“Like all new businesses we faced a lot of challenges in those early months. I was new into the industry, and the Chippy is the first business I’ve ever owned or run - I was working hard and striving for a high standard, but I had no way of objectively knowing if I was succeeding in achieving it.”
This year Matthew was able to visit Chippy Chat's annual Field to Frier open day. The event is hosted a long way from Halton, at the Isle of Ely potato farm in Cambridgeshire.
The day was punctuated with presentations by speakers from various sectors of the industry. Some gave an insight into the successful operation of Fish & Chip shops, other gave information about farming and harvesting. The common theme was pride and dedication to the industry, keeping quality and standards high from field to fryer.
One of the highlights of the day was a trip out onto the potato farm itself. Matthew learned about the importance in an 8 year crop rotation cycle - essential for not only for allowing the replenishment of soil nutrients, but also for protecting crops from the spread of blights and disease. He also found out how the potato is encouraged to form a hard skin which facilitates better transport and storage.
The scale of production was impressive to say the least. Giant store houses, drying sheds, sorting equipment and bagging facilities are all employed to make sure that Britain gets the best possible spuds it can!
Brett has progressed to the semi-finals of the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Award 2018! He is one of only 10 entrants from across the UK to make it this far in the competition. Until now Brett has been assessed at a distance, via application forms and Skype interviews, but that all changed this week! Brett traveled to Leeds for a Skills Day assessment at the National Federation of Fish Friers headquarters. Here is how he got on in his own words (photographs courtesy of the National Federation of Fish Friers):
I caught the train to Leeds the night before the skills day assessment and stayed in The Village North Hotel not far from the National Federation of Fish Frier's offices. Next morning was an early start, up at 6:45am, ready to be in the door and ready to get started at the NFFF for 9am.
There were 4 other young frier entrants taking part in the assessments with me, and another 5 due to come the next day. We were all separated and taken to the various tasks that we needed to complete. I had a nervous wait around for an hour or so before my first assessment - but it did give me a chance to go over my notes again which I was grateful for!
My first task of the day was to give a presentation entitled 'Fish & Chips and me' to a panel of judges. It was extremely intimidating standing up and speaking in front of such an experienced panel - a definite X-factor moment! I chose not to prepare any digital slides as I felt powerpoint presentations have been done to death. Instead I took in a few props and a handful of que cards. I wanted to tell the story of how I entered the profession, why I care about Fish and Chips and to explain what I was hoping to do in the industry in the future. The presentation was the part of the day I was most nervous about doing.
The next event for my day was an interview with Bonnie and Nikki. The topics on discussion were pretty far reaching, from my daily routine at work to my future aspirations. Many of the questions focused around social media and how to engage more people with the industry and the awards. I talked about my new Twitter and Facebook accounts ( @BrettnChips ) and my plans to develop other social media streams over time. I slowly started to relax a little during our conversation, and felt I was able to explain my ideas pretty well.
After lunch I had to chip potatoes with last years competition winner, George. We talked storage, starch, sugar content, testing, blade grading and delivery management before I got to work prepping the spuds. I had to de-eye, rumble and chip the potatoes before using a Drywite solution to prepare them for the range.
I was fairly confident in my batter making, which was observed by Andrew Crook. The water temperature, and mixture consistency are two really important factors when making batter. Next I had to cut fish. Normally at work we use a 5-8oz grading which needs the pin-bone removed and extra weight trimmed as goujons. For the NFFF I had to cut a 16oz fish into multiple fillets at a suitable weight. To be honest I found this quite tricky as its not a skill I've had to develop before, but it was a great learning experience!
The fish I had cut, the batter I had mixed and the potatoes I had chipped were all brought to the range so I could fry them. The range was a Mallinsons of Oldham model similar to the one we have at Blacks, so I felt comfortable frying. The whole frying process was watched by Craig who is another past winner of the award. I basket fried and blanched my chips, and let the batter on the fish fry to a light golden colour.
The whole experience was very nerve wracking, but very positive. It highlights just how much there is to learn and how many skills there are to develop to really do fish and chips well. Of course as soon as I finished I started to think of all the things that I wish I'd said, little things I had forgotten to do, and other things I'd have done differently! I'm sure the judges would have noticed them all! But, I bet everyone who did the skills day feels the same way. I just hope I've done enough to make it to the next round!
There will now be several weeks of deliberations before the final five successful entrants make it through to the next stage. The finalists will be mystery shopped, and have their skills assessed again in the shops they work in. It feels like waiting for school exam results!
This is a bridge with a longer and more surprising history than you might expect! Locally it is known as 'Halton Bridge', 'The Iron Bridge', 'Denny Beck Bridge' or 'The Penny Bridge'. but it has never been given an official title.
When the 'Little' North Western Railway Company began work on constructing Halton Train Station in the late 1840's, there was no bridge across the Lune. Workers would regularly be ferried across the river from the village to work on the new station building and rail road. Sadly in 1849, only months away from the station's completion, severe flooding claimed the lives of 8 men. Soon after the railway company undertook construction of a toll bridge, which opened in December 1849, one month after the station opening. It is unclear if this tragic loss of life prompted the construction of a bridge, or if it had always been intended as a commuter crossing for station customers.
