Thursday 19 January 2012


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by Dave Roberts

Geraldine Williams makes a good point when she writes to say:

'I wondered if you have any pics which show what life and conditions were really like for the salt wallers when salt, and Seddon's, was king in Middlewich? I know there's a Murgie's Lumproom postcard in Granny Twiss' collection but that doesn't show the horror of working in the brine pans like my Grandad Lannon did, conditions which were possibly only second to working in the steelworks in Sheffield! Not to mention Middlewich reverberating to the 'knocking out' of the pans on Monday mornings and the soil in everyone's gardens being jet-black from the soot from Seddon's'.

Well to start with here's the postcard mentioned above which comes from  the collection kindly loaned to us by Geraldine.
We've dated it circa 1914 because that's the year on the postmark, but it will in all likelihood be from a few years earlier.
Lump salt is being passed through a trapdoor from the drying area below into the lump salt store by men known as 'lofters'  - the salt store itself being the 'loft' (in other works the salt store might be in a warehouse at ground level, but transporting the salt there was still 'lofting').
Note how the tapering lumps of  salt are being neatly stacked  'thick end to thin end'.
These lumps would either be sawn into smaller pieces and sold as 'cut lump salt', wrapped in grease-proof paper (the Seddon's version of this was called 'A1 Cut Lump Salt' and, after the works closed, my Grandmother was giving a huge wad of the greaseproof sheets to use for wrapping her home made bread. As you can imagine, I rather wish I'd asked her for a few of them) or put into a crushing machine to make fine table salt.
Lump men were experts in the field of open pan salt making and an excellent description of the art can be found on page 36 of Wych & Water (Middlewich Vision Canal & Salt Town Project 2009).
Making common salt was a less exacting process and the men who did this work were called 'wallers'. Common salt was not put into tubs, but simply dumped onto the floorboards (hurdles) and left to dry before being loaded onto barrows and taken to the common salt warehouse.
We'll be returning to the subject of the salt workers of Murgatroyd's in later diary entries.
A word about the postcard: Our attempt to improve the contrast on the sepia original has, unfortunately, resulted in the white lettering at the bottom getting slightly lost.
Given that this is a commercial postcard, some of this is slightly puzzling. What are we to make of the '120 FT X 50 FT' (If that's what it says)? Are these the actual dimensions of the salt store? If so, why would anyone want to put them on the front of a postcard? If not, what do the figures represent?
 For the record, the whole of the inscription reads:
MURGATROYD'S SALT WORKS                              MIDDLEWICH              NEIL. PHOTO
*I think that's what it says - it might be 120PT X 50 PT, which makes even less sense.
We await enlightenment on that one.

Geraldine's mention of the 'knocking out' of the pans refers to the removal of scale from the pans with sledgehammers (this was done on some of the pans at Seddon's in  Pepper Street on Sunday mornings, wrecking any chance of a Sunday lie-in). A very noisy but very necessary job. If the scale was left on the sides of the pans it would cause them to buckle and distort.
And the black soot and smoke was another fact of everyday Middlewich life up until the end of the 1960s.
Not only had the town's salt manufacturers never heard of smokeless fuel, they actually used the dirtiest, cheapest coal available in order to cut costs.


  1. I'm interested in the physical long term effects of salt on the workers like Geraldine Williams granddad. Any information would be welcome. JB

  2. Many thanks for your comment. If anyone can help with information on this, please get in touch and we'll pass it on -Ed.

  3. GERALDINE WILLIAMS19 January 2017 at 18:28

    I don't think my Grandfather could have suffered any long term effects. He was an Irishman from County Mayo who, I believe, came over as a young man to work on canal construction. In later life he worked in Middlewich cemetery as a gravedigger and lived to the grand old age of 87 years.


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