|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.
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.
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
|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.
Defoe (1660–1731) Author
of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, visited Lymington
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
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.
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".
the ordinary salt had been made, two by-products were produced,
Epsom and Glauber salts.
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.
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?
- Coloured version of the o/s map 1810
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'.
- Thomas Rowlandson c1784 - Inside the Salt industry at Lymington
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.
last two remaining Salt houses at Creek Cottage map
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.
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
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
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
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.