MERVYN’S MEMORIES: MIDDLEPORT

(For The Sentinel’s The Way We Were, March 29, 2017)

 

I have never lived more than half a mile away from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Middleport, so it should come as no surprise that I have had a close acquaintance with it over the years.

The Middleport Pottery of Burgess and Leigh was one of a small number of potbanks that my mother worked at when I was a child, and she regularly took the old path past Wolstanton Social Club, down the fields and across the canal bridge to reach her workplace in Port Street.

The end-of-shift walk back to Wolstanton was a totally different kettle of fish, for the incline makes Everest seem like a speed-bump. As a nipper, it occurred to me that there was probably more scrap metal in the Cut than there was at the adjacent McGuinness’ site. Rusty old bicycles and the odd tin barrel sometimes bobbed up in the murky waters. Old bicycle wheels were great for bowling along the towpaths, but they would ultimately be thrown into the canal, adding to the debris.

As children, we would dig up boulders, and throw them off the canal bridge at Middleport, relishing the almighty splash as they disturbed the stillness of the water. McGuinness’ scrap yard fascinated me at a time when I had a passionate interest in motor cars, fuelled by the tutorials of my aunt and uncle, both of whom were experienced motorists.

They taught me to recognise every make of car on the road in the 1960s, and I loved the colours and shapes of vehicles as they whizzed past – but I found huge romance in the sight of superannuated bangers stacked six or eight high at the scrap yard, waiting to be crushed at McGuinness’s.

J. W. M. Turner’s painting of the Fighting Temeraire, being tugged to her final berth to be broken up, couldn’t match this for historic symbolism. What drama at the dashboard, what barneys on the back seat had these jalopies seen? Before the advent of today’s throwaway society that sees motorists replace their vehicles every few years, numerous folk kept their beloved cars for many moons – hence the age of some of those piled up at “Ginto’s.”  

There did they rust in peace.  There never seemed to be a real hurry to crush some of the columns of cars, and as an embryonic car enthusiast, I had plenty of time to admire the final weeks of many vehicles that had been around in the 1950s:  Ford Populars, Austin A30s and Standard Eights. 

I also have strong memories of the shraff tips around the Middleport area, as rats regularly ran in and around them. The area was insalubrious, as emphasised by the industrial effluent that factories tipped into the canal.

Both the canal and the railway line that passed through this area were potentially hazardous for children, and policemen would make an appearance if they believed you to have been trespassing on the railway line.

As a young crown green bowler representing Wolstanton WMC against Middleport WMC on the greens at Middleport Park, I was never too far away from the canal’s towpaths, and for thirty years now I have regularly jogged along the Etruria to Longport stretch, passing the Middleport Pottery.

Some of the old canalside landmarks have gone, including the scrap yard, whilst the former Port Vale Flour Mills building seems to be tumbling into the water – but Middleport Pottery survives as both a working pottery and a reminder of the area’s industrial heyday.






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