeveloped again but the memorial stayed more or less where it was.
Appropriately, the War Memorial bears a quotation from Middlewich historian Charles Frederick Lawrence:
'Through all eternity their names shall bide,
Enshrined as heroes who for Empire died'
The War Memorial as it was in 1972 after re-dedication in its new position on the 'Piazza'.
To the left of the picture the Talbot Hotel in Kinderton Street can be seen.

Facebook Feedback:

Chris Koons Wow! Who knew there were so many people IN Middlewich?

Dave Roberts Amazing isn't it? We have a good crowd every year for Remembrance Day, but I don't think there's ever been anything on that scale since the 1930s.

Geraldine Williams Interesting to see the Brauer Opticians and Pharmacy shop.
Miss Brauer was Brown Owl of the Middlewich Brownie pack for many years and her sister, Mrs Margaret Hall, was the Girl Guides' leader. Mrs Hall was also a pharmacist and dispensed at that shop.
After the shop was demolished she did some locum work at various chemists.
The shop, presumably, was owned by their father.
And what an amazing turnout. Those people standing near the church wouldn't see, or hear, any of the service. It's a sobering thought that just five years later additional names would start to be added to the Memorial. I imagine no one at this dedication service was anticipating that.

First published 10th November 2011
Re-published 8th November 2019

Sunday, 3 November 2019


Aerial View: Britain From Above/English Heritage
 by Dave Roberts,

Today we're returning to our 'core business' to indulge in what was recently and very memorably, referred to as '...the regurgitating of random, boring, local facts' as we take a look at one of the aerial photographs of our town now made available by English Heritage on the site
The 'Britain From Above' collection contains hundreds of high definition photographs taken between the years 1919 and 1953 and thus, in the case of Middlewich, giving us an invaluable view of our town in its salt town heyday.
What's more the site is asking everyone to help annotate the photos in the collection so that future generations will be able to identify just what it is they're looking at and enjoy them all the more. If we've missed anything out of our interpretation of this, or any of the photos we'll be featuring in this series, please let us know.
Our own notes on the photo above are appended to the version below, and we would as always be pleased to have any additional information and/or corrections.

We're starting with this excellent view of the area around the still-thriving Big Lock pub (and, of course, the lock it is named for) as it was (we estimate) some time in the early 1920s. We've given the open pan works in the top left hand corner of the picture its original name on opening in 1892, but by the time of this photograph it would be under different ownership and partly disused, as was the custom during the open pan era, when pans were opened and closed as demand for salt fluctuated.
There's an intriguing structure on the far bank of the river (right next to the little blue aeroplane). We're wondering if this has any connection with attempts to screen the salt works from the Upper Crust at Croxton Hall Farm, as mentioned here (with diagram) by Frank Smith.
The building we've circled and called a 'salt warehouse'  survived well into the early 1970s, finding various industrial uses, as discussed here. On the other side of the Trent & Mersey Canal lies the River Dane and the spot where the River Croco, running alongside the canal through the town, joins it, can also be seen.
The top right hand corner of the photo shows us Harbutt's Field, long known for its connections with the Romans and long marked on maps as Roman Station (Condate). It would be the 1980s before the fact that this modest and unassuming field had, in fact, been the  site of a fully-fledged permanent Roman military fort was confirmed by modern geophysical techniques. We are, though, dealing with the world of archaeology here, and not all is sweetness and light as the name 'Condate' for Middlewich is still disputed among academics, as, for that matter is 'Salinae'.
On the right a public footpath ran, and still runs, from bridges over the canal and River Croco to join King Street at the top right hand corner of the field. The land on the other side of this footpath, now given over to housing, was studded with brine shafts and the remains of previous salt workings.
On the opposite side of the canal from the Big Lock is the old lock-keeper's cottage, perched precariously between canal and river and  threatening  always  to subside backwards into the Croco. We discussed the sad fate of this building here.
Every year, come festival time, bands perform on the patch of ground where the cottage once stood (with the audience, somewhat unusually, standing on the other side of the lock), a use for the area which those lock-keepers of old could never have foreseen in their wildest dreams.
Taking centre stage is the impressive bulk of the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Factory (later part of Nestle, and later still a silk and man-made fibre factory).
It goes without saying that this little corner of Middlewich has, like many others, now been covered in modern housing.
In the bottom right hand corner, along Webb's Lane, is 'Swiss Cottage', which gets its name from the fact that it was built to house the Manager of the Anglo-Swiss works.
The Milk Factory closed in 1931 and the buildings were converted for use as a silk factory which opened in 1932 and closed in the early years of the 21st Century.
Finney's Lane itself is all present and correct, although its course has changed through the years and it now takes a more direct route towards the Big Lock, where it joins Webbs Lane. 

Aerial View: Britain From Above/English Heritage
Swiss Cottage, Webbs Lane as it is today

First published 12 August 2014
Republished 3rd November 2019


Fun for all the family at the Victoria Hall in the run-up to Christmas, and all in aid of our local charities fund!

Direct link for ticket sales:


Official Trailer (YouTube link)

EXCLUSIVE! On an (unofficial) visit Lynne Hardy, Mayoress of Middlewich, calls in at SHAUN THE SHEEP`S Blackpool HQ to make sure all is well for the FARMAGEDDON Middlewich Premiere on the 14th!

This also appears on THE MIDDLEWICH YEAR

30th October 2019
3rd November 2019