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August - 2023

Alf Croston (C.Eng; M.I.Mech E)

Alf, one of the great characters of the village sadly passed away on 21st July after a short illness. He was 97 years old, and had lived in the village for almost 60 years. I include a full family tribute to him by son Nevil at the end of this article, but most people locally will remember him as a colourful personality who, together with his late wife, Margaret BEM, always dressed up and won the first prize in the Fancy Dress Competition at the Village fete. You can see some of his outfits illustrated below. Alf was a very generous and gentle man, who contributed so much to the Village, either through sport, particularly tennis and badminton, through the Village Shows and Fetes, to his contribution to St James’ Church, as Rector’s Warden, sidesman, reading the lessons at Remembrance Days or at Christmas, and as a member of the Choir. He was also an active member of the Local History Group and supported research and publications with generous gifts. This was particularly the case for the new WWI War Memorial on the Village Green. It’s poignant that a Village Memorial to the work of his dear wife Margaret is also on the Village Green. This meant so much to him.

He was a great story teller, and would often relate his experiences after WWII whilst serving in Austria and Germany. Alf, with a background of an apprenticeship in engineering, later set up his own company, Croston Engineering at Tarvin Mill, producing equipment for the Milling Industry. The company was extremely successful and Alf was renowned in the Milling Industry, producing equipment that is in use all over the UK. Alf was awarded “an Oscar” for his contribution to the Industry for over fifty years. He remained as an active member of the family firm until well into his nineties, well after the normal retirement age, and often had to be forcibly made to take a day off, by Margaret to enjoy their retirement. They were a wonderful couple, well supported by sons Nevil, Linda and family, and Roger, and were major contributors to the life of the village for over half a century.

His funeral service was held at St James’ on Friday 4th August amongst a full congregation of family and friends. It was taken by Rector, Dr Stefan Collier, with the address by Canon K Peter Lee, and prayers by Rev. Gill Hibbert. The augmented Church Choir led the coffin into church, a recognition of his service to the choir for over 50 years. It was a memorable service for someone who had contributed so much to Society and his family and friends over his long and well lived life. He is now re-united with his beloved Margaret in the churchyard at St James’.

  • Alf Croston in the early years

    Alf Croston in the early years

  • Alf Croston

    Alf Croston

  • Church Choir Football Team

    Church Choir Football Team

  • St. James' Choir leading the Flower Service in the 1980's

    St. James' Choir leading the Flower Service in the 1980's

  • Alf  with fellow choir member Len Thomas

    Alf with fellow choir member Len Thomas

  • St. James' Church Choir at Sid Hardy's presentation

    St. James' Church Choir at Sid Hardy's presentation

  • 2008 Celebration at Christleton Parish Hall

    2008 Celebration at Christleton Parish Hall

  • The Christleton Village Shpw 2019

    The Christleton Village Shpw 2019

  • Alf and family with the Dalai Lama

    Alf and family with the Dalai Lama

  • The Village Green in 2020

    The Village Green in 2020

  • Alf's 96th Party

    Alf's 96th Party

  • The Queens Birthday Party 2022

    The Queens Birthday Party 2022

  • Alf at the 2017 Village Show

    Alf at the 2017 Village Show

  • Christleton Village Street Pary 2012

    Christleton Village Street Pary 2012

  • In 2012

    In 2012

  • Christleton Fete 2012

    Christleton Fete 2012

  • Alf just full of News at the Christleton Village Show

    Alf just full of News at the Christleton Village Show

  • Alf dressed up for the 2016 Christleton Fete

    Alf dressed up for the 2016 Christleton Fete

  • The 2016 Christleton Fete

    The 2016 Christleton Fete

  • Christleton Fete

    Christleton Fete

  • Alf and Margaret at Christleton Fete

    Alf and Margaret at Christleton Fete

  • Remembrance Day 2022

    Remembrance Day 2022

  • Gertude's 90th Birthday Party

    Gertude's 90th Birthday Party

  • Village Pilgramage Walk from Christleton Methodist Church

    Village Pilgramage Walk from Christleton Methodist Church

  • Alf and Roger Beating the Bounds

    Alf and Roger Beating the Bounds

  • Alf with Phil Hodges

    Alf with Phil Hodges

  • Alf and Judith Butt

    Alf and Judith Butt

  • Alf and Jan Bowden

    Alf and Jan Bowden

  • Remembrance Day 2021

    Remembrance Day 2021

  • Alf and Pauline Pratt

    Alf and Pauline Pratt


Given by his son Nevill

Service to Celebrate Alf Croston

Dad drove himself to work as normal and was in his office at Tarvin Mill on the day he fell and fractured his hip at the beginning of December. In hospital what he said, very quietly, was “What a mess!” followed by “When can I go home?” He appeared to be making good progress but it turned out to be an event which tragically took away his independence.

Dad outlived nearly all of his contemporaries and it is humbling that so many people have come today to pay their respects. I had thought about giving a resume of each of dad’s 97 years but I don’t think the church does overnights!

Dad was born on 13 October 1925 in Liverpool. His father Charles was chief engineer at an animal feed mill and his mother Ruby was a stay-at-home mum. His brother, also Charles, died some years ago.

Dad passed a scholarship to the Liverpool Collegiate School and on the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 the whole school was evacuated, in the case of dad to Bangor and his brother Charles to Preston.

Initially he was in a large house overlooking the Menai Straits in a family with two servants but then the servants were called up and dad said that he was “offloaded” with another boy to a smaller council property to a family with 3 children and an Italian lodger who was later interned. The evacuees attended school for half the day and the local children went to the same school for the other half day.

He couldn’t work out why the son of the family and the Italian lodger would go out in warm weather wearing heavy coats until the time he was invited to accompany them following which he became a proficient poacher using terriers and a ferret on the local country estate.

After 6 months of not much happening, a period known as the phoney war, he returned to Liverpool and lived through the Blitz.

Having had an interrupted education meant that he was one subject short of being able to go into the 6th form. Because he did not want to resit a year he left school and got a job as a trainee fruit importer. He found that boring so he joined an insurance company. This information came to me from one of many handwritten notes that he squirrelled about the house. In 1943 his father saw an advertisement in the paper to apply for an army engineering cadetship. Dad passed the selection by climbing ropes and proving he had good table manners. He took up the cadetship at Wigan Mining and Technical College where Margaret Spencer was on the secretarial staff. They, of course, later married in 1950.

He was called up in September 1945 and chose REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers). The basic training was in Winchester and on the journey down he and colleagues were laughing and joking in front of 2 elderly ladies. When they told them they were joining the army the ladies replied “well you won’t be laughing much longer”. Those men remained lifelong friends and they held reunions until fairly recently and we believe he may be the last survivor of that group. Dad served in Austria and Germany. One of his many stories was that two of them purloined a senior officer’s staff car and took it for a drive. It would be called TWOC ing now. On being stopped by the military police the excuse they used was that they had just serviced it and were taking it for a test run. Fortunately that story worked. He had a great affection for both countries and he and mum visited many times. They particularly enjoyed the Munich beer festival.

In 1948 he was demobbed and joined W. S Barron and Sons in Gloucester on £2.50 per week with accommodation found. The company designed and manufactured milling equipment and dad became their representative for the North of England based in Chester. When they were taken over he transferred for a couple of years to work for Simon’s in Manchester but he found the regime too bureaucratic. He was headhunted by Miller’s Engineering in Wrexham the family returned to Chester. In 1976, without telling mum, who thought he was late leaving for work, he announced that he was no longer employed and was starting up his own business from the front room. So began Croston Engineering specialising in the design and building of bulk storage and handling systems, mainly in the food industry.

From small beginnings he built up a large network of family businesses and often worked on the basis of a handshake and that one’s word is one’s bond. On rare occasions this tested his faith in humanity but he deprecated the modern tendency of detailed formality instead of applying common sense solutions to problems. He was a chartered engineer and a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. He had a particular interest and expertise in dust explosions and was regarded as an expert in this field. Roger joined the company in 1988 and I, as a solicitor, would occasionally sort out some legal issues. At home he was very happily married to mum and was immensely proud when she was awarded the British Empire Medal. They were a mutual support system for over 65 years. Roger and I never heard them argue and never heard dad swear, even mildly. The closest they came was when dad knocked a jar of honey off the table and it spread itself in a sticky puddle across the carpet. As mum knelt to start cleaning it up she said in a slightly raised voice “Oh Alf”.

