Nantwich (// NAN-twitch) is a market town and civil parish in Cheshire, England. It is known for having among the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England, with particularly good examples of Tudor and Georgian architecture. In 2011, it had a population of 17,424.
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The origins of the settlement date to Roman times, when salt from Nantwich was used by the Roman garrisons at Chester (Deva Victrix) and Stoke-on-Trent as a preservative and a condiment. Salt has been used in the production of Cheshire cheese and in the tanning industry, both products of the dairy industry based in the Cheshire Plain around the town. Nant comes from the Welsh for brook or stream. Wich and wych are names used to denote brine springs or wells. In 1194 there is a reference to the town as being called Nametwihc, which would indicate it was once the site of a pre-Roman Celtic nemeton or sacred grove.
In the Domesday Book, Nantwich is recorded as having eight salt houses. It had a castle and was the capital of a barony of the earls of Chester, and of one of the seven hundreds of medieval Cheshire. Nantwich is one of the few places in Cheshire to be marked on the Gough Map, which dates from 1355–66. It was first recorded as an urban area at the time of the Norman conquest, when the Normans burned the town to the ground leaving only one building standing.
The town is believed to have been a salt-producing centre from the 10th century or earlier. The Norman castle was built at the crossing of the Weaver before 1180, probably near where the Crown Inn now stands. Although nothing remains of the castle above ground, it affected the town's layout. During the medieval period, Nantwich was the most important salt town and probably the second most important settlement in the county after Chester. By the 14th century, the town held a weekly cattle market at the end of what is today is Beam Street, and it was also important for its tanning industry centred on Barker Street.
A fire in December 1583 destroyed most of the town to the east of the Weaver. Elizabeth I contributed financially to the town's rebuilding, which occurred rapidly and followed the plan of the destroyed town. Beam Street was so renamed to reflect the fact that timber (including wood from Delamere Forest) to rebuild the town was transported along it. A plaque marking the 400th anniversary of the fire and of Nantwich's rebuilding was unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on 20 September 1984.
From the time of the Henrician Reformation, the town had trouble finding good Protestant preachers. An example of the problem was Stephen Jerome, a puritanical preacher, who in 1625 nonetheless tried to rape one of his maidservants, Margaret Knowsley. Rumours of this spread across the town, eventually leading to Knowsley's imprisonment and public shaming in 1627. A few years later, Jerome went to Ireland to continue his preaching career.
During the English Civil War Nantwich declared for Parliament, and so was besieged several times by Royalist forces. A final, six-week siege was lifted after a Parliamentary victory in the Battle of Nantwich on 26 January 1644. This has been re-enacted as 'Holly Holy Day' on its anniversary every year since 1973 by the Sealed Knot, an educational charity. The name comes from the commemorative sprigs of holly worn by the townsfolk in their caps or clothing in the years after the battle.
The salt industry peaked in the mid-16th century, with around 400 salt houses in 1530, and had almost died out by the end of the 18th century; the last salt house closed in the mid-19th century. Nikolaus Pevsner considers the decline in the salt industry to have been the critical factor in preserving the town's historic buildings. The last tannery closed in 1974. The town's location on the London to Chester road meant that Nantwich began to serve the needs of travellers in medieval times. This trade declined in the 19th century, however, with the opening of Telford's road from London to Holyhead, which offered a faster route to Wales, and later with the Grand Junction Railway bypassing the town.
The existence of a watermill south of Nantwich Bridge was noted in 1228 and again around 1363, though the cutting of a mill race or leat and the creation of an upstream weir or river diversion. The resulting Mill Island was ascribed to the 16th century, possibly after the original mill was destroyed in the 1583 "Great Fire of Nantwich". During the mid-17th century, the mill was acquired by local land-owners, the Cholmondeleys, who retained it until the 1840s.
Originally a corn mill, it became a cotton mill (Bott's Mill) from 1789 to 1874, but returned to use as a corn mill; it was recorded as such on the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Nantwich in 1876. Around 1890 a turbine was installed to replace the water wheel.
The mill was demolished in the 1970s after a fire. The site was subsequently landscaped, with further stabilising work to the remaining foundations of the mill in 2008, and today forms part of a riverside park area. Proposals, so far unfollowed, have been made for small-scale hydropower generation using the mill race. Nantwich Mill Hydro Generation Ltd was incorporated in April 2009 but dormant in December 2016.
