Lion Salt Works and remains of part of the Alliance Salt Works


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Lion Salt Works and remains of part of the Alliance Salt Works
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 67068 75535, SJ 67111 75477

Reasons for Designation

Salt, primarily because of its supreme importance in the preservation of food, has been an integral part of the north European economy since prehistory. It was initially used mainly for salting fish and has been extracted from seawater on the English coast since at least the Bronze Age, whilst the earliest archaeological evidence from the inland brine sites dates to the Iron Age. In more recent times salt has been used for snow and ice clearance on roads, for fertiliser, and also as an essential raw material in the heavy inorganic chemical industry, particularly in the production of chlorine, caustic soda and soda ash.

Since the 18th century the rise of England's growing inland salt industry led to the decline of sea-salt production. The inland salt industry is defined as the extraction and purification of salt from brine springs and rock salt. Brines form locally, immediately above the highest remaining rock salt bed. The most important beds occur in the Cheshire-Shropshire Basin, and parts of Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Somerset.

Initially natural brine springs and pits were exploited, but by the late Middle Ages pumps were being inserted into brine pits to increase the supply. Developments in pumping technology led to the introduction of steam-powered pumps, and later to the use of diesel, compressed air and electrically-powered pumps. The brine was stored in brine tanks or cisterns from where it passed by gravity into evaporting pans. These pans, initially of lead but later of rivetted iron sheets, could be housed either indoors in a pan house or outdoors, although generally fine pans which heated brine to a higher temperature would be housed indoors while common pans used for producing common or fishery salt would be housed outdoors. Once evaporated the salt would be dried in stove houses then placed in warehouses which were attached to the pan house. Common pans were generally longer than fine pans and consisted of a brick furnace upon which the pan rested with flues carrying heat below the pan to a chimney. Common or fishery salt was handled as loose or bulk salt, generally unstoved, and tipped from salt barrows or carts into large warehouses. Pan houses consisted of dwarf brick walls supporting a timber structure with roofs constructed with central vents to allow steam to escape. The attached stove houses were brick built to retain heat with the hot gasses from the furnace beneath the pan being directed below the stove house through flues to a chimney. Lump salt would be lofted to a room above the stove room for storage or grinding. This upper room may also contain a crushing mill where crushed salt would be fed by chute into bags before being stitched and sealed. Many salt works employed blacksmiths, pansmiths, carpenters, coopers and wheelwrights, while store rooms, fitting and repair shops for machinery and wagons were also common features.

Following the discovery of rock salt near Northwich in 1670 a number of mines were sunk to approximately 45m depth into the upper bed of rock salt, a lower bed remaining undiscovered at that time. Each mine was served by a two-stage shaft for access, winding and ventilation. Winding in the top shaft was done by means of a horse gin while a windlass served the bottom shaft. The shafts would have been covered by a roofed timberstructure to keep them dry with the gin circle or gin house close by. Following the discovery of a lower bed of rock salt in 1779 all new mining operations were transferred to the deeper level. Steam engines were used for winding rock salt and pumping water out of the mines and by the 19th century were widespread. The most prominent structure at the surface was the timber headgear positioned over the shaft. Adjacent was an engine house within which stood the steam engine which powered the winding operations, and an integral or adjoining boiler house. Associated surface buildings would include stores for keeping the mined rock salt dry, crushing mills, offices, stables, a smithy, workshops and housing. Where feasible lower bed mines were frequently positioned next to the pre-existing canal network to facilitate bulk transport, and from the mid-19th century most mines were connected to the developing railway infrastructure.

The Lion Salt Works is unique in being the last surviving inland open pan salt works in England. It contains evidence for the full range of processes involved in the production of salt during the greater part of the 20th century, from mining and evaporation of the brine to drying, storing and transportation of the refined product. Additionally the monument contains the well-preserved buried remains of part of the 19th century Alliance Salt Works which preceded the Lion Salt Works on this site.


The monument includes the upstanding remains of the Lion Salt Works and the buried remains of part of the earlier Alliance Salt Works. It is located immediately south of the point where Ollershaw Lane crosses the Trent and Mersey Canal and includes pan houses, salt store, brine tank, bore holes, pump house, boiler house, manager's office, smithy and other features associated with the Lion Salt Works, together with the buried remains of open pans and other buildings associated with the Alliance Salt Works which lie beneath the later Lion Works. The monument is divided into two separate areas of protection.

