Cheshire Chronicles

The Mid Cheshire Chronicle stopped publishing my column and other local history articles when they became free.


The I.C.I or Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. was formed in 1926 from four British chemical companies, British Dyestuffs Corporation Ltd, Brunner Mond & Company Ltd, Nobel Industries Ltd, and the United Alkali Company Ltd. The Alkali Division was based at Winnington in Mid-Cheshire and had works at Winnington, Wallerscote, Lostock, Sandbach and Middlewich in Cheshire, and Fleetwood in Lancashire, Silvertown in London and Wilton in Yorkshire.

This Division has recently been split up and assumed other names. One of them being Brunner Mond Ltd, the company that was originally set up in Mid Cheshire.

There has been little written of the extensive railway network within the various works but to get an idea of the amount of internal rail usage.  In 1955 the I.C.I, as a company, owned 142 locomotives, both steam and diesel. 3,330 main line rail wagons of which 2,600 were used exclusively within the I.C.I works nationally and available to this network were 260 miles of sidings. The daily tonnage of products dispatched by rail from the various factories represented well over 50 trainloads.

The I.C.I Light Railway was purely for goods; I can find no evidence of rail passenger transport anywhere in the system. Although the ICI used mainly steam locomotives, in the 1950’s diesel power was introduced. In the main, the locomotives both steam and diesel powered were well looked after, they were nearly all given names usually relating to the chemical industry and honouring well known chemical engineers such as Joule, Davy and Watt. 

Warrington Wigg works was part of Mond Division and they had a small internal rail network. This network used locomotives borrowed from the nearby Manchester Ship Canal Company for internal workings. There are other ICI works such as Billingham in the North East but the Cheshire based Alkali operations are featured here. 

Gorstage near Weaverham was at the extremity of the Northwich ICI private lines these sidings were only built in the late 1940's, early 1950's and they gave access to the West Coast Main line at this location. Access could also be gained from them to the Manchester - Chester line near Hartford. An interesting fact regarding this Gorstage sidings, is that after it had ceased operations in the 1990’s, the local Council, Vale Royal Borough had its heart set on bringing the Dinting Railway Museum, then based in Glossop, Derbyshire, to the sidings and surrounding waste land. The deal would have gone through, but unfortunately the ICI owned the land and they declined to sell it. This famous museum is now located at Keighley in Yorkshire and attracts many visitors every year.


In the early 1990's, the Alkali Division closed down most of their sidings and sold off the locomotives. The last rail foreman was Tom Walton and he was tasked with undertaking the run down of the network. This included the leasing of a small number of diesel locomotives to be used by Brunner Mond shunters. They were required for the increasingly few shunting operations necessary to handle the three trains per day that brought limestone from the quarry at Buxton together with the coal trains.

A photograph is included of one of the small engines that worked the Buxton quarries. This one has the quaint name Peep’o’Day!

I would like to thank Tom Walton, the last running foreman on the ICI Light Railway at Northwich, (who is now a driver on the preserved Llangollen Railway). Together with the ICI Alkali Division archives and the Industrial Railway Society for their help in compiling this article.


Photo No 1. This small saddle tank was used at the Buxton limestone quarries. It is seen with its crew hauling a load of limestone rocks.

Photo No 1.    It was usual for all I.C.I locomotives, both steam and diesel to have bells fitted that chimed constantly to warn of their presence. A good example of this can be seen in the photograph of the well turned out and probably ex works 0.4.0WT shunting engine 'CROOKES.' This engine was built by Kerr Stuart & Co Ltd. in 1917 and is seen in the 1950's passing under the road bridge between Wallerscote and Winnington works. This bridge was known in the works as 'Four span bridge.'  The engine was sent to Silvertown Works, Essex in 1957.

Photo No 2.   The 0.4.0ST 'JOHN DALTON,' is photographed in the I.C.I locomotive workshops, believed to be at what was known as the 'Avenue Works.' This locomotive was built by Kerr Stuart & Co Ltd. in 1900 and sold to Bryn Hall Colliery Co Ltd Lancs. in 1932.

