Salt Extraction on the North Bank of the Blackwater

For over two thousand years the north bank of the Blackwater Estuary, in Essex has been a centre of sea salt production. Goldhanger and Heybridge were at the centre of this in the past, and Maldon and Goldhanger still are. The various reasons for this are geographic, geological and meteorological, although in the past these reasons would not have been understood:

o     The estuary situated in low lying land which naturally develop large numbers of tidal pools and salt mashes.

o     All estuaries have greater tidal extremes than open coast lines, which results in a large areas of salt marshes.

o     The high concentration of clay ensures that the pools do not drain away at low tide.

o     The lowlands on the UK’s east coast have very low rainfall, resulting in little dilution by rainwater.

o     Above average annual sunshine and higher wind speeds in the exposed areas, results in high evaporation from the pools, leaving behind the salt.

o     Each incoming tide progressively transfers the contents of pools further up the estuary, increasing the salt concentration as it goes.

o     Fresh water flowing down the main river bypasses creeks and inlets, resulting in greater salt concentration in those places.

o     Clay was to hand for the man-made evaporation tanks, kilns and pottery vessels used at the sites in the past.

naturally accumulating  salt at the edge of a pool in

Goldhanger Creek at the end of a dry the summer

The large number of “red hills” located all along the north bank of the Blackwater are evidence of the very early salt works, which was caused by the burning activities on the clay soil. These red hills are all located in the vicinity of the seawalls, which were generally built after salt extraction activity, some being just inside and some outside the seawall. It is likely that the building of the seawalls brought about the end of salt extraction activity at a particular location as the salt mashes were destroyed by the new wall. About 330 red hills have been identified in Essex, with most being on the north bank of the Blackwater. This very large number may be I part the result of moving to new sites over the centuries.

artists impression of an early saltworks

Many of the red hills were identified and documented in Victorian times, however ploughing has eliminated many of the mounds and all that remains now are the discoloured areas of soil only visible when crops are not present.  The red hill sites around Goldhanger and Heybridge have been the subject of most intensive archaeological investigations and reporting in the past, which probably reflects that these were the most recently activate works. Both of these were superseded by the Maldon salt works in the 19th century, which is still operating on the river bank in the town today. However, in the last few years Maldon Crystal Salt Company has returned to the north bank of the estuary by creating a new extraction facility at Longwick Farm near Goldhanger.

Some reasons why the original Goldhanger works might have disappeared…

o     A seawall built at Bounds Farm in 1790

o     The arrival of the Coastguards adjacent to the saltworks in 1820

o     The end of the Salt Taxation in 1825

o     The disappearance of the Goldhanger fishing fleet - date unknown

o     Fire is know to have destroyed the buildings - but date unknown

o     The larger coal ships disembarked at Heybridge & Maldon

o     Competition from the bigger and more efficient Heybridge works  

Some reasons why the Heybridge works might have moved to Maldon…

o     the discovery that the deep water in the main river channel was in fact saltier than at Heybridge

o     The estuary in the vicinity of the saltworks began to silt up, restricting access for larger coal ships

o     The availability of coal on the Maldon Hythe

o     to be close to the newly built and fashionable salt baths on the Hythe

o     to be near to the fish pits used by Maldon fishermen on the Hythe

o     The Heybridge site became bankrupt and was sold and developed as a mill and maltings

o     New investment originating within Maldon developed new products

Before rock salt and electricity became available, sea salt was a vital local commodity with many uses:

-  salt was an essential preservative for fish, meat, cheese & butter

-  it was crucial ingredient in bread making, which controls the effect of yeast

-  as a general food flavouring, which detracted from the taste of decay

-  an antiseptic for disinfecting wounds

-  a water softener, and still used soap, toothpaste, bathsalts, etc.

-  a vital supplement in domestic & farm animal feedstuffs

-  it was mixed with oil to give oil lamps a brighter light

-  the salt glazing of pottery

-  a flux used in glass making

-  it was used in leather tanning

and although salt would have been used for all of the above, local records show that there were other specific uses:

-  The mashes were ideal for rearing sheep, and the salt was used for making ewes cheese.

-  Fish from the estuary were initially kept fresh in the fish pits, but was salted before transportation to market.

-  When rock salt became available, the “salt-on-salt” process was used to increase local output of pure white salt.

-  The Goldhanger works was not licensed for white salt production so this was probably smuggled out via Tiptree Heath.

-  The Johnson family at Heybridge developed many uses for their salt, mainly as an agricultural fertiliser.

-  At Maldon the salt was use for the hot and hot salt baths that were fashionable in the Regency period.

-  When rail links improved the bath salts were packaged and shipped throughout the UK.

-  Only relatively recently have the large pure white crystal flakes been marketed for culinary use…

A summary of the local evolution

This timeline is based on information extracted from the many documents and newspaper articles

That have been collected in the local archives over the years.