This first bridge across the Lune at Denny Beck met its fate in 1869, being swept away in bad weather. The railway company hastily erected a replacement which opened in the same year. Whilst these timber structures were clearly serving their purpose, a more robust and permanent solution was desired.
In 1864 Lancaster cut the ribbon on its shiny new wrought iron railway bridge, 'The Greyhound' bridge. This bridge was a replacement for a previous laminated timber bridge that connected Salt Ayre to Morecambe Harbour.
Looking at photographs of the original Greyhound Bridge, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks more than a little familiar...
The bridge that we all know as the modern Greyhound road bridge was constructed in 1911, and once again carried the railroad over the Lune toward Morecambe. The railway company spotted an opportunity to recycle components from the old Greyhound bridge, and began moving ironwork up the river to Halton.
In 1913 the current bridge at Denny Beck was opened. Built from the bones of Lancaster's demolished old wrought iron Greyhound bridge. (Could this be why the nearest pub to the bridge in Halton is called The Greyhound?). The bridge's narrow construction features double beams of heavy riveted iron latticework, with much of the structure encased in a concrete deck. Underneath, the bridge is supported above the water on a series of cross-braced trestle piers, with additional inclined braces on the upstream side to protect the main legs from floating debris.
The railway company owned the bridge and continued to operate it as a toll bridge until 1966 when the railway and station finally closed. The bridge's long term status as a toll crossing earning it the local nickname 'the penny bridge' as it cost a penny to cross.
Responsibility for maintenance of the bridge was a contentious issue for many years after the closure of the railway. The matter must have been resolved however, as in the 1990's the bridge underwent a significant renovation.
Cars and foot traffic alike use the bridge, which is rated to take 3 tons and vehicles up to 6 feet in width. The bridge has been fitted with several yellow bollards, which divide the single lane, bi-directional carriageway from the narrow footpath. Over the years these bollards have traded paint with hundreds of vehicles, and doubtless been cursed to hades and back by Halton's drivers! The lack of traffic lights, and no defined priority for right of way, means that drivers have to negotiate with on-coming vehicles about who gets to go first. This has lead to some pretty spectacular stand-offs! There have been many awkward occasions where drivers have met head-to-head in the middle of the bridge, with queues of cars trailing behind both sides. One notable confrontation saw a driver take his keys from the ignition before he walked away, leaving his car, and the debate about priority, behind him!
In 2015 storm Desmond raised the level of the Lune so high that the flood waters passed over the deck of the bridge! The iron latticework was choked with sticks, straw, leaves and rubbish for weeks afterwards. Remarkably the bridge withstood the force of the water and the many impacts from floating debris, without need of repair.
Not bad for a hundred year old bridge with 150 year old bones!
Denny Beck Bridge, Denny Beck Lane, Halton, LA2 9HQ
Since penning this blog post Phil Black from the chippy has gone on to star in a local history video on this very subject. Give it a watch here:
Halton Bridge is just one of many elements that make the village an interesting place to visit. It also boasts an open air skatepark (free to use, open 24 hours), an eco village, adventure playground, award winning chip shop, riverside walks and dozens of quaint or historic buildings.
This year, for the first time ever, Black's chippy is proud to announce that we have an entrant into the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year awards! Junior fryer and long term staff member Brett Coulton has entered the competition and been accepted through to the interview stage! The competition is widely supported by the fish and chip industry and the young friers are frequently invited to industry events. The first of these was a general invitation to attend a training day at the KFE School of Frying Excellence in Market Deeping near Peterborough. KFE is a prominent name in range manufacture and fitting, and runs one of the most popular training programs in the industry. Here is what Brett had to say about the experience:
I caught the train down to Peterborough from Lancaster on the day before the training session. KFE had laid on a meal for everyone at a local restaurant so we could network and get to know each other. I had steak and chips as I thought I might be getting plenty of seafood the next day!
The training session started at 9am in the incredible School of Frying Excellence. The space includes prep areas, a professional grill and two high efficiency frying ranges. We were formally introduced to our award winning trainers; Mark Petrou, Nigel Hodgson, Callumn Richardson and Gary Rosser. Gary talked to us about the wide range of fish that is commonly available to British Seafood restaurants and take-aways. I am used to frying a broad selection of fish at Black's Chippy as part of our specials menu. Whilst I was familiar was Cod, Haddock, Plaice, Hake and Pollock, I did learn a lot about other species such as Monk fish, Lobster and Muscles. We were shown best practice methods for making batter, assessing the freshness of a fish and how to cut a fish to a suitable frying weight.
There were demonstrations on frying and grilling techniques by the instructors. I was fascinated by cooking on the grill, which is a method used more by seafood restaurants than chip shops. The essential lesson was that the best quality meal depended on only exposing the fish to 'clean' areas of the grill top. Also care had to be taken not to press the flesh of the fish into the heat of the grill as this causes moisture and flavor to be lost during cooking. The demonstrations on range frying were interesting as the KFE Kiremko and Perfecta ranges were new high efficiency models. They use less gas than a traditional range and have built in fire suppression and oil filtration systems.