Dad was closely involved in village and Chester life. He was part of this church’s community ever since the family moved here in 1964. He was a sidesman, churchwarden, choir member, server and a member of the PCC. Roger and I were members of the St James choir boys’ football team. We were league champions in 1967/1968. I clearly remember dad’s sense of fair play getting the better of him on one occasion. We were playing a match in Christleton and were probably 6 or 7 goals up when, in dad’s eyes, I committed some sort of misdemeanour in the 2nd half and he sent me off. The trouble was that he wasn’t even the referee and the misdemeanour was the quite justified kick I’d aimed at my brother for having missed a sitter.

Dad was a great sportsman and played tennis until he was 90. He played badminton to a high standard and I must have been about 30 years old before I was able to beat him and then it was at squash. He and a former rector of this parish Charles Mack were avid Chester City football fans for years. Dad was a tolerant man who encouraged Roger and myself to follow our own interests. He must have been anxious at times when we went off mountaineering or on expeditions through the Sahara, in my case Kyrgystan, and in Roger’s case Sudan and the Yemen.

He was occasionally forced to confront a challenge. I hadn’t realised that shortly before I introduced him to my wife to be, Linda, that he had voted against divorced people getting remarried in church. I presented him with a divorced, catholic, actress and mother of a little boy, Stuart. However, he came to see Linda in a production of Hello Dolly in which she was playing Dolly Levi. She played at him all night and he was won over. He was a generous grandfather to our children Stuart and Rowena and a proud, if perhaps bemused, great grandfather to his lively great grandchildren Harrison, Maggie and Fraser.

Never one to hold back I’m sure many of you will have memories of him reciting some doggerel or singing a music hall song. “The Flea” was a favourite. He would dress up for the village fête. A newsprint suit or Worzel Gummidge come to mind.

He was highly sociable, belonging to many local organisations such as Round Table and then 41 club, the City club, the Pitt club and Masonic and I know members of these organisations are here today.

There were some things that he couldn’t do. He could not swim out of his depth in a swimming pool. He couldn’t boil an egg to save his life. Mum waited on him hand and foot and we never saw him with a Hoover or dust cloth in his hand. Even on holiday he would ask “where’s the toast?” to be told it was in the toaster and then ask “where’s the toaster?” However, he was a dab hand at washing up. He was generous to a fault and never forgot people.

Dad’s wish was to ensure that the employees of Croston Engineering were secure and that relationships with customers and suppliers should continue into the future. At the time of his accident plans were well advanced to form an employee ownership trust and this was completed in February this year enabling the company to plan for its next phase of life. There is a team of great people who are carrying that legacy into the future. Roger and I are really proud of what he achieved with the company and we will continue to be involved for a time.

I’d like to pay particular tribute to Roger who looked after dad after mum died nearly 7 years ago and who dedicated himself to caring for him in the 7 months between his fall and passing away. Dad was determined to stay at home and not be placed in a residential unit and Roger was determined to keep him at home. That took a huge amount of commitment and dedication against which my occasional helping has been rather pathetic.

Roger was supported by a team of carers and district nurses. They brightened up dad’s days and I hope he brightened up theirs. They do some horribly unrewarding personal tasks with humour and genuine care. I want to thank them so much for all they did for dad and Roger.

Thank you also to rector Stefan and Peter Lee for the care you gave to dad over his last months. He had a strong faith. Several times we thought he was gone only for him to wake up hours after your visits to ask what time it was. He confounded us with his resilience and your blessings undoubtedly revived him . It was a case of “not yet Rector”. So, the epilogue has been written and the book is about to close. Sad though we are to be here, this service is a celebration of a very long, honourable and well lived life. I’m sure you will share your memories. Farewell dad and may you join mum in peace.


Remebering Alf Croston in Christleton

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