A Salty Story

Salt has always been an essential ingredient in daily life. Sea salt production around Britain’s coast dates back to Roman times. On Morecambe Bay, traditional methods for harvesting white salt from the sea continued through the Middle Ages and into the early 1700s. In every home it was used to prepare dairy foods and preserve meat, for cleaning household utensils and metal ware, and for medicinal and surgical purposes.

Making salt was a simple process. Very few specialist tools were used, mostly farming equipment adapted for purpose. Producers rented or inherited specific areas of the foreshore known as ‘sand-floors’, and constructed small buildings nearby called ‘saltcoats’.

‘Saltcoats’ (a term that’s been given various spellings throughout the years) can be identified by place names on old maps, suggesting these areas were connected with the making of salt.

At certain times of the year, especially following a full moon and a high tide, a horse-drawn harrow (a hap or thorn) would rake over the salty sand. Great heaps of sand would be loaded into a steep-sided cart called a sand-coup. The salt was piled near to the saltcoat and washed through. This process was known as sleeching. The briny water was held outside in sleech-pits. Pits were lined with clay or straw for filtration and then channelled into shallow lead salt pans which were heated over gentle peat (turf) fires within the saltcoat. The evaporated crystalline salt would be carefully raked off into cone-shaped straw wiskets (baskets) and hung on the inside walls of the saltcoat to drain and dry out until only dry salt remained.

Unfortunately, early modern sea salt production appears to have left little or no physical signs of its existence ‘on the ground’. Morecambe Bay Partnership teamed up with researcher Jonathan Cass to unravel the salty story. Jonathan studied thousands of original documents at Lancashire Archives to understand more clearly how people lived in Lancashire in the century before the Industrial Revolution.

Jonathan’s work has identified key places across the Bay where salt-making was probably happening.

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