A History of the Salt Line

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A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 1:56 pm

On another thread Grandad asked me to expand upon one of my regular walking places that I often mention, namely 'The Salt Line' it is now a linear nature trail and cycleway since being decomissioned in the 70's. It follows the old mineral line route from the Potteries in Staffordshire, down onto the Cheshire Plain passing through the towns of Alsager, pronounced as “All Sage Er” and not “Al Sagger” as many none locals often call it. Near to Alsager was the famous armaments factory of Radway Green, often a target for WW2 German bombers and now under the control of BA Aerospace Systems, whilst in Alsager itself there was a training camp for ‘Marines’ that had the naval designation of HMS Excalibur. It then continued on through the market town of Sandbach famous for it’s medieval stone cross in the square, yet another name that gets mispronounced and it would have been better had the letter ‘T’ been inserted in the name as “Sandbatch” is the correct pronunciation of the name. From there it continues on to the ‘salt’ towns of South Cheshire, namely Middlewich and Northwich. There are several ‘wich’ towns in this area, the two I have just mentioned plus Nantwich and Leftwich, all derive their name from the Old English word for a ‘salt spring’ and all of these towns are famous for the production of salt even today. Most of the UK’s road gritting salt comes from the salt mines in Northwich and the domestic salts with brands such as Cerebos & Lion and Saxa brands are produced in Middlewich.

In earlier times the salt was produced by boiling saline water from underground springs in large open pans heated with coal from below, this would evaporate the water and leave the salt crystals behind. These could be then be used in many other products such as the making of washing soda, glass, soap and detergents. Much of this was transported via this railway line up into the major industrial area of the ‘Potteries’ in North Staffordshire, in return Coal from the numerous Staffordshire mines and local Limestone was sent back into Cheshire to fuel the salt pans and some other industries. The Salt Line is now in the ownership of Congleton Borough Council and it is possible to walk along quite a lot of the original route although prior to its acquisition some parts were sold off to adjacent land owners or put to other uses, so it is not a complete unbroken route. The section that passes into North Staffordshire in particular has many obstructions built across the original route which is a great pity as it would have made a really famous walk had it all been intact. It is still possible to follow most of the trail, but this may necessitate you having to walk through part of a town in order to pick the trail back up again and in many places you leave the trail to cross over a road as some bridges have been removed.

The section I usually walk was originally constructed by the North Staffordshire Railway Company (NSR) formed in 1845 and the construction for the Sandbach and Audley branch lines was passed in 1846, it was started in 1852 and completed by 1858. The NSR also controlled the Trent & Mersey Canal (another of my walking itineraries) so it was easy for them to transport the materials for the lines construction, we have to remember that unlike today’s modern road network, back then travel between towns would have been slow and difficult. It was originally just a freight line, but as people became more prosperous a passenger service was introduced in 1893 and would take day trippers to what at the time was a very famous attraction, namely Trentham Gardens in North Staffordshire. I have in the past posted pictures of the formal gardens and the wood carved sculptures that can be seen in the present day revamped Trentham Gardens. Sadly the passenger service was ended in 1930, but continued to be in use as a freight line until its closure in 1970. It is worth mentioning at this point that similar to many areas of the country, had these lines remained in operation our internal transport system within the UK would have been extremely enhanced as many of these lines linked up smaller villages and towns. One example I can give is that a now defunct loop line service that used to run through all of the five Pottery towns in North Staffordshire, it travelled the full length in 14 minutes including stops, today that same journey by car would easily take you an hour!

The up side to the loss of the Salt line is that we walkers have access through some lovely unspoiled countryside complete with all of its attendant wildlife and flowers, it is easy walking and the scenery changes with the seasons. Many people use it and the dogs can run free without the risk of passing vehicles, I see all sorts of people from the elderly old git with his dog (me) to young mums with pushchairs taking baby for a stroll and being relatively flat it is even suitable for mobility scooters. I am a great believer in open spaces for people to enjoy and I cannot think of a more appropriate use for these defunct railway lines.


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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Grandad » Sat Feb 06, 2016 3:51 pm

Horus, thank you so much for taking time to answer my earlier question. Much appreciated. :up A lot of interesting stuff around you and down to Birmingham from our industrial heritage past.Wish I could go back in time for a peep. :lol:

I do so agree about keeping these old routes open for people to enjoy. Such a shame that your 'Salt Line' is not complete but what you have told us builds a picture particularly with Trentham Gardens and Trent Mersey Canal that you have posted about in the past.

