The restoration of the Lion Salt Works and success on the water in Northwich and Middlewich
PUBLISHED: 17:59 09 November 2016
Northwich and Middlewich hold one thing in common - the desire to succeed. Rebekka O'Grady visits to meet those who are exceedingly good at doing just that.
From the Romans, through to mining in the 17th century, Northwich was famed for extracting salt. But it wasn’t until 1894 when the Lion Salt Works, an open-pan salt works, truly dominated the area for nearly 100 years.
Now, the Lion Salt Works is one of the world’s last four historic open-pan salt making sites, and this rarity has been recognized by its listing as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (the highest level if protection by law, identical to Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge) and by the many awards it has received since re-opening in 2015 as a museum. Complete with restored salt pans, machinery and original buildings, the Lion Salt Works now takes visitors through the history of the site through fun and interesting displays, including a theatrical light and sound show.
‘It was essential for the Lion Salt Works to be restored,’ said Nick Hunt, chairman of trustees for the Lion Salt Works Trust. ‘It reflects Cheshire’s industrial past. The county is now often recognised for cats, cheese and footballers, but this huge part of its history needs to be remembered.’
The site closed in 1986 after modern methods of extracting salt were being used and the company, owned by the Thompson family, weren’t making money. ‘The site caught the attention of Councillor Martin Boyett, who realised the significance of the salt works and formed a trust with others who felt the same.’
If it wasn’t for the tireless campaigning from the Trust and local residents, the salt works would have been demolished as it was a very fragile structure. Funding for the restoration took many years to gain momentum, and it wasn’t until 2011 that the four year project could begin.
‘A BBC restoration programme raised the profile and we started to win funding, including over £5,200,000 of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Cheshire West Council also matched what we had raised.’
Most recently the 30-year campaign has been voted winner of the Best Heritage project by the National Lottery Awards. The project was awarded £3,000, money which will be going toward enhancing what is already going on at the Lion Salt Works and further funding their educational side.
‘The win is terrific recognition for all the Trust volunteers who have spent so many years devoted to the site. Winning the awards gives you a profile and more people are becoming aware of us which is great as we are dependent on that. Some people who live in Cheshire don’t even know we’re here. It really is Cheshire’s hidden industrial past.’
The Lion Salt Works aren’t the only ones in the town to be winning huge awards, as one Northwich-born athlete proved when he picked up a gold Olympic medal over the summer.
Matthew Langridge, 33, won the medal in Rio as part of the men’s eight rowing team. Although he now lives in Henley-on-Thames, the rower started his career as a young boy at Northwich Rowing Club and attended schools in the area. He is believed to be the only Northwich Olympian.
Joyce Hooper, the president of the rowing club, said: ‘I remember when Matthew first attended the club; he was around 13 or 14 years old. His coach, Paul Rafferty, recognised very early on that he was something exceptional.
‘I saw him winning national titles as a teenager – we have many photos of a pale, lanky lad winning medals in the club house! Matthew always regards Northwich as his home and the River Weaver as his waters.’
The rower received fantastic homecoming party in October, something which was organised by Councillor Sam Naylor of Northwich Town Council and Joyce, who thought it was an accolade that really needed celebrating. Matthew was also joined by local cyclist Peter Mitchell, who took silver at the Paralympics in the tandem sprint with Neil Fachie, and enjoyed an open-top bus parade through the town, before being granted freedom of the town by Northwich mayor, Cllr Kevin Rimmer.
‘The atmosphere on the day Matthew won was palpable. There was electricity in the air – we took the roof off the club house!’ said Joyce, who has been a part of Northwich Rowing Club for over 20 years. She said she has done all sorts of jobs, from catering to president, but has never actually rowed. ‘I hope that his achievement will inspire people to want to come and row.’
The rowing club, which was founded in 1875 and is affiliated with British Rowing, is still very popular within Northwich and host numerous events throughout the year, including two Head of the River races. Neighbouring sixth form, Sir John Deane’s College, also share the waters with the club, introducing young people who study there to the sport.
‘Rowing is very much alive and well in Northwich.’
Keeping it in the family
From the River Weaver flows the River Dane, which leads us to the neighbouring town of Middlewich. A mere seven miles apart, it’s a short distance compared to how far the Andersen family travelled from Risør in Norway, in the early 1970s.
Originally over on holiday, boat builder Johan Fredrik Anderson’s family ended up staying in Middlewich and started a family business that is sure to be passed down for generations, Andersen Boats.
‘Dad and my brother John repaired boats for a short period of time, but ended up building two boats,’ explained Jenny Hough, daughter of Johan. She works at the canal boat holiday company alongside her siblings John and Tony. ‘However they couldn’t sell them as it was at the time when VAT went through the roof. That’s when someone suggested we rented them out.’
Andersen Boats now have 16 rental canal boats, all which have been built on site and furnished themselves. At the time of our visit, all of the boats had been hired – a sure sign of the popularity of the business and the rise in ‘staycations’.
‘It’s been more popular this year, but then again it has been popular every year since the 1970s. We have people from around the world that book with us, ranging from Australia and New Zealand to USA and Canada. We’ve even had visitors from Dubai who say they come here for rain! Some customers have been with us for years, and they return with a different generation. I think it has a sense of nostalgia: ‘oh I used to go on trips here with my mum and dad’, so they want to do the same.’
The business is situated in a great spot on the canal, which means that they have plenty of sailing routes. The most popular destination within the season, which runs from mid-March to the last week in October, seems to be to Llangollen and back. ‘The Cheshire ring is also popular, and for short breaks people enjoy going to Chester or Nantwich. For beginners, Lymm only has one lock.’