Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

The Lion Saltworks and Anderton Boat Lift

My regular guest blogger is posting on Thursday this week, a day later than usual. Enjoy it!

This week’s post finds me in a village in the Cheshire countryside just NE of the town of Northwich. What am I doing here? Well, at the end of last week’s blog you remember the guy at the Museum told me about a site visit with a free guided tour in a nearby village; and so off I went, just 2 miles across town, to the Lion Salt Works in Marston. (Its population was in 1801-284, 1901-878 & 1951-729.) It is interesting to remember that the discovery of salt in the area was accidental; people in the 17th cent were digging to try and find coal and came across the salt.

Here’s a view of the works from the opposite bank of the canal. You can see how handy it was for collections and deliveries to the site. Canals were of course the highways of their day. They were the new form of transport enabling importers and exporters to get their goods to or from a port and others who just needed to move goods to market where there were no decent road connections.

Thanks to Chris Allen for photo from Geograph site. Photo used with permission under Creative Commons Licence (details below, each of which can be copied/pasted into browser to see relevant info):
Licence details: “http://creativecommons.org/ns#”
Picture: “http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/63/79/637954_1bcb2934.jpg”
Owner: “http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/4264”
Usage permission: “http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”
image

And next is an aerial view; the renovation scaffolding had not arrived at this point. Thanks to Edward Robinson for the pic from the Geograph site (taken in Oct 2011). Photo used with permission under Creative Commons Licence (details below, each of which can be copied/pasted into browser to see relevant info):
Licence details: “http://creativecommons.org/ns#”
Picture: “http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/02/81/57/2815732_839ef24f.jpg”
Owner: ” http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/75769″
Usage permission: “http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0”
image

I had to use someone else’s aerial view as my private helicopter was in the garage being repaired and my pilot was on holiday! It was his turn on the rota (or should that be rotor….haha).

The site was owned and operated by the Thompson Family from 1894 to its closure in 1986: this was due to a civil war in the country where most of its exports went – Nigeria. (It was the last open pan salt works in the county; it is the only surviving Victorian salt works in the UK; and although not actually working, the structure is one of only 3 surviving open pan salt works in the whole world!).

The poor quality of the upper structure, made from mainly wood, corrugated iron & asbestos, was due to its owners believing it would be just a temporary building until the mine or brine was exhausted and they would move on.
It made the BBC’s “Restoration” programme but didn’t get enough voted to progress finishing in second position on the day. However a campaign, which has run for many years to turn the site into a proper visitor centre, has eventually resulted in an £8 million refurbishment programme; it is hoped that work, just started, will be completed by Spring 2014.

Our archaeologist guide Chris was ready and waiting with a couple of other visitors as I arrived; in the next 10 minutes the group expanded to about 12. I hope I have remembered his info correctly – any mistakes are mine as they say in the publishing world.

Open pan means basically you construct a large rectangular shaped metal tank, fill it with brine pumped from underground, and put a heat source (originally coal, later oil) underneath it; as the brine evaporates a salt precipitate is formed which is then scooped out. The one we were able to see measured about 30ft x 20ft (9.1m x 6.1m). The strength of heat is what determines the quality of salt produced: hotter equals better quality. It was said that it needed 1 ton of coal to produce 2 tons of salt.

The Lion Salt Works, as you saw in the pic, is located right next to the Trent & Mersey Canal which runs 93 miles from Derby through to near Runcorn. That canal also serviced exports from the Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent area) and Josiah Wedgewood (yes ‘the’ JW himself) cut the first piece of turf (in 1766) to start the construction of the canal. It also brought coal to the Lion and took salt exports away.

The big barrier to the smooth operation through to the ports on the River Mersey was the difference in height which had to be overcome at Anderton just north of Northwich itself: about 50ft (15.24m). It was solved by building a boat lift to raise and lower the narrowboats with their cargoes. It was closed for a long time because of corrosion caused by the very cargoes of salt which it was built to move. After a £7 million refurbishment it is now open and working although the salt trade has gone. It’s well worth a visit as there are only two such structures in the UK – this one and a far newer one in Scotland called The Falkirk Wheel.

