By Brenda Smethurst - 19th March 2017 6:07am
A Celebration of Salt — The Story of Nantwich Brine
On Thursday evening during the ADHS meeting we were treated to an excellent talk on the history of the Nantwich salt industry, illustrated by a well-chosen slide show.
We were surprised to hear there were indeed 4 "wyches", not 3 as most of us supposed: Nantwich (with the purest and whitest salt), Middlewich, Northwich and Dirtwich, which lies between Whitchurch and Malpas.
There is evidence of Iron-Age salt production from the discovery of Briquetage pot remains which were made from locally-mined clay, but the Romans were the first to have proven production of salt in this area, supplying their Northern frontiers with this precious commodity. In 2 A.D there was a salt-making works in Kingsley Fields, Nantwich, and the Saxons made salt in the Snowshill area near today's swimming pool.
In 1070 there was only 1 wich (or salt) house and by 1086, when the Domesday survey took place, this had increased to 8 wich houses. During the 12th and 13th centuries the industry was centred mainly on the Wood Streets area off Welsh Row, but Nantwich was always slow in innovation in its salt production.
By the 16th and 17th centuries, when the industry was at its height, production methods had not advanced at all. Wood supplies in Cheshire then decreased and the industry in Nantwich declined due to high production costs, fuel problems (no coal available locally) and competition, especially from France. By 1856 the last wich house in Nantwich closed.
Graham explained how salt was a useful political tool throughout the ages and a source of revenue for the Government. For example, in 1774 one local business, which produced 500 tons of salt per annum, was taxed £5000 for that year, which would be equivalent to £500,000 today.
Graham concluded his talk by telling us about the local salt baths, in particular the Brine and Medical Baths opened in 1883 in Shrewbridge, but this too was a failure and closed in 1947. Nantwich Brine Pool for swimmers was opened in 1935, and of course is still going strong.
But it was a really poignant end for a once highly successful and long-lasting local industry, which Graham brought to life in a fascinating talk.
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