The origins of the settlement date to Roman times when salt from Nantwich was used by the Roman garrisons at Chester (Deva Victrix) and Stoke-on-Trent as both a preservative and a condiment. Salt has been used in the production of Cheshire cheese and in the tanning industry, both products of the dairy industry based in the Cheshire Plain around the town. Wich and wych are names used to denote brine springs or wells.
In the Domesday Book, Nantwich is recorded as having eight salt houses. It had a castle and was the capital of a barony of the earls of Chester, and of a hundred (one of the seven sub-divisions of medieval Cheshire). Nantwich is one of the few places in Cheshire to be marked on the Gough Map, which dates from 1355–66. The salt industry peaked in the late 16th century when there were 216 salt houses, but the industry ended in 1856, when the last salt house closed. The last tannery closed in 1974, but the clothing industry remains important to the area.
Nantwich has suffered several disasters in its history. It was first recorded as an urban area at the time of the Norman conquest – the Normans burned the town to the ground, leaving only one building standing. Two hundred years later the town was attacked over a lengthy period by marauders from Wales, while in 1583 the Great Fire of Nantwich raged for 20 days, destroying most of the town, which was rebuilt, at a cost of £30,000 in 16th century money, £2,000 of which was personally donated by Queen Elizabeth I together with timber from the royal forest. Indeed, one of the main streets of Nantwich was re-named to reflect the fact that the timber to rebuild the town was transported along it (Beam Street). Many plaques in Nantwich now commemorate this.
During the English Civil War, Nantwich was the only town in Cheshire to declare for Parliament, and consequently it was besieged several times by Royalist forces. The final, six-week long, siege was lifted following the victory of the Parliamentary forces in the Battle of Nantwich on January 26, 1644, which has been re-enacted as Holly Holy Day on its anniversary every year since 1973 by the Sealed Knot, a registered charity devoted to re-enacting English civil war battles for educational purposes. The name comes from the sprigs of holly worn by the townsfolk in their caps or clothing in the years after the battle, in its commemoration.
Geographically, Nantwich is on the 'Cheshire Plain', on the banks of the River Weaver. The Shropshire Union Canal runs through the town and makes a junction with the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston to the north.
It is approximately four miles south-west of Crewe and 20 miles south-east of Chester. Nantwich railway station is on the line from Crewe to Whitchurch, Shrewsbury and other towns along the Welsh border. The station is currently served mainly by stopping trains between Crewe and Shrewsbury
It is a major road junction, being the meeting point of the A51, A500, A529, A530 and A534 roads - the stretch of the A534 from Nantwich to the Welsh border is regarded as one of the ten worst stretches of road in England for road safety
The town has two secondary schools: