Nantwich - Encyclopedia

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NANTWICH, a market town in the Crewe parliamentary division of Cheshire, England, 161 m. N.W. of London, on the London & North-Western and Great Western railways. Pop. of urban district (Igor) 7722. It lies on the river Weaver, in the upper part of its flat, open valley. The church of St Mary and St Nicholas is a cruciform building in red sandstone, of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods, with a central octagonal tower. The fine old carved stalls are said to have belonged to Vale Royal Abbey, near Winsford in this county. Nantwich retains not a few old timbered houses of the 16th and 17th centuries, but the town as a whole is modern in appearance. The grammar school was founded in 161x. The salt industry, still the staple of several towns lower down the vale of the Weaver, was so important here in the time of Henry VIII. that there were three hundred salt-works. Though this industry has lapsed, there are brine baths, much used in cases of rheumatism, gout and general debility, and the former private mansion of Shrewbridge Hall is converted into a hotel with a spa. Nantwich has tanneries, a manufacture of boots and shoes, and clothing factories; and corn-milling and iron-founding are carried on. The town is one of the best hunting centres in the county, being within reach of several meets.

From the traces of a Roman road between Nantwich and Middlewich, and the various Roman remains that have been found in the neighbourhood, it has been conjectured that Nantwich was a salttown in Roman times, but of this there is no conclusive evidence. The Domesday Survey contains a long account of the laws, customs and values of the salt-works at that period, which were by far the most profitable in Cheshire. The salt-houses were divided between the king, the earl of Chester and certain resident freemen of the neighbourhood. The name of the town appears variously as Wych Manbank, Wie Malban, Nantwich, Lache Mauban, Wysmanban, Wiens Malbanus, Namptewiche. About the year 1070 William Malbedeng or Malbank was created baron of Nantwich, which barony he held of the earl of Chester. In the 13th century the barony fell to three daughters and co-heiresses, and further subdivisions followed. This probably accounts for the lack of privileges belonging to Nantwich as a corporate town. The only town charter is one of 1567-1568, in which Queen Elizabeth confirms an ancient privilege of the burgesses that they should not be upon assizes or juries with strangers, relating to matters outside the town. It is stated in the charter that the right to this privilege had been proved by an inquisition taken in the 14th century, and had then already been held from time immemorial. There was a gild merchant and also a town bailiff, but the latter office was of little real significance and was soon dropped. There is documentary evidence of a castle at Nantwich in the 13th century. There is a weekly market on Saturday, held by prescription. In 1283 a three-days' fair to be held at the feast of St Bartholomew was granted to Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells (then holder of a share of the barony of Nantwich). This is the "Old Fair" or "Great Fair" now held on the 4th of September. Earl Cholmondeley received a grant of two fairs in 1723. Fairs are now held on the first Thursday in April, June, September and December, and a cheese fair on the first Thursday in each month except January. The salt trade declined altogether in the 18th century, with the exception of one salt-works, which was kept open until 1856. There was a shoe trade in the town as early as the 17th century, and gloves were made from the end of the 16th century until about 1863. Weaving and stocking trades also flourished in the 18th century. The one corn-mill of Nantwich was converted into a cotton factory in 1789, but was closed in 1874.

See James Hall, A History of Nantwich or Wich Milbank (1883).

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