The Legacy of Canal & Salt
The Bisto Kids
In this section we look at how the old canal and salt works are still with us and where you can still see evidence of those times past. As more information becomes avialble it will be added and we are starting with...
The RHM factory was an important site to the Middlewich people. It had been Cerebos and Middlewich Salt before that making the site over 100 years old and saw many generations of families, being employed or enjoying the many social events the company provided.
Middlewich was relaunched in the sixties as the primary site of the new and modern RHM Company; Prince Philip had an official visit here in 1969. Many women were employed in the Bisto section of the factory, the laboratory invented Bisto Granules, and Saxa Salt and Sifta Sam were packaged here. The company had a vacuum plant until the early seventies when it became more cost effective to be supplied by neighbours and bsiness associates British Salt, who is now our only salt company left.
One of the social aspects was the Bisto kids look a like competition, this was a national event at one point raising money for Children’s charities, (NCH), the overall winner got to meet either the Queen or Princess Margaret, very much the highlight of the year!
The closing of the factory was a blow to Middlewich and the generations of families who worked there. As heritage officer I’ve been collecting photographs and memorabilia of the site and the workers to preserve for future generations.
Premier foods allowed us to take the last photographs of the factory just before it closed in 2008. It was then that I and my colleague Dave Thompson saw the Bisto Kids on the reception wall, upon enquiring about the sculpture it turned out that it was scheduled for demolition! Premier Foods were contacted and they realised its importance for our community to save it, so they donated the sculpture to the town if we could pay for its removal. Thankfully local builder John Wickham and his associate Rob Moreton were very keen to help us save the Bisto Kids and so we emarked on a perilous journey of removing the Bisto kids from the RHM building and finally placing it in Middlewich Library for dsplay.
It was certainly a town effort, although by the time we had got men in place and money, the site changed hands from Premier Foods to Bovale, so we had to start permission hunting to remove the Bisto kids for the second time! Bovale agreed to let us take the sculpture and paid for its removal and the Town Council paid to stabilise it and place a supprting frame around it.
The hard work paid off once we launched the sculpture, the public response was fantastic and our Youth Theatre did a drama piece on the Bisto Kids for the Folk and Boat Festival whee we put the Bisto Kids on display for the first time. We heard a lot of people’s stories about the Bisto Factory and many remembered the Kids with affection.
The Bisto Kids are now in their new home in Middlewich Library and they are well worth seeing, the last remains of over 100 years of salt and food production.
Artcicle by Kerry Fletcher
The Trail Guide
Take a journey through time...
The Tales of Wych and Water is derived from the Canal and Salt Town Middlewich project aimed at celebrating the Canal and Salt heritage of the town, concentrating on the historic changes and relationship between the canal, the salt industries and the community.
Middlewich has been famous for the production of salt since Roman times, an industry which probably started here during the Iron Age. The brine pits and saltworks were part of the settlement along King Street, but during the medieval period most works were located at Newton.
Pre-industrial saltworks were family businesses where brine was boiled in lead vats within timber and wickerwalled sheds. Two brine-pits, “Louseath” & “Newseath”, supplied more than 100 “wych-houses” and production was highly regulated. The industrial revolution introduced technological change, such as coal as a fuel and iron for the boiling pans, as well as steam pumps for drawing brine from the below-ground “wet” rockhead.
The number of saltworks operating in any one period was reduced to around five, and these often changed hands. In fact the same locations were largely reused over several centuries. Various grades of salt were produced, much of it for preserving food, but it was also used in tanning, dying and clothing manufacture. In the 19th and 20th centuries, chemical uses became more important, such as production of ammonia, alkali and bleach. Social conditions for the work force were hard, and the impact of the salt and chemical works on the local environment at Middlewich resulted in great pollution and health problems.
The 1760’s were pivotal for canal building. The Earl of Bridgewater’s canal had showed the Captains of Industry that the canals offered a more effective way of transporting commodities across the country than by pack-horse and poorly maintained roads. For the next sixty years, and before the advent of the next transport revolution – the train; canals were constructed across most of industrial Britain, especially in those areas where heavy industry relied on the constant supply and distribution of raw materials such as iron ore, coal and in the case of Middlewich; salt. Sadly very few canals made any profit during their lifetime and were subjected to takeovers including consortiums that also had a stake in the railways. The railways had made a significant impact on the way goods and people were transported across Britain. However, the canal systems proved vital during the two World Wars.
The canal system around Middlewich has over the past 150 years been of major importance in transporting coal, dairy products and, of course salt. Although many of these industries have now either gone or goods are moved by road freight, canals have been given a new lease of life in the form of leisure and Middlewich is at the forefront of this new revolution. Investment from the leisure industry and the commitment of bodies such as British Waterways has reignited a new wave of canal users. Allied to this growing industry is a renewed interest in the heritage value of the canal system and this has been taken up with vigour by groups such as Middlewich Vision and the Middlewich Heritage Society.
Information on how to obtain the full A3 sized Trail Leaflet is shown below the menu on the right. If you would like a printable 3 page A4 version that contains most of the information in the full A3 leaflet then click on this link:
A4 Trail Guide
The Important of Oral History
Taking a break
In recent years oral history has emerged as a powerful means of recording and preserving the unique memories and life experiences of people whose stories might otherwise have been lost. It enables us to eavesdrop on events, feelings, attitudes and ways of life which have been hidden from history, and thus create a more vivid and accurate picture of our past. Few historians and researchers can now afford to neglect the insights that oral sources provide. Oral history can enliven static displays in museums and galleries and more directly engage visitors in their own past. Reminiscence techniques can be used in older people's residential homes and in the community, both to entertain and to encourage a sense of self-worth. Oral history has a firm place in schools as an interactive and shared experience offering children a rare chance to question history face-to-face while bringing generations together.
The links below will open typed versions of the oral history recordings made for each person: