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Manweb reunion sparks memories of Northwich
A REUNION of Manweb workers illuminated a vault of history on the electrification of Northwich.
More than 30 men who worked at the Lock Street headquarters before, during and after the Second World War gathered for a buffet and reminisce at Lostock Club on Wednesday.
Many of these men were responsible for the historic switch from gas lamps to electric street lamps, wiring up domestic properties and businesses and transforming the town to its current reliance on electrical power.
The Guardian was invited to do a circuit of the room and meet the former workers, who remember a time of riding bikes everywhere, always being smart for work and playing practical jokes on bosses and apprentices.
George Breeze, 90, said that the company became Manweb, the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Company, in the late 1940s.
Before this it was the Mid Cheshire Electricity Supply Company, itself an amalgamation of the Northwich Electrical Company and the Weaverham Electricity Supply Company.
George started work as an apprentice electrician in 1947.
“We went everywhere on pushbike and covered from Ringway Airport to Oakmere and Delamere and out to Minshall Vernon,” he said.
“It was a long district but narrow.
“When I came out of the air force in 1947 there were very few houses had electricity.
“Where I live in Winsford there’s a row of council houses that I can see that were built in 1936 to 37, they didn’t have electricity until I helped wire them.”
“It was one of the best places you could ever work – we were all mates and we respected each other.”
Alf Robinson, 82, started his apprenticeship in 1945 and remembers the aftermath of Northwich’s Great Flood of 1946.
“We worked under the shops in Northwich after the flood and there was all this mud from the river,” he said.
But the biggest thing he remembers is working on the street lights.
“I did all the work converting gas lamps to electricity in Northwich – that would have been in the 1950s after coming back from national service.
“The first job they put me on was the conversions and I spent years on it.”
Lol Stenton, 82, started his apprenticeship on the same day as Alf.
He said: “We had to be smart, have clean shoes and always wear a tie.”
Alf and Lol also remembered some of the pranks they played.
“There was a man that used to smoke a big pipe like a steam engine,” Alf said.
“One day when he went to the toilet and left his pipe on the desk we put thin discs of rubber in it and tobacco back on top – but he never noticed.”
Arthur Kettle, 79, worked with George Breeze to fit electric lights on the runway at Manchester Airport, or Ringway as it was known then.
Arthur said: “I always said in all my 44 years I worked at Manweb there wasn’t one day when I didn’t want to go to work, it was great fun.”
Ken Johnson, 70, started working at Manweb in 1957, and his first job was the converstion of DC current to AC.
“The changeover was a big job,” he said, “Everything with a motor had to be changed, so that was all appliances.
“The last place we changed over was Littlers Timber Yard where there was one big motor and a belt drive and everything was driven off that.
“When we changed over we took that away and had to put a motor on each individual machine.”
Toddy Barlow, 69, organised the reunion with Ralph Buckley and John Hitchenson.
He and Ted Naughton worked on the last tug boat that was built at Yarwoods Ship Yard, a year before the yard closed.
Toddy said: “It was in 1965 when we did it – I was a young lad at the time – and they hired us because their electricians had left.
“When we worked at Manweb we had all sorts of work, street lights, house wiring, factories, sub stations.
“Some of these lads were here when houses had gas lights and were changed to electric – there’s so much knowledge in this room of the electrics in this area.”
But he said there was more important work for apprentices.
“We had one big job the apprentices had to do and that was to make the teas, and if it wasn’t right you used to get a good kicking,” he joked.