Nantwich is an ancient town, established well over 1000 years ago, originally known as ‘Wich Malbanc’ and, in the 18th century ‘Namptwych’. The old Welsh name was ‘Hellath Wen’. Nantwich was an important outpost close to the Welsh border, with a castle near the river Weaver (now recalled in the name ‘Castle Street’). The Romans had troops in Nantwich and an old Roman track was recently discovered near the river. In the 1800s the town was a vital coaching route from London to Wales and Ireland.
Historically, salt production was a major activity in the town. In the days before refrigeration it was the main method of preserving food. The Saxon word for an industrial settlement, often based on the availability of salt, was ‘Wich’. The ‘Nant’ in ‘Nantwich’ is probably derived from the Old English ‘Namet’ (the most famous) or the Welsh ‘Nant’ (place in a river valley).
For many years the industry thrived and by the 19th century Nantwich was one of the biggest salt producers in the country. Brine, naturally occurring in springs in the area, was heated and salt produced by evaporation. Eventually, competition from mined rock salt made the process uneconomic, and the industry died out in the 1850s. However, the town still has a unique heated outdoor brine swimming pool and from about 1880 to 1940 was promoted as a fashionable place to take salt water treatment to help cure stomach complaints, gout and rheumatism.
Nantwich was also an important location for tanneries and the manufacture of leather goods. Possible explanations of the term ‘Dabber’, which is a nickname for a native of Nantwich, is that ‘dabbing’ is part of the process used in curing leather or in the ‘dabbing’ of glue during shoe making.
A major event in the history of Nantwich was a great fire in 1583, when most of the town was destroyed. The Queen’s Aid house in the town centre gives thanks to Elizabeth I for helping to rebuild the town after the fire. An inscription reads:-
God grant our Royal Queen,
In England long to reign,
For she has put her helping hand,
To build this town again.
During the civil war, Nantwich was the only Cheshire town supporting Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. The town was besieged for weeks by Royalists, but on 25th January 1644 troops led by Sir Thomas Fairfax relieved the town and defeated the royalist army. The townsfolk celebrated by wearing sprigs of holly in their hats and the day is still known as ‘Holly Holy Day’. The victory is commemorated now by a re-enactment of the battle of Nantwich, staged by the Sealed Knot, on Mill Island, a site by the river in the centre of the town.
In 1849, cholera struck the town. In about 3 months 1000 cases were reported – about one sixth of the population at that time. About 180 people died of the disease. Many are interred in a peaceful green space in front of the parish church in the centre of town.
Nowadays, Nantwich is a lively market town, well known for an annual International Cheese Show and for a Food Festival. Other festivals, such as the Jazz Festival and Words And Music Festival, attract many visitors. Locally, cheese manufacture, agriculture and information technology are important businesses.
Nantwich is a thriving shopping centre with many specialist traders, especially food shops and businesses selling clothes and fashion accessories. It’s attractive old buildings, beautiful church and splendid recreational facilities make Nantwich a popular centre for tourism.