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Nantwich (// NAN-twitch) is a market town and civil parish in Cheshire, England. It is known for having among the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England, with particularly good examples of Tudor and Georgian architecture. In 2011, it had a population of 17,424.
The origins of the settlement date to Roman times, when salt from Nantwich was used by the Roman garrisons at Chester (Deva Victrix) and Stoke-on-Trent as a preservative and a condiment. 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 around the town. Nant comes from the Welsh for brook or stream. Wich and wych are names used to denote brine springs or wells. In 1194 there is a reference to the town as being called Nametwihc, which would indicate it was once the site of a pre-Roman Celtic nemeton or sacred grove.
In the Domesday Book, Nantwich is recorded as having eight salt houses. It had a castle and was the capital of a barony of the earls of Chester, and of one of the seven hundreds of medieval Cheshire. Nantwich is one of the few places in Cheshire to be marked on the Gough Map, which dates from 1355–66. It was first recorded as an urban area at the time of the Norman conquest, when the Normans burnt the town to the ground, leaving only one building standing.
The town is believed to have been a salt-producing centre from the 10th century or earlier. The Norman castle was built at the crossing of the Weaver before 1180, probably near where the Crown Inn now stands. Although nothing remains of the castle above ground, it affected the town's layout. 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, it was holding a weekly cattle market at the end of what is now Beam Street, and it was also important for its tanning industry centred in Barker Street.
A fire in December 1583 destroyed most of the town to the east of the Weaver. Elizabeth I contributed funds to the town's rebuilding, which occurred rapidly and followed the plan of the destroyed town. Beam Street was so renamed to reflect the fact that timber (including wood from Delamere Forest) to rebuild the town was transported along it. A plaque marking the 400th anniversary of the fire and of Nantwich's rebuilding was unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on 20 September 1984.
From the time of the Henrician Reformation, the town had trouble finding good Protestant preachers. An example of the problem was Stephen Jerome, a puritanical preacher, who in 1625 nonetheless tried to rape one of his maidservants, Margaret Knowsley. Rumours of this spread across the town, eventually leading to Knowsley's imprisonment and public shaming in 1627. A few years later, Jerome went to Ireland to continue his preaching career.
During the English Civil War Nantwich declared for Parliament and was besieged several times by Royalist forces. A final six-week siege was lifted after a Parliamentary victory in the Battle of Nantwich on 26 January 1644. This has been re-enacted as "Holly Holy Day" on every anniversary since 1973 by Sealed Knot, an educational charity. The name is taken from commemorative sprigs of holly worn by townsfolk in caps or on clothing in the years after the battle.
The salt industry peaked in the mid-16th century, with about 400 salt houses in 1530, but almost died out by the end of the 18th century; the last salt house closed in the mid-19th century. Nikolaus Pevsner considered the salt-industry decline to have been critical in preserving the town's historic buildings. The last tannery closed in 1974. The town's location on the London–Chester road meant that Nantwich began to serve the needs of travellers in medieval times. This trade declined in the 19th century with the opening of Telford's road from London to Holyhead, which offered a faster route to Wales, and later with the Grand Junction Railway, which bypassed the town.
The presence of a watermill south of Nantwich Bridge was noted in 1228 and again about 1363, through the cutting of a mill race or leat and creation of an upstream weir. The resulting Mill Island was ascribed to the 16th century, possibly after the original mill was destroyed in the 1583 Great Fire of Nantwich.
In the mid-17th century, the mill was acquired by local landowners, the Cholmondeleys, who retained it until the 1840s. Originally a corn mill, it became a cotton mill (Bott's Mill) from 1789 to 1874, but reverted to being a corn mill and was recorded as such on the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Nantwich in 1876. About 1890, a turbine was installed to replace the water wheel.
The mill was demolished in the 1970s after a fire and then landscaped, with further stabilisation of the mill foundations in 2008. Today it forms part of a riverside park area. Proposals, so far unfollowed, have been made for small-scale hydropower generation using the mill race. Nantwich Mill Hydro Generation Ltd was incorporated in April 2009, but dormant in December 2016.
