|Northwich : 1850
|At the Domesday Survey, the Wiches, as they were termed, were farmed by the Crown; the works at Nantwich at £10, at Northwich £1. 15s., Middlewich £1. 5s. Certain duties were paid for for every horse load, but these duties varied according to the custom of the Wiches. The Earl's salt pit at Nantwich was toll-free, but then the produce was limited to the purposes of his own household. If he sold any, account was made to the king for two-thirds of the toll. In the reign of Henry VI, Nantwich was the principal place of manufacture, and continued so till long after the civil wars between Charles I and his parliament, at which time there were 216 wich-houses, or salt works, there. Rock salt was first discovered by accident in 1670, near Marbury, whilst searching for coal; and there are now many pits worked in the townships of Marston, Wincham, and Witton near Northwich.
There are two beds of rock-salt, an upper and an inferior. These beds are both horizontally placed on their different levels. For a long time the lower bed was unknown; it was at length discovered by some adventurous persons, who were determined to go deeper, and were rewarded with the discovery of this, the greater deposit of the two. The lower bed, which is 112 yards from the surface, being found on its discovery to be of superior quality. The working of the upper bed was immediately abandoned, and it has been unworked ever since. Ascending from the mines to the surface, above the lower bed, a stratum of indurated clay occurs, tinged variously, and as hard as stone; it is about thrity feet thick. Then comes the upper bed of rock salt, which is upwards of 60 feet in thickness. Above it are layers of clay and marle, tinged red, brown and blue, to the thickness of 120 feet, covered with the vegetable soil composing the surface. These beds of salt lie in a direction from north-east to south-west; their length is doubtful, but has been conjectured at from a mile and a half to two miles. The breadth is more satisfactorily ascertained, as mines have been sunk each side just beyond its boundaries. From these dates it is probable that the traverse breadth of the salt beds is not more than from 1000 to 1400 yards. It has been observed by one well aquainted with the district of which he wrote, that these beds appear to thin off in a direction from the sea, being thicker at the ends next the sea. It is remarkable that so far as our knowledge extends, no organic remains have been discovered in any of the strata covering them, or in the fossil salt itself.
The aspect of the salt in the mine is more that of a smoky quartz than anything else. It is far from being that clear transparent substance which appears to be the general idea formed of it. Often it is mixed with clay, or it is coloured with a dark yellow or brown, or coral red. Sometimes it is met with pure white, and as pelucid as the purest glass, being, indeed, of a whiter lustre than most crystal. Fine specimens of this sort are usually kept for visitors. They make excellent weather glasses, the least humidity in the air being indicated by their surfaces. The temperature of the mines ranges from 45 to 50 degrees, and they are perfectly dry; indeed the miners are somewhat harassed by the dust, and the truckway has the appearance of a Macadamised road on a dry summer day.
A very strange occurrence took place in one of these mines, which is worthy of recording. The floor in a particular portion of it had long been suspected to be hollow, from the sound emitted, when struck. Some persons at length determined to perforate it, and with a chisel and hammer they soon effected their object, when up burst through the hole a jet of inflammable gas, which took fire and streamed up in a gigantic flame to the roof of the mine, full sixteen feet. The flame was at length extinguished, and the hole has been stopped up ever since. It is singular that in America a similar occurrence took place in boring for salt.
The great Marston salt mine, the property of Thomas Lyon, Esq., was sunk about 70 years ago, when a bed of salt was found at the depth of 60 yards, which was worked for some time, when the present bed was discovered, whichis 112 yards below the surface. Individuals of all ranks and classes have been down this mine, the workings of which extend over 30 acres. The roof is supported by prodigious pillars, 30 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 45 feet apart. A visit to this subterraneous region is highly interesting. At every step, flashes of broken light gleam from the floor, or are glanced from the sparry roof; and it is easy to imagine that we are travelling the pearly streets of some enchanter's hall. The explosions which the blasting occasion are tremendous thunderings, which shake the whole mine. A muffled report follows, and re-echoes in a strange manner along the galleries. The Grand Duke Michael of Russia went down the Marston mine when in England, a few years since. On a late meeting of the British Association, at Liverpool, 80 members of the Association, by invitation of the proprietors, visited the mine, the principal part of which was illuminated with upwards of 4000 candles, tastefully displayed against the glittering rock; and a table was placed for the gratifiacation of the company, decorated with flowers and wax-lights, supplied with every delicacy, and a profusion of the choicest wines.
It has been estimated from official returns, that upwards of 600,000 tons of white salt, and about 120,000 tons of rock-salt was conveyed upon the Weaver in the year 1848, the great bulk of which is sent to Liverpool for exportation. It may be mentioned as a remarkable fact, that although Poland contains one of the largest salt deposits in the world, it is partly supplied with salt from this kingdom. The rock salt is sold at 8s. per ton, common white salt at 7s. 6d., and the stoved, refined salt at 13s. per ton.
One of the most curious circumstances, with reference to the salt mining district, is the inequality of the ground in the vicinity of Northwich, interspersed with land-slips, which has a very strong resemblance to a territory shaken by an earthquake. A lake of not much less than 100 acres has appeared within the last forty years, and under its waters are the sites of former salt works, and a log was pointed out to us as the only relic of a cottage, now buried in the waters. An intelligent inhabitant assured us, that a favourite summer's walk of his lay through a deep part of the lake, which is now navigable for vessels; these are evidences of a gradual subsidance of the land, of a very singular kind. As far as could be ascertained, the rate of subsidence is about one foot in each year. There is no doubt that this interesting, though destructive phenomena, is entriely due to the brine springs; the immense quantity of salt annually removed by the water, leaves a space which is filled by the subsidence of the superincumbent soil, and this sinking below the rivers level, is immediately covered with water on the surface.
Many of the houses are screwed and bolted together, to keep them secure, and if the salt works continue to be prosecuted with their present vigour, the time will come, when a great portion of the busy Northwich will have found a grave beneath the waters of the Weaver. At times, instead of the gradual subsidence we have been speaking of, there is an instantaneous sinking of considerable plots of ground, which is caused by the top bed of salt having been got and nothing left to support the superincumbent masses of earth.
A disasterous event took place on October 16th, 1838, when the ground gave way, and a rock-house, tower, gin-house, engine-house, stables, and two cottages, were thrown into a heap of ruins, at the depth of 15 yards from the surface; and twelve individuals were also carried down, and seven of them overwhelmed by the falling ruins of the buildings, were taken out dead.
A corn mill fell about 3 years ago, near to which is the Leicester Arms public house, which by a gradual subsidence of the earth within the last 20 years, has converted the sitting rooms and tap-room into cellars, and the apartments used as sleeping rooms at that period are now used as the sitting rooms and tap-room.