My own local branch line is almost complete. There is a break where the University is built but this is on top of the tunnel that is bricked up for safety reasons. The route of 'The Crab and Winkle Line' runs from just near me to Whitstable Harbour, a distance of about 7 miles including one section where there was a steam driven chain to assist the loco up an incline.
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Sat Feb 06, 2016 5:44 pm

Your explanation of the Salt Line was very interesting H. (Wish you'd consider taking up writing as your written presentations are always interesting, informative yet very easy to read)

As they were mining salt do you think the rail cars they carried it in were iron? And what do you think the kettles were made of that they were boiling the water way in? How did they deal with all the rust?

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 6:41 pm

@ Grandad, you are welcome and I also enjoy your own stories from your local area, just think how good it would have been if some preservation society could have reinstated your historic and beautifully named ‘Crab & Winkle Line’ a tourist attraction if ever I heard of one.

@ LLL, thank you for the compliment, but I am sure that my writing abilities fall well short of the level of an author. :mo

As usual you show that you digest the information I add into my stories by always asking lots of questions, which of course I am always pleased to answer if I can. :up

To answer your first question, it was common practice in the UK for most freight carrying trucks to be made from an iron or steel framework with really thick timber planked sides. Some would be covered and others would be open topped and remember that is was for industrial use so getting a bit damp would not be a problem to the end user. It was not until much later in railway history that purpose built tankers and steel built rolling stock was introduced and at the beginning they would have mostly been timber covered flat bed wagons.

In answer to the second question you should think of ‘pan’ as referring more to the American usage of the word as in a dried up lake being called a ‘salt pan’. I do not have the exact details to give you, but they would have been quite shallow to aid evaporation and mainly of a brick construction with a waterproof render on the inside. They would also have had long heating flues running beneath them which would be fuelled by coal furnaces to produce the heat required for open air evaporation.

Typical pre war UK freight wooden sided Rolling Stock
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Sat Feb 06, 2016 6:55 pm

The rail cars and interesting and don't know why using wood to line the cars hadn't occurred to me but even with wood am thinking the salt would penetrate.

I can envision low wide pans (course they must've been huge) but in my mind I can't envision them being built out of anything that would stop boiling salted water from rotting through in short order required constant replacing.

I also wonder if sufficient salt lead through and out of the rail cars to damage the actual rails and/or if the ground underneath got salted sufficient to stop vegetation growth.

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 7:04 pm

Remember it is 'rock' salt and not the fine stuff you would use for cooking, that stuff even has to have additives to make it run. It was also the 'Industrial Age' and I doubt if anyone cared very much about the environment and of course being a railway line the supression of any natural weed and tree growth along the line would have been welcomed.
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Grandad » Sat Feb 06, 2016 7:56 pm

On another thread MD mentioned how this thread lead her thoughts to divert to something else. From salt mines to treacle mines in fact. :lol:
Reading Horus's introduction to this thread and talking about the five towns that make up Stoke on Trent, The Potteries, my own mind wandered off at a tangent. Trades in The Potteries had some strange names and this is just for LLL....

LLL, have you any idea what a 'Sagger Makers Bottom Knocker' did in the pottery? :lol: :lol:

Stoke on Trent is one of those centres of industry in our industrial past. I fortunately had some dealings with one of the remaining companies during my work. This was to make porcelain formers for dipping verruca socks for preventing the spread in swimming pools. They also made the formers for Kitchen gloves. You have probably gathered we were a rubber manufacturing company. We also made condoms but they were dipped on glass formers.

Sorry to digress. ;) :lol:
Last edited by Grandad on Sat Feb 06, 2016 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 7:58 pm

Oooh! let me guess :tk
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 8:16 pm

Here are a few more for you all to ponder:
So what job is a:
Fritter ?
Flat Knocker?
Clay Wedger?
Dottler?
Dipper?
Batter Man?
Ark Man?
Borer?
Biscuit Placer?
Lawner?
Pot Arch Man?
Pugger?
Sticker Up?
Stilt maker?

There are literally dozens and dozens of job titles associated with the old style ‘Pot Banks’ as they were called, the above list is just a few, can you figure them out?
And once again we go completely off topic :lol: :lol:
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Grandad » Sat Feb 06, 2016 10:35 pm

They were SO literally a description of what the worker did, and some of the workers were just boys of eleven or twelve....

