It is debatable as to when Nantwich in Cheshire was first mentioned . But Cheshire's salt history played a great part in its development. Nantwich salt was used by the Roman forts at Chester and Stoke. Salt has been used in the production of Cheshire cheese for decades. "Nant" comes from the Welsh for brook or stream. Wich, wick and wych are names used for farm settlements by water. It is a lovely, sleepy little town and it was only on a day out there that I discovered it has two important events in its history. The Great Fire of Nantwich in 1583 and an English civil war battle. The Battle of Nantwich. 1644.
Nantwich Cheshire; The Great Fire and The English Civil War
A lovely day out in beautiful, historic Cheshire sparked my interest because this quaint town has two major events in its history. Fire and War
Nantwich location, NW of Stoke on Trent
The Great Fire of Nantwich
I first looked into the Fire of Nantwich when someone asked me to do a history/ drama / literacy workshop on it for their primary school.
There are several first hand accounts of the fire so it not difficult to see how events unfolded. Nantwich of course was full of closely built timber framed traditional buildings. The town museum has a good display about it. The town was unfortunate indeed. The fire was followed by famine in 1597 and a plague in 1601.
The fire started when brewer Nicholas Brown was brewing ale and set his kitchen on fire. The building materials made the spread of fire rapid and inevitable with so much wood in the building and a thatched roof. It was exacerbated by a strong westerly wind. The fire spread up High Street, through the markets to Beam Street and Pepper Street. It travelled along Pillory Street, and Hospital Street until it reached nearby Briar Hall.
It burnt 600 buildings in 15 hours.
The people's efforts to douse the fire were useless. When local women heard that the pub landlord had let his bears loose they stopped bringing buckets of water from the river out of fear of the bears. Bear baiting was a form of entertainment at the time. But fire and bears were a terrifying prospect.
A plaque in the town says “almost all buildings were destroyed” but only buildings on one side of the River Weaver were actually destroyed. Queen Elizabeth 1st sent £1000 to assist the rebuilding of the town. Many of the buildings today are the rebuilds from after the Fire of Nantwich.
Buildings such as these on the edge of town were not damaged by the fire which affected the town centre.
Battle of Nantwich
The Battle of Nantwich was in the Civil War , between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, on 25 January 1644. The Royalists besieged Nantwich, and the Parliamentarians led an army to relieve the town. As they approached, the river thawed and the Royalist cavalry were separated from their troops infantry and artillery by the water resulting in a Parliamentarian victory. The Battle of Nantwich battlefields below are much quieter today but still retain that ethereal battlefield atmosphere.
The church above was closest to the battlefield and the bodies of the dead and wounded were brought here. This below is part of the display from the town museum.
Today Nantwich is more peaceful. It has a beautiful canal running through it. The Stocks still stand in the village and are a symbol of past punishment in Cheshire. The church in the centre of town is a cruciform church and very peaceful.
You wouldn't know today, walking round that Nantwich had such a past.