Nantwich's brine springs were used for spa or hydrotherapy purposes at two locations: the central Snow Hill swimming pool inaugurated in 1883, where the open-air brine pool is still in use today, and the Brine Baths Hotel, situated in 70 acres of parkland to the south of the town, from the 1890s until the mid-20th century.
The hotel was originally a mansion, Shrewbridge Hall, built for Michael Bott (owner of Nantwich Mill) in 1828. The building was purchased by the Nantwich Brine and Medicinal Baths Company in 1883, expanded and opened as the Brine Baths Hotel in 1893, with "a well-appointed suite of brine and medicinal baths," – also described as the "strongest saline baths in the world." These were used for the treatment of patients suffering from ailments that included gout, rheumatism, sciatica and neuritis, using two suites of baths.
The hotel's grounds included gardens, tennis courts, a 9-hole golf course and a bowling green. The latter is the most notable surviving feature, today managed by the Nantwich Park Road Bowling Club, founded in 1906.
The hotel served as an auxiliary hospital during World War I, while in World War II it became an army base and then accommodated WAAF personnel. It closed as a hotel in 1947, and in 1948 became a convalescent home for miners. In 1952 that was closed and the building unsuccessfully put up for sale and demolished in 1959. The hotel's grounds were later developed for housing – the Brine Baths Estate – and schools (Brine Leas School and Weaver Primary School).
The borough of Crewe and Nantwich was formed in 1974 when the Local Government Act 1972 replaced urban district and rural district councils with a uniform system of larger districts often covering both urban and rural areas. Some town administration responsibilities of Nantwich Urban District Council passed to Nantwich Town Council, while Nantwich Rural District Council responsibilities passed to the combined Crewe and Nantwich borough.
Since 1983, Nantwich has been in the parliamentary constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. Between 1955 and 1983, Nantwich was a parliamentary constituency in its own right, largely covering the areas managed by Nantwich urban and rural district councils (rural areas to the south, west and north of Nantwich now form part of the west Cheshire Eddisbury constituency).
Places of interestEdit
Nantwich has one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the county, second only to Chester. The listed buildings are clustered mainly in the town centre on Barker Street, Beam Street, Churchyard Side, High Street and Hospital Street, and extending across the Weaver on Welsh Row. The majority are within the 38 hectares (94 acres) of conservation area, which broadly follows the boundaries of the late medieval and early post-medieval town.
The oldest listed building is St Mary's Church, which dates from the 14th century and is listed Grade I. Two other listed buildings are known to predate the fire of 1583: Sweetbriar Hall and the Grade I-listed Churche's Mansion, both timber-framed Elizabethan mansion houses. A few years after the fire, William Camden described Nantwich as the "best built town in the county". Particularly fine examples of timber-framed buildings from the town's rebuilding include 46 High Street and the Grade I-listed Crown coaching inn. Many half-timbered buildings, such as 140–142 Hospital Street, have been concealed behind brick or rendering. Nantwich contains many Georgian town houses, good examples being Dysart Buildings, 9 Mill Street, Townwell House and 83 Welsh Row. Several examples of Victorian corporate architecture are listed, including the former District Bank by Alfred Waterhouse. The most recent listed building is 1–5 Pillory Street, a curved corner block in 17th-century French style, which dates from 1911. The majority of the town's listed buildings were originally residential, but churches, chapels, public houses, schools, banks, almshouses and workhouses are also represented. Unusual listed structures include a mounting block, twelve cast-iron bollards, a stone gateway, two garden walls and a summerhouse.
Dorfold Hall is a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion in the nearby village of Acton and was considered by Pevsner to be one of the two finest Jacobean houses in Cheshire. Nantwich Show, including the International Cheese Awards, takes place in the hall's grounds each summer.
Nantwich Museum is in Pillory Street. It has galleries on the history of the town, including Roman salt making, Tudor Nantwich's Great Fire, the Civil War Battle of Nantwich (1644) and the more recent shoe and clothing industries. There is also a section devoted to the local cheese-making industry. Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, a few miles outside the town, is a formerly government-owned nuclear bunker, now a museum. Also in Pillory Street is the 82-seat Nantwich Players Theatre, which puts on about five plays a year.