Here’s a view from a boat on the River Weaver approaching the lift. Thanks to Dave & Ann-Marie of the blog Becoming Listless for the excellent action photos. Their blog, about their narrowboat travels, is definitely worth a visit: (http://becominglistless.blogspot.co.uk/).
image

The Lift, built in 1875, has two large tanks both of which can take two full length (72ft/22m) narrowboats (side by side) – see the space beside the one in the bottom left side of the lift in the photo. The tanks are called caissons and each weighs 252 tons when full of water.

Can you answer this question: if there were 2 boats, in one caisson, each weighing 24 tons how much would the total weight in the caisson be? Think carefully! Can only offer a (paper) gold star to the first correct reply but they’re quite rare in the Rambler’s Blogworld.

And here’s a view from the boat when it’s actually in the lift looking back the way it’s just come.
image

In the distance you can see the concrete buildings of an industrial site called the Winnington Works. These chemical works were built by the Brunner Mond Company in 1873 – remember the wavy lines in the Northwich Town Crest at the beginning of last week’s blog. (Interestingly, Brunner was born and raised in Everton in Liverpool.)

Also interesting is that, at these very works back in the 1930s, a substance called polyethylene (or PE) was discovered just by accident; we know it by its more common name of polythene. One of its uses is in the manufacture of – what currently seems to be public enemy no.1 – the ubiquitous plastic carrier bag. So now you know, that’s where the bag that has gone all over the world started its life.

But I digress. Back to the Lion Salt Works.

I had hoped to show you a picture showing a plan of the site but have been unable to obtain copyright permission. (There’s one in Google Images if you’re interested.

Because of all the scaffolding and areas still being made safe we were somewhat restricted in the areas we could see but we did go inside pan house 4 and the small Exhibition Centre. The rest of the talk took place outside looking across the site towards the canal at the top of the plan.
Here are a couple of views of the side of panhouse 4.
image

image

And here’s a close up of the chimney on the left of the previous pic<
image

Here’s a view of one end of the saltpan inside panhouse 4.
image

And where the furnace was fed with coal:
image

When the crystals were scraped out of the saltpan they were put into receptacles (salt moulds) originally cone shaped but later a tapered rectangular shape and packed down. Once set, the blocks would be tipped out and then lifted through a space in the roof to an area just above head height where they would be stored to dry out using the heat rising from below.

I had hoped to use 3 or 4 pics from a booklet produced by the Lion Salt Works Trust but unfortunately after many attempts by phone (including leaving messages) and an email using an address from the site which was returned as “unknown recipient” this has not been possible. I will have to just direct you to a YouTube vid (sound not that good, seems to be too fast but it shows the place and some old stuff). If you have a couple of minutes watch this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk69Dij9oUI

Apparently elm was the wood used for the salt moulds. They had a cricket bat shaped piece of wood called a ‘mundling stick’ which was used to bash the crystals down into the moulds to make the lump as heavy as possible. Long handled perforated ladles (‘skimmers’) were used to gather the crystals and allow surplus liquid to drain off back into the pan. After tipping the blocks out of the moulds the next job would be to lift them up over head height into the drying area on the floor above.

Halfway through the tour a visitor arrived, from a nearby village, who told us (and our guide) that he had actually worked at the site in the 1960s doing various jobs including the one just mentioned lifting the blocks to the floor above. His info was great as we were literally hearing it from the horse’s mouth. He told us that working there in the heat caused a number of health issues from breathing in the fumes coming off the saltpans and burns from hot surfaces.

He also showed us his finger tips where you could see he had no fingerprints – they were burnt off he said through the work there! Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking….. because I did too. (Had he thought of a safe job…. Perhaps at my local bank?)

The Salt Union, which is still in business today, was formed in 1888 by the amalgamation of over 60 salt producers to try and address the problem of overproduction which was bringing the price down to uneconomic levels. (The influence of cheap Cheshire salt was felt across the country. The decline and closure of salt workings was reported in town histories for places as diverse as Lymington on England’s south coast and the county of Fife in Scotland!) Today technology has moved on of course and the production figures, by this conglomerate, are staggering compared with earlier times. Here are some statistics from their own publicity. Check out how far their tunnels go in the last paragraph.
image

It’s also worth remembering that, in our ecologically more sensitive times, some of the excesses of the salt mining companies which caused land & road subsidence at various times have got a new life. For instance Neumann’s Flashes, an area of subsidence just up the road from the Lion Salt Works, has been turned into a Community Woodland with a lake and numerous wildfowl species. (My 1908 OS Map puts the lake size at 17 acres – that’s about 10 times the size of Liverpool FC’s Football Pitch!) Keep your eyes open there and, amongst other species, you might catch a glimpse of the rare “dingy skipper butterfly”!

