This website is now an archive of the restoration and should only be used as a resource. Please visit the Lion Salt Works website for the most up-to-date information.

Welcome to the Lion Salt Works blog

The Lion Salt Works is a historic brine salt making site that is being restored and transformed into a unique heritage attraction. Led by Cheshire West and Chester Council, this £8million project will see the site reborn as a fascinating destination for tourists, day visitors and families and a valued resource for local communities, businesses and heritage interest groups.

Located in the village of Marston, close to the town of Northwich, the site lies adjacent to the Trent and Mersey Canal and is close to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. A substantial part of the site is a Scheduled Monument.

Restoration work has now started on the site, with an expected opening in spring 2015. The Lion Salt Works is currently closed to the public.

Monday, 3 December 2012

November 2012 - Repairing the Stove Houses and Treating the Brine Shaft

The early winter mornings sees red sunrises to the east over the Lostock Gralam Chemical Works.

The repair of the stove house walls
The walls of the stove houses are very narrow, normally two bricks thick. They are fragile where the salt has damaged and removed the mortar. In places, the Thompson’s put rigid steel joists into the wall to reinforce them.

Not all the walls will be dismantled during the restoration. Instead small parts will be taken down, repaired and rebuilt brick by brick.

Elsewhere the walls have bulged with the weight of ash and cinder retained behind them in the stove houses. The ash and cinder was used to build up the level of the flues internally to the stove house.

Fixing Spiro-ties

These walls are retained using spiro-ties; strips of spiral metal designed to strengthen the individual courses of the brick-work. Buttresses will be built to strengthen the wall.

Clearing the collapsed tunnel
The collapsed tunnel
Between the Link Block and the Packing Area were the collapsed remains of a tunnel. This originally ran from the canal to the Red Lion Hotel and dates to the earliest period of the Thompson’s ownership of the site in the 1890s.

An interesting find
At some point the tunnel was covered over with metal sheets. These had decayed and the remains collapsed into the tunnels. This had to be cleared in order to allow safe access to the area around the base of the chimney in the packing area.

Treating the brine shaft
The former brine shaft originally dug in 1894 must be treated in order to prevent water infiltrating the layers of salt below the ground. The area around the brine shaft has been cleared to allow the large drilling rig to be brought in. This involves clearing the old oil tank bases built in the 1970s.

Clearing the 1970s oil tank

Fallen brine pipes were removed to storage before being placed back once work was finished.

The drilling rig sits on two large rigid steel joists.

Laying out the support for the drilling rig
 The process involves drilling down to the salt layer 45m below. 

Drilling the brine shaft

A mixture of salt water, cement and ash is pumped into the drilled hole and this hardens and seals the brine shaft preventing further water infiltration.

European Visitors – Manage +

At the end of the month one of our key partners in the project visited site.

Funding from the manage+ project gives the Lion Salt Works a european dimension. Manage+ http://www.manageplus.eu/en/manageplus/about-manage.html aims to develop and implement innovative, sustainable and cost-effective models for the management and operation of regenerated areas. Manage+ includes five pilot sites formerly used for industry or military purposes in four European countries (UK, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany) which are being converted into business parks, greenbelt recreation areas and tourist destinations. The 10th partner meeting was held in Chester from 28th to 30th November with delegates from all partner countries taking part in workshops and site visits.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A History of the Lion Salt Works

In a new part of the Lion Salt Works blogs we will look at the history, processes and people of the Lion Salt Works and salt industry in Cheshire in our in depth history guides. This will bring together historical reports and the latest research where possible. The blogs will also try to explain the different buildings and processes at the Lion Salt Works in the easy …How to … guides.

Rock salt was first exploited in Marston in 1781, when John Gilbert the elder, notable engineer and factor to the Duke of Bridgewater, purchased the Symme Fields for £2,000. He developed the Marston Mine, to the west of the later Lion Salt Works site, by sinking a 300ft deep shaft, and installing a Boulton and Watt engine to wind rock salt and pump brine. In 1821 John Gilbert the younger sold the Symme Fields to John Buckley, tenant farmer at Marston Hall Farm.

In 1856 John Thompson Senior (1790-1867) and John Thompson Junior (1821-1899) obtained from John Buckley a 50 year lease for the Outlet Field (part of Symme Fields), where they constructed the Alliance Salt Works. This was served by a canal arm linked to the Trent and Mersey Canal, and a siding on the Marston Branch of the Cheshire Midland Railway. In 1874 Jabez Thompson was in possession of the works. In 1877 a number of houses were constructed on Ollershaw Lane, probably to accommodate workers at the Lion Salt Works. These included the current buildings of the Red Lion Inn. In 1888, the Thompson family sold the Alliance Salt Works to the Salt Union. The Alliance Salt Works closed around 1900 and the site passed from the Salt Union into the ownership of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), who retained the salt rights.

