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Nantwich in 1839

NANTWICH, or NAMPTWICH, a market-town in the hundred of Nantwich, in Cheshire, on the river Weaver, 192 miles from London on the road through Lichfield and Stafford to Chester. The first part of the name is said to be derived from "nant", a British word signifying a brook or valley ; the second part is an Anglo-Saxon corruption of the Roman "vicus" ; and though locally assumed to be the appropriate designation of a salt-work, is in reality a general designation of a group of habitations, whether in town or country. The termination wick or wich, for it is written both ways, and is sometimes separate from the other part of the name, is found in the names of places (e.g. Greenwich, Woolwich, Norwich, Ipswich, Warwick, Alnwick, &c.) which have no peculiar connection with the production of salt.

Nantwich is mentioned in Domesday by the simple designation Wich, and the salt-works are there mentioned. It was then enclosed by the river Weaver on one side, and on the other by a ditch. In 1069 Nantwich was the scene of an unsuccessful attempt by the Cheshiremen to resist the advance of the Normans under Hugh Lupus, earl of Chester. It was afterwards made the head of a Norman lordship, and the lords had a castle here, of which there are no remains. In 1438 and 1583 the town suffered considerably from fire. The damage on the last occasion was estimated at £30,000. In the civil war of Charles I, the town was occupied by the Parliamentarians, by whom it was taken by Lord Grandison, just before the battle of Edge Hill. Sir William Brereton, the parliamentary general, afterwards re-occupied it, and made it his head-quarters during the war. It was besieged (January 1643-44) by a body of the king’s troops, partly Irish, under Lord Byron ; but though defended only by works hastily raised round the town, was gallantly held by the townsmen and others under Sir George Booth until the siege was raised, and the enemy entirely defeated by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Sir William Brereton.

The town is in a low flat situation, on the right or east bank of the Weaver. It is irregularly laid out, and consists of three principle streets, which unite near the church, and some others. The streets are indifferently paved, and the houses are commonly old, built of timber and plaster, with large bay windows and projecting upper stories.

The church is a cross church, with a mixture of various styles of architecture. The west door is early English ; the rest of the church decorated English or perpendicular, with some portions of a transition character between them. The nave has flying buttresses within, and is marked by some other peculiarities. The north transept has a fine decorated window ; and the south transept and the choir or chancel, some fine perpendicular windows. The tower, which rises from the junction of the nave and transepts, is an octagon of perpendicular date, with small crocketted pinnacles. It is small in proportion to the other parts of the church. The whole is of red-sandstone of friable texture. In the church-yard is an ancient timber building, formerly the town-hall, but now used as a free school. There is a market-place and town-hall, built in the last century, and a stone bridge over the Weaver. The dissenters have several meeting-houses, and there are several ranges of almshouses.

The parish has an area of more than 3,490 acres, with a population in 1831 of 5,357 : it comprehends the whole townships of Alvaston, Leighton, Nantwich, Woolstanwood, and part of that of Willaston. Nantwich township comprehends 780 acres, with a population of 4,886, scarcely any part of it agricultural. The prosperity of the town was formerly owing to its brine-springs and salt-works, which were of great celebrity and antiquity. Only one spring is now worked. The chief manufactures are of shoes, gloves, and cotton goods. The Chester, the Ellesmere, the Liverpool and Birmingham Junction canals, and the Middlewich branch canal, unite in the neighbourhood of the town ; and the Grand Junction Railway passes at no great distance. The market is on Saturday, and there are three yearly fairs. The cheese made in the neighbourhood is highly esteemed. Petty-sessions for the hundred are held here ; general quarter-sessions were formerly held here, but were removed to Knutsford in 1760. The town was once governed by a guild, but this was suppressed by Edward VI. The living is a rectory, in the diocese and archdeaconry of Chester, of the clear yearly value of £269, with a glebe-house.

There were in the township in 1833, a day-school, with 65 boys, partly supported by endowment ; another day-school, with 58 boys and 8 girls, partly supported by endowment and partly by payments from the children ; fourteen other day-schools, with 431 children ; and four Sunday-schools, with 836 children. The other townships contain only one day-school, with 20 children.

Mayor-general Harrison, one of the Regicides, who was put to death on the restoration of Charles II, was a native of Nantwich. Milton’s widow was born in the neighbourhood, and died here at an advanced age in 1726.