But what beautiful things were made there

And that brings us back to the salt theme and 'salt glazed pottery' :up
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sat Feb 06, 2016 10:52 pm

And that brings us back to the salt theme and 'salt glazed pottery'
And not forgetting all of the millions of miles of those brown coloured ceramaic sewer pipes they used to lay underground, all are 'Salt Glazed' ;)
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Sun Feb 07, 2016 12:49 am

LLL, have you any idea what a 'Sagger Makers Bottom Knocker' did in the pottery? :lol: :lol:
Nope - no idea at all but if I was to take a wild stab at a guess......if I take SAG and BOTTOM and (ahem) add in Knocker ;) I say it has something to do with those guys who run about showing the cracks of their bums cause they're wearing their pants BELOW their butt cheeks (my best guess) but that has nothing to do with Potter

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Grandad » Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:30 am

LLL, I find the work of the old potteries fascinating, not least because of the beautiful wares made there (as well as the brown glazed drain pipes that Horus mentioned). Many jobs were unskilled simple repetitive tasks hence the employment of young boys.
The Sagger was a clay container into which was placed the wares before being put in the kiln. The Sagger protected the wares from direct heat in the kiln. Saggers were made by skilled men.
The Sagger bottoms were made by boys who 'knocked' clay into a mould and the sagger sat on the bottom. So we have a 'Sagger Makers Bottom Knocker' :lol:

Here is an early photo of some of the boys with their mallets with which they knocked the clay into the mould. Sorry it is such a small file size.
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Looking at the picture I can hear those lads talking in a broad Staffordshire accent. :lol: :lol:
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Jayway » Sun Feb 07, 2016 11:23 am

Horus, are any of the Salt Mines open for tourists ? And, where would be the best place to visit the Potteries ?

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sun Feb 07, 2016 12:25 pm

:lol: :lol: Grandads is as good a description as any LLL, but with a few clarifications ;)
The Sagger Makers would use 'Fire' Clay as opposed to the usual 'China' Clay as the two clays are quite different, also the 'Bottom Knocker' was considered to be more of an assistant/apprentice to the Sagger Maker rather than it being a separate job as such, a bit like the skilled carpenter giving his 'boy' the basic jobs rather than making the furniture itself. They often progressed to being the ‘Frame Filler’ who was the Saggar makers actual apprentice who flattened a mass of clay and produced a rectangle which was wrapped round a drum to make the side of the Saggar.

In the image below the ‘Frame Filler’ is working on the left and the ‘Bottom Knocker’ on the right. You can see a stack of oval shaped Saggar bases in the foreground and the man/lad using a wooden ‘mawl’ to flatten it.
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The Mawl was often referred to as a ‘mow’ because the local dialect tends to drop or change certain letters within a word, so that ‘Hammer’ becomes ‘Ommer’ and ‘Bank’ becomes ‘Bonk’. There is a little phrase that is used by those who speak the local dialect to confuse the foreigners (the rest of the UK) and it goes like this:

“Cost they kick a bow agen a woe, and yedit with thee yed, tillit bosts?”

Which would translate as:
“Can you kick a ball against a wall and head it with your head until it bursts?” :lol:

As these photos are quite rare they tend to all be from the same source, so here is a larger detail of the one that Grandad used in his post.
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@ Jay, yes you can visit the Salt Mines at Northwich in Cheshire.
And there are still a few excellent Pottery factories that can be visited, one in particular is the Royal Doulton factory which although quite modern will still demonstrate the old skills, particualrly ware decoration and of course the famous Wedgewood factory near Barlaston. But for some real authenticity you can visit the 'preserved' heritage factories within Stoke-on-Trent, such as Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre in Burslem, the Gladstone Pottery Museum located in Longton, plus the Dudson Museum in Burslem all have original 'Bottle' kilns and factory tours. The majority of all the other well known manufacturers such as Portmeirion (which also sells Spode and Royal Worcester), Churchill, Hudson & Middleton, Aynsley China, Royal Stafford and many more all usually have either factory shops or some sort of factory tour available.
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Grandad » Sun Feb 07, 2016 1:06 pm

You are simply more eloquent than me H and, as others have said, you should do more writing. :up ;)

I have relatives in Staffs and the inlaws come from farming stock so I remember the local chat in The Roebuck in Draycott in the Clay. Last time I was in Stoke, quite a long time ago now, it was looking a bit down at heel, I hope there has been some regeneration in the area.

