Northwich

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Northwich is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies in the heart of the Cheshire Plain, at the confluence of the rivers Weaver and Dane. The town is about 18 miles (29 km) east of Chester and 15 miles (24 km) south of Warrington.

The area around Northwich has been exploited for its salt pans since Roman times, when the settlement was known as Condate. The town has been severely affected by salt mining with subsidence historically being a large problem. However, recent investment in mine stabilisation is set to change the town with the ‘Northwich Vision’ being a plan for future development work.

During Roman times Northwich was known as Condate, meaning “the confluence”, probably due to its location at the meeting point of the rivers Dane and Weaver.

Northwich can be identified through two contemporary Roman documents. The first of these is the Antonine Itinerary, a 3rd-century road map split into 14 sections. Two of these sections, or Itinerary, mention Condate, namely: Itinerary II which describes “the route from the Vallum to the port of Rutupiae”, or the route between Hadrian’s Wall in northern England and Richborough on the Kent coast; and Itinerary X is called “the route from Glannoventa to Mediolanum” and details the route between Ravenglass fort, Cumbria and Mediolanum (now Whitchurch, Shropshire). The second document is the 7th-century Ravenna Cosmography. Again this document refers to Condate between the entries for Salinae (now Middlewich, Cheshire) and Ratae (now Leicester, Leicestershire), at the time the capital of the Corieltauvi tribe.

The Romans’ interest in the Northwich area is thought to be due to the strategic river crossing and the location of the salt brines. Salt was very important in Roman society; the Roman word salarium, linked employment, salt and soldiers, but the exact link is unclear. It is also theorised that this is the basis for the modern word salary. Another theory is that the word soldier itself comes from the Latin sal dare (to give salt). See History of salt for further details. There is archaeological evidence of a Roman auxiliary fort within the area of Northwich now known as “Castle” dated to AD 70. This and other North West forts were built as the Romans moved north from their stronghold in Chester.

The association with salt continues in the etymology of Northwich. The “wich” (or wych) suffix applies to other towns in the area – namely Middlewich, Nantwich and Leftwich. This is considered to have been derived from the Norse, “wic”, for bay and is associated with the more traditional method of obtaining salt by evaporating sea water. Therefore a place for making salt became a wych-house; and Northwich was the most northern of the Wich towns in Cheshire.

The existence of Northwich in the early medieval period is shown by its record in the Domesday Book:

In the same Mildestuic hundred there was a third wich called Norwich [Northwich] and it was at farm for £8.
There were the same laws and customs there as there were in the other wiches and the king and the earl similarly divided the renders.
… All the other customs in these wiches are the same.This was waste when (Earl) Hugh received it; it is now worth 35s.

—Henry Ellis,  A General Introduction to Domesday Book

The manor of Northwich belonged to the Earls of Chester until 1237 when the family line died out. Subsequently Northwich became a royal manor and was given to a noble family to collect tolls in exchange for a set rent.

That salt production continued throughout the centuries and can be seen through John Leland’s description of the town in 1540:

Northwich is a pratie market town but fowle,
and by the Salters houses be great stakes of smaul cloven wood,to seethe the salt water that thei make white salt of.

—cited in Fred H. Crossley, Cheshire

Between 1642 and 1643, during the English Civil War, Northwich was fortified and garrisoned by Sir William Bereton for the Parliamentarians.

The salt beds beneath Northwich were re-discovered in the 1670s by employees of the local Smith-Barry family. The Smith-Barrys were looking for coal, but instead discovered rock salt, in the grounds of the family home, Marbury Hall, to the north of Northwich.

During the 19th century it became uneconomical to mine for the salt. Instead hot water was pumped through the mines, which dissolved the salt. The resultant brine was pumped out and the salt extracted from the brine. This technique weakened the mines and led to land subsidence as they collapsed. Subsidence affected the town and the surrounding landscape. For example collapses in 1880 formed Witton Flash as the River Weaver flowed into a huge hole caused by subsidence. Subsidence also allegedly accounts for many old timber-framed houses in the town centre, which were better able to withstand the movement of the ground. Some houses were built on a base of steel girders which could be jacked up to level the house with each change in the underlying ground. The town’s historical link with the salt industry is celebrated in its Museum which is today located in the town’s old workhouse.