Photo No 3.    Each of the I.C.I works had their own locomotives, one based at Lostock works was the 0.4.0WT shunter 'KELVIN,' which was built by E Borrows & Sons of Sutton, St Helens in 1908 and can be seen on the works in the 1950's. The locomotive was sent to Cox & Danks at Pendleton for scrap in 1955. The photograph shows another good example and location of the bell, which was operated by the drive gear. Members of the crew are also seen in the photo. Originally, each locomotive had to have a crew of four for shunting purposes. The I.C.I then introduced two-way radios and this enabled the shunting duties to be carried out by only two, a driver and mate.

The Weston Point Light Railway

Another works in the area using steam locomotives was the Weston Point Light Railway in Runcorn. Permission to build this railway from Runcorn station on the London & North Western Railway to the chemical works of Castner Kellner Ltd at Weston Point was granted by the Government in 1920. A small branch already existed to Runcorn Docks on the Manchester Ship Canal and it was proposed to extend this into the works. Eventually, this line served the nearby power station together with Weston Point works, Castner Kellner works and Rock Savage works.

Photo No 4.

0.6.0 tank engine 'Castner' was built by Andrew A Barclay & Sons of Kilmarnock in 1932. This engine was reputed to be the most powerful 0.6.0 engine at use anywhere in the private sector. It was built with flangeless centre wheels, in order that it could negotiate the tight curves on the works. The engine is shown fresh from an overhaul. It remained at the works for the whole of its life being scrapped there in 1960 after a period left standing.

Winsford Alkali Division 

Incorporated the South Works, the West Works and the Meadow Works and it was involved mainly in the mining of rock salt from the salt beds that lie beneath Cheshire. There was a rail network operated by a pool of locomotives and access was gained to the main line via the short branch to Cuddington. This was the longest branch line operated by the old Cheshire Lines Committee. The line was built to work the salt industry, but was extended for passenger use to a station named Winsford & Over and situated behind what is now the Liquor Lounge Club in

New Road
. The picturesque line was about 6 miles long and had one intermediate station at Whitegate, a very small village.

The passenger aspect of the line had an extremely chequered history and it was not a very good investment for its shareholders. The line opened to passengers on the 1st of June 1870 and passenger services were withdrawn on the on the 1st of January 1874. It was reopened on 1st May 1886, closed on the 1st of December 1888, reopened on the 1st of February 1892, finally closing to passengers on the 1st of January 1931. In 1929 the small engine shed at the station was closed. Rail traffic ceased on the 13th of March 1967 but the line did not close completely until the 5th of June 1967. The track was lifted and the trackbed is now the popular

Whitegate Way
countryside walk.

The amount of use that the ICI Light Railway was put too enabled most of their products and raw materials to be carried by rail. The ICI at the time also had it’s own fleet of river boats that travelled between Mid Cheshire and Liverpool where the goods could be transferred to ocean going ships. They were a common sight in their ICI livery sailing along the picturesque River Weaver. Now both of these efficient methods of goods conveyance have been assigned to the dustbin of history. The country roads of Cheshire and the motorways of Great Britain now carry the heavy wagons from what is left of these works, but then, that is progress, and we must have progress! Mustn’t we?

Photo’s 5 & 6

These two photographs show Whitegate station as it is today.

Words not attached to Photographs. 1,057

Copyright Paul Hurley March 2004

























At The Bar

The Bells of Peover in Lower Peover.