When we were into collecting pottery and china we focused solely on R & H Plants china and their Tuscan Decoro pottery wares. I believe they were at Longton. We disposed of all but a few pieces 10 or 15 years ago when we went a bit 'minimal' :lol:
This Art Deco trio is Plant china and the basket is Decoro pottery. All that we kept from a very large collection.
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Sun Feb 07, 2016 1:25 pm

Last time I was in Stoke, quite a long time ago now, it was looking a bit down at heel, I hope there has been some regeneration in the area.
Not really Grandad, although there has been a lot of new building and some changes and of course the majority of the old Pottery firms have now gone. On a day to day basis it changes slightly for the better, but it is still an economically deprived area held back by its previously low skilled and poorly paid pottery making heritage that has held back the more high tech investment that the area needs, a curse for many parts of our fair country I’m afraid.

I consider myself very lucky inasmuch as I am close enough to visit the area if I wish to (mainly for the industrial history) or more rarely still for shopping, although with the recent influx of Eastern Europeans that has become a less frequent event as they tend to hang about in the main shopping centres. My last visit was to buy my new TV and that was from a large retail park located on the outskirts. I am fortunate enough to live in a more pleasant area and very close to some picturesque places and walks, but I still enjoy the heritage side of what was ‘The Five Pottery Towns’ made famous by the author Arnold Bennett.

Nice Art Deco by the way :up
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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Sun Feb 07, 2016 6:17 pm

All very interesting and I quite appreciate seeing the old pictures. My grandmother-in-law went to work in the mills at 9yr old. She could tie knots in thread that were nearly invisible and could just do this. Couldn't explain it but could do it. She talked about wearing wooden shoes so as to keep her feet up off the wet floors. She never lived close to me and I met her when she was in her late 80ies. Her forte was crocheting pansy doilies, couldn't follow a pattern if her life depended on it but the table cloths and doilies (small to huge) she turned out were phenomenal.

I've never like Wedgewood too much but I DO definitely love Royal Doulton and would love to see the factories.

Love the dishes that Grandad has - they're superb! I'm sure if I was there I'd be tempted to collect them.

I do have a love of all that glitters by way of describing china type potteries. Here I've collected a few pieces of "NIPPON" which are usually very flat plates, very thin and hand painted.

As for all the jobs in the factories way back when - they might not have been the most optimal working conditions but when you learned a trade you LEARNED a trade and the levels of skill must have been terrific. Not sure young kids at 9-ish should have been forced to work in factories but I definitely see that if a 15 or 16 yr old isn't making it academically but COULD achieve a skill working in something they could attain skills in I wish we had those options available today.

Here there seems to be a line of thinking that everybody is going to go to University and become a physicist and if you can't do that then it is OK to collect welfare. We have very few jobs (due to mechanization and cyber world) that those of lower abilities can do.

In the USA the State of Oregon has passed legislation a long time ago that all gas must be pumped by an attendant. Not a terrific job but a level of job that can be done by some who are going all out to do that job. I wish more businesses were required to maintain low level jobs where people are NOT being replaced by machines but hope we never return to the factory days like those in the UK.

Interesting tidbit though :up :up Quite enjoy reading about them :)

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Horus » Tue Feb 23, 2016 11:34 pm

As an addendum to this post, I was out today on a stroll along the Couldon Canal and I remembered a little bit of the old Potteries industrial heritage that was pertinent to the chat about the pottery industry in North Staffordshire. I know that Grandad likes to see pictures of this so I took a few shots of one of the last remaining ‘Bottle’ ovens or kilns that were used to fire the ceramic ware using coal. I approach it coming from the direction of the Harecastle Tunnel one of the longest canal tunnels in the world that takes the barges onto the Trent & Mersey Canal via this tunnel. The waterside building is original and would have formed part of an early ‘Pot Bank’ where the earthenware was made and the ‘Bottle’ kiln would have been used to fire the ware. I walked as far as the modern road that crosses over the canal and took a shot looking back the way I had come, it was nice to also capture a barge moored alongside as this would have been used to transport the finished goods to markets all over the country and indeed the world. What saddens me though is the poor state of preservation of these old buildings, the likn is covered by a preservation order but the surroundings are disgraceful and the associated building are about to fall down, a shameful waste of our heritage and once its gone, its gone!

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Re: A History of the Salt Line

Post by Kiya » Wed Feb 24, 2016 9:06 am

Super old building , shame if it disappears :o

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