Header showing the King's Saltern
  The Salt Industry of Lymington
For most of the 18th century Lymington was the main producer of sea salt in the country. It was an industry that had existed along these shores for many hundreds of years, possibly dating back to Roman times.
Saltern
There was a continuous line of salt works along the 5 miles of coastline from Lymington to Hurst Spit. The greatest concentration being in an area of two miles by half a mile wide situated in Oxey and Pennington marshes. Follow a walking route here

Today this area is part of a Nature Reserve, but back then there would have been evaporating ponds for as far as the eye could see, billowing smoke from the boiling houses, boats delivering coal and taking away the salt, the air thick with white salt dust and countless small windmills pumping the brine to the boiling houses.
Lymington to Keyhaven coastline
Method Seawater is captured at high tide in reservoirs, this in turn is fed into the shallow ponds (3” depth) where the seawater is left to partially evaporate. When the brine is of sufficient strength it was pumped by windmill to a holding tank. Pipes fed the brine down to the metal pans in the boiling house under which coal fires were lit and the brine was boiled until the moisture was evaporated.
Diagram of making seasalt
The sea salt manufacture was seasonal, depending on good weather, but an average season was sixteen weeks. Each pan would produce about 3 tons a week and the town supplied most of Southern England with salt. Lymington salt was also exported in large quantities to the Newfoundland fisheries as well as many other countries around the world.
Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) Author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, visited Lymington in 1725

This town of Limington is chiefly noted for making fine salt, which is indeed excellent good; and from whence all these south parts of England are supply’d, as well by water as by land carriage; and sometimes, tho’ not often, they send salt to London".

 
The decline of the Industry The industry finally went into a decline when heavy taxes were levied to pay for the war with France and better transport made the cheaper mined salt from Cheshire easier to supply.
The last salt house closed in 1865 and within a few years nearly everything had gone, the boiling houses were removed and the salt-ponds filled up and levelled off for grazing.

In recent times the County Council has acquired all the marshes to form the Lymington to Keyhaven Nature Reserve, which attract over a quarter of a million visitors to this unique landscape.

Edward King (1821-85) He had a life-long interest in local history. Below is an extract from ‘Old Times Revisited’ published in 1879.

"The Saltern proper was a large tract of perfectly flat land, divided into shallow ponds, about twenty feet square, by low mud-banks about six inches high, just wide enough for a man to walk upon with caution.

Into these the water was baled, by large wooden scoops, from ponds which had caught the salt water at high tide; and here it lay, evaporating more or less quickly, according to the favourable or adverse weather. In various parts of the works were small windmills, about twelve or fourteen feet high, which, whirling with the continual and varying sea breezes, pumped the water into different sets of pans, as it approached nearer to the condition of brine, and at last lifted it into large cisterns, whence it ran, by gravitation, into the boiling-houses.

These latter were merely large brick-built sheds, with low weather-beaten walls, upholding a wide expanse of tiled roof, under which were the pans and furnaces. A cloud of steam filled the boiling-house when working; salt impregnated the air; and the roads all around were black with coal-ashes from the furnaces, which had for generation after generation been incessantly burning".

 
By-products After the ordinary salt had been made, two by-products were produced, Epsom and Glauber salts.

David Garrow Below is an extract from 'The History of Lymington’ by David Garrow - published in 1825

The principal manufacture of this town is salt, but this has been of late years sensibly on the decline, owing to the superiority of the same species of commodity in the Liverpool market, and the depressed prices at which the latter retail it. Where, about thirty-five years ago, a dozen salterns were in full play, there are now not more than three employed, and those on a scale far inferior to that on which they were conducted six years since. Indeed, within the last nine months, the Lymington manufacturers have imported salt from Liverpool, to retail at home; so that it is probable, in the course of a few years, the salt works here will be wholly disused. Some years back, these salterns paid into the exchequer, for duty alone, the enormous sum of £ 50,000 per annum, which at once shows the great trade they must at that period have enjoyed. The method, by which salt is here made, is very simple. The sea water is first pumped into shallow quadrilateral reservoirs of earth, called salt pans; in these it remains exposed to the rays of the sun, till the quantity of water is sensibly reduced, so as to leave the remainder considerably stronger of saline than when first introduced into them. It is then, by the instrumentality of a forcing pump, which is excited by flyers, on a principle similar to that of the wind-mill, conducted into large flat iron pans, from six to eight inches deep; these are placed over a fierce fire, and the brine is suffered to boil till it almost wholly evaporates in steam. The sediment that remains at the bottom, is the salt, which is afterwards housed and dried.

The medicinal or Epsom salts made here, which are a preparation from what is decomposed from the culinary commodity, may be considered the purest in England; and Mr. West, banker and merchant, of this town, after many years' persevering attention to the subject, has brought them to a high state of perfection.

 

 

New Saltern? Would it be possible to build a new saltern? as a symbol of the industry that once dominated our shores for many hundreds of years. Perhaps a working saltern? with an evaporating pond, cistern, boiling house and a canal together with a boat moored alongside. It could possibly make a great tourist attraction for our town and once again Lymington salt could be sold, this time to tourists.

In the local St Barbe museum there are almost no artefacts on display from a once great industry. Would this be a case for the Channel 4 programme Time Team to search the marshes for a saltern and bring back some items to display in the museum?

 

 
 
 
 
 
Map of Lymington Salterns
Click here for the saltern names Click here for the modern day coastline
   Above - Coloured version of the o/s map 1810
 
Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) Her diary of the journeys she made ‘Through England on a side saddle’ (1684 - 1703), "to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise" is a rare piece of literature for this period of time. She stayed with a relation just outside of Lymington and gave a first hand account of a saltworks she visited in around 1695.

.... 'it’s a mile to Limington a seaport town – it has some few small ships belonging to it and some little trade, but the greatest trade is by their salterns.

The seawater they draw into trenches and so into several ponds that are secured in the bottom to retain it, and it stands in the sun to exhale the watery part of it, and if it prove a dry summer they make the best and most salt, for the rain spoils the ponds by weakening the salt.

When they think its fit to boil they draw off the water from the ponds by pipes which conveys it into a house full of large square iron and copper pans; they are shallow but they are a yard or two if not more square, these are fixed in rows one by another it may be twenty on a side, in a house under which is the furnace that burns fiercely to keep these pans boiling apace, and as it candy's about the edges or bottom so they shovel it up and fill it in great baskets and so the thinner part runs through on moulds they set to catch it, which they call salt cakes'.

The rest in the baskets dry and is very good salt and as fast as they shovel the boiling salt out of the pans they do replenish it with more of their salt water in their pipes. They told me when the season was dry and so the salt water in its prime they could make 60 quarters of salt in one of those pans which they constantly attend night and day all the while the fire is in the furnace, because it would burn to waste and spoil the pans which by their constant use wants often to be repaired. They leave off saturday night and let out the fire and so begin and kindle their fire Monday morning, its a pretty charge to light the fire.

Their season for making salt is not above 4 or 5 months in the year and that is only in a dry summer. These houses have above 20 some 30 more of these pans in them, they are made of copper.

They are very careful to keep their ponds well secured and mended by good clay and gravel in the bottom and sides and so by sluices they fill them out of the sea at high-tides and so conveyed from pond to pond till fit to boil'.

 
 
Inside the Salt industry at Lymington
Above - Thomas Rowlandson c1784 - Inside the Salt industry at Lymington
 
 

Archeology The area around the country’s last two remaining sea salt boiling houses at Creek Cottage, Lower Woodside, Lymington was excavated for two weeks in July 2010 by the New Forest National Park Authority with the help of local volunteers.

Quantities of clinker and ashy material were found which would relate to it’s use as a Boiling House.

Medieval pottery sherds were recovered from deposits in trench 1 which would hint at an earlier activity in the vicinity.

Some evidence was found that the building may have been three times its current length (24m x 10m).

Alongside the buildings there is a raised causeway and it was thought that it may have acted as a dyke separating dry land from the wetlands. Traces of similar dykes can be found around nearby Maiden Dock and Oxey Marsh.

On the left of the picture is Frank Green, archaeologist for the New Forest National Park monitored the project on behalf of the local planning authority.

 
Creek Cottage
 
The last two remaining Salt houses at Creek Cottage map
 
Archeology The area around the country’s last two remaining sea salt boiling houses at Creek Cottage
 
By a resident gentleman
Below is an extract from ‘A new guide to Lymington’ printed and published in 1841 by Richard King

The manufacture of salt, in this neighbourhood, is of great and unquestionable antiquity. Camden affirms that St. Ambrose mentions it in terms of the highest praise. In Domesday book, the Milford salt-works are specially referred to; and a charter, bearing date 1147, is still extant; granting to the monks of Quarr Abbey, in the Isle of Wight, a tithe of Lymington salt.

A trade of considerable extent, was, a few years since, carried on here in this article, both coast-wise and with America. It has recently declined, in consequence of the Liverpool and other northern manufacturers being enabled, by various local advantages, to sell their salt at a much lower price. The principal of these advantages are, the facility of procuring salt rock; brine pits or springs; and coals, obtained almost on the spot, without the cost of freight, or payment of duty. It is, nevertheless, acknowledged by all, that in regard to quality, the Lymington salt is far superior. At the period alluded to, the duty on salt was thirty shillings per cwt. The salt-works in this neighbourhood then produced annually to the exchequer, a revenue nearly amounting to £ 60,000. It was hoped that the total repeal of this enormous tax would have led to an improvement in the salt trade; but the contrary result has, unfortunately, become too evident; so that instead of there being from seventy to a hundred pans at work, not more than one-fourth of that number is at present in requisition.

Medicinal (Epsom) salts are also manufactured here in great purity; but, as this branch of the business is wholly dependent on the other, it has also declined in like proportion.

It might not be improper to notice here, the process by which each of these useful articles is produced.

In the manufacture of salt, the first thing that is necessary, is the admission of sea-water into reservoirs, called feeding ponds. From these it is allowed to run, at stated intervals, into square shallow flats, or pans, varying in size from 25 to 120 square yards:— here it is exposed to the action of the sun and wind, and changed from one set of pans to another, six different times; until it is rendered, by evaporation, sufficiently strong for Usenet is then denominated liquor. Its increase of strength is denoted by glass globes, numbered from 4 to 8. (As a substitute for the glass globes, small pieces of wax of a conical shape, and loaded with lead, are frequently used). These float on its surface, according to the specific gravity of each, and the concentration of saline particles in the liquor. It is then thrown up by a common pump, or the aid of a windmill applied to a pump of larger calibre, into cisterns, and kept for boiling.

It is worthy of remark, that in this method of preparing brine to make salt, everything depends on the state of the weather; a humid or cloudy atmosphere, and copious dews at night, being alike inimical to it in every stage. Hence, as before observed, the northern manufacturers possess incalculable advantages; their brine being already prepared for them in the bowels of the earth. The weather also involves the works here in great uncertainty, as some seasons they can boil fifteen or twenty weeks, and at other times not more than ten;—a species of inconvenience to which their competitors are never subjected.

From the cisterns, the liquor is again pumped as required, into a reservoir (a clearer) and from thence conveyed, by wooden pipes, into the boiling pans. These are formed of plates of sheet-iron, and are about eight feet square, by nine inches deep. The pans being charged with liquor, to within about three inches of the margin, a fierce fire is applied till it boils. It is kept boiling about an hour, during which time the impurities are removed from the surface. As soon as granulations of salt make their appearance, the fire is damped and a simmering ensues, until the whole of the liquor has evaporated. The salt is then removed into troughs to drain, after which it is warehoused for sale.

The whole of this process occupies eight hours, and the workmen usually continue boiling from Monday morning until Saturday without intermission. The boiling houses vary in size, from two to eight pans, and about fifty years since, there were some containing fourteen, sixteen, and even twenty pans.

The fluid that issues from the salt, whilst draining, is called bitter liquor, and passes into covered cisterns, or bitter pits; and during the winter, is converted into Epsom salts, in the following manner. The pans are filled early in the morning, made to boil, and the impurities taken off. The fire is then withdraw. On the following morning, the liquor is drawn out by a syphon, and conveyed into coolers, about sixteen inches deep, where crystallization immediately commences. There it remains about a week: the liquor is then let off into the bitter pit, and boiled again and again, till the whole of its strength is extracted.

The salts produced by this simple method, are too well known to need a description here. The manufacturers usually refine them. This is done by dissolving a certain quantity in spring water, boiling it in a copper, and drawing it off into coolers, as before. These are called doubles, and are again refined, by repeating a similar process, and the addition of sulphuric acid; by which a precipitation of muriate of soda is promoted, and the salts are, in consequence, less liable to deliquesce.