The history of Northwich is rich and varied which is closely tied to the salt industry. Salt has helped shaped the town visitors see today. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the Romans extracted salt in the area through brine springs. Salt of course was an important commodity in Roman times.
It is believed they had a settlement here because of a strategic river crossing on the River Weaver. Roman building remains were also discovered in the Northwich area now known as Castle.
Into the Middle Ages and Northwich found fame as one of a number of ‘wich’ towns; a suffix applied to towns which were involved in the production of salt, including Middlewich and Nantwich.
It is mentioned in the Domesday Book, which was created for William the Conqueror, where the presence of a salt house is documented. This shows that the town was producing salt by 1086.
Northwich was valued at £8, the same as Middlewich, although Nantwich received a higher valuation of £21.
For the remainder of the Middle Ages, the process of salt production was controlled by authorities. From the 17th Century onwards, the substance really helped shape the Northwich you see today.
Early Modern History of Northwich – Salt & SUbsidence
Salt beds beneath Northwich were re-discovered in 1670 by the Smith-Barry family as they searched for coal. This led to salt mining starting up again which saw a boom in the town’s prosperity.
The production of salt really put Northwich on the map and saw the creation of the Brunner Mond Plant. Producing Soda Ash, the plant went on to be called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and is now known as Tata Chemicals Europe.
However, as it became expensive to mine for salt, hot water was pumped through mines to dissolve it. Salt was then extracted from the resultant brine.
Catastrophically, this method weakened the mines leading to subsidence. From the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, buildings all across Northwich were lost to subsidence and this led to the 1891 Brine Subsidence Compensation Act being introduced. This allowed businesses affected by subsidence to claim money back to compensate for the damages caused.
Subsidence also saw a special mode of construction recommended for buildings to cope with salt mining. As a result, light timber framing was reintroduced. Buildings had jacking points in their frames so even if the ground sank, a building could be jacked up or even moved. This is why we see so many timber-framed structures in Northwich today.
Modern developments have also featured Northwich’s heritage in the shape of building design and business names.
Millions of pounds are currently being invested into Northwich’s infrastructure, shopping and leisure provision while organising bodies within the town, such as the Northwich Business Improvement District and Northwich Town Council, constantly develop and deliver events and initiatives to drive footfall.