Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’

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).


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).


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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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.

Walking into history

It’s Wednesday again and time for Rambler5319, my guest blogger, to take over….

Last week’s pics from my holiday were really mostly about signs. I did take some others (and a few more signs). These are from the walks I did in an area which is steeped in history. Parts of it go back to the time of the Romans and beyond.
As you approach the village from one direction, you see this magnificent hand-crafted sign. (It took over 8 months to make.)

Each element in the sign has some local significance and I was curious to find out what they all represented. Local village history gave me the answer:
The cross-keys representing St Peter’s Church (now ruined).
The white cross (blue background) represents the existing St Andrew’s Church.
The beige area represents the main cereal crop – barley.
The green area represents the other main crop – sugar beet.
The white pathway between them represents an old footpath called Peddars Way which passes through the village.
The black symbols on the left middle represent churches & chapel. To the right middle, the tree is Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Tree and the windmill is also local to the area. A lot of thought definitely went into this impressive creation.
As you approach from another side of the village you are greeted by this one

They definitely like you to feel welcome.
I found this next structure in a garden in the main street of the village. Talk about plush multi-storey avian apartments!! Ever seen one of these before?


This was about 6 miles round, mostly on paths away from the roads. The route I travelled, to the next village (Sedgeford), is a small part of what is a much longer (46 miles!) ancient path called Peddars Way. Some believe its existence actually pre-dates the Romans and that they just extended and improved it. So here I was walking on a path that Roman soldiers probably marched along almost 2,000 years ago! I’m glad I wasn’t wearing armour and carrying a heavy shield as the sun was very warm and my brow was wiped many times on this walk. Here’s a section of it but can you tell which direction my compass needle was pointing if I tell you it was about 11.00am?


I came across this notice just half a mile along the path.

In case text in pic too small to read, at the bottom it says: “This roadside verge is being positively managed to conserve wild plants and animals in a joint project between Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Note it’s just the “verge”; it was only a metre or so wide.
Just before joining the main road, leading into Sedgeford, the path emerged from its agrarian setting into a narrow road called Magazine Lane; also nearby were Magazine Farm & Magazine Wood. Seemed to me like an odd name to find out in the countryside. The mystery was solved a bit further along when I found this building

It is called Magazine Cottage and is believed to have been used as a store for gunpowder during the Civil War. It was built by the LeStrange family who we will find out more about next week. As I walked past the village pub (King William IV), and down a side road, I saw a sign for a local archaeological project:

I was intrigued. I decided to visit. As well as the actual dig site there were a number of displays and talks about the finds and other general info about life in Anglo Saxon times. Volunteer diggers camp in the next field to the excavation site:

And some site facilities are what might be termed primitive. Note, in the pic below, only one tap can be used for drinking water:

Here are some of the displays, starting with the skulls:

And here are three Action Men but each item they are wearing has been hand made by a guy who is very interested in the period. He’d also made models of some of the “machines” (e.g. boulder launching catapults) the Romans used in sieges and attacks in battle.

Next was a display of what they believe may have been types of food from Anglo Saxon times. The front page of the booklet to the right of pic (sorry chopped off due to trying to get all the food dishes in) says “Dishes made on the day course – Cooking up an Anglo-Saxon feast”:

I also attended one of the 20 minute talks in a side tent. Time to put thinking cap on! Amongst other things, I learnt that an analysis of the chemicals in bones can suggest an area of the country where the individual lived. How? This is because the mix of certain elements in the water in different parts of the country can be quite specific to that area. Apparently, if you live in an area for 10 years or more, your bones will have levels of certain chemicals that have been absorbed from drinking the water in that area that will be the same as the water itself. The archaeologists compare the levels of two particular chemicals, strontium & oxygen, in the water, with the levels in the bones they find. They can then tell whether the people had lived in that area for about 10 years before their death or had moved to it from another part of the country.
Soon it was off to retrace the 3 miles back to the cottage and give my brain, as well as my legs, a rest; it had been a fascinating and very instructive time at the site. As I made my way across the field behind the site, to begin the trek home, I came across this unusual sight:

Starting with the standing white horse look left to the brown standing horse and then to, what seems to be, a brown “blob” on the floor. This “blob” really was a horse lying on its side. Every so often its tail would flick up and down but it remained in this position the whole time I was crossing the field. Was it tired or maybe sunbathing? Do horses lie down if they’re tired? Do horses sunbathe?
The following day I did a short walk, along the sea front, in the nearby town of Hunstanton. Apparently it is the only resort on the East Coast of England which actually faces west! (You’d have to look at a map to see why.) The town motto (in Latin of course) is Alios delectare iuvat, which translates to “It is our pleasure to please”. I was pleased after my visit so I suppose they succeeded. I sat down on a bench for a quick sandwich and drink. I found it was one of those which had been erected in memory of someone who’d died. Here’s the plaque:

Paul Richard Moore was not famous; I, you and lots of other people, will have never heard of him but clearly he was, and still is, VERY special to those who’d put the bench there in his memory. We don’t know how he died but look at his age – just under 30 years old. Now pause for a moment and think about that. Perhaps many readers of this post are younger or just coming up to it or some maybe past that age. Imagine if that was to be all time you would have. It’s always a great sadness when parents outlive their children as it’s one of those things, like this lad’s parents, you just don’t expect to happen. I spent a few minutes in quiet reflection: each moment we’re alive we’re making withdrawals from “The Bank of Time” but without knowing the balance left in our account! Of course, no deposits are possible and you can’t be overdrawn – but your account will be closed at some point! How we “spend” our time is important.
Walking just a short distance from the bench, I saw this. It was time to put that thinking cap on again.

Closer inspection of the info board revealed some interesting stuff.
The wall in the pic is what is left of a chapel built in 1272AD in memory of King Edmund. Apparently he’d landed, from Germany, in 855AD and, a few years later, was crowned King of East Anglia whilst still only a boy. There was peace for a while but then invaders came from Denmark. The king was captured and, when pressed, refused to give up his Christian faith. He was tied to a tree and shot by Danish archers in 870AD aged about 29. He was interred at a place called Beodericsworth which later became known as St Edmunds Bury and finally the town we know today as Bury St Edmunds. He became the first patron saint of England and remained so for about 400 years. The current patron saint (George) was not adopted until the end of the 14th cent. Not a lot of people know that!
I came across this (Latin) motto: Alis Aptar Scientis. It means “Ready for the wings of knowing”. Well are you?