The area around Northwich has been exploited for its salt pans since the Roman period, when the settlement was known as Condate. The town has been severely affected by salt mining with subsidence historically being a large issue. However, recent investment in mine stabilisation is set to change the town with the 'Northwich Vision' providing a roadmap for a programme of development work into the future.
Northwich can be identified through two contemporary Roman documents. The first of these is the Antonine Itinerary, a 3rd-century road map split into fourteen 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 Cosmology. 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 Roman's 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 70 AD. 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 from 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:
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 can be seen through John Leland's description of the town in 1540:
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 effected 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 Salt 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 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 after the Local Government Amendment Act 1863 and it purchased the town in 1871. The Urban District Council of Northwich was created in 1894.
The Local Government Act 1972 replaced the Urban District Council of Northwich with a new district (now borough) council, Vale Royal. Vale Royal covers 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, Northwich Castle, Winnington and Witton. In April 2009, Vale Royal will cease to exist and Northwich will fall within the new unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester.
Between 1885 and 1983 Northwich gave its name to a parliamentary consituency. Northwich was also split between the Tatton and Eddisbury constituencies until the formation of Weaver Vale for the 1997 general election. The seat is currently held by Mike Hall (Labour).
Northwich is situated in the Cheshire Plain at coordinates (53.255, -2.522). The town is between and above mean sea level. Northwich is surrounded by the following civil parishes within the Vale Royal borough, starting due north and proceeding in a clockwise direction: Anderton with Marbury, Marston, Wincham, Lostock Gralam, Rudheath, Davenham, Hartford, Weaverham, Barnton.
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 climate is generally temperate with few extremes of temperature or weather. The mean average temperature is slightly above average for the United Kingdom as is the average amount of sunshine. The average annual rainfall is slightly below the average for the UK. There are few days when snow is lying on the ground, although there are some days of air frost.
|Population of Northwich since 1801|
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 ICI sites at Winnington, Wallerscote and Lostock. The first industrially practical method for producing polythene was accidentally discovered at the Winnington works in 1933.
Contemporary major local employers include Frank Roberts & Sons, a bakery that has been associated with the town since 1887 and continues to be based near the town at Rudheath on the A556. Also Morrisons supermarket has a large distribution centre on the A530 south of the town. Finally Orange and Barclays Bank both have contact centres at Gadbrook Park, off the A556 south of the town. There are also major employers in nearby Hartford.
Based on the 2001 Census, Northwich had 13,928 people aged between 16 and 74. Of these, 8,908 (64.0%) people were categorised as economically active; 4,268 (30.6%) were economically inactive; 455 (3.3%) were unemployed.
Northwich Memorial Hall was opened in 1960 and hosts a range of activities. Northwich is home to the Harlequin Theatre which produces six plays every year. It is also home to the Purple Cactus Comedy Club, based at the Northwich Memorial Hall, a Monthly Comedy Club which has grown from a small town venue to one of the biggest and busiest comedy clubs in the country.
The Regal cinema was closed in 2007. 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. The town has two rugby union sides Northwich RUFC and Winnington Park; Winnington Park also fields a rugby league side.
The parish church is known as St. Helen's Witton. 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.
The present St Wilfrid's (Roman Catholic) church was built in 1866.
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. The station was equipped with two single-cylinder Crossley gas-fired engines and two Haywood Tyler triplex lift and force pumps, capable of pumping 9,600 gallons per hour. In later years, electric pumps, capable of pumping 36,000 gallons per hour replaced these but the originals have been restored. The current owners are United Utilities (previously North West Water). The station is open to the public.
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 (a floating hotel) is moored near the confluence of the two rivers.
The key historical mode of transport is water. By 1732 the River Weaver was improved from Frodsham Bridge to Winsford Bridge and eventually allowed vessels up to 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 as the line was extended from Knutsford, and this extension was continued to Helsby in 1869. The line was originally named the Cheshire Midland Railway, but is now known as the Mid-Cheshire line. Northwich railway station, dating from 1897, is on the line between Chester to Manchester. There are also stations within close vicinity at Greenbank, also on the Mid-Cheshire line, and Hartford (on the West Coast Main Line).
There are bus routes between Northwich and a number of local towns, including Weaverham, Hartford, Crewe, Warrington, Kelsall and Chester.
Northwich and its surroundings has a number of schools and colleges. Sir John Deane's College is now a sixth form college, but was originally formed as a grammer school in 1557. The school was originally known as Witton Grammar School and was erected close to Witton Chapel. The school moved to its current location, to the south of the town, in 1907-08. There is now also further education available through Mid Cheshire college.
During the 19th century many new schools were founded and by 1850 twelve 'academies' were recorded in the area. The town is now served by two comprehensive schools of County High School Leftwich, a specialist media arts college, and Rudheath Community High School, a specialist performing arts college. There are also several primary schools in the area.
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.
In the literary and media world, the horror author Stuart Neild was born in the town in 1970 and Robert Westall, the children's author, also lived in the town and taught at Sir John Deane's College. Film producer and writer Sue Birtwistle was also born in the town. Also the graphic designer Malcolm Garrett, known for record sleeve design for Buzzcocks and Duran Duran, was born in the town in 1956.
The composer, songwriter and author Rupert Holmes was born in the town in 1947 before moving to New York. Northwich is also the home town of Steve Hewitt, the drummer for the band Placebo and the adopted home of Tim Burgess, lead singer of The Charlatans. Tommy McKenzie, name checked in the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby as Father McKenzie, was compère at Northwich Memorial Hall.
A number of sports personalities have lived around the town. Two female athletes are often associated with the town and were born in the surrounding area. Shirley Strong, 100m silver medallist in the 1984 Summer Olympics, was born in Cuddington in 1958; and Paula Radcliffe was born in Davenham, just to the south of Northwich in 1973. Tom Manley, footballer and Northwich Victoria manager, was born in the town in 1912.