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Salt Mines

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In a time predating modern methods of refrigeration, salt served as an extremely important method of food preservation. In Georgian England, salt was a staple of trade in the economy, and even a valuable method during warfare. During the American Revolution, the British intercepted salt shipments bound for America in order to prevent American troops from preserving their food.

            Cheshire County in Northwest England proved to be a basin rich with deep deposits of rock salt. The first settlement in the region was built in Northwich by the Romans, dating back as far as the first century BC. In  1670 the salt-beds in Northwich were rediscovered and cultivated until the 19th century. The origins of the salt mines at Nantwich also date back to the Roman era, and became a hotbed of mining activity in the 16th century through the 17th century, when there were a recorded 216 salt houses and a salt-dependent industry of tanners and cheese production. In 1856 the last salt house closed in Northwich, making way for the rise of the largest salt mine in England.

            South of Northwich and west of Middlewich (another salt mine) the Winsford Mine became the largest salt mine in England in 1830 when the mines in Northwich began to collapse. Because of the Mine’s location close to the Weaver River, transport and distribution was easier, and many factories were established along its banks. The river was converted into a canal that allowed salt to be shipped north. A salt mining town developed as a result, and salt mines had a direct impact on how the social structure of the town was established. The town straddled the river, and split into two neighborhoods. The wind tented to blow smoke from the salt factories in the opposite direction of Over; the neighborhood where the wealthy inhabitants decided to establish their dwellings, and the smoke carried over to Wharton, the poorer side of the town. By the end of the century, Winsford had become the largest salt producer in Britain.

            Although salt was a necessary product for the English economy, extracting it from the earth was an extremely hazardous process. Health hazards shortened the life spans of salt minors significantly. In fact, in Ancient Rome, the mines were manned only by slaves and criminals because of the high casualty rate that resulted to exposure in the mines. Regulations were established within the mining towns to prevent disastrous fires that could be caused by the factories.

            Eventually, the discovery of large salt domes in the Louisiana region in the New World would cause the decline of the British salt industry. The domes proved safer and easier to extract salt from, and technology from the industrial revolution would increase their productivity. 

 

Sources:

 

Twigg, George. “Salt Making Sites in Chesire” Cheshire History.  2006 <http://web.archive.org/web/20060901004419/http://www.cheshirehistory.org.uk/Papers/Salt.htm>..

“History of Winsford Rock Salt Mine.” Welcome to Winsford Rock Salt Mine. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <http://www.winsfordrocksaltmine.co.uk/history/&gt;

 

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