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The Crystal Ballroom

The following article was originally published in The Mundling Stick, the Newsletter of The Lion Salt Works Trust.

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ADELAIDE MARSTON MINE, NORTHWICH; depth of a pair of shafts, 330 feet; area of mine, supported on pillars, 9½ acres; pillars 10 yards square and 20 yards apart

This terse summary1 could describe a number of the 61 Northwich salt mines of the mid-19th century.2 But the Adelaide Mine was different. It held an amazing secret; deep below the soft Cheshire countryside lay huge pink caverns, sparkling with crystalline rock salt, long dark tunnels which came to life in the candle-lit torches of the workers, and an unforgettable experience for its many visitors. The mine opened in 1850, named after the much-loved queen of William IV, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. The owners, Messrs Joseph Verdin and sons, realised that they had both a productive salt mine and a tourist attraction. Local people were soon being lowered in the four-man “hoppet” to the depths of the mine to gaze in awe at the unreal scenes of glittering crystals, dark recesses  and dancing shadows. On occasions an orchestra played, usually a local orchestra, but sometimes a visiting military band.3

Festoons of fairy lights were suspended from the mine roof, cascading sparkling reflections on the walls and pillars of salt as the strains of a waltz or a foxtrot echoed through the chambers…

It was graced by the visits of the gentry and nobility, not least Grand Duke Michael of Russia.

If the mine was working, salt was loosened by firing: …” the explosions which the blastings occasion are tremendous thunderings, which shake the whole mine and reverberate in awful volleys throughout the caverns long after.” No such fireworks during the visit of 80 members of the British Association in 1896. These august gentlemen were lowered in batches down the dark and perilous shaft, to be greeted by a candlelit banquet,4

illuminated with upwards of 4,000 candles, tastefully displayed against the glittering rock……. A table was placed for the gratification of the company, decorated with flowers and wax lights, supplied with every delicacy, and a profusion of the finest wines, to the charms of which these philosophers were not insensible.

Underground crystal caverns still exist in the vast Wieliczka mine near Cracow in Poland and give some idea of the beauty and magic of the Adelaide experience. Much nearer home, the Meadow Bank salt mine in Winsford continues to produce rock salt but is no longer open to the public.

In 1928, the Adelaide mine succumbed to the nemesis of many Northwich salt-mines – water. Although the shafts were roofed and protected from rain water, seepage through increasingly large fissures soon ate away at the workings, draining into the caverns and dissolving the massive pillars, until the roofs were undermined and collapsed. Sadly, the four ponies who hauled the trucks and bogeys could not be rescued, and a Mr Ashbrook was sent down the mine to humanely destroy the animals as the floodwaters rose. Much valuable machinery was lost.

Like so many Northwich mines, the surface buildings slowly sank into the rising waters and were engulfed into the dark recesses of the flooded shafts and caverns. The site is now a rather attractive lake, which can be seen on both sides of Ollershaw Lane, Marston. When the water-level falls, the remains of old buildings and structures can be glimpsed, and after heavy rain the surface may heave and bubble. But for the most part the scene is a peaceful one; a few fishermen, a pair of great crested grebe, Cheshire’s iconic bird, and the song of the reed warbler.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

J Dickinson, Report on the Salt Districts.1882.

Go to footnote reference 2.

A. F. Calvert, Salt in Cheshire. 1915.

Go to footnote reference 3.

C.J. Lynch, Northwich. 2004.

Go to footnote reference 4.

The Northwich Guardian 1896.

Peter Solan, The Lion Salt Works Trust

Peter Solan is a member of The Lion Salt Works Trust. The Lion Salt Works Trust was originally formed to protect, restore and promote the salts works as the gateway to Cheshire's world changing salt heritage. The Trust continue this role with the museum by working to establish a salt making presence on the site. Anybody interested in getting involved with the Trust’s work please email them via ngkhunt12 (a) gmail . com