Northwich, Cheshire, UK. History: The Salt Industry and its Legacy
(and 9): Ashton & Neumann's Flashes
An interesting (!) description by Dr William Jackson, who in 1669 wrote papers for the Royal Society describing his observances of salt making.  He wrote at length on the physical details of the pans, their size, instruments and tools used and also the ingredients which went into the process.  For example:-
    "They then put into their pans amongst the brine a certain mixture, made of about 20 gallons of brine, and 2 quarts of calves, cows and chiefly sheeps bloud, mixt into a claret-colour; of this mixture they put about 2 quarts into  a pan that holds about 360 quarts of brine; this bloudy brine, at first boiling of the pan, brings up a scum, which they are careful to take off with a skimmer, made with a wooden handle thrust through a long square trencher; this they call a Loot.  Here they continue their fires as quick as they can, till half the brine be wasted, and this they call 'boyling up the fresh' (froth?).  But when tis half boiled away they fill their pans again with a new brine out of the 'ship' (so they call a great cistern by their pans sides, into which their brine runs through the wooden gutters from the pump, that stands in the pitt;) then they put into the pan 2 quarts of the mixture following: they take a quart of whites of eggs, beat them thoroughly with as much brine, till they are well broken; then mix them thouroughly with 20 gallons of brine, as before was done with the bloud; and thus that which they call the whites is made.  As soon as this is in, they boyle sharply, till the second scum arise; then they scum it off as before and boyle very gently till it corne; to procure which, when part of the brine is wasted,  they put into each pan of the content aforesaid about a quarter of a pint of the best and strongest ale they can get; this makes a momentary ebullition, which is soon over, and then they abate their fires yet not so that they keep it boyling all over, though gently; till a kind of scum comes on it like a thin ice; which is the first appearance of the salt; then that sinks, and the brine everywhere gathers into cornes at the bottom to it, which they gently rake together with their Loots; with their Loots they take up the Brine droppings from it and throw it into their barrows, which are cases made with flat cleft wickers, in the shape almost, of a sugar loaf, the bottom uppermost.  When the barrow is full, they let it stand for an hour and a half in the trough, where it drains out all the Leach brine above said, then they remove it into their hot house behind their works, made there by two tunnels under their pans, carried there for that purpose.  The Leach brine that runs from the barrows, they put into the next boyling, for tis to their advantage, being salt melted, and wanting only hardening..."
Jackson was of the opinion that the workmen were incorrect in their belief that it was the ale which made the salt granulate.
The Flooding of Platt's Hill Salt Mine, Northwich, Cheshire, UK - 1880
"A little before 6 o'clock on the morning ot the 6th of December 1880, before the men went down, the inundation came.  The land slipped from underneath Peover Brook, and water poured in with an abundant supply from the new flash which is forming in Witton-Cum-Twambrooks, with water from the Witton Flashes and the Weaver Navigation also,which turned the current in the Weaver backwards and filled the mine and the adjoining old workings at a rapid rate."
Thus began the report by Joseph
Dickenson, Mines Inspector.  He continued: Besides the extensive old workings, Platt's Hill was a large mine, with excavations from 15 to 18 feet, the depth of the shafts being 321 feet.
When he arrived at the mines he found the water a mere "..78 feet from the top of Platt's Hill shafts, being considerably above the rock head and nearly level with the Weaver Navigation.  Many acres of surface were still on the move, with large cracks or breaks going on, and water was bubbling up and levelling off in the numerous ponds, and as the air was being forced out under considerable pressure from the old excavations, bringing with it a smell like sewage or the long accumulated remains from powder smoke.
of Ashton's Salt Works and a large chimney had fallen into some of the chasms, and the road, and the brine pipes for conveying brine from the brine pits to salt works were broken up ...  when the inundation was in full force the large ponds surrounding the old fallen in pits looked like so many boiling cauldrons with water and air bursting up over the surface, and on the banks a number of mud volcanoes threw up the wet earth seven or eight feet in height.
