Samuel Lewis - A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)


NORTHWICH, a market-town in the parochial chapelry of WITTON, which is included in that part of the parish of GREAT-BUDWORTH which is in the hundred of NORTHWICH, county palatine of CHESTER, 17½ miles (E.N.E.) from Chester, and 173 (N.W.) from London, containing 1490 inhabitants.

The name of this place is intended to point out its situation with regard to the other wiche's, or salt towns. Camden states that it was called by the Britons Hellath, or Hellah Du, meaning the Black Salt Town: it is situated on the line of the northern Watling-street, and the same author is of opinion that its brine springs were used by the Romans. At the Norman survey it constituted part of the demesne belonging to the earldom of Chester, and eventually passed to the crown: in the reign of Richard III., the manor was, with many others, granted to the Derby family, but it has since been alienated. During the civil commotions in 1643, the town was fortified, and the parliamentary forces had a garrison here; the first attack of the royalists was unsuccessful, but, on the arrival of a reinforcement, they took the town and garrisoned it; it was, however, subsequently retaken by the parliamentarians, and retained by them during the remainder of the war.

What is usually considered, from the contiguity of the streets, to constitute the town, lies on the verges of the adjoining townships of Witton, Castle-Northwich, Winnington, Leftwich, Marston, and Anderton, at the confluence of the rivers Dane and Weaver, and at the intersection of the high road from Chester to Manchester, with that from London to Liverpool: it is irregularly built, the streets are paved and lighted, many of the houses are ancient, and the inhabitants are supplied with water conveyed by pipes from a reservoir. The commercial prosperity of Northwich is entirely dependent on its numerous brine springs and extensive mines of rock-salt, in which article the trade is so great as to produce an annual export of one hundred thousand tons from the springs alone: they were discovered at a very early period, and are usually from twenty to forty yards in depth; the water is so intensely impregnated as to be fit for immediate evaporation. The brine being raised by pumps set in motion by steam-engines, is conveyed directly, by means of pipes, into pans from thirty to forty feet square ; these are fixed over furnaces, the heat arising from which causes the water to evaporate, when the salt chrystallizes on the surface, and ultimately sinks to the bottom. The evaporation being completed, the salt is put into moulds perforated at the bottom to drain off the moisture, and afterwards dried in rooms heated by hot air pipes, or in stoves, when it is ready for sale. The grain of salt differs in size according to the degree of heat that is applied; a period of from twenty to twenty-four hours is required to dry a pan of coarse-grained salt, whilst two pans of salt having a fine grain may be worked off in that time; hence the latter is considerably cheaper than the former. The mines of rock-salt were discovered in 1670; the upper stratum, lying about sixty yards below the surface of the earth, is ten yards thick: about 1773, a second stratum, of superior quality and ten feet in thickness, was discovered, at the depth of one hundred and ten yards, the intermediate space being occupied by a solid mass of stone. This alone is worked, and by the following process; a shaft is sunk, and on reaching the mine, a roof is left, which is supported by pillars of the same material; as the excavation proceeds the fragments are raised in buckets, by means of steam-engines. The pits include an area of two, three, or four acres, and when greatly illuminated, present a singularly magnificent appearance, the light being reflected from all points in every variety of hue, as from a promiscuous assemblage of mirrors and prisms. The rock-salt is conveyed down the Weaver: one-third undergoes a refining process at Frodsham, and at the works on the Lancashire side of the Mersey, and the remainder is sent to Liverpool, whence it is exported to Ireland and the ports of the Baltic. From an account published in 1818, it appears that two hundred thousand tons of manufactured salt, and upwards of forty thousand tons of rock-salt, were landed at Liverpool during the preceding year, and that upwards of two hundred and eighty thousand bushels are annually sold for internal consumption, by far the greater portion having been obtained in this neighbourhood; since that period the business has materially increased. The number of vessels thus employed, and which return with coal, is about three hundred, of from ninety to one hundred tons burden each.

Many others are engaged exclusively in the importation from Liverpool of timber, grain, wine, spirituous liquors, raw cotton, grocery, &c., and these frequently return with oak timber. Some vessels of small burden are built here in the docks and shipyards. Facilities of water-carriage are supplied by the Weaver, which flows through the town, and the Grand Trunk canal, which passes in a semicircular direction through the salt-works, about one mile to the northward.

The market, which is held by prescription, is on Friday; and there are fairs on April 10th, for cattle only, on August 2nd, and December 6th, which are numerously attended by the manufacturers from Manchester, Yorkshire, Birmingham, and Sheffield, with their respective goods, and by venders of Irish linen; a commodious range of booths for their use was erected about a quarter of a mile from the town by Mr. Mort, a late lord of the manor of Northwich. Courts leet and baron are held, at which constables and other officers are appointed. The general quarter sessions, formerly held here once in the year, were removed to Knutsford in 1784.

There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyan Methodists.

Here is a charity school for twelve poor children, with a small endowment given by Thomas Key, in 1735.


From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England  (1831) ©Mel Lockie