In 1874, John Brunner and Ludwig Mond founded Brunner Mond in Winnington and started manufacturing soda ash using the Solvay ammonia-soda process. This process used salt as a main raw material. The chemical industry used the subsided land for the disposal of waste from the manufacture of soda-ash. The waste was transported through a network of cranes and rails to the produce limebeds. This was a dangerous alkaline substance and caused the landscape to be abandoned as unusable.

In 1975 Marbury Country Park was the first area to be reclaimed from dereliction and has become a popular recreational area. In 1987 more land was reclaimed to form Furey Wood and over later years, Cheshire County Council’s Land Regeneration Unit reclaimed what is now known as Anderton Nature Park, Witton Flash, Dairy House Meadows, Witton Mill Meadows, and Ashton’s and Neumann’s Flashes. The area now extends to approximately 323 hectares of public space known as Northwich Community Woodlands.

In February 2004 a £28 million programme to stabilise the abandoned salt mines underneath Northwich was begun. The work was funded by the English Partnerships through its Land Stabilisation Programme, introduced to resolve issues associated with unstable mines around England.

The four mines identified for work were Baron’s Quay, Witton Bank, Neumann’s and Penny’s Lane. These mines were chosen because their subsidence was causing problems for the town centre. The stabilisation plan involved removing millions of litres of brine from the four mines and replacing it with a mixture of pulverised fuel ash (PFA), cement and salt. The project was completed in late 2007.

Following the stabilisation of the mines, Northwich is to be developed in line with the ‘Vision for Northwich’. The vision, if completed, will see the old concrete County Council buildings and Magistrates Court demolished and replaced with more modern buildings. Furthermore a Debenhams store is planned to be built at Barons Quay along with a cinema and 40 new shops.

Northwich has been within the county boundaries of Cheshire for a long time. At the time of the Domesday survey (1086) Northwich was in the hundred of Middlewich, but by the 14th century it had become part of the Northwich hundred. This probably happened during the reorganisation of the Hundreds in the 12th century. Northwich has been described as a borough from around 1288, though there is no surviving borough charter.

Northwich originally constituted an area of only 13 acres (53,000 m2) at the confluence of the Rivers Weaver and Dane. The much larger township of Witton cum Twambrooks lay to the east, Leftwich to the south, Castle Northwich to the south-west, and Winnington to the north-west.

The manor of Northwich was granted to the Stanley family, later Earls of Derby in 1484, and stayed in the family’s hands until the late 18th century. A local board was founded on 26 June 1863 after the Local Government Act 1858 and it purchased the manor from Arthur Heywood Esq. in 1871. In 1875 the local boards for Northwich and Witton cum Twambrooks were amalgamated, and the resultant district was further extended in 1880 to include the whole of Castle Northwich and parts of Hartford, Winnington and Leftwich. On 10 September 1894 these areas were united as the civil parish of Northwich, served by Northwich Urban District Council.

The town was further enlarged in 1936 by the addition of parts of Winnington, Lostock Gralam, Barnton, Leftwich and Rudheath, and again in 1955 when parts of Davenham, Hartford, Rudheath and Whatcroft were added.

The Local Government Act 1972 replaced the Urban District Council of Northwich with a new district (later borough) council: Vale Royal. Vale Royal covered areas previously covered by Northwich UDC (Urban District Council), Northwich RDC (Rural District Council), Winsford UDC and parts of Runcorn RDC. Northwich Town Council now has the powers of a parish council and is now made up of five main districts of Leftwich, Northwich, Castle, Winnington and Witton.

Vale Royal Borough Council was abolished on 1 April 2009, and Northwich now falls within the new unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester.

Between 1885 and 1983 Northwich gave its name to a parliamentary constituency. Northwich was also split between the Tatton and Eddisbury constituencies until the formation of Weaver Vale for the 1997 general election.

The town coat of arms features the Latin motto “Sal est Vita” meaning “Salt is Life”, which can be seen on the town’s crest of arms. The town is twinned with Dole in France.

Northwich is situated in the Cheshire Plain. Two rivers meet in the town centre, the Weaver and the Dane. The town is surrounded by undulating pasture. Subsidence and the collapse of underground saltworks has created flashes and there are also local meres – for example, to the north is Budworth Mere and to the north east is Pick Mere.