"The chief cause of failure seem to have been insufficiency of support and the workings penetrating either into the sump of the winding shaft, or through the rock salt into the marl above it, which caused the roof to fall and allowed fresh water to enter.  The proportion of support left in pillars in these old top bed mines, from what I have seen in the remaining mine at Marston, and from the plans of others, appears to have been more than adequate for the weight to be supported, but it was the roof between the pillars which has given way, owing to the thinness of the rock salt left not being sufficient for the span between the pillars.  In proof of this, it may be added that when one of the mines, known as Ashton's Top Mine, fell in, as herein after described, the proportion as shown on the plan was about one pillar to nine parts excavated; whereas now one to 11 ¼  suffices for the bottom bed, with the greater weight which the pillars have to bear.  In this Ashton's mine the depth of the shaft was 124 feet, the thickness of  marl and marlstone below that was 26 feet to the rocksalt, and the thickness of the excavation in the rocksalt 35 feet; and when the area of the excavation was 0 acres, 2 roods, 22 perches, Cheshire measure of 10,240 square yards to the acre, the content of 32 pillars left for support was 11 ¾ perches, each pillar having an area of nearly 24 square yards. 
    The names of these old top bed mines which have come under my notice are:
Bancroft's Island, which is now submerged; Old Pit at west side of the road from Northwich to Marston, now submerged; Marbury Lane End, now collapsed; Marbury, near the Forge brook, now submerged; two others, about 300 yards west of the foregoing, now submerged ; Rigby's, now closed; Platt's Hill (near the recent bottom bed pits), and three other sets in the same field, now collapsed; several in Witton-Cum-Twambrooks, now collapsed and inundated.  It is very likely, however that there are others.
    The workings in the bottom bed were at nearly double the depth of those in the top bed.  The weight of those pillars would therefore be greater in proportion to the depth.  For this, in the absence of experience, due allowance does not appear to have been made in several instances, and some mines collapsed.  The progress of this collapse seems generally to have been gradual, when it has been due to over pressure, such as may still be seen in the
The Old British and one or two other mines where the pillars are inadequate.  The corners of the pillars become cracked  and then the corners and sides, extending to the internal parts of the pillars, become crushed; the roof creeps or settles nearer to the floor, the portions of the shafts that are in the rocksalt become smaller in diameter, cracks or breaks come in the roof and in a few instances, as in Mr Ellson's old mine, in Wincham, where a miner was shut in and his body never recovered, the roof crashes in.
    Perhaps the most alarming instance of the collapse of any of the rocksalt mines at Northwich was on the
16th October 1838, at Mr Ashton's mine at Dunkirk, in Witton-Cum-Twambrooks. At this mine the top bed had been worked and after that the bottom bed had been sunk too and was being worked, when the mine fell in, carrying with it an engine house, rocksalt house, banksman's house, stable and wheelright's shop, engulfing 12 persons of whom 7 lost their lives.
    This collapsed mine seems to have been abandoned after the collapse, but from plans shown to me by
Mr Thomas Ward, manager of the present works, a new winnings was made near the old workings and in the course of 6 or 7 years afterwards, it became connected with several other mines in the neighbourhood.
    Into this set of connected mines, about the year 1845, the water from
Witton Brook found an entrance into one of the old workings, called Marshall's No.2 shaft and, passing thence by communications and along the rockhead, it filled the mines which were at work and several old workings.  The inundation was accompanied by a great boiling up of water on the surface as the air was driven out and, is said to have caused great excitement in the neighbourhood, but the miners escaped.  It is from this set of inundated mines that Messrs. Worthington and the Cheshire Amalgamated Company now pump brine; Mr Marshall also was pumping, but his shaft collapsed lately.  These inundated mines, so far as i am informed, were:  Barton's, Caldwell's, Marshall's, Naylor's or Marshall's No.2, Swinton's, Thompson's, Thomkinson's, Weakfield's and to which is now to be added, on the 6th December 1880, Thompson and Son's Platt Hill mine.
