The importance of salt

Here is a little preview from my next novel, Saltpans, in which Thomas Radwinter the main character does a little research… about saltpans!

Thomas is in the museum and Colin the assistant answers his enquiry:

Colin told me I was in luck; he’d got out some papers from the nineteenth century and the 1930’s and hadn’t put them away. He led me into an open area with rooms leading off and showed me a box file and some rolled up maps on a big table. My enquiry was only a passing interest and I wouldn’t have time to more than skim through, fascinating though it promised to be. I thanked Colin and sat at the table, trying to pick up the main points.
I knew salt was important for preserving food, and cooking, and wasn’t surprised it was important for medical purposes, but I didn’t realize it was used in so many industrial processes such as tanning. I remembered from a dim and distant history lesson that Roman soldiers were paid in salt which was the origin of the word salary.
There was a 1930’s article which was easy to read and I fastened on that as I wouldn’t have time to do more than skim the main points.

In the summer of 1934, my colleague Elijah Handcome and I explored the remains of the early seventeenth century salt works in Easthope Bay; we knew the approximate site having identified a bucket pot, but the exact location proved elusive. We revealed some ancient walls which we uncovered when the tide allowed, and found evidence of some industrial burning; however we could uncover no exact evidence of salt production here on this site.
Maybe place names are not evidence, but we felt sure these offered us a clue, and the local public house the Saltern Inn was a key, and a splendid place to retire to for a luncheon of home cooked ham and pickled onions as big as your fist.
The following year we explored the old salt working site in Strand; the Boroughlee site was in use from probably the 1720’s until the 1850’s and gave its name to Salty Wharf and the Saltmills Tannery.
We found records of the iron pans still complete until the turn of the century; winter storms had undermined the area and the pans had split and partially collapsed during the inundation four years previously. The Town Council had the remains removed as part of the Royal Esplanade improvements scheme.

Hmmm, so from this Elijah and… I looked for the name of the author – Benjamin Magick (must be a relative, my grandmother’s maternal line were Magicks – John’s middle name is Magick) but didn’t find much about Easthope, and little more about Strand.
I will investigate further, if I ever have the time! I read another old crinkly record about the pans. I imagined them to be like large tubs, say washing basket size, but no, good grief, they are five meters by five meters – that’s over sixteen foot! I’d imagined them to be round, but no, they were rectangular, plates of iron riveted together. As far as I can understand it without any pictures, there were four separate quarter pieces, with extra plating across the centre.
Gosh, it was a huge thing! All gone now, all but disappeared after the Esplanade improvements in Strand in the 1930’s, then subsequent work and a sea wall and road widening etc.
There was a map, not drawn to scale and a copy of another one, which showed a yard with buildings around it.  Some jottings on the side explained that the sea water was pumped through a pipe to the pan sheds and then fires were lit underneath the pans to evaporate the water. In hot countries they might be able to make salt using the sun, but not in good old England!
I wanted to make copies if possible but I jotted down some notes to remind myself; bucket pots were sea water reservoirs for when the tide went out, charcoal was used rather than coal or wood. It was what we use for barbecues, but this came from Camel Wood – and there was a reference to the legends, stories and myths of the Camel Wood charcoal burners… gosh this is so interesting! If only I had time!

© Lois Elsden 2018

Here is a link to the first five Radwinter novels:

and to all of my books:

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