Salt has always been enormously important to mankind; it is the basis of the word salary and the source of the phrase 'salt of the earth'. Salt-making in Cheshire dates back over 2000 years, when the salt towns of Cheshire were first established by the Romans. Originally salt was extracted from the ground by a series of natural brine pits. In the 17th century the first of a series of mines were begun in the Northwich region but were exhausted around 1850. The exhaustion of the mined rock salt supplies resulted in a change to wild brine pumping. The brine was pumped out of the ground to supply the salt works based at the surface. By the late-19th century brine shafts and traditional open pan salt works dominated the area around Northwich, many controlled by the monopolistic Salt Union. In 1856 John Thompson Senior (1790-1867) and John Thompson Junior (1821-1899) constructed the Alliance Salt Works on the eastern side of the Lion Salt Works site. The Thompson family sold the Alliance Salt Works to the Salt Union and it closed around 1900.
The Lion Salt Works was built in 1894 when John Thompson Junior and Henry Ingram Thompson purchased the site of the Red Lion Hotel, ajdacent to the bridge on the Ollershaw Lane in Marston. John Thompson Junior retired shortly afterwards to Eddisbury Hall in Macclesfield. Henry Ingram Thompson sunk a brine shaft, built a brine tank and engine house and built the first pan and stove house (number 1) on site around the Red Lion Hotel. By 1899 the Red Lion Hotel had been demolished and two cottages converted to the Red Lion Inn. This allowed them to build two further pan and stove houses (2 and 3). On site there were also two butter pans and two fishery pans. A Manager's House and Smithy were built at the south-west of the site. By 1906 a mineral railway had been built that extended to the south of the site. Henry Ingram Thompson ran the site with his sons Jack Thompson and Alan Kinsey Thompson. The salt works exported salt to Canada, North America and West Africa. The domestic market saw salt sold to Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool. Between the first and the second world wars the salt works saw little change. New markets were opened up with salt sold to Denmark for salting bacon. However, the advent of the Second World War meant these markets were disrupted. In 1937 Henry Ingram Thompson died. His sons Jack Thompson and Alan Kinsey Thompson ran the business. They dug a new brine bore hole and pump. Henry Lloyd Thompson joined the firm in 1947 after the Second World War. After demolishing the butter and fishery pans, he built two more pan and stove house (numbers 4 and 5) in 1954 and 1965. In the 1950s, 90% of the salt produced was exported to West Africa. It was exported via firms including Paterson Zochonis, John Holt and ICI to ports on the West African coast including Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt in Nigeria, Monrovia in Liberia, Conakry in Guinea, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The West African market continued to be successful despite open-pan salt being more expensive because it produced a light, flaky grained salt known as 'Lagos Salt'. This was preferred in the West African market because it withstood the high temperatures and very high humidity of the tropics.
During the 20th century more efficient methods of extracting and refining salt were developed and by the late 1960s the works was the only business continuing to use the open pan process in the country. The business closed down in 1986 when the West African markets, the major purchaser of 'Lagos Salt', began to decline. This was as a result of the Biafran War in Nigeria (1967-1970), and the series of military juntas that followed. In addition competition from cheaper imports of solar evaporated salt from Brazil in exchange for oil also affected the market. The Henry Lloyd and Jonathan Thompson eventually closed the Lion Salt Works in 1986. Please read this fascinating account of one salt mine, the Crystal Ballroom. The museum and its restored buildings, have galleries that show how the salt works operated and the impact of salt on mid-Cheshire’s people, economy and landscape. Free admission to the Canal Towpath (with delightful walks). The museum is fully accessible with designated disable parking bays, accessible toilets, a lift to first floor level and a hearing induction loop. Guide dogs are allowed in the buildings.
Location : Ollershaw Lane, Marston, Northwich, Cheshire CW9 6ES
Transport: Northwich (National Rail) 25 min. No bus route.
Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:30 to 17:00
Tickets: Adult £6.25 Concession £5.50 Child £4.00
Tel: 01606 275040