Another set of old mines which have fallen in and are inundated is in Wincham and Marston.  This set now forms the reservoirs from which Captain Townshend and Mr Henry Neumann pump brine and to which Messrs. Verdin are preparing a brine pit.  The old bottom bed mines in this group comprise those which were worked by messrs. Blackburne,........: Fuller Account Continued Here
26th September 1896
One of many reports on town centre damage:-
"About half past ten on Wednesday morning a house, occupied by
Mrs Williams, and situated at the end of Tabley Street, was almost entirely demolished.  The building had for some time suffered from the ravages of subsidence and was far removed from the perpendicular.  A gale was blowing at the time and, without any warning, the front of the house and roof fell in with a crash.  Mrs Williams had just placed a pan of potatoes at the side of the fire when she heard a crash, but before she could escape she was struck by falling debris.  Almost fainting she managed to get away and took refuge in the home of a neighbour.  The upper portion of the structure and the roof had fallen into the bedroom, smashing a considerable portion of the furniture, and crashed into the floor beneath.  The house is almost a total wreck and will have to be razed to the ground.  Several local photographers have added pictures of the ruins to their collection."
11th October 1912
(1)"Some strange things have been taking place in the
Dunkirk neighbourhood of Northwich, one of the places most seriously affected by subsidence in the Chesire Salt area for some months past.  In May, a large lake known as Worthington's Flash, which was formed as a result of subsidence upwards of twenty years ago, suddenly emptied itself, millions of gallons of water mysteriously disappearing, it is surmised, into the old salt workings which undermine a considerable portion of the neighbourhood.  Some weeks afterwards, probably owing to the heavy rains and the fact that an adjacent brook had broken into the chasm and was there emptying itself for some days, until its course was diverted, the lake was re-formed and the water almost attained its normal height.  At the time the Urban Council took serious note of the matter and, as a necessary precaution in the interests of the public, they closed a neighbouring footpath.  Several minor movements of the earth have since taken place, but a few days ago the water in the Flash began slowly to recede, the climax coming at an early hour on Thursday morning when it completely emptied itself, being accompanied by a big landslide on the side nearest the Manchester Road.  The bed of the lake sank considerably, and it is now stated to be almost 200 feet deep in places.  The huge chasm presents a weird spectacle"
(2) DUNKIRK LAKE VANISHES 12th October, 1912
"The neighbourhood of Dunkirk, Northwich, just now presents a most remarkable appearance owing to the disappearance, for the second time, of the Old Dunkirk Flash or lake.  This particular part of subsiding area of Northwich  has of late leapt into notoriety after a long period of apparent inactivity.  For in May of this year the waters of this considerable lake disappeared into the bowels of the earth and presumably found its way into the old salt workings, which were the original cause of the formation of the lake.  There, the waters apparently settled, and in fact as a result of the heavy rains of the summer and the consequent overflow  from Wade brook, the immense chasm, 100 to 150 feet deep and several acres in extent, was filled up, leaving the place as it was formerly.  Prior to the re-formation of the lake, however, workmen had been employed in plugging the invisible hole, through which the water had surged, depositing hundreds of bags of clay and cement.  The course of the Wade Brook was also diverted, and everything showed signs of settlement until Wednesday afternoon, when workmen in the vicinity observed waters bubbling and performing similar movements to those witnessed prior to the phenomenal incident in May.  About 9 o'  clock in the evening the water suddenly transferred itself, rushing through the outside as on the previous occasion, accompanied by a rumble alike to thunder, or the quick passage of a railway train through a tunnel.  The sight now presented may be described as that of a crater of a volcano after eruption.  Millions of gallons of water have disappeared and the area of the May subsidence has extended by several hundred feet, the sides of the chasm being now almost perpendicular, while the depth, given roughly, may exceed 200 feet.  Several brine pumping shafts are situated in the near vicinity and steps are apparently being taken to ascertain which shaft is extracting the brine from beneath Dunkirk, as on Thursday a green liquid was introduced into a small area of water at the foot of the declivity.  As is generally known the path on the Witton Brook side of the subsidence has been closed as dangerous to pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and our representative has it as an old rock miner's opinion that this is not by any means the last we shall see and hear of mysterious Dunkirk, and we may expect weird developments in the near future."
The Warrington Road, Wincham, between the point where the Townshend Arms formerly stood and the Salt Union's Coronation shaft is in a most dangerous condition, and the fact is periodically being evidenced by small but ominous landslides.  The seriousness of the situation was forcibly illustrated on Wednesday when a fissure, which though not very wide or deep covered a big area, made its appearance and threatened not only a portion of the roadway, but also a large area of the adjacent land.  The scene of this more recent warning is midway between the site of the public house referred to and the pumping shaft, and almost opposite what is know as the 'Big hole'.  Early on Wednesday morning a slight crack was observed in the centre of the road and it extended some 30 yards, but further inspection showed that it really described part of a circle which was about 200 feet in diameter.  During the day the crack widened to such an extent that it was only just possible to stride over it with comfort.  The affected area is on the left as the pedestrian approaches the brine pumping villages of Marston and Wincham, and it takes in two small flashes created by sinking land, while the road itself shows a distinct fall.  During the morning and afternoon cart loads of cinders and clinker were brought to the scene and deposited into the ever widening breach which seemed to consume the deposits without appreciable difference until late in the afternoon, when the road was made passable.  Even then there was an incident which proved that the position 'down under' cannot be surveyed with certainty, and that before anything can be done the road will have to be excavated and thoroughly inspected.  About 4.30 in the afternoon a heavy motor car of the transport type belonging to the War Department was coming to Northwich from the direction of Warrington and while endeavouring to avoid the crack the wheels became stuck in the moving earth.  It was impossible to proceed further and assistance was sought and Mr Raynor, the manager to the Salt Union, accompanied by a squad of workmen, set to work to remove the vehicle from its position.  But despite ingenious methods and the use of jacks and planks the task was not completed until hour later.
Parish Clerks Diary
1747 - 1834
1747Distemper in horned cattle
1767The organ first fixed up in Witton Chapel, Sept. 7th
1770Ashton's Rockpit sunk in Twambrooks
1770Sir Peter Leicester died, February 12th
1772Clerk Miller died. James Swindall succeeded.
1773Mr Furey's and Mr Oldham's houses built
1774Kent's Rock Pit sunk in Twambrook's
1774Brass candlesticks fixed up in Witton Church by Thomas Marshall and Robert Deakin
1775Joiner at Winnington Hall drowned, January 17th
1775Mr Parland came in supervision in this collection
1775Mr Kent's Baron's Quay Salt Works began: Mr Bromfield, clerk
1775Richard Pennant's Esq., Winnington Hall began to be built in 1773, completed 1775
1775Methodist Chapel first preached in
1775Mr Mort's Flat, "The Quebeck" launched, May 6th
1775------- Leigh Esq., died, June 15th
1775New Street began to be built by Mr Marshall
1777Samuel Thornley hanged April 10th and gibbeted April 11th
1777Earthquake in Northwich, September 14th
1777Jack Painter suffered for setting to Ports-mouth Dockyard
1778An awful earthquake in England, September 14th
1779Thomas Cholmondley died, June 1st
1779Samuel Thompson's haystack caught fire, August 18th
1780The Rock-Getters pulled off their prices 4d a ton, February, 1780
1780A great stir in the Rock Trade. March 20th
1780Robert Pownall died January, and succeeded by Johnson
1780Samuel Birkenhead drowned, May 16th
1780Oratorio in Witton Chapel, October 6th; new vestry built
1780Cotton Works began to be built, August
1780The first Fair in York Buildings, built by Mr Mort, December 6th
1780Riots in London, when Newgate was burned down, August 1st
1783Mr Marshall's Brig launched, November 8th
1784The Cut for water for the new cotton works finished, June
1784Grand Day at the Siege of Gibraltar, September 13th
1786Rev. Mr Hadfield died, April 9th
1786Phillip Egerton of Oulton died, May 14th
1786Witton Chapel broken open, June 1st
1786Mrs Cholmondley buried, June 2nd
1786Boundary walked in Northwich by John Mort, 1st July
1786Mr Pownall, clerk to the cotton works, died, August 10th
1786Beef first sold in the New Shambles, October 13th
1786Lady Leicester died, December 8th, aged 54 years
1788Richard Lownds hanged himself in Church Walk, June 30th
1788Coronor's polling in Whalley Meadow
1789Great Illuminations at Northwich, March 26th
1789First stone with a brass plate, laid in Dane bridge, April 7th
1789Oratorio at Witton Chapel, July 4th
