For the next few weeks, we will feature the history of some of our local hostelries beginning with the Big Lock Pub in Webbs Lane, Middlewich.

Lock 75 on the Trent and Mersey Canal is known as the ‘big lock’ as it is the only lock that is more than 14ft wide on this canal.

It was constructed when the canal length from Middlewich to Northwich was built; it was then the intention to build the canal wide enough to take the large salt barges, travelling from Winsford via the Anderton Lift to Middlewich salt and chemical works.

The canal was broad between Shardlow and Burton-on-Trent because this part was used by barges coming off the Trent.

However, the rest of the canal was narrow, except for the section from Anderton to Middlewich which was widened in the 1890s to accommodate broad boats from the Weaver.

The Croxton aqueduct was replaced a number of times due to subsidence, and eventually in the 1930s it was replaced with a narrow trough which then prevented the wider boats from reaching Middlewich.

Northwich Guardian: The Big Lock circa 1970sThe Big Lock circa 1970s (Image: Rose Hurley)

At this time the Preston Brook route took over the main traffic. Up until that time it had been possible for the wider vessels to travel on this route right to the town wharf in Middlewich to load/unload cargo.

The pub itself was built in the latter part of the 19th century, into the bank on the side of the lock.

It is known as a 'stack building'. From the front it is a conventional two-story pub at street level, from the rear on the canal it has three stories, and originally it was built with a stable block at the side for canal horses, and this is now part of the restaurant.

Northwich Guardian: The rear of the pubThe rear of the pub (Image: Rose Hurley)

The door from the lock once led to the boat people’s bar whilst upstairs the locals could be spared the presence of the rather unkempt people from the working boats!

This bar is now a function room. A canal shop existed beneath the main building (some say the shop was there before the Big Lock pub was built but it is more likely that it was a part of the structure that stands today) and a footpath led the boaters from the canal to the shop.

The factory that once stood next to the pub was the Anglo-Swiss Milk Company and employed 180 people, mainly Middlewich folk.

The position of the factory took advantage of the canal in the distribution of condensed milk until it closed in the 1930s which severely impacted the local farmers as they sold their milk to the factory.

Northwich Guardian: The Big Lock and next-door factory in the early 1900sThe Big Lock and next-door factory in the early 1900s (Image: Rose Hurley)

It produced some two hundred cases daily, each containing four dozen cans of condensed milk and cocoa powder.

Following closure, the commercial building became the British Crepe silk factory involved in textile printing for a while before it was eventually demolished following a fire and was replaced with housing.

Beyond the pub stood a lock keeper’s cottage, styled on the Wardle Canal one which still stands.

However, unfortunately, the Big Lock keeper’s cottage suffered from subsidence and poor foundations and is now gone.

The Big Lock pub has a family-friendly dining room/café, lounge, snug, and bar, also offering a pool room, terrace, and balcony.

It plays a major part in the Folk and Boat Festival (FAB) which takes place annually in June and many visitors and locals take a stroll along the canal from the town centre to the Big Lock and enjoy the entertainment and stalls along the route.