All towns go through various stages of growth, but it is true to say that not many go through the changes that Mid Cheshire towns have seen.

Why is this? The answer is salt. The Cheshire Plain sits astride the country's largest deposit of rock salt.

In Roman times, salt was a precious and valuable commodity; canning and refrigeration have only been available for the last 200 years.

Before that, the only method of preserving food, especially meat, was by salt.

Rock salt was laid down in the Cheshire Plain region some 220 million years ago; seawater moved inland, creating a chain of shallow salt marshes across what is today the Cheshire Basin.

As the marshes evaporated, deep deposits of rock salt were formed.

There are three Wiches or Wyches in Mid Cheshire, where salt has been mined and obtained through the centuries: Nantwich, Middlewich, and Northwich.

Northwich Guardian: Seddons Salt Works in Middlewich, 1900Seddons Salt Works in Middlewich, 1900 (Image: Rose Hurley)

The oldest is Nantwich, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and at the time, it had eight 'salt houses; however, by the time of Henry VIII, it had some 300 salt pits.

In the mid-1800s, the trade declined, and the last salt house closed in 1856.

Following the Roman invasion, Middlewich was named Salinae by the Romans on account of the salt deposits around it, as it was one of their significant sites of salt production.

The Romans inhabited Northwich as it allowed the crossing of the rivers Weaver and Dane and the salt springs that were in the area.

Northwich Guardian: Subsidence in Castle Street, NorthwichSubsidence in Castle Street, Northwich (Image: Rose Hurley)

Soon, however, the extraction of salt in Northwich ceased, and supplies were obtained from the other salt towns.

Then, in 1670, the owners of Marbury Hall came across a seam of rock salt whilst looking for coal, and shortly afterwards, salt extraction began again.

By the 19th century, it became uneconomical to mine rock salt, so wild brine pumping became the get-rich-quick plan of the day.

Hot water was pumped through the salt layer, dissolving it and bringing it to the surface in liquid form; below ground, a void remained, and with nothing to hold up the land above, spectacular subsidence took place around Northwich.

Northwich Guardian: Foresters Arms subsided in Witton StreetForesters Arms subsided in Witton Street (Image: Rose Hurley)

Huge chasms appeared underground, causing everything above to slide into them. This led to the buildings of Northwich leaning at bizarre angles, collapsing altogether or simply plunging into the earth beneath them with no warning.

The last salt mine in Northwich was the Lion Salt Works at Marston, now preserved as a great museum to visit and learn about the history of salt in the area.

From the 1830s, the salt mines under Northwich were collapsing, and another source of salt near the River Weaver was needed.

This was discovered in Winsford, leading to the development of a salt industry along the course of the river, where many independent mines were established.

Northwich Guardian: Salt Union, WinsfordSalt Union, Winsford (Image: Rose Hurley)

By 1897, Winsford had become the largest producer of salt in Britain. As a result, a new area developed within a mile of the old 'Borough of Over', which had previously been focused around Delamere Street.

Most of the early development took place on the opposite side of the river, with new housing, shops, pubs, chapels, and a new church being built in the hamlet of Wharton.

As the wind usually blew the smoke away from Over (or 'Dark Town', as the locals called it), it became the place for wealthier inhabitants to live.

Homes for the working people from the barges and the mines were built on and near the ancient Over Lane, now the old High Street and nearby.

Northwich Guardian: Lion Salt Works and MuseumLion Salt Works and Museum (Image: Rose Hurley)

The salt mine managers also tended to live away from the industrial smoke, and villas were built in the late 19th century along Swanlow Lane.

Winsford still supplies the majority of the country's rock salt, as can be evidenced by the queues of heavy goods vehicles loaded with what was once 'white gold' passing through the town during the winter months.