Middlewich (pop. 13,000) is a market town in the unitary authority of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It is east of the city of Chester, east of Winsford, southeast of Northwich and northwest of Sandbach.
There has been a settlement at Middlewich since at least the time of the Roman occupation. As a wich town, Middlewich is an important centre for the extraction of salt; in earlier years it was also known for its production of Cheshire cheese, silk, and its agriculture. In the present day it is known for its canals, its heritage events and its festivals. The parish church of St. Michael and All Angels, dates back to the 12th century.
Middlewich lies on the confluence of three rivers: the Dane, Croco and Wheelock. Three canals also pass through the town, the Shropshire Union, Trent and Mersey, and the Wardle canal, as well as three major roads, the A533, A54 and A530; Middlewich also has good motorway links to the nearby cities of Manchester and Liverpool. The town's population has doubled since 1970 despite a reduction in the number of manufacturing jobs in salt and textile manufacturing, suggesting that many of the new residents live in Middlewich for reasons other than local employment.
Since 1990 there have been initiatives to increase the volume of tourism into the town, through events such as the annual folk and boat festival, the Roman and Norman festivals, and regular farmers' markets.
In the Domesday Book Middlewich is spelt "Mildestvich"; the termination wic or wyc in Old English refers to a settlement, village or dwelling. It is also supposed that "wich" or "wych" refers to a salt town, with Middlewich being the middle town between Northwich and Nantwich.
Middlewich was founded by the Romans, who gave it the name Salinae because of its surrounding salt deposits. It became one of the major Roman sites for salt production, an activity that was centred on the township of Kinderton, about a quarter of a mile north of the present-day parish church of St. Michael and All Angels. It has been suggested that pre-Roman salt production also occurred in the same area, but there is no supporting archaeological evidence. Whittaker's History of Manchester claims that the Iron Age Cornovii made Kinderton their capital, but it is more likely that the Cornovii inhabited Kinderton for its salt-making potential. There was once thought to have been a medieval castle at Kinderton, but that is now thought to have been unlikely.
Middlewich lies across the King Street fault, which roughly follows the Roman road, King Street, from Northwich to Middlewich. During their occupation the Romans built a fort at Harbutts Field, and excavations to the south of the fort have found further evidence of Roman activity including a well and part of a preserved Roman road. An excavation in 2004, in Buckley's Field, also uncovered signs of Roman occupation.
Salt manufacture has remained the principal industry for the past 2,000 years, and it has shaped the town's history and geography. Before the Norman invasion of England in 1066, there is thought to have been one brine pit in Middlewich, between the River Croco and the current Lewin Street. In the Domesday Book the area is described as being "wasted", having been cleared by King William around 1070 as an "act of rage against his rebellious barons". Gilbert de Venables became the first Baron of Kinderton shortly after the Norman Conquest, the title being conferred by Hugh Lupus. A manor house was built to the east of the town and became the baronial seat of the Venables family. A Jacobean screen in the church of St Michael and All Angels has the carved Venables coat of arms. The title "Baron of Kinderton" is now vested in the Lord Vernon.
On 13 March 1643 the town was the scene of the first Battle of Middlewich, between the Parliamentarians, under Sir William Brereton, and the Royalist supporters of King Charles I of England, under Sir Thomas Aston. The second Battle of Middlewich took place on 26 December 1643, and claimed the lives of about 200 Parliamentarians, along with a number of Royalists under the command of Lord Byron.
The population of Middlewich rose during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of this rise is attributable to a number of parishes being combined, for example parts of Newton were added to Middlewich in 1894, with Sutton having previously been added to Newton in 1892. Some will also be due to a general increase in population of the United Kingdom, and some of the increase would have been required to provide a labour force for the increased number, and scale, of salt and chemical works in the town. In the middle of the 19th century Middlewich was described as a town with principal works being the surrounding farming district, a silk factory, and the salt works in Kinderton and Newton. In 1887 the town was described as having an antique appearance, with its principal trade being salt, along with fruit and vegetables, and small silk and heavy cotton works. The town had one bank and one newspaper. By 1911 the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions the existence of chemical works and the manufacture of condensed milk.
In the period between the end of the First World War until shortly after the Second World War, there was extensive housebuilding in the town; a significant number of houses were built in the King Street area to the north, the area bounded between Nantwich Road and St. Anne's Road to the west, and especially in Cledford to the south. The 1970s commenced with the building of a new road, St. Michael's Way, which allowed traffic moving from east to west through the town to bypass the main shopping street, Wheelock Street. Along with the bypass there was significant remodelling of the town centre, with the old town hall and library being demolished. This bypass successfully eased the flow of traffic away from the main shopping street, but the joining of three major roads remains a bottleneck, which will be eased by a proposed eastern bypass.
Since the early 1980s Middlewich has seen a significant quantity of new housing development, initially in the Sutton Lane and Hayhurst Avenue areas. New developments have recently been built on the sites of old salt workings to the south of the Roman Fort at Harbutt's Field, near the Norman Baron's moated manor house at Kinderton Manor, and on the site of the old railway station. One of the latest developments is on the old silk works next to the Big Lock public house. In common with other local towns such as Holmes Chapel, Northwich and Winsford, people are attracted to Middlewich because of its good road links via the M6 motorway and the relatively low price and availability of suitable building land.