Nineteenth Century Salt Making – The Entrepreneurs

The years following the end of the Salt Tax were to attract entrepreneurs seeking to take advantage of the salt industry’s new financial freedom and the new salt based chemical technology. One such was William Furnival.
An earlier observation of brine springs during canal construction at Stoke Prior near Droitwich in about 1811 prompted William Furnival to successfully discover rock salt and brine and he establish new salt works beside the canal in the mid 1820’s. Numerous patents were taken out at about this time for increasing the efficiency of the open pan process by utilising the heat of the steam from the boiling brine and William Furnival was noteworthy by actually establishing a saltworks employing the new technology.

After his establishment of a patent salt works at Stoke Prior he moved to Cheshire where he established “patent salt works” at Winsford and Anderton. His works were to survive but Furnival earned the displeasure of the other salt makers by undercutting the agreed market prices. According to his surviving Statement of Fact, he was allegedly “framed” by other salt interests and was last heard of in a debtor’s prison. Furnival’s works of about 1830 were possibly the first to be built to meet the new demands for salt, not merely as a food related commodity, but as an industrial chemical.

The growth of new salt works inevitably led to overcapacity. Some failed or changed hands while others merged to survive. Such problems were to dog the industry for much of the century until the merger of over 90% of the salt firms in 1888 to form the Salt Union.

At Stoke Prior, salt making had been consolidated under John Corbett. He prospered and by the 1880’s had become the leading UK salt producer. In 1888 Corbett’s Stoke Prior salt works and the works of Joseph Verdin at Winsford were by far the most valuable components of the new conglomerate. Each valued at over £600,000.

It was not usual for a Leblanc alkali works to be built alongside a salt works since other vital raw materials were coal, limestone and sulphur and the availability of these by water-borne carriage was important. For an alkali industry based on Cheshire salt, Merseyside was the logical location with the ready access to Lancashire coal, North Wales limestone and sulphur imported from Sicily and later Spain. An early alkali works was established at Stoke Prior but eventually became unprofitable and closed down.