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The wait is over as Lion Salt Works Museum is re-born after £10M restoration

Cheshire’s Lion Salt Works Museum will show it is ‘worth its salt’ at a press opening at 9am on Friday 29 May. Painstakingly restored and refurbished, the almost derelict site based near Northwich in Cheshire, has been transformed into one of the finest industrial heritage attractions in the country. The Museum, funded by a variety of sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be open to the public on Friday 5 June.

The opening marks the end of a four-year, £10.23M project by Cheshire West and Chester Council to restore the crumbling 19th century buildings – one of the last three historic open-pan salt-making sites in the world. The site’s unique industrial heritage and the fact that it presents the survival of salt practices passed hand-to-hand back to the Romans is recognised by the Museum. It has also been granted Scheduled Ancient Monument status.

This new ‘living museum’ gives a fascinating and fresh insight into the story of salt, explaining the national significance of Cheshire’s salt industry and how it shaped the local people, economy and landscape.

This is brought to life in the Museum with 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.

The extensive Museum comprises two restored pan houses and three restored stove houses. The Red Lion Pub at the entrance to the site (and for which the salt works is named) has also been incorporated as an education centre.

To appeal to a wide range of audiences, the Museum also contains an established Butterfly Garden, imaginatively-designed play area and café.  Visitors to the site have free access to these areas. A conference centre, located in one of the historic Stove Houses has already been the subject of pre-bookings from a wide range of local, business and specialist interest groups. Adjacent to the Trent & Mersey Canal, visitors arriving by canal can moor adjacent to the site, entering via a gate directly from the towpath.

The Museum will feature a regular programme of year-round events, including ‘salt boiling days’, themed play provision and an evolving calendar of events and activities.

The Lion Salt Works came to national prominence as a regional runner-up in the BBC’s Restoration Programme in 2004 and is also an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Its Scheduled Ancient Monument Status has meant that restoration of the site has been painstaking and Cheshire West and Chester Council are indebted to Historic England for their invaluable help and advice throughout the restoration.

Councillor Brian Clarke, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Infrastructure, said: “It has taken time, effort, money and lots of passion to get the Lion Salt Works raised from a state of near dereliction to the ‘gem’ of a museum that we see today.  I am confident that it will now rank amongst the finest industrial heritage sites attractions in the country. Salt is not just a Cheshire story, no-one can live without salt and this museum at last gives salt its historical and global context.”

Nick Hunt, Lion Salt Works Trustee, said:  “Many Trustees have been involved in saving the Lion Salt Works 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. It rather understates the case to say, we are delighted that the re-opening of the Lion Salt Works has finally arrived.”

Councillor Stuart Parker, Opposition Spokesman for Culture, Leisure and Wellbeing, said: “Lion Salt Works forms another ‘jewel in the crown’ of nearby Cheshire industrial heritage sites, including the Weaver Hall Museum & Workhouse in Northwich and the Anderton Boat Lift. I am delighted that this fascinating Museum will also provide a focus for heritage groups, businesses and the local community through its conference facilities, playground, café and butterfly garden.”

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s restoration was made possible with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which awarded a grant of £5.29 million under its Heritage Grants scheme, making the Lion Salt Works one of the largest heritage schemes being undertaken with their support in the North West.

Sarah Hilton, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said:  “We are proud to be part of the rescue of the Lion Salt Works, one of the last of its kind in the world. 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 and Charles Smith, Principal Heritage at Risk Adviser for Historic England in the North West, said: “We work daily to save endangered buildings and this site has been on our Heritage at Risk Register for over 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. 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.”

The European Union’s Manage+ programme contributed £280,000 to create a centre for local businesses with conference facilities. In addition, support was provided by the Butterfly Conservation Trust (Cheshire & Peak District Branch) with grant assistance from Ineos. A £54,000 grant was given by WREN for the construction of an interesting, fun and imaginative play area.

The refurbished Museum was designed by Donald Insall Associates with restoration and fit-out being undertaken by Wates Construction and Becks Interiors respectively.  RFA Design were the exhibition designers. Archaeological work on site was carried out by the Council’s in-house archaeologist.

Tony Shenton, Business Unit Director, Wates Construction, North West, commented:  “Wates’ restoration of Lion Salt Works was challenging but extremely rewarding and we are very proud to have been entrusted with such important work to preserve Cheshire’s salt mining heritage. The success of this project was recognised when the Lion Salt Works recently received the ‘Highly Commended’ title in the Building Conservation Category at the RICS North West Awards – a huge endorsement of the project and the dedicated team who have brought passion and commitment to a truly unique building.”