1790The first stone laid down at Vale Royal Lock, June 5th
1790A new wing built at the Cotton Works, and the works repaired, July 9th
1790A new clapper, 51 lbs, for Budworth 8th bell, made by William Stelfox and John Cornes, November 13th
1791First brewing at the new brewery in Northwich, 9 load, February 7th
1791William Lownds gibbeted at Helsby Hill, April 21st
1791Lord Penrhyn's New Road made in August
1791A confirmation at Witton Chapel, July 21st
1792Flatmen stood out for wages, April 5th; held out for 6 weeks
1792John Wharton, Butcher, moved into the Shambles, October 5th
1793John Mort died, January 8th; buried January 12th
1793A Great Wind and Tide, when Acton, Ravenscroft and Cullins were lost, March 3rd
1793The King of France lost his head, January 21st
1793The new basin at Anderton cut in August
1793Edward Miles gibbeted by Warrington, September
1793The Queen of France lost her head, October 16th
1794A husband, wife and child suffocated at Lord Penrhyn's Lodge, November 4th
1798A slip in Weaverham Rough stopped the river, July 22nd
1798Illuminations for Nelson's Victory, October 4th
1798Old officers turned off the salt duties
1799Jonadab Mort died, January 3rd
1799Cotton Works took fire on Sunday, February 17th
1799James Thomas, Stephen Sutton and Mathew Fowls killed by launching a Flat, February 18th
1799Myers' waggon overturned at the 'Cock' in Witton Street and killed a woman and horse, December 11th
1834Began to pull down the old organ and organ gallery and put it up again in the west end of Witton Church in a new gallery erected for that purpose, October 22nd
1834Began to shift the Pulpit and Reading Desks in Witton Church to the situation in which they now stand, December 8th
13th December 1913: Road Subsidence at Wincham
Northwich Lake Again Disappears. Two  local newspaper's reports of the time
7th March 1914: Ominous Signs Near Wincham
   The Adelaide mine had been in existence for many years and was the last mine to be worked in the Northwich area, finally closing on 13th March 1928.  It had been visited on many occasions by people from all over the world and they had always been privileged by the owners to descend and inspect.  The effect of the closure would mean hardship for the 40-50 hands who had been employed at the works.
    Within a mile of the 'Big Hole' was a large expanse of water. Within a few  hours of the flooding of the mine the water level in the 'Big Hole' had dropped three to four feet and it was estimated that millions of gallons of water had entered some underground channel and a large volume of this has presumably entered the Adelaide mine.  Nowadays it is sometimes possible to see areas of the old brickworks showing above the expanse of water, the remains of the old Adelaide site.[
Picture ] (The area is now popular with wild-life and local anglers!)
The old Adelaide mine was situated at Marston and was one of the largest mines to be worked in the area.  The mine was 336 feet deep and had two shafts within a few feet of each other; the main shaft being for the lowering and raising of men and materials, whilst the other shaft accommodated ventilation pipes.
    In September 1896 the mine was visited by members of the
British Association who were conducted through the workings by Thomas Ward on behalf of the mine owner.  The excavation area in 1896 was given as nearly 15 acres with the roof supported on pillars of 10 yards square, spaced at 20 yard intervals.

At the foot of the main shaft was a spacious hall, hewn out of solid rock salt and known locally as the crystal ballroom, derived from the fact that some years previously, many of the townspeople attended dances held in the mine. [Read:
A Visit to the Crystal Ballroom in 1838]
    When illuminated the mine was a brilliant spectacle, with the light reflecting from the glittering rock.  [Picture:
A Pillar of Salt]  From this cavern ran several 'workings', some of them being over half a mile in length. From these workings, the rock salt was conveyed to the foot of the shaft on bogie trucks drawn by ponies.
[ Pictures:
Rock Salt 'Getting' in the 1920's .  There were 4 ponies used in the workings; their  stables were in a corner of the main hall.]
     The rock-salt, on being drawn up from the shaft, was crushed and ground by machinery and then loaded into barges and rail-trucks; the canal and rail sidings being in close proximity to the mine.
     One of the greatest difficulties the miners had to contend with had been the steady percolation of water into the mine shaft, and a system of wedging had been resorted to.  This type of wedging had on many occasions proved efficient in other mines, often preventing severe flooding of the workings.
