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The History of Nantwich

The name of the town is believed to be derived from its association with salt. Wich or wych was used to denote brine springs or wells. Another source believes “Nant” is derived from “Nemeton”, the pre-Roman Celtic word for a sacred grove. A 12th century reference to the town as “Nametwihc”, makes this a reasonable assumption. Whatever the truth, salt has been used in the production of Cheshire cheese and in the tanning industry, both products of the dairy industry based in the Cheshire Plain.

In the Domesday Book, Nantwich is recorded as having eight salt houses. It had a castle, of which nothing remains, and was the capital of a barony of the earls of Chester. It was first recorded as an urban area during the 11th century – the Normans burned the town to the ground leaving only one building standing.

During the medieval period, Nantwich was the most important salt town and probably the second most important settlement in the county after Chester. By the 14th century, the town held a weekly cattle market important for its tanning.

The salt industry peaked in the mid-16th century, with around 400 salt houses in 1530, and had almost died out by the end of the 18th century; the last salt house closed in the mid-19th century.

Great Fire of Nantwich: On the 10th December 1583 a great fire started that lasted 20 days and destroyed most of the town to the east of the River Weaver. Money was raised for the rebuilding of the town from a nationwide collection, including £1000.00 from Queen Elizabeth I. A plaque on the wall of the Queen's Aid House, located opposite Castle Street, displays the appreciation to Queen Elizabeth I for her help in raising funds to rebuild the town. Many of the houses to be seen today date from this rebuilding.

Battle of Nantwich: During the English Civil War Nantwich first (1642) declared for King Charles, but most of the citizens supported the Parliamentarians and in 1643 Sir William Brereton the commander of the Cheshire Parliamentarians repulsed the Royalists and garrisoned Nantwich as his headquarters. Consequently, Royalist forces besieged it several times and the final, six-week long, siege was lifted following the victory of the Parliamentary forces in the Battle of Nantwich on 25 January 1644.

The Sealed Knot, an English civil war re-enactment society, has re-enacted the battle as Holly Holy Day on its anniversary every year since 1973. The name comes from the sprigs of holly worn by the townsfolk in their caps or clothing in the years after the battle, in its commemoration.

In the 18th century Nantwich had a higher proportion of clockmakers in the population than any other provincial town in the country. The wealthy inhabitants bought there clocks locally which encouraged the local clock making industry.