A salt works was erected here by John Thompson and his son, also John Thompson, in 1856. By 1874 it was known as the Alliance Salt Works and in 1888 it was sold to the Salt Union. Following disagreements between John Thompson and the Salt Union, John and his son Henry Ingram Thompson dug a new brine shaft, later to form part of the Lion Works, adjacent to the Alliance Works. The Alliance Works continued to operate until its shaft collapsed in 1898, after which it was abandoned. During the 1990s limited excavation located the well-preserved remains of a pan house, stove house and flue associated with the Alliance Works. By contrast the Lion Works expanded and by 1900 three fine pan houses used for making common salt had been constructed, together with stove houses, a brine tank, smithy, salt store, office, and four common or fishery pans used for making coarse salt. In 1947 the four common pans were demolished and replaced by a new fine pan, Pan House No.4. A new bore hole with a steam engine and boiler replaced the earlier brine shaft. In 1958 Pan House No.5 was erected. Two years later Pan House No.2 was refurbished by constructing a mechanically raked pan, Pan No.1 was demolished, and a submersible electric brine pump was installed into a new brine bore hole drilled close to the first shaft. The Lion Salt Works closed in 1986 due to the loss of its main markets in West Africa during the civil war in Nigeria.

There are five pan houses at the Lion Works each comprising three elements; the pan where the brine was evaporated above a furnace and flue, the stove or hot house containing flues and drying areas, and above it the loft which was used as a storehouse, warehouse or packing floor. Pan House No.1 has a curved brick wall at its south west corner reflecting the constricted space utilised for the first salt pan situated in the coal yard of the now demolished Red Lion Hotel. A passage still exists beneath the stove house which gave access from the hotel to the canal. Pan House No.2 is orientated to receive coal from the canal with loading doors on the north side which allowed salt to be tipped directly into narrowboats. Pan House No.3 is orientated to receive coal from a railway siding immediately to the south. Rail lines are used to brace the walls externally and also to hold down other rail lines which support the warehouse floor to Stove House No.3. Pan House No.4 has a steel framework to support its roof and makes use of the external wall of Pan House No.3 on its west side. By replacing the four fishery pans the construction of Pan House No.4 in 1947 reflected changes in the salt market. Internally it contains an in situ crushing mill used to break up salt blocks. Pan House No.5 was constructed after all other open pan salt works in Britain had been demolished. An overhead walkway allowed salt to be barrowed from Stove House No.5 to Stove House No.2.

To the east of Pan House No.2 is the brine tank, a bore hole sunk in the 1960s, and a sealed brine shaft dating to the 1890s. The tank is constructed of riveted iron plates, sits on a brick base, and holds 30,000 gallons (136,500 litres) of brine. Beneath the brine tank is a boiler which replaced an original Galloway boiler. Close to the south east corner of Pan House No.4 is the pump house, engine shed, brine bore hole, brick chimney and steam winch. An in situ horizontal steam engine, now converted to run from an air compressor, is located in the Pump House and is linked to a bell crank brine pump known as a nodding donkey. Other features of this brine pump assemblage include a hand-cranked derrick winch, a return water pump, a heat exchange cylinder and a brick support for a water tank. The steam winch was used to pull salt vans and coal wagons along the railway siding because the curves of the track were too tight for engines to reach the site. South of the pump house is the boiler house and manager's office. Within the boiler house is an 1891 Cornish boiler made by William Lord of Bury which provided steam to the smithy and pump house. The manager's office is a timber-framed structure with brick nogging or panels, and is typical of many local buildings which utilise this design in an attempt to withstand ground subsidence which is a common feature of the area due to collapse in the vast underground salt workings. South west of the manager's office is the smithy, a three-bay timber structure with slate roof with a fourth bay added to the south end for the use of a joiner. Many original features survive including an in situ line shaft-powered circular saw, guillotine and hearth. South of Pan House No.4 and to the west of the manager's office are two railway tracks running south. The section south of the manager's office has now been lifted. On the western side of Ollershaw Lane is the large timber salt store known as the Coronation Store. It was constructed in 1901 and was originally built with an arched roof with the floor at canal towpath level. The original roof was replaced with a pitched roof. Subsidence has now left the floor of the salt store below towpath level.

The process of salt making began with the brine being pumped from underground and stored in the brine tank from where it was fed by gravity into the evaporating pans. The pan houses are lightly constructed timber sheds covering the iron pans. This allowed the heat and steam to escape as the brine was heated by the fires lit in brick furnaces beneath the pans. As the brine evaporated salt crystals formed and were moulded into blocks then to be taken to the stove house to dry. Once dry the salt could be `lofted' through hatches to the second floor for storage, cutting, or to be crushed and bagged. Pan Houses Nos.3 and 4, the stove houses and store or warehouses, the manager's office, the engine shed and pump house, and the salt store on the west side of Ollershaw Lane are all Listed Buildings Grade II.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: all fencing, fenceposts, railings, gates and gateposts, the surfaces of a road and pavement, all signposts and telegraph poles, a railway salt wagon and all non-in situ fixtures and fittings. The ground beneath all these features is however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Lion Salt Works Trust, , The Lion Salt Works, (2000)
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Photos supplied by Andrew Fielding, Lion Salt Works Trust, The Lion Salt Works,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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