By Paul Hurley

 In 1944 the Second World War was rumbling on and the allies had the upper hand. Away from the fighting, the burning cities and the atrocities two men sit calmly around a table in an idyllic country pub. Their job is to plan the epic invasion of Europe - D Day.
 One of the men, the best known and most flamboyant general in the US army, the other was to become the 34th President of the United States of America. They were of course General’s Patton and Eisenhower. The extreme pressure that they were under in that small bar is evidenced by the second unused speech that Eisenhower prepared.
 Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
 As we know they never failed and he was able to use the victorious speech, not the one above which was found in his pocket by an aide. The pub of course was The Bells of Peover, one of the best known inns in the country. General Patton and his staff were staying at Over Peover Hall and would meet Eisenhower at the pub to talk, relax and plan the downfall of the Nazis. As a gesture of thanks, they permitted the Bells of Peover to fly the stars and stripes and the union jack together, this they do to this day.
 Lower Peover is a beautiful part of a beautiful county and the pub is quietly hidden away beside the ancient church of St Oswald’s. Entering through the door one walks through an archway of wisteria that must surely have been growing there for 200 years. The name Bells of Peover however has nothing to do with the church; Bell was the name of a landlord in the 19th century who took it over when it was called the Warren de Tabley Arms. The de Tabley coat of arms can still be seen between the flags on the front gable. Some say that it was built 700 years ago as a brewery, it is also said that it was a hospice for the clergy visiting the church but whatever it started as, it is now a most attractive and traditional country inn. Log fires welcome the traveller and the bar once the scene of momentous planning is now a comfortable snug with Toby jugs lining the walls.
 Owned by the Chef and Brewer group the current licensee is Richard Casson who is in his 7th year in charge. Richard would describe it as a Gastro Pub with excellent food. They won the Cheshire Life dining pub of the year in 2003 and frequently appear in good food guides. The food is freshly prepared and fish is a specialty.
 It is still however an old English country pub in which to meet friends and socialize with a choice of real ale, fine wines and bar snacks. There are theme nights such as a Valentine night supper and in summer a regular barbeque. A very popular event takes place every second Saturday when a member of staff entertains with his singing. He is well qualified, having been a professional singer on cruise ships and other venues. There is a separate area for families with children to dine and children are not allowed in during the evening.
  So for a cosy meal or pint of real ale in one of the most famous pubs in Great Britain, visit the Bells of Peover. Plan your next holiday where once the future of the world was planned!

Copyright Paul Hurley January 2007
Words 624

The Cheshire Police - well - all police really!

As I have written above in the introduction, I provided a series of 6 articles for the Cheshire Chronicle network. In these articles I spoke for the hard done to front line officer who is becoming more and more bogged down with unnecessary and time consuming political correctness. It is burying the force and life in general as the minority of politically correct sycophants get their way. This combined with the litigation society into which we are being dragged is having an extremely detrimental effect upon our quality of life.

 Whilst in the police I was elected Vice Chairman of the Cheshire Police Federation and I wrote and edited a small Federation Magazine but my first success as a writer on the countrywide scale was winning letter of the week in the Mail on Sunday on Boxing Day 1999. I won a palm top computer! Since then I have had a number of letters published by the MoS and have had the headline letter a number of times, once with my photograph.

I was I think the only writer to point out that in the programme Secret Policeman in which young officers at the Bruche Police Training Centre in Warrington were filmed making racist comments. That these were not police officers! This is the article that was published both in the Chronicle and the Cheshire Police Newspaper, it was also published in the Cheshire Police magazine when the Chief Constable appended his quite acceptable comments:-

Was ‘The Secret Policeman’ Really a True Reflection of the Police?

By Paul Hurley

As a Freelance writer and ex police officer, I have been asked to comment upon the Television programme, ‘The Secret Policeman.’ This was the story of an undercover reporter joining the Greater Manchester Police and training at the No1 Police Training Centre at Bruche near Warrington.

It certainly was strong stuff and a number of police officers have resigned as a result of it. Let me start by making it quite clear, my comments are not necessarily those of the Chronicle, and I most certainly do not speak for the Cheshire Police.

As a result of this programme the reputation of the British Police is once again being dragged through the mud. Now let’s get the thing into perspective, whilst serving at Warrington, I had cause on at least three occasions to investigate crimes committed by the students at the Bruche Training Centre. I have arrested uniformed officers from there and one thing that I learnt from this experience is that they are not Police Officers. They are trainees, apprentices, scholars, whatever term you wish to use. They are not Police Officers and do not in any way shape or form represent the typical Police Officer.