In the afternoon we were separated into blue and green teams for a cook off! The first challenge was to prepare fish and chips on the range. Our team produced crispy chips and a lightly battered Pollock. The second challenge was to prepare a grilled fish with side salad, restaurant style. We were praised for a sweet moist fish and a flavorsome salad.
The whole experience was brilliant, and very educational. There is always something to learn and something new to try with fish and chips. I've come away with some recipes for homemade fish cakes and homemade tartar sauce which I'm planning on making for the chippy in Halton. The next stage of the interview process for the Drywite Young Fish Fryer of the Year Award is coming up next week. I'm really hoping that I can show off some of my new knowledge in support of entry. I'm very proud to have my KFE School of Frying Excellence certificate on display in the chippy. Wish me luck in the competition and look out for my homemade dishes on the specials menu board!
Halton's train station is the last remaining station building on a former railway line that ran between Lancaster and Clapham. (Not to be confused with Halton Station in Cheshire) The original timber station building was opened by the 'Little' North Western Railway company in November 1849. Whilst the village residents and industry owners may have celebrated the arrival of the Iron Road, access was an issue. The River Lune separates Halton from it's railway station, and the single lane bridge at Denny Beck was operated as a toll bridge (owned by the railway!)
Tragedy struck in April 1907, when a spark from the engine of a passing train set fire to oil barrels alongside the station's goods shed. The fire took quickly and the fire brigade were unable to cross the narrow bridge over the river to tackle the blaze. Eventually a train load of railway workers was dispatched from Lancaster, and instructed to form a human chain, passing buckets of water up from the river. The original building was completely destroyed, however the station was rebuilt in a mixed brick and timber design.
The line between Morecambe and Wennington was eventually closed in January 1966, and Halton station along with it. The building was immediately purchased by Sir Harold Parkinson and donated to Lancaster University's Boating Club. Sir Harold was reputed to be a difficult man, and apparently was rather insistent that in exchange for their new boathouse, LUBC ought to strive to win the Roses Varsity race. To their credit the rowers from Lancaster University beat the team from York by 10 lengths! Hopefully this sound investment made Sir Harold a happy man.
The grade 2 listed station building is now better considered a boathouse. The ground floor of the station houses a fleet of rowing boats and other rowing equipment, while upstairs has been outfitted with showers, changing rooms and a kitchen. Unfortunately there was damage to the property due to flooding during storm Desmond in November 2015. Doors and shutters were damaged and some boats were destroyed.
These days the station is probably best known as a landmark along the Lune Valley Cycle Track, located about 2 miles out of Lancaster city centre toward Caton. The goods shed, station building and part of the platform remain intact, and a free car park has been established on the former track bed. Halton's train station is one of many quaint and unexpected elements which help to make the village so charming.
Visitors to Halton Station, passing cyclists and walkers alike should consider a trip over the iron bridge into the village proper. Halton boasts an excellent pub (The Greyhound) on the opposite bank to the Station, an adventure playground and skate park. There is also an Award Winning fish and chip shop on the High Road.
Halton Railway Station, Denny Beck Lane, Halton, Lancashire, LA2 9HQ
Halton's concrete bowl skatepark is one of the village's star attractions. Built by Maverick Skateparks back in 2011, the facility has proved itself to be popular with skate boarders, roller bladers and BMX riders alike. The skatepark is cleverly designed with two main bowls, the larger of which is wrapped around a central pyramid, making the experience much more like skating in a three bowl park. The second bowl is deeper and narrower, making it both more challenging, and more suitable for flips and stunts. The park is smooth and fast, with plenty of transitions, two spines and a manny pad. To get more of a perspective of the park from a riders point of view, pay a visit to the Facebook group, Halton Skatepark Local Riders Group.
The skatepark is free of charge to use and is open to the public 24 hours a day. The park is popular and attracts people of all ages. During the school holidays very young children can be seen loaded down with helmets and crash pads giving the ramps the first try. The bigger kids are generally very patient and give way to the younger ones 9 times out of 10. For the most part it is the older kids and teenagers who frequent the skatepark, although it isn't uncommon to see adult boarders or BMXers grinding away during school hours.
Halton bowl skatepark is managed by the village centre, which provides ample parking, a cafe and toilets immediately adjacent to the skatepark. The site also boasts an adventure playground, a kiddies play park, a large open green and an enclosed multi-purpose sports pitch. See the centre@Halton's tripadvisor page for reviews.
The park is close to local bus routes, and easily accessible by car. ( ...oh and there is a great chippy on the High Road, only 5 mins walk away!)
Halton Skate Park, Low Road, Halton, LA2 6NH
We are happy to regularly provide St Wilfrids School with gift vouchers for use as raffle prizes in their fundraising efforts. In return we get cute thank you notes like these!