Some 30 members and friends of our Club visited The Lion Salt Works near Northwich on Tuesday 13 June 2017. A glorious summer's day and a fascinating visit. We were shown around the works by Tom and George who were very knowledgeable and entertaining.
The Lion Salt Works were opened in 1842 by the Thompson family and remained in family ownership until closure in June 1986. The majority of the salt in the latter years was exported to West Africa but the Biafra war and the military juntas that followed disrupted the market and forced the closure.
After closure the Lion Salt Works Trust was formed with Cheshire West and Chester Council and a radical restoration plan was formulated supported by a £4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The restoration was completed in 2015 and the works including a museum were opened the same year.
Salt was produced using the traditional method of brine evaporation. The onsite brine well was operated by a "nodding donkey" similar to those used in the oil industry. The brine was stored in a large holding tank before being fed into very large iron boiling pans. These evaporating pans were fired by 4 coal fed brick kilns bringing temperatures up to 50 degrees C making working conditions Dickensian. Clothes and clogs became salt encrusted and men worked stripped to the waist alongside women more modestly dressed.
In the Victorian era the women stopped working in the pans as a new morality code came into vogue and they were "banished" to the packing sheds where they had to wear full length hooped skirts. As salt was heavily taxed in the 19th century the ladies skirts made excellent smuggling garments for the tax free black market.
The majority of the salt for export went through Liverpool via the Trent & Mersey canal, which runs parallel to the works, and then onto the Weaver via the Anderton Boat Lift. The Thompson family owned a fleet of canal barges.
The heat made thirsty work so the owners installed an onsite pub, The Red Lion, where the workers could spend their wages and relax and play pub games. Today the pub remains but is "dry" and in it's place there is a very pleasant café and shop.
An excellent visit and highly recommended.