This over-riding fact should be born in mind when criticising the police on the evidence of this programme. Yes, they wear Police uniform and technically have all the powers of a Constable, which is as far as it goes, they are plumbers, bank clerks, electricians or whatever they were before they joined. The one officer in the class with actual police experienced was the one who transferred from the Met. He made common sense comments about stopping young blacks in London; he explained that you could not say that in class because of political correctness, but they always got results.

Even the Commissioner to his credit said openly that young black males committed most street crime there. Later the officer carried on making racist comments but under extreme provocation by the reporter. When I joined Bruche as a trainee in 1974 I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. After I had spent 12 weeks there and a further period of in-house training, I was a different person.

Now, this is even more so, especially where race-relations are concerned. Police officers of all ranks today are immensely aware of the restrictions imposed in relation to discrimination and especially racism. In fact, they are very frightened of them; these rules and laws are the bogeyman behind all officers.

For a Police Officer to make a racist comment whilst on duty or discriminate against a member of an ethnic minority, he or she would almost certainly invite the most draconian form of punishment and probably dismissal. Hence, they just don’t do it. If our intrepid reporter had infiltrated any Police Station in Cheshire, and probably elsewhere, he would find nothing to report.

Those trainees at Bruche still had their civilian hats on. They were fresh from a society increasingly fed up with the over emphasis on political correctness. A society that is starting to rebel against the lax asylum system, the positive discrimination and the banning of common sense. This is a world that police officers dare not be a part of. Until fully trained they were still in that world, in a world where, in many areas, racist comments at break time and in public houses are the norm, where people openly express concern at illegal immigration and where racist jokes are still told. I will make what some may think is a naïve statement, it is however true.

In 28 years police service, I never met a genuinely racist officer. By that I mean the sort perfectly personified in that programme. He deserved to be sacked; he was a disgrace to the uniform and does not belong in any respectable organisation.That said, I met officers of all racial persuasions who enjoyed a good joke, whether it be a blonde woman joke (my wife is blonde)! An Irish joke, a Man joke, in fact a joke about any race, gender, colour or creed so long as it was funny and did not give offence to those present. In the interest of abolishing ‘racism,’ these jokes have now become no go areas.

Let’s look at the programme; the behaviour of some of the officers went far beyond acceptable conduct for anyone, let alone a prospective police officer. The reporter did however instigate a lot of it. The question, ‘What do you think of Asians?’ Is not one that the average person gets asked very often! In the case of immature young men it invites macho and possibly out of character responses, as it would if the question was about French or American people (I will not use their slang nicknames).A lot was inferred about their behaviour towards the ethnic member of the class.

But we were given no details of it, other than the class as a whole were not happy that they had taken a year to join and he had been fast tracked! I’m sorry, but that would wind anyone up. It was wrong for the unfortunate officer to have been put in that position by the iniquitous positive discrimination rules. Rules that in a fair society should not be necessary, rules that in a police force with silly targets to meet are all-important. As for the class cheering when they were told he would not be coming back, we did that on a CID course.

An officer had been a pain in the neck and when told he would have to leave due to illness, the whole course cheered. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was white! The usual critics ask ‘how are people with views like that allowed into the police?’ The question, ‘are you racist?’ Is not likely to result in a truthful answer, people are being allowed to join the police who, years ago would have been refused for good reasons.

Now we have equal opportunities, diversity and other practices, which if treated with common sense would work. But they are always taken too far to the detriment of the force. One example of this is that a person with a criminal record is no longer automatically barred from entry. If that is the case, what other questions dare not be asked for fear of infringing the ‘human rights’ of the applicant? It has even been suggested that spies be put into the police environment and on courses, this will do nothing but invite further animosity. Morale will plummet even lower and everyone will be a suspect. Once again a daft idea is being considered that will cause immeasurably more problems than it cures.

Finally, ‘a racist may be put into a Police Uniform, but he is still a racist.’ Given time however this mindset can be altered by the heavy input of anti-discriminatory training provided at Bruche and in-force. But by then the target would not be soft enough for undercover reporters and their agent provocateur behaviour.

Copyright Paul Hurley October 2003 1.190 words