Geography and transportEdit
Nantwich is on the Cheshire Plain, on the banks of the River Weaver. The Shropshire Union Canal runs to the west of the town on an embankment, crossing the A534 via an iron aqueduct. The basin is a popular mooring for visitors to the town. It joins the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston to the north. The town is approximately four miles south-west of Crewe and 20 miles south-east of Chester. There is a major road junction in the town, being the meeting point of the A51, A500, A529, A530 and A534 roads. The stretch of the A534 from Nantwich to the Welsh border is regarded as one of the ten worst stretches of road in England for road safety.
The tower of St. Mary's Church was the origin (meridian) of the 6-inch and 1:2500 Ordnance Survey maps of Cheshire.
Nantwich railway station is on the line from Crewe to Whitchurch, Shrewsbury and other towns along the Welsh border. The station is currently served mainly by stopping trains between Crewe and Shrewsbury.
The town has eight primary schools (Highfields Community, Willaston Primary Academy, Millfields, Pear Tree, St Anne's (Catholic), Stapeley Broad Lane (Church of England), The Weaver and Nantwich Primary Academy). There are also two secondary schools, Brine Leas School and Malbank School and Sixth Form College. Reaseheath College runs further education and higher education courses in conjunction with Harper Adams University and the University of Chester. A sixth-form college at Brine Leas opened in September 2010.
Rugby union is played at Crewe and Nantwich RUFC, founded in 1922. The club is based at Vagrants Sports Club on Newcastle Road, Willaston and runs four senior teams including a ladies team; the first XV play in the Midlands 1 West (Level 6). The club, which holds Club Mark and RFU Seal of Approval accreditations, has an active mini and junior section with over 250 young people aged 5–18 taking part every Sunday and a girls section. The rugby football club Acton Nomads RFC, was founded in 2009 and won the 2010 RFU Presidents XV "This is Rugby" Award. It operates two senior sides, and is recognised by the RFU and Cheshire RFU.
In rugby league, Crewe & Nantwich Steamers play at the Barony Park, Nantwich, which is also the home ground for Acton Nomads RFC. The Steamers and the Nomads share a clubhouse at the Red Lion Hotel in Barony Road, Nantwich.
The town's cricket club, in Whitehouse Lane, won the ECB-accredited Cheshire County Premier League title in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and regularly host Cheshire Minor County cricket matches. Midway through the 2017 season, bowler Jimmy Warrington became the first player in the history of the Cheshire County Premier League to take 500 wickets. In 2012, the under-13s team finished third out of 1800 entries in the ECB National Championship.
Radio stations covering the Nantwich area include BBC Radio Stoke, Silk 106.9 from Macclesfield, Signal 1 and Signal 2 from Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe-based The Cat 107.9 community radio, and Nantwich-based online radio and networking organisation RedShift Radio.
The Nantwich News is a hyperlocal blog covering local events and issues. The inNantwich website promotes and lists Nantwich information including shops, businesses, schools, wifi spots, car parking and toilets.
The annual International Cheese Awards are made in Nantwich as a part of Nantwich Show, an agricultural show held at the Dorfold Hall estate in July each year. The 83,000 sq. ft marquee used to hold the awards has had up to 4,425 different cheese entries from some 26 countries. The hosts are the celebrity chef James Martin and others.
Each year the world worm charming championships are held at Willaston Primary School in the village of Willaston, approximately two miles east of Nantwich. It began in 1980. Contestants furiously tap at the ground to get at some worms. The contest is consistently growing in popularity, but changing very little. After the contest the worms are released the same day.
Jazz and bluesEdit
Since 1996, Nantwich has hosted an annual Nantwich Jazz and Blues Festival over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Jazz and blues artists from around the country perform in pubs and venues across the town.
The annual Nantwich Food Festival is held in the town centre over the first weekend in September. Re-established as a free-entry festival in 2010, it attracts numerous artisan producers from the local area and further afield, and provides chef demonstrations, family activities and entertainment. It draws in an estimated 30,000 visitors a year.
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- Sir Andrew Witty (born 1964), CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, went to Malbank School in Nantwich
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