    In March 1928 the water was seen to be entering the main shaft at a point half-way down and men were engaged in plugging the hole with wooden wedges.  Every effort was made to arrest the inrush of water but by evening the mine was flooding with increasing rapidity and it was impossible to stem the flow of water.  Workers were lowered into the mine to make observations but found that their oil lamps were being extinguished as the air in the mine was displaced.  [Picture:
Miners Punting through Flood Waters]

  The safety of the ponies was causing concern and they were in danger of being drowned.  The ventilation shaft was the only means of entering the mine but as it was of restricted width it would be impossible to evacuate the ponies.  Mr
Ashbrook of Northwich, who was a licensed horse slaughterer, was sent for and he, in company with some of the mine employees, descended into the mine.  Though the water was rising at an alarming level in the mine they were able to reach the animals and destroy them with the 'humane killer'.  Valuable machinery in the mine was also abandoned, there being no time to bring it to the surface.
Arial view of Ashton's and Neumann's Flashes in 1946.
The area is now being developed as a Country Park. (2003)
Old map of Adelaide mine area
(image produced from the service with permission of Landmark Information Group Ltd. and Ordnance Survey)
Lion Salt Works Trust  (onsite Museum)
point cursor over numbers 1-13 for details of that area
Northwich Salt Museum (situated in the Old Workhouse)
SaltWorkers  and Irish inhabitants
More History
Frontpage & Sitemap
14th March, 1886
For a more detailed look at the map below, go to
Marston area mines
Northwich Station
Wade Brook
Witton Brook
Trent & Mersey Canal
The Old Warrington Road, now re-routed round the north-eastern side of the Flashes
(& 7) Railway branch lines, known as the Mineral lines, which once served the salt mines and works.
(& 6) Railway branch lines known as the Mineral lines, which once served the salt mines and works.
Worthington's Flash, caused by the collapse of Worthington's mine
(& 10) Ashton and Neumann's Flashes, caused by the collapse of their mines.  Later used for the disposal of chemical waste from the works at Winnington. Now growing to some extent as wild-life areas.
(& 9) Ashton & Neumann's Flashes, caused when their mines collapsed and later used for the disposal of waste from the chemical works at Winnington. Now growing to some extent as wild-life areas.
Adelaide mine Flash, caused when that mine was flooded
Lion Salt works; the last open pan salt works, now a museum.
Old lime beds (chemical waste), no longer in use and drying out when this picture was taken.
More reports, and Stories
The Salt Industry and its Legacy
(for Northwich, and its surrounding countryside)
The Ancient Saltways
"For Several years now, the Wincham Road, Northwich, has been in a dangerous state, and there have been innumerable small subsidences in the vicinity.  Subsidence threatened to swallow up the Townshend Arms [pictures, notes and Licensees] at Witton Brow, and when the waters of the Brook skirted it's walls, the building was demolished.  Recent events show that action was not too soon, for since then, the land on which the Inn was erected, has disappeared very rapidly, so quickly in fact, that the road was threatened.  Day after day, boats with cargoes of chemical waste and boulders came up the Brook, and a number of workmen were employed depositing the material at the water's edge - but no sooner had this been done than it seemed to disappear and have no effect. Such have been the events of the last month or so.
    In addition, the Rural Council's workmen have treated the road with tons of clinkers and cinders, making it level, whilst the junction with
Marbury Lane, where the road was sinking fast, as recently as Wednesday twenty carts of material were placed upon the surface.
    During the small hours of yesterday (Thursday) morning, a part of the road opposite the Townshend Arms site collapsed, leaving a circular aperture six yards across and ten feet deep.  The area was intact at midnight, but the collapse had taken place at 5 o'clock when the
Royal Mail motor van passed for Warrington.  During yesterday (Thursday), the hole, which occupied half the road, was filled in, and the place made as safe as the natural conditions there allow.
    The driver, who is well aquainted with the road, safely negotiated the dangerous spot, and later reported the incident to
Constable Platt of Wincham.  It was most fortunate that the heavy van cleared the hole for otherwise it must certainly have swung over into the Flash
Road Damage, Marston/Wincham Road.
Ashton's Salt Works - the morning after
Platt's Hill Mine - the morning after
Tabley Street
The 'Big Hole'