Cheshire's Lion Salt Works transformed from derelict factory site to multi-million pound museum

By Richard Moss | 30 May 2015

Cheshire's Lion Salt Works goes from derelict factory site to multi-million pound museum in remarkable rescue and renovation

a photo of a warehouse with steaming salt pans and mannequins with shovels
The Steaming Salt Pans at the Lion Salt Works in Cheshire© Cheshire West and Chester Council
Ten years ago the Lion Salt Works was in a sad state; a crumbling set of 19th century industrial buildings whose dilapidation hid one of the most important heritage sites in the country - and one of  the last three historic open-pan salt-making sites in the world.

The derelict site, based near Northwich in Cheshire, was on the Heritage at Risk register and, after its closure as a working salt works in 1986 following nearly 100 years of production, the buildings were purchased by Vale Royal Council to protect them from demolition.

A charitable Trust was established in 1993 and Cheshire West and Chester Council took over the ownership of the works in 2009.

Now, following a painstaking £10.23 million restoration and refurbishment, the Works has been transformed into what promises to become one of the finest industrial heritage attractions in the country.

Funded by a variety of sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the new family attraction opens to the public on June 5, offering insights into the story of salt, the national significance of Cheshire’s salt industry and how it shaped the local people, economy and landscape.

The new museum, which has also been granted Scheduled Ancient Monument status, tells the story of the survival of salt practices since the time of the Romans via a series of fun, interactive and imaginative educational exhibits, including a walk-in "subsiding house". Theatrical lighting, sound and film also evoke the giant clouds of steam once produced by the site’s huge salt-boiling pans.

Two restored pan houses and three restored stove houses can be explored at the museum, while the old Red Lion Pub at the entrance - for which the salt works is named - has also been incorporated as an education centre.

A photo of a family walking down a path from a group of red brick industrial buildings
The re-opening of the Lion Salt Works Museum follows a four-year, £10 million restoration © Cheshire West and Chester Council
The Works first came to national prominence as a regional runner-up in the BBC’s Restoration Programme in 2004. It is also an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

Its monument status has meant that restoration of the site has been painstaking. Cheshire West and Chester Council have worked closely with Historic England throughout the restoration.

Trustee Nick Hunt described how many of the Works' Trustees and supporters have been involved in saving the site for decades - some for as many as 30 years.

"It was our vision to save the site for our community and for future generations so that the history of our area was not just something they would learn from books," he says.

"It rather understates the case to say, we are delighted that the re-opening of the Lion Salt Works has finally arrived.”

Describing the Works as "one of the last of its kind in the world", Sarah Hilton, the Head of the HLF in the region, said: "The story of the salt industry in Cheshire explains so much about the heritage, culture and landscape of the region, but the appeal of this ‘gem’ of a museum is much broader.

"It reconnects everyone to salt - a mineral that has shaped our history in so many ways and that, as even the Romans knew, no-one in the world can live long without. It has been a privilege to help save this unique and historic site for future generations.”

Historic England contributed £300,000 towards this project. Charles Smith, its Principal Heritage at Risk Adviser in the north-west, says the site has been on their Heritage at Risk Register for more than a decade.

"But we never gave up on it and are delighted to have contributed a £300,000 grant and our expertise towards its rescue," he adds. "The Lion Salt Works is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when local councils, local communities, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England come together.”

a family looks at a table display in warehouse museum environment
The museum has transformed a near derelict ruin into one of the finest industrial heritage attractions in the north-west© Cheshire West and Chester Council

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