In Georgian and Victorian Cheshire, salt was one of the county’s most important exports. In the early 1790s, over 80 Mersey flats were kept busy transporting 58,000 tons of salt yearly to Liverpool. In fact Cheshire had more salt than it knew what to do with, and the manufacturers tried to strictly control output in order to keep prices up.
By 1850, 525,000 tons of white salt and 86,238 tons of rock salt were transported along the Weaver Navigation from the Cheshire salt towns.
Droitwich, home of John Corbett, the ‘Salt King,’ was another important salt producing area. When the Victorians began to take an interest in working conditions in salt works, they were horrified not only by the long working hours, but also because women regularly worked just wearing their petticoats because of the heat. When factory inspector Mr Fitton visited the Droitwich salt works in March 1873, he commented primly that this mode of working was : ‘is in every way bad for women, and it is especially injurious to nursing mothers and their infants, who are brought into the steaming sheds to be suckled.’
Conditions in the rock salt mines, however, were warm and dry. They were considered by contemporaries to be much better workplaces than coal mines.
You can find out more about the story of Cheshire salt and its workers in Regency Cheshire . My latest feature for Ancestors also has tips on researching your saltworker ancestors.
Image: The shaft; descent of the bucket in the Marston rock salt mine, Northwich. Illustrated London News, 28 August 1850. Author’s collection.