The good people of mid-Cheshire have been extracting salt in various ways since the Iron Age period and possibly even earlier. Inevitably, it was the Romans who began to produce it in significant quantities, exploiting naturally occurring brine streams and establishing settlements in Middlewich and Northwich. Following the discovery of the rock salt beds in 1670, salt began to be extracted from the ground in ever greater quantities and using ever more reckless methods. Catastrophic subsidence occurred during the nineteenth century, especially in Northwich, as the town literally undermined itself.
The first museum to celebrate this unique salty heritage opened its doors in Northwich town centre in 1889 but, ironically, it too became a victim of subsidence a few years later! A second library and museum opened its doors in the same area in 1909 following the stabilisation of the land. The museum focused almost entirely on the history of the salt industry rather than the wider social history of the area. There were also periods when the collection was packed away in store and it was not until the early 1970s that there was renewed interest in it. The collection was reinstated on the first floor of Northwich Library in 1974; it proved popular but bigger premises were sought.
Around the same time, Cheshire County Council was busy restoring the old Northwich Workhouse in London Road to its former glory, to house the fledgling Cheshire Museums Service. It was decided that the building could also serve as the new Salt Museum and so the salt collection moved here and opened its doors in 1981. Cheshire Museums Service began to acquire notable material from across the county, including works of art and archaeology and this collection was eventually merged with the Salt Museum collection. Since then, the Museum has broadened its approach and collected material relating to the social history of mid-Cheshire.
In June 2010, the Salt Museum (now run by Cheshire West & Chester Council) became Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse, in order to better reflect its aim of becoming the museum uncovering the wider history of the area. Much of the old Salt Museum Collection will be reinstated at the Lion Salt Works in Marston, which is currently being restored and is due to open as an exciting new visitor attraction. Lion was the last surviving traditional open pan works, so this will be a much more fitting home for this material.
Examples from our collection of oil paintings can be found on display at Weaver Hall Museum and at some Cheshire libraries. We hope to display other paintings as the main galleries are redisplayed.
Matt Wheeler, Curator
Text source: PCF / Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse
This description was originally written for a catalogue.