The town is built on Lower Keuper saliferous beds from which salt has been mined. Deposits of alluvium run along the river valleys and cover most of the area of the town. Surrounding the town is deposits of boulder clay and glacial sand and gravel can be found to the north-west.

The population of Northwich in 1664 has been estimated as 560. The population of Northwich over the last 200 years has been:

 

Population of Northwich since 1801
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 1,338 1,382 1,490 1,481 1,368 1,377 1,190 1,244 12,256 14,914 17,611 18,151 18,381 18,732 17,489 19,592 18,136 17,098 18,316 19,259
Sources

The 2001 Census shows the population of Northwich to be 19,259. This was composed of 9,761 (50.7%) males and 9,498 (49.3%) females. There were 8,253 households. This makes the average household size 2.32, which is slightly below the national average of 2.36.

Northwich has been described as having a market since at least 1535, when it was described as a market town by Leland, but there is no surviving charter. The town still has a market today, which is earmarked for refurbishment as part of the Northwich Vision plans.

The town’s economy was dominated by the salt industry. However a list of tolls for goods crossing over Northwich bridge in 1353 shows goods coming into the town, including a wide range of carcasses, fleeces, hides and skins, cloth, fish, alcoholic drinks, cloth, dairy products, building materials, household goods, metals and glass, and millstones. This indicates a much wider economic base to medieval Northwich than just the salt trade. Documentary evidence also exists for a mill from 1332 onwards and there is evidence for more than one mill from 1343.

Allied to the extraction of salt was a bulk chemical industry, which became concentrated at the three  sites at Winnington, Wallerscote and Lostock. The first industrially practical method for producing polythene was accidentally discovered at the Winnington works in 1933.

Bakers Frank Roberts & Sons have been associated with the town since 1887 and continues to be based near the town at Rudheath on the A556.

There are many contemporary major employers in nearby Rudheath and Hartford.

The town has two key events a year. Over the August Bank Holiday Weekend Northwich Festival is held at Moss Farm Sports Complex. Featuring 4 days of music and sport with the main attraction for the Monday being the UK Strongman-North Competition. The Thundersprint motorcycling event is held every May in Northwich. This event attracts over 130,000 people over the two days, and claims to be the world’s biggest street bike party.

These events were joined in 2011 by the town’s first Medieval Festival, which was staged in Verdin Park over the weekend of August 13 and 14. This event, sponsored by Cheshire West & Cheshire Council as part of their efforts to promote the town centre as a destination, is planned to be an annual happening. The 2011 Northwich Medieval Festival featured The Poor Knights of St Dysmas, God’s Company of Tabor, The Freemen of Gwent, and the Knights Hospitallers of the North, as well as the Ya Raqs Eastern Dance Troupe.

Northwich Memorial Hall was opened in 1960 and hosts a range of activities, including the Purple Cactus Comedy Club. The Harlequin Theatre produces six plays each year, and is also the home of Northwich Folk Club (which has run continuously since 1977).

The Regal cinema was closed in 2007 and remains derelict. However there are plans for a new cinema as part of the Northwich Vision redevelopment of Baron’s Quay.

Northwich has a rich musical history, with a number of locals being part of bands such as Placebo, which provided the soundtrack to the film Cruel Intentions. Tim Burgess from the Charlatans lived in Northwich. The band were originally managed by Steve Harrison from the Omega Music record store in the town.

Northwich has its own fictional hero in the form of the ultimate ghost-hunter, James Boag-Munroe. The creation is the work of local Horror author Stuart Neild. The first novel, titled A Haunted Man, features Boag-Munroe’s adventures in the haunted salt mines that run underneath Northwich, combining fact with supernatural fiction. More novels are on the way featuring Northwich and other North West locations as the backdrops to the novels. A Hollywood film and television series is also in development based on the books.

Northwich has two local newspapers: the Northwich Guardian, published by Newsquest, and the Northwich Chronicle, published by Trinity Mirror. A radio station, Cheshire FM, covers the mid-Cheshire area including Northwich.

