New year, and new pathways stretching ahead?

Updated: Feb 10, 2018

Quite often. But how about some well-trodden ones… those by the ancient parish church of St Michael’s? From here medieval lanes radiated like wobbly spokes, reaching into Middlewich’s then rural hinterland. Which thoroughfares converge? What glinting insights await in their backstories?

Hightown is remarkable in that such a tiny piece of urban landscape manages to combine modern updates with astonishing continuity. The King’s Highway – it once meant exactly that: a raised road – passed right through. Let’s look at six surrounding streets, starting with the three L’s of Leadsmithy, Lewin and Lower. Leadsmithy Street is an unusual yet very fitting name for a spot down by the river so integral to the activities of brine-boiling - and of course all that requisite maintenance of lead saltpans. Smiths have always been useful people!

Between here and Booth Lane to the south is the stretch called Lewin Street, another of Middlewich’s oldest route-ways. Tantalisingly, this name most likely derives from two Anglo-Saxon terms leof ‘dear’ and wine friend’ – but who exactly? Was it, perhaps, the local ‘Love Lane’? Just off here the almost hidden little White Horse Alley, still part-cobbled, preserves the real feel of a centuries-old lane.

No longer in existence as a name but once thriving was the densely-packed and commercial Lower Street. Nowadays it is absorbed into the teeming St Michael’s Way bypass. This street completed the triangular shape of the churchyard. Arcing away from Hightown Queen Street in its previous close-set, dark and narrow incarnation was unappealingly known as Dog Lane. Vastly cleared, opened out and improved (no more strays) it also received a name change fit to honour Queen Victoria.

Leading in a westward curve from the Bullring is Wheelock Street, its long thin ‘burgage’ plots being a fascinatingly enduring example of town planning from the Middle Ages... maximise the number of shopfronts! Kinderton Street heads off east, bringing us back to the King’s Highway. To complete the compass points around this wheel, King Street branches off in a northerly direction.

Repeated passages through outer areas formed field paths. Later with agricultural land released for building, such tracks became submerged under our housing and gardens. Mostly residential now, St Ann’s Road could well have started life as a ‘green lane’ – that is a countryside ‘back way’ curving behind the early business zone...its hub, of course, Hightown.

Next issue we travel even further back in time to explore a little of the very first settlements that made the Middlewich we recognise today.

Julie Elizabeth Smalley

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