Middlewich is one of Britain's
chief salt-producing towns.|
For 200 years it was the centre of the Roman salt
industry and it is only in relatively recent times
that the Roman method of extracting salt by
boiling in huge pans was abandoned at Middlewich
for the modern system of vacuum extraction. Romans
were paid in salt - this remuneration was called
''sal dare" and it is from this word that the name
"soldier" is thought to have derived.
Middlewich lay on King Street, a Roman road from the Mersey at Warrington to Derby and they called the town Salinae from the Latin word for "salt works". Timber framed houses, pottery, and the remains of clay-lined salt evaporation chambers have been excavated - evidence of the invaders' long stay.
The Saxons were quick to realise the importance of the town and the Doomsday Survey recorded the salt laws and customs they introduced.
John Leland, the Tudor historian, referred to the "11 salt springges at Middlewich" but by this time the town was noted for its cheese as well as its salt.
The process of salt extraction was to become the district's main activity and the resultant tax on salt yielded a phenomenal sum for the Exchequer. In 1822 it produced £1,500,000. But nearly 270 excise officers had to be employed to collect it at a cost of £32,000 a year. Penalties for tax evasion were severe and one local farmer was fined £200 for having salt in his house without permission. In 1825, the salt duty was abolished, doubtless creating unemployment in the ranks of the excise men.
By the mid-19th century
Middlewich was an important post on the
stagecoach network with eight coaches calling
every day. Its canal system was also vital
transporting, as it did, the salt out of
Middlewich and coal for use in salt production
shipped in from Staffordshire.
Many local houses were built by the waterways companies and a lot of these dwellings had adjacent stables for the horses which pulled the barges. Commercial use of the canals declined over the years but there has been a modern upsurge of interest in inland waterways for pleasure use. Several boat firms in the town now serve the needs of owners and hirers of pleasure craft.
Near to the shopping centre is a modern library which displays a collection of Roman relics of the salt industry. A variety of leisure opportunities are afforded by rivers and canals, a pleasing small park, playing fields, tennis courts, bowling and putting greens. Attached to the town's Comprehensive School is a modern sports hall which is jointly used by pupils and the general public.