Saving Salt Heritage - Historic England Grant for Murgatroyd’s Brine Works, Middlewich

To help save this important part of Middlewich's industrial past, Historic England is funding urgent repairs and a condition survey of Murgatroyd's Brine Works. The repairs will make the site safe and allow restoration work to begin on the impressive pumping machinery. Almost 200 volunteers are signed up and eager to help.

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History of a major Middlewich employer

Salt was big business in Victorian Cheshire. The area sits above vast salt beds which have been extracted since the Iron Age.

Murgatroyd's Brine Works in Middlewich were unusual in tapping into a wild brine spring 100 metres below ground. Wild brine is created when salt dissolves naturally in underground spring water. The brine was converted to salt, and sold for use in food, preservation and the chemical industry.

Thanks to an abundant supply of quality brine, the works George Murgatroyd set up in 1889 expanded to become one of the largest employers in Middlewich. The business continued operating until 1977.

The site shows the different phases of development through steam power, to electric pumps. From 1947, the extracted brine was pumped 2.5 miles away for processing in Elworth. The importance and rarity of Murgatroyd's Brine Works is recognised by its status as a scheduled monument.

After it closed, the brine works fell to the local council to look after. Being isolated and with no obvious use, it fell into disrepair. Historic England became concerned about the condition of the site and added the brine pumps to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2009.

A group photo of four members of Middlewich Heritage Trust outside the brine pumps building at Murgatroyd's Brine Works.
Members of Middlewich Heritage Trust outside the brine pumps © Middlewich Heritage Trust

Saving the brine works

To help save this important part of Middlewich's industrial past, Historic England has offered grants for a Conservation Management Plan to understand the condition of Murgatroyd's Brine Works, as well as two phases of urgent repairs, and a sonar survey of the brine shaft.

Our most recent grant of £162,750 will enable the repair of the gantry and stabilise the shaft and well head, and remove asbestos. Once complete, Historic England will be able to remove the site from the Heritage at Risk Register. The work will also be supported by a grant of £17,000 from the Association of Industrial Archaeologists.

The repairs will make the site safe and allow work to begin on the impressive pumping machinery. Almost 200 volunteers are signed up and eager to help.

Two visitors look around machinery and interior of brine pumping building.
Visitors impressed by the pumping machinery on an open day © Saltscape

Ownership and future plans

Middlewich Town Council plays a key role in supporting people to look after this important piece of their history. The Council employs a Heritage Officer, Kerry Kirwan, to manage heritage in Middlewich, prioritising 'at risk' projects. Kerry oversees repairs, prepares grant applications and works with volunteers passionate about the history of the brine pumps.

Ownership of the brine pumps has now passed to Middlewich Heritage Trust on a long lease. The Trust has exciting plans to open the brine works to the public, linking to the successful Lion Salt Works Museum nearby.

Murgatroyd's Brine Works has many enthusiasts who are keen to see that the site and its story are not lost. We're delighted that the trust will be working with the local community and work force:

  • Capturing people's memories of salt production in Middlewich
  • Working with volunteers and apprentices to share knowledge of caring for industrial heritage

Find out more from Middlewich Heritage Trust

Two men wearing hi-vis clothing and hard hats hold sonar equipment above rusting mine works.
Preparing for a sonar survey of the brine shaft to understand its condition © Middlewich Heritage Trust
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