Northwich is the home of two non-league football teams, Northwich Victoria and Witton Albion. Until 2002, it was the home of one of the world’s oldest football grounds, the Drill Field, former home of Northwich Victoria, however due to new league rules, the ground was demolished and the club’s ground was moved to nearby Wincham. The town has two rugby union sides Northwich RUFC and Winnington Park.

The parish church is known as St. Helen’s Witton. It is a Grade I Listed Building. The church initially developed as a chapel of ease associated with the parish of Great Budworth to serve the local community, known as the Chapel of Witton. There is no known date for the creation of this chapel, but it is thought to have existed in the 13th century. None of this building exists in the current church. There is no documentary evidence to indicate the dates of the older parts of the current building. However stones in the fabric of the porch carry inscriptions attributed to “Ricardus Alkoke Capellanus”. This name matches documents concerning land in Northwich and Lostock Gralam dated 1468, but this cannot be used to date the church accurately.

It was not until 7 August 1900 that the parish of Witton (otherwise Northwich) was formed from parts of Great Budworth, Davenham and other surrounding parishes.

The present St Wilfrid’s (Roman Catholic) church was built in 1866. The current Northwich Methodist Chapel was opened in 1990, but there has been a Methodist presence in the town at least since 1774, when John Wesley laid the foundation stone of the first chapel in the London Road area.

The Northwich Union Workhouse opened in 1837 following the Poor Law Amendment of 1834 that standardised the system of poor relief throughout Britain. The building is now the Weaver Hall Museum.

The Dock Road Edwardian Pumping Station is a Grade II Listed Building originally built by Northwich Urban District Council in 1913. For over 60 years it was used for pumping sewage from parts of Northwich to the Wallerscote Treatment Works. Before it was built, untreated sewage was discharged directly into the River Weaver, causing widespread pollution.

Two swing bridges, Hayhurst Bridge built in 1898, and Town Bridge built in 1899, cross the Weaver at Northwich. The bridges were the first two electrically powered swing bridges in Great Britain and were built on floating pontoons to counteract the mine subsidence. They were designed by Colonel John Saner.

The Floatel Northwich was moored on the Weaver near the confluence of the two rivers, but was closed when the owners, The Real Hotel Company plc, went into administration in January 2009. It has since been removed. It was the UK’s only floating hotel.

The key historical mode of transport here is water. By 1732 the River Weaver was improved from Frodsham Bridge to Winsford Bridge and eventually allowed vessels up to 160 tonnes (160,000 kg) to travel up to Northwich Bridge. The Trent and Mersey Canal, opened in 1775, passed to the north of Northwich because of objections from the trustees of the Weaver Navigation. However, the canal passed salt deposits near the village of Marston, and many of the later salt mines were based along its banks including the Lion Salt Works. The Anderton Boat Lift was opened in 1875 to connect the canal and river systems. It was fully restored in 2002 and now houses a visitor centre.

The road system around Northwich can be dated back to the Roman times. The A556 and A559 follow the route of the Roman road that runs from Chester to York. The A556 diverts away from the route of the Roman road following a new route to the south of the town acting as the town’s bypass. The Chester to Manchester road became a Turnpike in 1769. The A530, known as King Street, also passes near to the town, and this follows the route of the Roman road that connected Warrington and Middlewich. The old route to Warrington and the north from Middlewich, however, was replaced by a new route through Knutsford, which became a turnpike in 1753. Northwich is connected to the motorway network to the north of the town via the A559 onto the M56 motorway; and to the east of the town via the A556 at Junction 19 of the M6 motorway.

The railway came to the town in 1863 when the Cheshire Midland Railway constructed its line from Knutsford. The West Cheshire Railway built its line to Helsby in 1869. Passenger trains from Northwich to Chester via Delamere commenced in 1875. The route through Northwich is now marketed as the Mid-Cheshire line. Northwich railway station, last rebuilt in 1897, is on the line from Chester to Manchester Piccadilly. There are also stations within close vicinity at Greenbank, also on the Mid-Cheshire line, and Hartford (on the West Coast Main Line).

In November 2005, as part of the Northwich Vision, a refurbishment of the town’s railway station included a Centre called Zone that promotes lifelong learning by offering people the opportunity to access a range of online and taught courses.

Northwich is twinned with Dole, France.

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