MID Cheshire once had many pubs to choose from to wash away the taste of salt crystals and brine. Now most of them have gone, so let’s stick to pubs for a while to celebrate our friendly watering holes.

It is common knowledge that Northwich and its environs are famous for the mining of salt. This product has caused spectacular subsidence, and no old picture book of Northwich is complete without photographs of buildings sliding into the earth.

The Salt Barge public house which was formerly the New Inn sits astride an area of land that is a honeycomb of underground mine workings.

Long disused mines with such names as Blackburns, New Alliance, Crystals, New Zealand, Nelson and Albert once existed here dredging up the salt from Triassic salt beds 40m below the surface.

The only one left is the Lion Salt Works, which was, in 1928, the last of the working open pan salt works. I remember watching the skinny men, their bare chests glistening with sweat as they raked the white salt crystals from the steaming brine and put them into tubs to dry before being taken out as blocks of white sparkling salt. I am not talking of 100 years ago; this was happening until quite recently. I watched them at work in the 1960s, and the mine did not close until 1986 when the West African market for salt collapsed.

Pubs sell salted nuts and crisps, the ulterior motive being that salt makes you thirsty and you drink more. That applied equally to the salt workers, and beer houses and Inns were opened to cater to this thirst. Until the turn of the last century, two pubs and a beerhouse traded in Ollershaw Lane at Marston.

A beerhouse named the Rockminer’s Arms was situated next to 47 and 49 Ollershaw Lane. It opened in 1857 and closed down in 1908, and as compensation, the licensee John Johnson received £120 and the brewers Greenall Whitley £1,355.

That left two other pubs, the first being the Red Lion which was situated near to the canal and had been trading since 1774. When Thompsons were expanding the Lion Salt Works around 1894, they demolished it.

There were two cottages opposite the New Inn dating from 1877, and Thompsons bought them and converted into the new Red Lion. This then served the mine until 1940 when it was compulsorily closed. The licensee Harry White received £300 and Greenalls Brewery £2,670 in compensation.

This building, with its Red Lion name board attached, is still there and part of the museum. That left the New Inn opposite which was built in 1871; it had watched its competition come and go and had, throughout the period from first opening under John Dickens to the present day, quenched the thirst of generations of canal people and salt workers.

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Now the mine workers have gone, and the boat people are holidaymakers who moor their boats up nearby for a good meal and perhaps a social evening in the pub.

In 1986 when the mine finally closed the name was changed from the New Inn to the Salt Barge signifying its proximity to the canal. Now that the Lion Salt Works is a major tourist attraction, the area has something for everyone.