Nantwich's brine springs were used for spa or hydrotherapy purposes at two locations: the central Snow Hill swimming pool inaugurated in 1883, where the open-air brine pool is still in use, and the Brine Baths Hotel, standing in 70 acres (28 ha) of parkland south of the town from the 1890s to the mid-20th century. The hotel was originally a mansion, Shrewbridge Hall, built for Michael Bott (owner of Nantwich Mill) in 1828. It was bought by Nantwich Brine and Medicinal Baths Company in 1883, extended and opened as a hotel in 1893, with "a well-appointed suite of brine and medicinal baths," – also described as the "strongest saline baths in the world". These were used to treat patients with ailments that included gout, rheumatism, sciatica and neuritis, using two suites of baths.
The hotel's grounds included gardens, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a bowling green. The last survives today under the Nantwich Park Road Bowling Club founded in 1906.
The hotel served as an auxiliary hospital during the First World War. In the Second World War it became an army base and then accommodated WAAF personnel. It closed as a hotel in 1947 and in 1948 became a convalescent home for miners. In 1952 that closed and the building was unsuccessfully put up for sale and demolished in 1959. The grounds were later developed for housing – the Brine Baths Estate – and schools (Brine Leas School and Weaver Primary School).
The Borough Council of Crewe and Nantwich was abolished on 1 April 2009; the civil parish is now run by the unitary authority of Cheshire East. The Borough had been formed in 1974 when the Local Government Act 1972 replaced urban district and rural district councils with a uniform system of larger districts. Some town administration responsibilities of Nantwich Urban District Council passed to Nantwich Town Council, while Nantwich Rural District Council responsibilities passed to the combined Crewe and Nantwich borough.
Since 1983, Nantwich has been in the parliamentary constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. Between 1955 and 1983, Nantwich was a parliamentary constituency in its own right, largely covering the areas managed by Nantwich urban and rural district councils (rural areas to the south, west and north of Nantwich now form part of the west Cheshire Eddisbury constituency).
Places of interest
Nantwich has one of the county's largest collections of historic buildings, second only to Chester. These cluster mainly in the town centre on Barker Street, Beam Street, Churchyard Side, High Street and Hospital Street, and extend across the Weaver on Welsh Row. Most are within the 38 hectares (94 acres) of conservation area, which broadly follows the bounds of the late medieval and early post-medieval town.
The oldest listed building is the 14th-century St Mary's Church, which is listed Grade I. Two other listed buildings are known to predate the fire of 1583: Sweetbriar Hall and the Grade I-listed Churche's Mansion, both timber-framed Elizabethan mansion houses. A few years after the fire, William Camden described Nantwich as the "best built town in the county". Particularly fine timber-framed buildings from the town's rebuilding include 46 High Street and the Grade I-listed Crown coaching inn. Many half-timbered buildings, such as 140–142 Hospital Street, have been concealed behind brick or rendering. Nantwich contains many Georgian town houses, good examples being Dysart Buildings, 9 Mill Street, Townwell House and 83 Welsh Row. Several examples of Victorian corporate architecture are listed, including the former District Bank by Alfred Waterhouse. The most recent listed building is 1–5 Pillory Street, a curved corner block in 17th-century French style, which dates from 1911. Most of the town's listed buildings were originally residential, but churches, chapels, public houses, schools, banks, almshouses and workhouses are represented. Unusual listed structures include a mounting block, twelve cast-iron bollards, a stone gateway, two garden walls and a summerhouse.
Dorfold Hall is a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion in the nearby village of Acton, considered by Pevsner one of the two finest Jacobean houses in Cheshire. Its grounds accommodate Nantwich Show each summer, including International Cheese Awards.
Nantwich Museum, in Pillory St, has galleries on the history of the town, including Roman salt-making, Tudor Nantwich's Great Fire, the Civil War Battle of Nantwich (1644) and the more recent shoe, clothing and local cheese-making industries. Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, a few miles outside the town, is a once government-owned nuclear bunker, now a museum. Also in Pillory St is the 82-seat Nantwich Players Theatre, which puts on about five plays a year.
Nantwich is on the Cheshire Plain, on the banks of the River Weaver. The Shropshire Union Canal runs to the west of the town on an embankment, crossing the A534 via an iron aqueduct. The basin is a frequent mooring for visitors to the town. It joins the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston to the north. The town is some four miles south-west of Crewe and 20 miles south-east of Chester. The major road junction in the town is the meeting point of the A51, A500, A529, A530 and A534 roads. The stretch of A534 from Nantwich to the Welsh border is seen as one of the ten worst stretches of road in England for road safety.
The tower of St Mary's Church was the origin (meridian) of the 6-inch and 1:2500 Ordnance Survey maps of Cheshire.
The town has eight primary schools (Highfields Community, Willaston Primary Academy, Millfields, Pear Tree, St Anne's (Catholic), Stapeley Broad Lane (Church of England), The Weaver and Nantwich Primary Academy) and two secondary schools, Brine Leas School and Malbank School and Sixth Form College. Reaseheath College runs further education and higher education courses in conjunction with Harper Adams University and the University of Chester. A sixth-form college at Brine Leas opened in September 2010.
The town's football club, Nantwich Town, competes in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the seventh tier of English football, and in 2006 won the FA Vase. It plays at the Weaver Stadium, opened in 2007.
Rugby union is played at two clubs. Crewe and Nantwich RUFC, founded in 1922, is based at Vagrants Sports Club in Newcastle Road, Willaston, and runs four senior teams including a ladies team; the first XV play in the Midlands 1 West (Level 6). It holds Club Mark and RFU Seal of Approval accreditations and has a mini and junior section of over 250 young people aged 5–18 taking part every Sunday, with a girls section. Acton Nomads RFC, founded in 2009, won the 2010 RFU Presidents XV "This is Rugby" Award; it operates two senior sides.
In rugby league, Crewe & Nantwich Steamers play at the Barony Park, Nantwich, also the home ground for Acton Nomads RFC.
The town's cricket club in Whitehouse Lane won the ECB-accredited Cheshire County Premier League title in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2018. It regularly hosts Cheshire Minor County cricket matches. Midway through the 2017 season, bowler Jimmy Warrington became the first player in the history of the Cheshire County Premier League to take 500 wickets. In 2019, Nantwich reached the final of the ECB National Club Cricket Championship. In the final, played at Lord's, it met Swardeston and lost by 53 runs.
Radio stations for the Nantwich area include BBC Radio Stoke, Silk 106.9 from Macclesfield, Signal 1 and Signal 2 from Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe-based The Cat 107.9 community radio, and Nantwich-based online radio and networking organisation RedShift Radio.
The Nantwich News is a hyperlocal blog for local events and issues. The inNantwich website gives Nantwich information, including shops, firms, schools, wifi spots, car parking and toilets.
The annual International Cheese Awards are made in Nantwich during Nantwich Show, held at the Dorfold Hall estate in July each year. The 83,000 sq. ft marquee for the awards has had some 4,425 cheese entries from some 26 countries. The hosts are the celebrity chef James Martin and others.
The annual world worm charming championships are held at Willaston Primary School in Willaston, about two miles east of Nantwich. They began in 1980. Contestants furiously tap at the ground to get worms. The contest is growing in popularity, but changes little. The worms are released again on the same day.
Jazz and blues
The annual Nantwich Food Festival is held in the town centre on the first weekend in September. Re-established as a free-entry festival in 2010, it attracts numerous artisan producers from the local area and further afield, and offers chef demonstrations, family activities and entertainment. It draws some 30,000 visitors a year.
- Sir Nicholas Colfox (flourished 1400, from Nantwich) was a medieval knight involved in the murder of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, uncle of King Richard II, in 1397.
- Blessed Thomas Holford (1541–1588), a Protestant schoolteacher, then a Catholic priest, was martyred in Clerkenwell and beatified in 1896.
- Isabella Whitney (born 1545 in Coole Pilate – 1577), was arguably the first female poet and professional writer in England.
- John Gerard (1545 in Nantwich – 1612), botanist and author of Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597),
- Geoffrey Whitney (c. 1548 in Acton – c. 1601), poet 
- Sir Roger Wilbraham (1553 in Nantwich – 1616), prominent English lawyer and Solicitor-General for Ireland under Elizabeth I
- Sir Ranulph Crewe (1559 in Nantwich – 1646), Lord Chief Justice
- Briget Paget (1570 in Nantwich – c. 1647), Puritan, acted as her husband John Paget's literary executor and editor.
