General State of Industry - Salt Manufacture

The salt-mines of England had been worked from Roman times, but it seems that during the Tudor period we were content with French and German supplies. However, in the reign of Elizabeth, Cecil tried to persuade Germans to come to England, and by his efforts the industry was naturalized in England. A monopoly was granted to the immigrants for salt-mining only, for many of the Queen's subjects made salt from brine.1 In the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions there is a communication from Dr. Wm. Jackson which recommends Cheshire salt as superior to French salt, and gives a careful account of the methods used.2 In Cheshire, salt had been made from brine in small quantities for centuries and the manufacture gradually increased, most of the salt houses being attached to noblemen's houses. A great increase in output occurred when the beds of rock salt were discovered in 1670. In 1675 it was estimated that 26,927 tons of salt were manufactured in Cheshire every year. The most important advance which this industry made in the eighteenth century was due to the improvement in transport in 1721, when the river Weaver was made navigable.3 Like the pottery trade, improvements in transport and increases in demand were all that were needed for rapid development.

The second centre of the salt industry was in Durham, where at Shields brine from the sea was converted into salt as early as 1489. In 1635 a company was formed for the production of salt, and the importation of salt from the Bay of Biscay was forbidden by Parliament.4 Neither this grant nor that of Cecil to the Germans was dictated purely by a desire to encourage industrial expansion. Cecil wished to use the mineral resources of England with the assistance of aliens, if necessary, to supply ordnance for national defence, while Charles I was making grants with an eye to possible revenue.

An interesting account of the salt manufacture in 1635 is given by Sir Wm. Brereton, Bart. He says that the pans " yield every of them every draught two bowls which is worth 2s. a bowl and sometimes 2s. 4d., so every pan yielding every day four bowls at two draughts which comes to 8s. all twelve pans are worth every day £4 16s.; so as all the twelve pans in a week make salt worth £28 a week; which in the year amounts into £1,400."5

This speaks of a firmly established industry. He goes on to say that the two men who clear away the ashes are paid 14s. per week besides the man who pumps the brine. Apparently or naturally only coal was used in the evaporation.6

Moreover, there was a " domestic " salt industry, or possibly, rather a collection of small masters; there were in Shields about two hundred and fifty houses " poor ones and low built, but all covered with boards. Here in every house is erected one fair great pan." Each of these pans " cost about £100, and cannot be taken down with less than £10 charge." These also made a handsome profit of about £2 10s. per week.7

There is some little doubt as to the exact organization of this industry, but in 1700 the pans were probably the property of the landed families in the neighbourhood. Shields salt was the most celebrated salt in the kingdom, and was produced in such quantities in South Shields as to give a character and even names to the districts of the towns.8

1 State Papers, Domestic, Eliz., XXVIII, 5.

2 Philosophical Transactions, Vol. I, p. 355.

3 Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 1884, p. 18-19: " The salt trade is generally acknowledged to have been the nursing mother and to have contributed more to the first rise, gradual increase, and present flourishing state of the Town of Liverpool than any other article of commerce." Holt and Gregson MSS. Vol. X, p. 253, Liverpool Municipal Reference Library.

4 Cunningham, Industry and Commerce, Vol. II, p. 289.

5 Sir Wm. Brereton, Notes of a Journey through Durham and Northumberland in the year 1635, p. 21.

6 " Here at the Shields are the vastest salt works I have ever seen, and by reason of the conveniency of coal and the cheapness thereof, being at 7s. a chaldron, Which is three weeks' load," Ib., p. 22.

7 " Every pan yields four draughts of salt a week and every draught worth about £l 10s. spent in coal: ten chaldron of coal at 7s. a chaldron which amounts to £3 10S. in coals, deduct out of £6 there remains £2 10S. besides one man's wages." Ib., P. 24,

8 "This trade was carried on by several of the most wealthy families in this neighbourhood in the beginning of the last century, and about 200 pans were employed in producing salt, which was extracted from seawater and brine springs. The production of salt from sea-water in this locality has given place to that obtained from the brine springs and rock salt of Cheshire." ­Industrial Resources of Tyne, Wear, and Tees, p. 160.

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