The Census records for 1871 tell us that Henry Neumann, who had owned the mine in that area, had retired by 1871: that means prior to his 60th birthday. It possible to gain some idea of his financial success as a salt producer from the census records for that year: at his home are four family members along with a butler, domestic servant, house maid & kitchen maid. Records for the 1881 & 1891 continue to show him with a staff of at least 4 servants. Salt was very good to Henry. Don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind retiring with such a set up as that.

Anyway that was it. Overall I’d learned a lot about salt, how it was produced & some of the disasters over-mining caused. It was certainly a lot more interesting than I’d expected. Time to set off for home. The Lion Salt Works free tour had been an unexpected bonus on my trip and very enjoyable. Hope the guys doing the renovation work will not meet too many problems in trying to preserve the structure and build the new stuff. Roll on Spring 2014 and the new Visitor Centre.

Salt does have other more unusual uses: have a look at this clip showing a guy producing a picture using salt! It is quite good.

http://www.wimp.com/artsalt/

And finally don’t forget to have a go at the quiz question about the boat lift. If you can’t work it out try a guess. Answer will be given next week if no-one gets it by then.

Freedom internet

The next installment of our guest blogger’s thought-provoking series on freedom….

After Freedom RulesFreedom MusicFreedom Art & Freedom Literature we now come to Part 5 which I’m calling Freedom Internet. As you probably guessed I’ve been covering elements of what most people call popular “culture” (music, art, literature). I think we have to accept that the internet has now become an element of culture in its impact and coverage. Not only is it an element of the culture here in our society but it also affects most cultures in societies across the world. Wikipedia has become the ubiquitous reference tool despite not having the reliability of the printed encyclopaedia. In the past, print had to be far more rigorous in what it published but today’s Wiki sites have only to say: “No ref” or “Citation needed” to indemnify themselves against claims of being conduits of false, confidential or potentially malicious info. And here lies a far bigger issue – unsubstantiated info appears alongside verified stuff with the result that people end up not being able to tell the difference.

The first thing to notice is that “the internet” or, as its altruistic creator Tim Berners-Lee called it, the World Wide Web, does not exist as a separate entity or area like which previous freedom subjects did. Remember his original idea was simply to enable scientists to share info & research without having to resort to paper, telecoms (telex, fax, at the time) & postal connections. There is no unique place called the internet. It exists only on computer chips, in telephone lines and on many different servers across the world. It is actually an open network of linked servers with various files which can be shared. It’s a bit like a library, not of books but of other libraries all across the world.

From that point of view what you see as “on the internet” may not be what someone else sees: take China, North Korea & other nations who severely restrict the access of their inhabitants to it. Their “internet” is not the same as mine or yours. One server owner may agree to content which others may not. These server owners then become the arbiters of what will or will not be released into the public domain. Quite simply they have now become the ones who, to put it mildly, “push the boundaries”. More bluntly they have become the source of much of today’s morality and the setters of standards apparently deemed acceptable. How so? Well think of it this way – to whom are they answerable? There is no ruling body for “the internet”, no high council (or committee) who decide the rightness or wrongness of putting a particular site up for public viewing. It is completely in their hands. The internet is an open network with no controls – except the consciences of the server providers! Comments made in print, film or artistic endeavour are more rigorously scrutinised because of the potential for libel claims. Where the internet is concerned, people can just “hide” behind made up names and identities.

The potential for criminal activity is greatly increased. I don’t suppose there are many of us who have not received an email telling us that upwards of $100,000,000 is lying in a bank account somewhere in Nigeria and that we are the only ones who can unlock this vast store of money. Why would you believe a totally anonymous stranger would want to give you a huge chunk of money? Most don’t; email deleted, move on, no worries. But, and it’s a big but some DID believe it and sent their bank details. Their accounts were emptied, no-one was caught; they suffered the complete embarrassment of being taken in by the scammers. Then there are the internet sellers who simply take the money and no product arrives or, if they’re buying, receive the product and stop the payment. And so it goes on. Starting up a proper trading company takes a lot more effort than sitting in front of a keyboard and conning people. Are we surprised so much of it goes on?

