The fight to save Middlewich's Victorian brine pump
Kerry Fletcher is leading the fight to save a vital piece of Middlewich's salt industry, as Paul Mackenzie reports<br/>Photographs by Kirsty Thompson
It may not look it now, but this humble building on a Middlewich industrial estate is a vital part of the county's heritage. And unless Kerry Fletcher's ambitious plans for the building can be put into action, this unique relic of Cheshire's salt industry could be lost.
The brine pump is one of the few visible reminders left of the days when this area was dominated by factories and mining operations which supplied salt around the globe.
But it has stood untouched for decades and now Kerry, Middlewich Town Council's heritage officer, is fighting to save the pump. She wants to restore and preserve the pump and create a mini-museum there, explaining the importance of the Victorian pump to the salt industry.
'The potential here is massive,' she said. 'Normally in Cheshire's salt industry we have to say "and this is where such a thing was", but here we can show where it still is.
'I would like to turn it into an interpretation site which could be of interest to schools, colleges, universities and industrial archaeologists. We would also be able to link with other relics of the salt industry to create a salt trail which would mean visitors could see how Cheshire salt industry worked.
'My overall vision is to bring information into the building and add sounds from the time the pump was working. I want to keep as many of the original features as I can. If all goes to plan it could take three years to get from the stage we are at now to being open. But that depends on how many hitches we encounter, it could end up being more like ten years.
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'This is never going to be a major tourist attraction but along with the visitor centre and the wealth of other reminders of the salt industry as well as the Romans and the Normans, it could make a fascinating all-round attraction.'
The pump stands over a 240foot shaft dug in 1889 to find rock salt and was a part of the Murgatroyd salt works which dominated this corner of Middlewich until the mid-1960s.
The shaft is still there, complete with a decent supply of brine and a collection of the original tools. The machinery itself is remarkably well preserved and the pump man's coat still hangs over a railing, as if he's just nipped out for his lunch but the building's perilous state means it is currently rated 'high' on English Heritage's At Risk register.
Money from English Heritage is now being spent on conservation work at the pump and Kerry is hoping that a successful first phase will attract funds for phase two.
'I have a wealth of archives, including an interview with the last pump man here, speaking about the workings of the pump,'
'This is the only wild brine pump left over an original shaft in the country. Most of the Murgatroyd works were demolished but the pump was saved by employees who wanted a monument to the people who worked in the industry. It's an historic monument and a monument to the people who worked here and my first priority is to safeguard that monument.
'It is now a scheduled monument but it's not like a castle or most of the other English heritage sites, it needs a lot of interpretation for people to be able to be aware of its significant place in history.
'There is so little evidence of the salt industry left we need to preserve and restore all that we can, then hopefully we will be able to develop the site further.
'Hopefully there will be a visitor centre in a couple of years which would be able to link with the various trails and walks. I have lots of archives and I am dying to use them. I've got everything apart from the money. 'Generations and generations of Cheshire families have worked in the salt industry, including mine, so this monument is important to a lot of people.
'I have a three year contract and hopefully in that time we will see it open. A lot of people have worked very hard to get to this stage, I don't want their efforts to have been in vain.'