Posts Tagged ‘bodies’

Northwich Salt Museum, Part 2

Hello again. It’s Wednesday and time for my guest blogger to take over.

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Weaver Hall Museum in Northwich (Cheshire) as a follow up to the post NaCl (1.8.12). I covered the first part of it in last week’s post – “A Trip Back In Time To The Workhouse”. This one is to cover the salt side. Here’s my salt collection. (The tray map may be familiar to JumeirahJames).

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Before we start, let’s just have a think on something here. You know the chemical formula for salt is NaCl: that means it’s made up from ions of sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl).

Not that interesting perhaps except if you think back to your school days. Remember those chemistry lab demonstrations that the teacher did to show you the properties of certain elements? Sodium is a metal which reacts violently with water and chlorine is a sickly smelling greenish-yellow gas and yet together they produce a substance which everyone in the world eats, in some form or other and it dissolves easily in water. Strange, hey?

Here is the coat of arms for Northwich with the Latin phrase I mentioned last time, Sal Est Vita (salt is life).

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As an aside, note the symbol on the right of the three flags on the golden ship at the top. The blue & white wavy lines were from the Mond family crest and believed to be the inspiration for the current ICI logo which is so familiar to us today particularly on their tins of paint. (It has two wavy lines with the letters ICI above. ICI was formed by 4 companies in 1926 one of which was Brunner Mond.)

I mentioned the brilliant book by Mark Kurlansky (Salt – A World History) last time; as I entered the museum there on the shelf was the paperback version of the very book. Other subject related books and pamphlets were available and I ended up with 3 of the latter.

The first display boards covered salt production dating back to the Bronze Age and up to the present day. I mentioned Roman involvement and how important access to salt was for their empire building.

Rome itself was located near a source of salt and had a street named Via Salaria (salt road) which was used to transport salt to the city; it also served the salt trade, eventually stretching 150 miles (242kms) north-east to the Adriatic Sea. In Roman times a man in love was called a salax meaning ‘in a salted state’; the ablative case of the noun is salaci which is the root of our word salacious (meaning lustful, lecherous).

Remember the refs in the Bible mentioned in the previous post – here are a couple more:

1. In the book of Leviticus: “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offering you shall offer salt” (Lev 2:13). Salt was an essential part of worship.

2. In the book of Ezra: “Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonour, therefore we send and inform the king, …..” (from ESV version of Bible, 2002) This verse was part of a letter written to King Artaxerxes (ruler of Persia (Iran) from 465BC-424BC).

The inference here is that, for the writers, eating salt (of the palace) meant they were being loyal, law-abiding subjects as opposed to those who ate salt ‘not from the king’s palace’ and therefore not paying the tax included in the price.

At various times through history, rulers around the world have made salt production and its sale a monopoly to generate tax revenue for their governments. You have only to think of the population of the world, presently around the 7 billion mark, to realise the potential in terms of revenue for private companies or governments if they’re involved in a state monopoly.

In 2011, the top four salt producing countries (in order: China, USA, Germany, India) accounted for just over 50% of the world total; UK is 13th in the list producing just 2% of the world total.

Indian salt workers are not well paid and feel trapped in their situation. Saltpan workers in the state of Gujurat which produces 70% of (4th placed) India’s total, say this: “There is a saying here that if you’re a saltpan worker, you have three ways to die: first gangrene, second TB (tuberculosis) or third blindness. In every house, people die this way.” It is not a healthy occupation! Life expectancy is only 50-60 yrs.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in Feb 2010 that, after death, certain parts of the bodies (hands & feet) of Indian saltpan workers are difficult to burn when they are cremated because of the salt content.

A saltpan, in this case, is not a pan like the ones we use in our kitchens; it is a rectangular bed or beds grouped together containing brine which, with heat from the sun, begins to evaporate and form crystals which are then collected by the workers.

Apologies for the digression – back to the Museum and a bit of geology in order to understand why the area became such a centre for salt production.

Northwich’s salt deposits lie in two layers: one is approx 150ft (40m) below the surface, called the Top Bed, and the other 330ft (100m), called the Bottom Bed. Rainwater sinks into the ground and when it reaches the rock salt deposits begins to form brine & eventually brine streams. The deeper the water goes the more saturated (concentrated) it becomes. This water can be as much as 8 times more salty that ordinary sea water – not the sort of water swim in for sure!

Here’s an example of the different grades of salt produced and their uses.

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In Victorian days salt mining, along with many other industrial processes, was very labour intensive.

Here’s a picture of a mine worker and the tub the salt was collected in which was then pushed out on rails. Note the photo in the background: the guys working on the mound are all stripped to the waist as is the man pushing the rail tub. There are three men stood by the tubs in the black & white pic who have white shirts and ties on so it must have been a posed photo with above ground workers at the mine or maybe some local bigwigs on a publicity shoot.

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In the next photo you can see some of the effects of salt mining in the local area. The bottom left photo is rather extraordinary. It demonstrates that the Victorians had been mining far too much salt from the Top Bed without leaving sufficient support to prevent sinkage. Despite the angle the building is leaning at the actual brickwork didn’t give way and the whole building just tilted over. Amazing!

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The next pic is proof that the ‘pun headline’ favoured by our (UK) tabloid newspapers is not a new invention.

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Do you see what they did there with the brand name? Substituted Middle Witch for Middlewich (the town’s name) which is about 7 miles SE of Northwich and a big salt producing area. Remember the “-wich” ending for a place name often means it was a place where salt was produced.

I’m not quite sure how you make salt go “twice as far” other than by halving the amount you use. Maybe what they mean is that you got twice as much for the same price or am I missing something? Also, don’t forget the one penny referred to was in the days when an English pound had 240 of them (not the 100 we have today).

As I reached the end of the tour round the museum I came back to the reception area where the goodies were on display. Apart from the 3 pamphlets I couldn’t resist getting an actual piece of rock salt and here it is.

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And of course I had to wet my finger and touch it and then taste – rather salty I thought. No surprise there then & probably 0/10 for originality! I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. At the end of my visit the curator told me of a (free) guided tour at another salt related site not far from the museum. As this has rambled on longer than I expected I’ll do that one next week.