- Sir William Brereton, 1st Baronet (1604–1661) established his headquarters in Nantwich during the English Civil War in 1643.
- Elizabeth Minshull (1630–1727), third wife and widow of poet John Milton, was born in Wistaston. She lived in Nantwich as a widow and is buried at the Barker Street Baptist Chapel.
- Reverend Joseph Partridge (1724–1796), waggoner, antiquary and historian, wrote the town's first history in 1774. 
- Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), co-discoverer of oxygen, Nonconformist minister and teacher, lived in Nantwich in 1758–1761. 
- Roger Wilbraham FRS (1743 in Nantwich – 1829), MP, bibliophile, antiquary, local historian, published work on Cheshire dialects.
- Hanmer George Warrington (c. 1776 in Acton – 1847), British Army officer, became Consul General on the Barbary Coast for 32 years.
- Peter Bayley (1779 in Nantwich – 1823), writer and poet 
- George Latham (c. 1800 in Nantwich – 1871), architect
- Eddowes Bowman (1810 in Nantwich – 1869), dissenting tutor 
- Sir William Bowman (1816 in Nantwich – 1892), surgeon, histologist, anatomist and ophthalmologist 
- Thomas Egerton Hale VC CB (1832 in Nantwich – 1909), recipient of the Victoria Cross
- Thomas Bower (1838–1919), English architect and surveyor, was based in Nantwich.
- William Downes (1843 in Nantwich – 1896), a New Zealand cricketer
- James Hall (1846–1914), lived in the town for 40 years and wrote its history.
- A. N. Hornby (1847–1925), buried in Acton churchyard, Nantwich, was the first to captain England in both cricket and rugby. He was England cricket captain when the Ashes series was created.
- George Davenport (1860–1902), cricketer
- John Wright (1861–1912), cricketer
- William Pickersgill (1861 in Nantwich – 1928) was chief mechanical engineer of the Caledonian Railway until 1923
- Harry Stafford (1869–1940), footballer, made 271 professional appearances. He was later a hotelier in Canada.
- David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty (1871 in Stapeley – 1936), Admiral of the Fleet
- Albert Thomas Price (1903 in Nantwich – 1978), geophysicist, developed mathematical models on global electromagnetic induction.
- Robert Grant-Ferris, Baron Harvington (1907–1997), Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons 1970–1974, was MP for Nantwich.
- Sir Kenneth Mather CBE FRS (1911 in Nantwich – 1990) British geneticist and botanist
- Michael Winstanley, Baron Winstanley (1918–1993), Liberal MP
- Gwyneth Dunwoody (1930–2008), British Labour Party politician from 1974 to her death in 2008 MP for Exeter 1966/70, and then for Crewe (later Crewe and Nantwich)
- Dario Gradi, (born 1941), manager of Crewe Alexandra (1983–2007 and 2009–2011), lives in Willaston
- Penny Jordan (1946–2011), writer of over 200 romance novels
- Mike Wood (born 1946), Labour MP for Batley and Spen 1997 to 2015, went to school in Nantwich.
- Ian Cowap (1950 – 2016), cricketer
- John Dwyer (born c. 1950), police officer, borough councillor, Assistant Chief Constable and Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner
- Sir Andrew Witty (born 1964), CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, went to Malbank School in Nantwich.
- Ben Miller (born 1966), actor, director and comedian, grew up in Nantwich.
- Thea Gilmore (born 1979), singer/songwriter, lives in Nantwich
- Ashley Westwood (born 1990 in Nantwich), footballer with Crewe, Aston Villa and Burnley
- Alex "A. J." Pritchard (born 1994), ballroom and Latin dancer, who won fame on the BBC Television show Strictly Come Dancing, went to school in Nantwich.
- Blitz Kids (active 2006–2015) were an English alternative rock band originating in Nantwich and Crewe.
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AJ Pritchard spent most of his life craving TV fame. And the former Brine Leas pupil...
- J. Lake (1983), The Great Fire of Nantwich, Shiva Publishing, ISBN 0-906812-57-7
- G. Roberts (2011), Nantwich Life, MPire Books, ISBN 978-0-9547924-1-1
- G. Roberts (2013), Nantwich Life II, MPire Books, ISBN 978-0-9547924-2-8
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