Grid Ref: SJ 655 735 at the church
Date 19 March 2009


A short walk round Northwich taking in Witton Street, High Street, Bull Ring, Town Bridge, Castle Street, Hayhurst Bridge, Brockhurst Street and Chester Way.

Northwich was known to the Roman as as Condate, thought to be derived from a Brittonic name meaning "Confluence"as the town lies at the junction of the rivers Dane and Weaver. Two Roman sources mention the town. One is the Antonine Itinerary, which was a 3rd century road map. A second, much later document from the 7th centujry is the Ravenna Cosmography, a compendium of georgraphic knowledge that mentions Condate as lying between Salinae (Middlewich) and Ratae (Leicester). Condate was of importance to the Romans both as a strategic river crossing and a source of salt. There is evidence of a Roman auxiliary fort, dated to AD 70 in the area of Northwich known as "Castle". Watling Street runs through the town as the A59.

The suffix wich or wych applies also to Middlewich and Nantwich and is believed to come from the Norse, wic for a bay as in Sandwich in Kent. Salt was commonly made from sea water in such places. A wych-house was a place for making salt. and so became the name of such salt towns as Northwich and Droitwich. Northwich is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1085. The Manor of Northwich was held by the Earls of Chester until their line ceased in 1237. Since 1301, the title has been given to the heir to the throne and from the late 1300s with the title of Duke of Lancaster. The title of Earl of Chester has been created six times. Gerbod the Fleming held it from 1067 to 1070. It was re-created in 1071 for Hugh d'Avranches and held by his family until John of Scotland, 7th Earl died in 1237. King Edward I, who succeeded to the throne in 1272, held the title Lord of Chester from 1239 until his death in 1272. His grandson, Edward III, held the title and reigned from 1327 to 1377. Thus, Northwich became a Royal Manor and was let to a noble family for a fixed rent while they collected tolls.

During the Civil War Northwich was for Parliament and was garrisoned by Sir William Brereton

Between 1642 and 1643, during the Civil War, Northwich was fortified and garrisoned by Sir William Brereton of Handforth Hall. The salt bed under Northwich were re-discovered in the 1670s by the Smith-Barry family of Marbury Hall, who while prospecting for coal found rock salt. Following the disovery of the bleaching properties of chlorine by the French chemist, Claude-Louis Bertholet in the late 18th century, there was a great demand for salt. It was used to make chlorine for the rapidly expanding textile industry in Lancashire. Formerly cloth had been left in fields to bleach with the sun and rain. The demand for bleach made the salt mining and brine pumping areas of Cheshire the cradle of the chemical industry. Prominent among the earlier industrialists were businessman and chemist Sir John Brunner and the German chemist, Dr. Ludwig Mond, hence the Brunner Library shown below. This company eventually formed part of Imperial Chemical Industries with the Mond Division responsible for the chorine and alkali manufacture at Winnington Works. This business is now part of INEOS Chlor which manufactures among other products, chlorine, washing soda and bleaching fluid. The old Marston mine for rock salt at Winsford was worked for a hundred years. Sir John Brunner gave the Faraday Laboratory to the Royal Institution.

Arthur Mee's volume on Cheshire was first published in 1938 and a new edition was produced in 1968. It is not clear to which date the following comments relate:

Here where industry should be building up a rising town, is a town which was sinking into the source of its business and prosperity, the salt mines but has now been lifted up again. Here and there the streets have a crazy look, some houses lean forward and others are propped up on crutches. It is as if a mild earthquake had been at work among the shops and dwelling of this old market town, standing where the rivers Dane and Weaver meet.

The subsidence, never ceasing, if for the most part gradual, but now and then a hole may appear and part of a house disappear as once did a horse and cart. Ninety years ago the High Street was moved six feet, and another three at the beginning of this century. There is no reason to suppose the movement has ceased, for other parts of the town, such as the Bull Ring, are still going down, and the Brunner Library is moving at the rate of half and inch a year.

The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner is somewhat dismissive of Northwich, possibly not realising that many older buildings in the town centre had collapsed through subsidence and had to be replaced with lighter wooden structures in the 19th century. However, he notes that St. Helen's is in the perpendicular style outside and the decorated style inside. However, it is much altered by restorations in 1842, 1861 and 1884. Inside there are 14th century arcade pillars. The Perpendicular work is dated to the late 15th and early 16th centuries when the tower was also built.


Cinema   Entrance to Plaza
The Plaza former cinema on Witton St.   Detail of figures above the entrance to the Plaza
Penny Black   Timber buildings
The Penny Black on Witton Street   Timber construction from 19th century
Shops   Brunner Library
Properties facing the morning sunshine in Witton St.   The Brunner Library of 1909
Entrance to library   Plaque
Entrance to Brunner Library   Plaque on the library
High Street   Bull Ring
High Street   Bull Ring area of High Street
Bridge   Barge
Swing bridge of 1899 over the River Weaver   Barge on the Weaver
Hayhurst Bridge   View from Bridge
Hayhurst Bridge of 1898 built on floating pontoons   View from Hayhurst Bridge
War Memorial   St. Helens
War Memorial with spring flowers   St. Helens



The Buildings of England, Cheshire, by Nikolaus Pevsner and Edward Hubbard, Yale University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-300-09588-0
The King's England, Cheshire, by Arthur Mee, 1st edition 1938, fully revised and edited by E. T. Long, Hodder and Stoughton, 1968
Old Cheshire Churches
, with a supplementary survey relating to the lesser Old Chapels of Cheshire, completely revised and enlarged by Raymond Richards, published by E.J. Morten of Didsbury, 1973.
Dictionary of British Place Names, Andrew M. Currie, Tiger Books International, London, 1994, ISBN 1-85501-376-2


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