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The origins of Northwich pub names

PUBLISHED: 18:08 14 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:33 19 January 2016

Penny Black, Northwich

Penny Black, Northwich

Pubs in and around Northwich owe much of their character to the area's salt industry.

Known to the Romans as ‘Condate’, the town of Northwich is one of Cheshire’s oldest settlements and boasts a history filled with intrigue - and salt.

At the meeting point of the rivers Weaver and Dane, Northwich has been of interest to settlers for thousands of years. The Romans valued the town’s brine and rock salt, which played a huge part in Northwich’s fortunes, including that of its well-regarded public houses.

This is the case with one of the town centre’s most impressive pubs. The Penny Black, a traditional black and white structure, has been a famous feature since its construction in 1914. Formerly the main post office, The Penny Black was named after the world’s first adhesive stamp, and was converted to a pub in the late nineties. However, as Shift Manager Mike Harrison explained, the pub has a number of other historical surprises.

Mike said: ‘The pub was a very important building during the town’s “salt heyday”. As the primary post office it was vital that it wasn’t affected by subsidence.

Subsidence was a huge problem during the 19th century as salt extraction turned to the more economically-favourable brine pumping method, weakening the salt mines and causing many areas of Northwich to collapse.

‘The Penny Black was lucky,’ explained Mike. ‘It could be jacked up and relocated if subsidence occurred.’

The locals love this pub, so it’s no surprise that the Penny Black is featured in the Good Beer Guide.

‘At the Penny Black, we have 12 different pumps, which all stock unique draft beers and ales hailing from Congleton to Liverpool. We’re passionate about our local beers, and so are our customers,’ added Mike.

The Spinner and Bergamot, in the hamlet of Comberbach, has a similar
tale to tell, one that is also mired in Northwich’s salty legacy.

Built in 1746 and originally called ‘The Spinner’, the pub was bought by Sir Hugh Smith-Barry, heir to a fortune made in Northwich salt. He named his horse after the pub and following numerous racing victories in 1762, he bought ’The Spinner’ to celebrate, adding the name ‘Bergamot’ after another of his horses.

The pub, now owned by the Southertons, has moved away from this salty link, according to manager Paul Bazley.

He said: ‘We’re less about brine, more about fine wine these days. We own one of Cheshire’s first wine preservation machines, meaning luxury tipples, like the renowned Puligny- Montrachet can be served by the glass.

‘However, we’re still a pub for local people and are one of the few remaining Cheshire inns to have a thriving bowling scene, hosting a well-kept green and three brilliant teams.’

Over in pretty Acton Bridge, a short drive from Northwich centre, the recently renovated Hazel Pear has given this small community a new lease of life. Proprietors, Steve Barnes and Marie Bell have created a traditional, homely watering hole.

Marie said: ‘When we bought the pub, I received 32 emails from locals asking us to re-establish the Hazel Pear at the centre of the community’s social scene. We got rid of the pool tables, games machines and televisions, creating a home from home for our customers.

‘We don’t do bookings, bar the function room, allowing locals to stroll in on a whim, rather than have to book weeks in advance. However, you can eat anywhere in the Hazel Pear and, like any traditional country pub, we welcome new faces with open arms.’

The Hazel Pear has also embraced its history, commemorating General Patton’s visit to the pub before the famous Battle of the Bulge.

‘The General ordered a double whisky,’ said Marie. ‘When he asked for another the landlady refused, he’d already used up his ration!’

However, today’s celebrities are on the menu at the popular George and Dragon in Great Budworth.

Landlord Christopher Wright said: ‘We’ve had a number of famous guests over the years, from Harry Potter film crews to most recently, Harry Styles of boy band One Direction and his girlfriend at the time, the country singer, Taylor Swift.’

However, although celebrities frequent the joint, a modest pint is all this pub recommends, rather than any wild, brash parties.

Assistant Manager, Jackie Pickering said: ‘Our stone bar, which dates from 1722, is definitely a talking point. In Latin the words read: “Nil Nimium Cupito”, or, “I desire nothing to excess”.’

Christopher added: ‘The pub also has a plaque, designed by former owners the Earls of Arley and dating from 1875, showing St George slaying the dragon of drunkenness - in other words, have a drink but turn up for work in the morning!

‘Luckily these sternly-worded proverbs have not deterred the pub’s clientele – we’re too welcoming!’

This warm and friendly welcome is evident in all of these Northwich pubs, as well as great food, drink and a community spirit that really reflects an age gone by.


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