12th December 1670. The Salt of the Earth.
Salt-making is referred to as ‘Walling’, the Anglo-Saxon for Boiling. British production comes from the mined mineral Halite and evaporation from the sea.(1)
Much comes from Cheshire and it was Today in an issue of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1670, that it recorded the discovery of salt near Northwich.
Adam Martindale in a letter to the Society said that John Jackson of Halton had reported that, ‘about lady day last, as he was searching for coals on behalf of the Lord of the Soil, William Marbury esq’, salt had been discovered in the area.(2)
Rock-salt is found underground as a sedimentary evaporate mineral and Jackson was referring to the re-discovery by employees of the Smith-Barry Family, whilst looking for coal in the grounds of the family home Marbury Hall, Cheshire.
Coal was now becoming vital for evaporation of the salt as most of the local timber had been consumed in the process, and this allowed the Liverpool merchants to gain a foothold in the conservative Cheshire business.
Thus was Northwich raised from a sleepy, dirty town ‘full of smoak’, and riddled with restrictive practices into the centre of the British salt trade.(3)
Earl Rivers had established his mine in 1669 at Leftwick, near Northwich, and obtained his coal by packhorse and occasional wagon. Much came from Lancashire and some came by boat up the River Weaver. By the 1690s there were several rock pits in area.
There is reference in Domesday.Book to the ‘Domesday witches’, which mentioned apart from Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich along with Droitwich in Worcestershire.
It is not surprising that salt was subject to taxation, which died out before the Tudor period only to be reintroduced in 1641 in The Commonwealth, withdrawn in 1660 and reinstated in 1693.
It had a duty at two shillings a bushel on foreign salt; one shilling on native salt with exemptions for fisheries. A novel form of the 1693 tax was that it was levied at point of manufacture not point of use. In 1696 the tax doubled.(4)
The Tax remained in force until abolished in 1825, which required about 600 full-time officials in collection. Commissioners were paid £500 per annum, a vast sum for what was probably a sinecure.
The rise of Liverpool Port came from salt and coal trading, and Liverpool was also to create its own salt industry on the Mersey by the evaporation process, which was cheaper than mining.
(1) The Rules of Walling, amongst other things, restricted the times of salt evaporation.
Potassium Chloride or the mineral Sylvite, and the British Halite are sources of food flavouring, fertilizers, plastics, soap, paper, explosives, bleach, detergents, dyestuffs, margarine.
(2) In 1670.‘A gentleman of good account….assures me that in our County there is lately found a great rarity, viz a Rock Salt from which issues a vigorous sharp brine’.
(3) In 2014 Northwich was cited as one of the 101 best places to live by the Sunday Times.
(4) A Salt Commission was founded in 1702. The 1702 Salt Act.Report of the [committee for salt duties] to the Lord High Treasurer, drew attention to the defects in the Last Salt Act. (1 Anne c 15).
The Commission ceased in 1730 with discontinuation of salt duties. It was abolished in 1798. Duties re-imposition (Calendar of Treasury Books and Papers) 1731-4 P.229, 5.
Ref: Calendar of Treasury Papers. Vol 3. 1702-7.
Ref: The Riches Beneath our Feet: How Mining shaped Britain. G. Coyle 2010. Technology/engineering.
Ref: wikipedia.org/history_of_salt/northwich/Pic of crystal.