To get salt here back in the 16th century you’d have to perilously navigate the tides and collect, filter and evaporate the sea water.
Now if you have a seam of rock salt running below your feet on terra firma you could pump water down then up or mine it out – or both! A far better method of production.
But no one here in the 16th and 17th century knew about what laid beneath the land here over Wyre near a tiny settlement called Pressall, 10 miles NE of Blackpool – today.
By shear coincidence around 1860’s a bunch of men from Barrow-in-Furness arrived and at the Black Bull INN and began putting down boreholes in a search for iron ore - And there was non.
However in a borehole about half a mile south west of Preesall village they discovered a bed of rock salt approximately 400 feet thick 300 feet below ground.
They took a sample back to the Black Bull where the landlord’s daughter, 17 year old Dorothy Parkinson, dissolved, filtered and boiled it to produce the very first sample of Preesall salt.
Now being an attractive industry to master - salt mining production was established to brine pumping and rock salt mining with a 170m deep borehole sunk at Fleetwood by the Royal Engineers in 1860.
The first white salt was produced at Burn Naze on the 25th February 1890. The company was then sold to United Alkali Co. Ltd. In 1891, Stanley Bros. of Nuneaton built some 460m of 1.7m diameter tunnel at Preesall using a Stanley Heading Machine.
Here at Preesall, they sank a 2.5m diameter half-brick lined shaft in 1875 with the advent of a railway line system to serve the area.
The railway was to carry many tonnes of salt to Burn Naze and coal would come to power the pumps and more by connected to the Garstang and Knot-End Railway.
Around 1902, Preesall Salt Works was built to the north of the salt marshes on the east bank of the river with two special trains running every day ten years later to the branch line for the Garstang & Knott End Railway.
The caverns were between 16ft and 40ft high with pillars of salt 60 feet square left every 105ft as supports. The mines were lit by electricity (Stu) except near the rock face where blasting was being carried out, where candles stuck in moist clay were used. Winches powered by compressed air pulled trains of tubs containing rocksalt to the shafts, where they were hoisted to the surface, also serving as lifts for the miners.
This demanded for skilled workers and attracted folk from Cheshire Salt Mines doubling the population to almost 2k people by 1912 with the sound of 24 hour pumping reverberated across the fields.”
In 1918 over 30,000 tons of salt left the works by rail and almost 8,000 tons of fuel and materials were brought in.
Conditions were grim, difficult, tiring and mentally hard but everything seemed to be going well with a high respect from industries as far as Australia and South Africa,
Subsidence was not uncommon, details report first issues with shaft 2 back in 1890 an area 2/3rd of an acher sunk and until November 1901 a serious subsidence had also occurred around No. 28 borehole.
It was reported a large plot of land had collapsed entirely, expanding within a month to a hole 100ft deep by 135ft in diameter, endangering the works and the chimney.
The subsidence continued to expand until eventually stabilizing by 1911 into a roughly circular hole 300ft in diameter. Mining continued and During the war many women took over from the male roles.
In 1926 the United Alkali Company became part of ICI and the emphasis in exporting rock salt changed somewhat from rail to shipping out from the nearby company owned Preesall jetty.
Then in 1928 things took a turn for the worse. parts of Acre Lane had become unsafe, some farm buildings had been demolished, and the crater was growing a cavity up to 400ft deep into which hundreds of tons of earth, part of an orchard and several farm buildings had all disappeared.
On October 5 a rumble rising to the roar of thunder heard at Pilling four miles away. A great hole, which is visited daily by hundreds of people from near and far, including many geologists, is so deep that it could swallow Blackpool Tower and leave no trace of it.’ Tremors and subsidence continued to the next year before it settled.
But by this time, the original salt pillars holding up the mines were slowly dissolving away putting the risk of the men and the operation under pressure.
From 300 to 20 men were required to operate and maintain the brine wells and pumping machinery until in 1934 before one of old shafts, collapsed to form yet another lake known locally as the ‘Big Hole’ and pushed brine up the two mine shafts high into the air to flood the surrounding fields.
By 1956 ICI purchased 20 farms amounting to 1,550 acres of land in Pilling in order to secure their water supplies for future production, by that time all the buildings at the minehead had long been demolished and the jetty and rail links dismantled leaving this small but important part of British history forgotten.
So the miners and their families have gone, the mining and brine pumping has long gone. Farms and homes have been lost, ICI and the railways have now gone but the pub were it all started built in 1762 still still pulling pints remains in business!
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