Then there are the “Munchausen Syndromers”. The internet has many forums for people with various illnesses and disorders. It’s an ideal breeding ground for attention seekers. A recent UK radio prog discussed the issue and interviewed people who had gone onto cancer sufferers’ web forums pretending to have cancer and how they were managing day-to-day. Not only was their condition fictitious but they often invented other family members: girlfriends, boyfriends, children to make their situation seem believable. (I think most people will agree that it’s one thing to pretend to like sport on a sport website forum but quite another to pretend to have a terminal disease.) People were befriended and some completely taken in by the person who was not ill at all just pretending they were. (LLM’s “Chat” blog from yesterday referred to it in para 3 without actually naming it.) There is a further condition known as Munchausen by proxy but we don’t have space to go into that one here. In the internet world Munchausen’s Syndrome has become known as MBI (Munchausen by Internet). Those duped by such people are (rightly) devastated to learn that they have been conned, sometimes out of money they offered to help a situation which really didn’t exist. How can the forums’ hosts check out everyone who joins them? They rely on the trust and truthfulness of those who join to give the site the credibility so that people can feel secure revealing details, often very personal, of their condition and their feelings about it.

In real life, meeting someone talking like this you would pick up a number of signals from their body language, facial expressions and the like. On the internet all these human interface reactions are not on show. You are, or you become, what you type because no-one can see you. Only the perceptive or the ones who’ve been through a similar experience and pick up on stuff that doesn’t ring true will see through the lies. That incidentally is how a number of these cancer phoneys were found out. Very soon after they take their details down, disappear and some admitted they just create a new identity and begin the whole process again.

Recent surveys in the UK highlighted the age at which kids admitted they had first viewed pornographic material on the internet. Some admitted seeing it between 10-12 years old and from that I think we could assume that they had done so at a younger age but were wary of confessing to that so they said an age that to them seemed acceptable. Is a button asking them to confirm their age going to deter them?

Further areas of intimidation or “cyber bullying” as it’s called have resulted in a number of suicides over the past few years here in the UK and I suspect in other countries as well. How can it happen? Simply because if one person wants to call another person names or say things about them which are untrue they can. Until a complaint is made any comment is allowed, it seems. Even then the damage can be done and taking the comment down does not reverse the effect on the person hurt.

Without an overall arbiter of web content we should not be surprised that things have gone rapidly downhill in the moral sphere as well as the practical. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle; closing the barn door will be no good, the horse has clearly bolted and we’re not going to catch it. But how many really want to catch it?

Imagine standing at a bus stop and a bus comes along but it has no destination on the front. Would you get on or would you ask the driver where it is going? Even if it’s going the right way would you like it if the route was decided by the passengers shouting out where they want it to go next and not by the bus company. If I travel from say Glasgow to London I will see signs along the way telling me, as I get nearer, that London is 400, 300, 200 and so on miles away. It’s there on a blue metal road sign at the side of the motorway. I know where I’m going and I know how far it is. As you’re reading this you’re obviously on the “internet bus” and probably got on some years ago. Are you just on to enjoy the ride? A Magical Mystery Tour? Perhaps serendipity? Or do you worry about where the bus is going? Will you get off if the bus starts going down a road you don’t like and get on one that doesn’t go that way? A different service provider for example.

The internet has done so much good in many different areas and undoubtedly is greatly beneficial in the realm of study & research, commerce, communications for families and so on. That is to be welcomed and applauded. However we will reap what we sow and sadly we’re seeing a lot of negatives. Whilst I can only raise a few pointers to the current situation I hope you can see that unless controls are introduced the whole thing will continue down the road of decline. Freedom on the internet has had very serious consequences for us all. In a way it is breaking down societal norms and the differences between societies because those with unrestricted access can see what others are doing or how they are behaving. They then press their governments for change and, if successful, their society and culture changes. But to what? – To be more like ours? Why should ours be better than theirs?

Perhaps I can finish with some crucial questions: “Where do you think we as individuals and society in general are heading in this very difficult area? Are we, in reality, just being led by the internet? Can you see any signs? Is freedom helping us get there?”

Now moment of truth! If you look in a real mirror you see what you really look like. If you could look into an “internet mirror” what would you see?

Are you who you are or are you what you type?