There are some contradictions.

2000BC    Salt extraction was taking place in the Bronze age and Iron age on the north bank of the Blackwater

100AD      The Romans exploited the sea salt resource on Osea Island and at Maldon

200AD      The Goldhanger and Heybridge saltpans where know to be in operation

200AD      A Romano-British settlement existed close to the creek at Goldhanger, leaving behind a red hill

1085AD    Goldhanger and Heybridge salthouses were listed in the Domesday Book along with eighteen others along the Blackwater

map showing the cluster of Salt Pans on the north bank

of the Blackwater referred to in the Domesday Book

1086      The Domeday book refers to “Hugh de Montfort holding “1½  salina in Goldhanger”

1200s    Seawalls were progressively built around the Blackwater over the next 500 years

1260s    A knight pays rent to the King Henry III for use of the Goldhanger saltworks

1340      A Latin Missal in All Saints Maldon has a blessing for the salt

1390s    The Guild of Saltmakers were thriving throughout Essex

1564      Queen Elizabeth 1st planned to monopolise and patent salt production in the UK, but the plan failed

1600s    Coal progressively replace wood to heat the salt pans, which was delivered in flat bottomed barges

1639      Date of the earliest reference to the Johnson family owning a local saltworks

1640      The “odious” salt tax was introduced

1651      Essex Court Sessions refer to a “Salt House” in Goldhanger (a wholve was an arched or covered drain under a path)…

1670     Rock salt was discovered in Cheshire

1693     The post of “Salt Officer” was introduced to control smuggling and unlicensed production

1702     A “Salt Board” was created by Queen Anne, with Salt Officers to collect duty on removal from the saltworks

1734     Date of earliest reference to laws limiting the refining rock salt to only Heybridge on the Blackwater

1768     Charles Coe, wealthy Maldon businessman was owner of the the saltworks land and property

1777     The earliest reference to “The Maldon Salt Works” (most probably located at Heybridge)

1781     Edward Bright the 2nd of Maldon was the proprietor of the Heybridge salt works

1784     A local newspaper advertisement referred to the Heybridge Salt Office…

1785      A bill for abolishing salt duty was presented in parliament (but was not passed)

1785      Maldon was recognized as an important salt-making centre with a reference to “the famous Maldon salt”

1786      Philip Morant wrote “at Goldhanger there was a considerable saltworks which used rock salt”

1790      A seawall was built around Bounds Farm, Goldhanger to convert the saltmashes to fertile land

1790      Saline baths near the salt works at Maldon brought new prosperity to the town

1795      Justice of the Peace had a duty to licence only one saltworks at Heybridge…

 

1805      The tax on salt rose to £30 a ton, creating much public resentment

1805      The seawall was built around the Heybridge saltworks

1814      A patent was registered by W Johnson of Heybridge for an improved process for salt making

1810      The Goldhanger works were abandoned and a large works was built about this time in Heybridge

1818      The salt-works was still working at Goldhanger in this year, when Thomas Cromwell wrote…

from  Excusions in the County of Essex, T K Crowell, 1818

1818      The warm salt water baths at Maldon prove highly useful to the inhabitants

1819      Goldhanger and Heybridge using rock salt from Cheshire

1820      W. Johnson, Essex salt manufacture was declared bankrupt

1820      Heybridge saltworks was up for sale

1822      Coastguards built an observation hut right next to the Goldhanger saltworks

1823      Quote: “Maldon, famous for its salt, made in reality in the parishes Goldhanger and Heybridge”

1822      Essex & Suffolk Insurance Society reported a fire at the Heybridge Salt Works

1823      Bridges, Johnson, and Co., of Heybridge, had disappeared by this date

1823      Quote: “The present building at Maldon was built when sea water bathing took place alongside at Bath Place Wharf”

1825      The domestic salt tax was abolished

1825      Heybridge saltworks up for sale (again)

1825      The Heybridge works were converted to a mill and maltings

the former saltworks building at Salcot Mill today

1831       “Extensive salterns…using steam” recorded at Goldhanger…

1833      The census for this year shows only one salt-maker in all of Essex

1834      The Essex Marine Salt Co is created at Heybridge

1838      Pigot’s pocket atlas refers to a saltworks at Goldhanger…

1840      “Extensive saltworks” reported at Heybridge

1843      “Patent Salt Company” buildings at Heybridge were up for sale

1845      Deeds refer to:  messuage with Salt office and yards called the Salt Cote and 1 acre at back of Malting

1848      White's Directory states:  Heybridge, here were formerly extensive salt works, but only a small one remains

1855      A patent registered by W Johnson, Hall Farm, Heybridge for improved process for making salt

1856      Edward Bright was selling “clean salt and rock salt” from the Coal Wharf, Heybridge

1856      Robert Worraker sold the Maldon Sea Salt Company in this year

1861     Quote: “The former considerable saltworks at Heybridge is down to one small factory”

1860s    A drawing of the Heybridge works at Mill Beach from around this time (building on left with wind pumps)…