The Lion Salt Works in 1898 (Ordnance Survey)
In 1894, following disagreement with the Salt Union over the roles of Thompson family members, John Junior and his son, Henry Ingram Thompson, constructed a new salt works in the coal yard of the Red Lion Hotel, and the works became known as the ‘Lion Salt Works’. Initially the Lion Salt works adopted the buildings of the Red Lion Hotel. The new company quickly built a series of pan and stove houses between the hotel and the canal, that include Pan 2, Stove House 2, the Link Building and a former building in the Pan House Garden (Pan 1). A brine shaft was sunk in the yard of the hotel and a brine tank was built that still stands today.

The Lion Salt Works in 1910 (Ordnance Survey)
When John Thompson Junior died in 1899, Henry Ingram Thompson took over the salt business, and an inventory of the salt works was created in that year, valuing the Lion Salt Works at £6,600. The inventory included a new pan and stove house (Pan and Stove House 3), as well as a number of common pans that have now been demolished. The small single-storey ‘manager’s office’ was built separate to the site. In 1901 Henry Ingram Thompson erected a new salt store by the canal on the west side of Ollershaw Lane, this became known as the ‘Coronation Warehouse’.

It was about this time that two former cottages along Ollershaw Lane were extended to the rear and turned into the Red Lion Inn, a direct replacement of the former Red Lion Hotel.

The Lion Salt Work in the 1910s,
note the curved roof of the Coronation Salt Store
In the 1950s the common pans described above were demolished and replaced by Pan and Stove House 4. The old brine shaft was abandoned and filled with cinders. A new shaft was built and served by a reclaimed steam engine and a nodding-donkey pump, still visible on site today.

Pan House 3 from Ollershaw Lane in the 1960s,
note the old style  of hipped roof
and the  now dismantled chimney
In the early 1960s, Alan Thompson and Henry Lloyd Thompson purchased land from ICI, on the Alliance Works site, in order to erect Pan House 5, which received planning consent in 1965. At about the same time, a new borehole was drilled to the east of the original brine shaft, and an electrical submersible pump installed. The existing engine house was rebuilt in c.1980; and Pan No.1 became unsafe during the early 1980s, and was therefore demolished.

In June 1986, the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war precipitated the closure of the works, as the main market was located in West Africa, and the site was purchased by Vale Royal Borough Council. The Red Lion Inn was leased to Macclesfield and Vale Royal Groundwork Trust, and converted to offices and exhibition space. The lease to the whole site was transferred to the Lion Salt Works Trust.

The Salt Wagons served the site via a separate branch line

October 2012 - Rebuilding the Pan Houses

The pump house chimney turned red by an October sunset
As October passes the nights are drawing in. The early morning mist clings to the site to midday and the evening skies bleach the buildings red.

Rebuilding Pan House 4 Walls
The short wall along Pan House 4 is dismantled
With the scaffold complete, preparation starts to rebuild the walls of the individual buildings. Some walls have to be entirely taken down brick by brick. A foundation of concrete is laid and the wall built back up using the original bricks.
The collapsed wall of Pan House 4
One of the major tasks over the next month will be to take down the walls between Pan House 3 and Stove House 3; and the identical wall between Pan House 4 and Stove House 4. In order to rebuild it strong foundations were needed and the area was dug out through a mix of brick rubble and concrete to foundation level. The material was so strong breakers were needed to remove it.

The metal plate that carried up the wall:
note the decay caused by the salt
These walls between the pan and stove houses were both structurally weak. The culprit: large metal plates that allowed the flues to pass under the walls. They had become infiltrated with salt and decayed. The wall of Pan House 4 was in such bad repair it had partially collapsed.

 The excavation revealed for the first time in fifty years the remains of the flues that came out from the rear of the pans.
The area at the back (northern) side of Pan 4 revealed
for the first time in 50 years; four flues pass to Stove House 4

Clearing Pan 2
Around Pan 2, were the collapsed remains of the former pan house. These timbers have been carefully recorded and removed in order to make the area safe. 

