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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Lion Saltworks Rises from Ashes

There’s great news for Cheshire history fans – funding to restore Northwich’s famous Lion Saltworks at Marston has been agreed at last. There’s a new blog where you can see updates on the works and photos of the restoration work.

Salt was made by evaporation in huge pans at the works, which were owned by the Thompson family. Salt was transported in narrowboats along the Trent & Mersey Canal down to the Anderton Boat Lift, then continued its journey along the River Weaver.
If your ancestors were Cheshire salt workers, I recently wrote a feature for BBC Who Do You Think You Are? on tracing your family tree.

There are plans to open the restored salt works to visitors again in 2014 as a ‘living museum’. It would be great if the new visitor centre could include salt-making demonstrations, but we’ll have to wait until more details are available to find out.
Update June 2014: the proposed opening date for the newly restored Lion Saltworks is now spring 2015. We drove past the site recently and it's beginning to look very spick and span.

Photo: Lion Saltworks prior to restoration. A salt waggon at the Lion Saltworks, Marston. © Sue Wilkes.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A Romantic Ruin

I have passed Tintern Abbey many times while driving down the Wye Valley, but haven’t had a chance to explore this picturesque site until very recently. Tintern, of course, has its own story to tell: it was home to the Cistercian order during the twelfth century. It is also legendary for being one of the birthplaces of Romanticism. William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey all visited the ruins, which inspired one of Wordsworth's most famous poems.

But this beautiful, tranquil valley was also formerly home to thriving metal industries. There was an ironworks here as early as the sixteenth century, a wireworks, and later a railway. The clatter, smoke and din of industry have all long since gone, however. If you walk away from the main road and up along the valley, there is only birdsong to disturb the silence…

Images: Tintern Abbey, Tintern Abbey furnace.   © Sue Wilkes

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Industrial Exhibition of 1862

Two hundred and fifty years ago this month, the 1862 industrial exhibition in South Kensington opened. Following the triumph of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and Joseph Paxton’s landmark Crystal Palace, expectations ran high for this new international exhibition.

The 1862 exhibition was dogged by controversy right from the planning stages. Captain Francis Fowke’s design for the building was considered a stylistic disaster by many commentators, who could not understand why Paxton was not chosen to reprise his former sensational design.
Prince Albert’s death the previous December 1861 was a great loss to the Exhibition planners. Albert had fought to keep the 1851 exhibition as a platform for the peaceful arts, but weapons of war were permitted in the 1862 exhibition.
There was more controversy because exhibitors were allowed to choose where to site their wares and an undignified fight for space erupted amongst the nations taking part. At one point it looked as if the Americans would not appear at all because Congress refused to give any financial support for their exhibits. There was critical comment over the judging procedures, too. Some of the judges awarding prizes were also exhibitors! The organizers had decided to permit visitors to buy exhibits if they wished, so at times the exhibition seemed more like a giant bazaar than a celebration of industry.
Queen Victoria was not present at the Exhibition’s grand opening on 1 May, probably because it was a painful reminder that she and Albert had opened the Crystal Palace eleven years earlier. As in 1851, there was a ‘shilling day’ so that ordinary people could afford to attend. Some children from the London Orphan Asylum visited: their treat was paid for by members of the Stock Exchange. The young Prince of Wales and his little sisters visited on the same day.
Despite the critics, the Exhibition attracted over six million visitors to see wonders such as Charles Babbage’s calculating engine, the Bessemer process, Perkin’s revolutionary aniline dye, and the new process of chromolithography.
The original planners had hoped that the building would be used for future events, but instead much of its materials were used to build Alexandra Palace (which later burnt down). Only two years after the Exhibition closed its doors, the building’s remains were dynamited by a team of Royal Engineers from Chatham. Capt. Fowke watched the demolition of the building he created.

Images from the author's collection: View of the 1862 Exhibition. Old and New London Vol. V, c. 1895.

One of the 1862 Exhibition’s colossal domes, designed by Capt. Fowke. Record of the 1862 Exhibition, William Mackenzie, c.1863.

Lilleshall Company’s Blast Engine exhibited in 1862. Record of the 1862 Exhibition, William Mackenzie, c.1863.