1866      Maldon Salt was recommended as treatment for Typhoid and Cattle Plague

1871      The census for this year shows four salt-makers in Essex

1874      A reference in this year to “the old saltworks at Heybridge”

1883      OS map shows the “Essex Salt Works” at the location today’s Blackwater Sailing Club site…

1889      The Red Hills Exploration Committee excavates the old saltworks at Bounds Farm, Goldhanger…

from  “A History of salt Making”,  Miller Christy, Journal of The Essex Naturalist, 1906

1890s    In the summer months the owners of the marshes and oyster beds at Salcott Virley would lay canvas sheets on the mud flats, leave them there for several tides and then lift the sheets, scrape of the salt and sell it to Maldon Salt Company at Heybridge.

1919     Map of the saltworks and red hills at Bounds Farm, Goldhanger, also showing the Fish Pits and Coastguard hut…

1922      “The Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex” Vol-3: North East  reported…

1922      The Maldon Crystal Salt Company was taken over by the Osborne family

1935      A local newspaper reported that the high level of salt in the air at Goldhanger protected the fruit trees from early frosts

1935      Goldhanger Creek had so much salt it was ideal for learning to swim…

1940s     Maldon Crystal Salt packaging from this date…

1960s     The Maldon facility at this time…

1995      Colchester Archaeological Group published "Losing Savour: the Decline of Essex Salt" in their Annual Bulletin...

. . . . .     at... caguk.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Bulletin-39.pdf ...referring to Bounds Farm, Faulty Manor and Heybridge.

2001      Maldon Crystal Salt Company opened a packaging facility and offices at Wycke Hill, Maldon

2006      Maldon Crystal Salt Co opened a new processing facility at Longwick Farm near Goldhanger

the facility at Longwick Farm

2013    The Longwick site is expanded to increase production…

the new extension at Longwick Farm

2014    Amateur radio enthusiasts “DXing” now use the exceptionally salty water in the estuary to enhance their radio

     transmissions. See... Using the salt concentration to aid radio transmissions

Contemporary newspaper articles, documents held in Essex Records Office(ERO), reference books and our local archives reveal that the Heybridge and Maldon operations had many changes of ownership over the centuries…

Dates

Company

Owners

Source of info.

1585

not known

Thomas Burlz,

Maldon alderman 

ERO

1639

not known

Widow Johnson

Adam Johnson

A Prospect of Maldon

W J Petchey, 1991

1650

Goldhanger saltworks

Thomas Saffold

Goldhanger - an Estuary Village,  Maura Benham, 1977

1738 - 1768

the Salt Works

Charles Coe

J R Smith, ERO

1779

the Salt Works

John Coe

J R Smith, ERO

1777 - 1892

Maldon Salt Works

Robert Worraker 1st

Robert Worraker 2nd

T Worraker

Essex Countryside

Magazine

Sept 1975

1780 - 1790

the Salt Works

Edward Bright

J R Smith, ERO

1801

the Salt Works

Mary Bright

J R Smith, ERO

1814 - 1820

Bridges, Johnson, and Co.

William Johnson

James Tuck

William Bridges

Miller Christy

 & contemporary newspapers

1822 - 1825

Bridges, Johnson, and Co.

James Tuck

William & John Bridges

Miller Christy

& the London Gazette

1826 - 1882

Bridges, Johnson, and Co.

J Worraker or R Worraker 2nd, Thomas Worraker

Miller Christy

voters register

1834 - 1841

Essex Marine Salt Company

J G Rolfe, Pooley, Blain, White, Dr Epps

contemporary newspapers

1834 - 1850

Salt Works Company

Alfred May

contemporary newspapers

1843

Patent Salt Company

 

contemporary newspapers

1845-1851

Salt office, & Salt Pond

The Coape family

ERO

1851 - 1856

Salt Warehouse

Edward Bright

contemporary newspapers

1874

Marine Salt Company

William Wakeling

London Gazette

1882

Maldon Crystal Salt Co

T E Bland

MCS Co website

& newspaper obituaries

1901 - 1921

Maldon Crystal Salt Co

E E Brown

MCS Co website

& newspaper obituaries

1922 - date

Maldon Crystal Salt Co

the Osborne family

MCS Co website

It is clear that for most of its existence the Heybridge works product was known as the Maldon Salt.

It is difficult to determine how many companies there were at any one time, or whether the same operation had more than one name, and if and when they merged.

Contemporary newspaper reports of court cases indicate that the Essex Marine Salt Company was a fraudulent operation which today would probably be classed as a Ponzi scheme.

 

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