On the north side of Pan 2: dense undergrowth had
hidden the broken skeleton of the former Pan House
Pan and Stove House 3
Other areas are built of timber and the planks. In Stove House 3 these are being removed in order to dismantle the wall prior to rebuilding it brick by brick in the same location. The timbers are being removed, propped and the rotten material replaced.
The gable end of Stove House 3 is propped  prior to taking the central wall down.
It has not just been a destructive process; the first walls of Pan House 3 have been rebuilt, brick by brick; the mortar carefully selected to match the subtle hues of the various mixes of mortar used on site.

A momentous moment: the first wall is rebuilt on site - so begins restoration

Sunday, 21 October 2012

September 2012 - Completing the Scaffold

The scaffold is complete…

Completing the scaffold over the summer months was a long and difficult process given the condition of the buildings. Seven buildings in total within the historic core had to be propped: both Pan Houses 3 and 4, Stove Houses 2, 3 and 4, the Link Block and the Packing Area.

The scaffold of each historic building had to be individually designed in order to take the unique weights and stresses. The scaffold secures the walls and floors and takes the weight from existing structure of cast iron columns, iron girders, wooden posts and beams. The scaffold not only props the building but allows access to the upper working areas of the site: the roofs, the roof beams and the upper floors. Without the scaffold the working environment would be too dangerous.

With the scaffold in place the future of the building is secure and many of the initial restoration tasks can now be undertaken.

Meet the team

The enabling work that stabilised the building was undertaken by Wates Construction and they have now been contracted to undertake the main restoration work. They will be ably assisted by William Anelay who undertook the enabling works in 2009 that saw the dismantling of many of the partially collapsed structures.

The restoration process

In order to secure the structural condition of the buildings the internal and walls of the building will be entirely rebuilt. In places these had partly collapsed as they had been built on metal plates and girders that had disintegrated due to the corrosive effects of salt reacting with the metal.

In addition external walls will be dismantled and rebuilt on more secure foundations.

This will involve brick by brick dismantling of the wall and excavation down to foundation level before rebuilding.

Grouting the Brine Shaft and Boreholes

The former brine shaft that allowed brine to be extracted from the brine streams flowing beneath the site has to be grouted in order to make it safe. Although the location of the brine shaft was known from historic maps and plans it was necessary to locate it on the ground.

The Heritage Open Day 2012

As part of Cheshire’s Heritage Open Days 2012 the Lion Salt Works was one of a number of sites open across the region on the weekend of the 9th, 10th and 11th of September.

Visitors were shown round the site and given talks by Chris Hewitson, the Project Archaeologist and Bernhard Talbot, the site manager for Wates Construction.

Visitors were able to walk around the site and a museum display was located in the ground floor of the Red Lion Inn.

The open day was an opportunity for people to visit the site but also for people to come and share their memories of the works. We had visitors who had worked on the site, who remembered the site when they were children and those who had lived in the local area including the Salt Barge pub across the street. We hope to capture these memories as part of the Salt Memories – Oral History Project.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Salt in Cheshire before the Lion Salt Works

From the Prehistoric to the Thompsons

In a new part of the Lion Salt Works blogs we will look at the history, processes and people of the Lion Salt Works and salt industry in Cheshire in our in depth history guides. This will bring together historical reports and the latest research where possible. The blogs will also try to explain the different buildings and processes at the Lion Salt Works in the easy …How to … guides.

Roman and prehistoric salt-making

Salt-making in Cheshire dates back over 2000 years and is prehistoric in origin. The latest research by Janice Kinory into prehistoric salt-making has highlighted Cheshire as an important salt-making area from prior to the arrival of the Romans.

The salt towns of Cheshire were first established by the Roman period at Northwich (Condate), Middlewich (Salinae) and Nantwich. In 2002 excavation revealed the fullest evidence so far recovered for the Roman settlement at Nantwich, a historic salt-producing centre in Cheshire (north-western England), was revealed by an excavation carried out at Kingsley Fields, on the west side of the town. Positioned along a Roman road was evidence for the collection and storage of brine and the production of salt, together with buildings, enclosures, a well and a small number of cremation burials. Waterlogged conditions meant that organic remains, including structural timbers, were well preserved on the site. These included the two finest examples of timber-built brine tanks excavated from Roman Britain. The report on these excavations by Peter Arrowsmith and David Power has been recently published (see below).

Medieval salt-making

By the Anglo-Saxon period the towns had developed the –wich place names by which they are described today. The Domesday Book of 1086 describes the extent of the salt-works in the Cheshire region. Northwich was described as

In the same hundred of Mildestvic there was a third Wich called Norwich (Northwich), which was in farm at eight pounds. In it there were the same laws and customs as in the other Wiches, and the King and the Earl divided the receipts in the like manner. All the thanes who held salt-houses in this Wich gave no Friday's boilings of salt the year through.

The Nantwich Salt Ship
Production continued throughout the medieval period. Perhaps the best archaeological find from this period was the Nantwich Salt Ship now on display at the Nantwich Museum. This huge hollowed out tree trunk is an amazing survival of the medieval salt industry in Nantwich. Known as a ‘salt ship’ it was found during excavations in 2003 and was used to store brine before it was heated in shallow lead pans to produce salt crystals. It survived due to waterlogged conditions preventing its decay. Evidence of medieval salt working in Nantwich survives well in the waterlogged ground and remains of timber buildings, salt ships and wooden barrels all show how important the salt industry was in the town.

In 1580, the great chronicler William Camden writing in his Magna Brittanica describes the area;

Agricola - Woodcut of salt-making
From thence runneth Wever down by Nantwich, not far from Middlewich, and so to Northwich. These are very famous Salt-Wiches, five or six miles distant, where brine or salt water is drawn out of pits, which they pour not upon wood while it burneth as the ancient Gauls and Germans were wont to do, but boil it over a fire to make salt thereof. William Camden – Magna Brittanica 1580.

A wood-cut of the 17th century by Georgius Agricola shows the process in detail. 

Open pan salt-making

The process of medieval salt-making was almost identical to that undertaken at the Lion Salt Works. It relied on heating brine over a fire, but the pans were much smaller and generally made of lead not iron. The supply of brine at this time relied on natural springs or brine pits;

" At Northwich there is a deep and plentiful brine pit with stairs about it, by which, when they have drawn the water in their leathern buckets, they ascend, half naked, to their troughs and fill them, from whence it is conveyed to the wich-houses about which there stand on every side many stakes and piles of wood." (William Camden – Magna Brittanica 1580).

The extent of salt-making in Northwich was significant as suggested by a letter received by George Johnson from Chomley, in February 1605; ‘The said Northwich is a Burrow and holden of the Earle of Chester… There is, in the same towne or Burrow, one hundred and thirteen salt houses, every one containing four leads apiece...’.

William Brownrigg - small pans and furnace
The pans were small and set in groups of four with the heat drawn from the fires by a small chimney. William Brownrigg writing in 1748 in his ‘Book of Common Salt’, shows a wood-cut of one of these salt-making pans.

By the later 18th century the small pans of the medieval period had been replaced by much larger iron pans in the Cheshire region. These were almost as large as the ones in the Lion Salt Works. Christoph Chrysel writing in 1773 in his ‘Remarkable and very useful Information about the present Salt Works and Salt pans in England’ notes a pan in Northwich;

The first pan is 36 feet long, 25 feet broad and 13 inches deep and holds at one time 975 cubic feet of brine and has three furnaces.

The second pan is 40 ft. long, 27 feet broad and 13 inches deep, and holds at one time 1170 cubic feet of Brine and has 3 Fireplaces. Both these large pans are still to be seen in England on the Baron's Quay Salt works near Northwich in Cheshire, where they are worked weekly and were built more than 4 years since.

Christoph Chrysel developed an improved system of salt-making for which he received a 14 year patent. He describes a process not dissimilar to that used at the Lion Salt Works suggesting it had reached its ultimate form by the 18th century. His improvement to the process developed the furnace beneath the salt pans and resulted in ‘the least Fire and Coal the most Salt can be made and the greatest Profit received’. The two types of salt normally produced are described below;

William Brownrigg -
Outline of Furnace and salt pan

" The fourth sort is Broad Salt, that is to say Coarse Salt, because it has larger crystals than the foregoing salt. It is made more especially in Cheshire in every salt works. The Brine from the Salt springs with a very gentle and moderate fire, in large pans is heated for 24 hours when large hard crystals are formed. It is drawn into Salt Tubs and allowed to remain on the sides of the Pans for 8 or 9 hours then taken to the Storehouse and thrown into a heap and allowed to lie until it is dry, which happens in a few days. I have seen it sold in two or three days and taken away. The price of this Salt at the works is 14 shillings per ton without the duty.

" The fifth sort is Fishery or Flakey or Shivery salt. The Brine is heated with a very gentle fire for 36 hours for half a pan of brine or 72 hours for a full pan, when crystals of half an inch and ¾ inch cube are formed. This is sold at 20 shillings per ton without the duty and is chiefly sent to the Newfoundland Fishery without paying any duty, for all salt sold and shipped out of England pays no duty. On the contrary all salt used in England must pay a duty of Ten pounds per ton.

His description of salt made in Cheshire would not have been unfamiliar to the Thompson’s in the 1960s. The open pan salt works that developed around Northwich used unchanged 18th-century technology but were generally larger in scale. Tom Lightfoot describing his memories of the Middlewich and Winsford industries of the early 20th century suggests large numbers of salt pans set side by side along the River Weaver.

Further Reading

Janice Kinory 2012 Salt Production, Distribution and Use in the British Iron Age, Archaeopress, BAR 559

Peter Arrowsmith and David Power 2012 Roman Nantwich: A Salt-Making Settlement Excavations at Kingsley Fields in 2002, Archaeopress, BAR 557

Calvert, AK 1915 Salt in Cheshire

Brownrigg, William 1748 Book of Common Salt

Monday, 21 May 2012

May 2012 - Propping the pan houses and drilling the ground - work continues on site

Over the last few weeks steady progress has been made at the Lion Salt Works.

Scaffolding has continued in Pan House 3 and is being put up around the remains of Pan House 4 (picture right) which lies to the east. The scaffold is being placed either side of the pan and bridged over it.

Either side of the large pan for salt boiling were wooden platforms known as 'hurdles' from which the salt workers skimmed the salt from the boiling surface. These were made of three inch thick timbers laid loosely on a wooden framework. To the right John and Gary pass scaffold poles through the loose boards to allow a scaffold platform to be formed over the pan from which work can commence on the roof.

The percussion rig in front of Pan House 4
The window sampler in the Pan Garden 
Meanwhile elsewhere on the site geo-technical boreholes have been undertaken. These are drilled through the earth in order to understand the make-up of the ground below the monument. The largest rig (seen on the right) goes down up to 18 metres underground.

A smaller rig known as a 'window sampler' (seen left) goes down to a shallower depth of 8 metres. Here it is seen in the Pan House Garden next to the Ollershaw Lane bridge next to the canal.

The boreholes provide a profile of the soil and geological material below the site. This will allow an understanding of foundation work required below the buildings.

A decayed rail track was excavated
seen on the left of the photo
In order to prevent damage to archaeological remains below the ground, test pits were dug before each hole was drilled. These allowed the discovery of interesting remains from previous phases of the Lion Salt Works. The test pit adjacent to Pan House 4 revealed the remains of train rails and sleepers.

The tracks are exposed elsewhere on site, on which sit the remains of the salt wagon. These curve round the Red Lion Inn and in front of the two pan houses where coal would have been unloaded directly into the stove houses.
The exposed tracks by the salt carriage

A brick surface is visible in the base of the test pit
adjacent to the bridge on Ollershaw Lane 

Elsewhere a buried brick surface probably represent some of the remains of an earlier pan house built in around 1900 that was located next to the bridge on Ollershaw Lane. The brick surface probably represents a gutter running down the side of the pan that took the waste salt brine away.

The rail line can be seen on the
1910 map snaking into the Lion Salt Works

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Welcome all to this the first of my blogs on the Lion Salt Works.

Myself on site
I'm Chris Hewitson, and I've been appointed as the Lion Salt Works Project Archaeologist for the next two years during the restoration of the site before it opens as a visitor attraction and museum. I'll be your guide through the process of the restoration and hopefully explaining what we are doing on site, why and when.

After a career in archaeology in the West Midlands I've headed back up the M6 to the north to come and work on the project.

The Lion Salt Works from Ollershaw Lane
So what is the Lion Salt Works? Well for those of you who don't know it is the last surviving open pan salt works in the country. An open pan salt-making involves the artificial heating of brine (that's salty water) by coal or in the case of the Lion Salt Works oil at the end. Work ceased at the site in 1986 and since then it has been a museum. Details about the site and the project are on the Lion Salt Works project page.

By the canal
As well as the regular blog update we will be adding more photos, videos and explaining the work as the  project goes on showing how the restoration work is progressing. 

The story so far...

So what's been going on so far on site. Although the main part of the restoration work is a long way off some of us have been on site for a while now preparing the works.

For those of you who pass by Ollershaw Lane on a regular basis or live in Marston you will have noticed that the fencing has gone up around the site and along the canal towpath. Although at the moment it seems the site is being hidden from view, peep holes will be available so you can still see progress from the canal towpath.
John and Dwayne admire their handiwork in Pan House 3
Scaffolders from HT Scaffold have commenced propping the interior of Pan House 3. As you can imagine the buildings have seen better days and in order to work in the buildings they have to be secure. This involves building a 'bird cage' scaffold which will support the entire structure during restoration work.

Well that's all for now.

Please feel free to ask questions and I shall do my best to answer.