Verdin - MP and Salt Manufacturer
A dominant figure in the salt trade in the 19th century was Robert
Verdin who rose to be senior partner in the firm of Joseph Verdin
and Sons, salt manufacturers of Winsford, Northwich and Liverpool.
He ended his highly successful career as Member Parliament for the
Northwich Division of Cheshire. Verdin entered Parliament at a time
of great controversy. Verdin was a convinced Liberal. In 1885, however,
Liberal Premier William Ewart Gladstone, had become convined that
the only way to solve the problem of Ireland was to grant Home Rule.
The bill had been introduced in 1886 and the liberal Party split
from top to bottom. Those who opposed the proposals for Home Rule
decided to form a Liberal Unionist party which later was to work
closely with the Conservatives. Verdin was opposed to Home Rule
for Ireland like Liberal/stalwarts of the calibre of John Bright
and Joseph Chamberlain, once a republican. It was as a Liberal Unionist
he sat for Northwich. He was elected in the 1886 General Election.
Verdin served as Chairman of the Salt Chamber of Commerce when Northwich
salt mines were booming, due to the increasing use of salt for the
manufacture of chemicals. He was also a local benefactor. He presented
Northwich with a park, opened on July 25 1887. He also gave Northwich
its public baths. Living at the Brockhurst, Northwich he was only
too well of the problems which then faced Northwich through salt
Michael Drayton in Elizabethan times had known the importance of
the salt trade and written: "The Nant-Wych and the North whose either
brynie well for store and sorts of salts make Weaver to excell".
The growth of the industry, however, had earned Northwich the reputation
of being in the eyes of a Victorian traveller, "One of the busiest
and dirtiest towns in Cheshire." The same writer continues: "For
there is an air of desolation and untidiness which one usually finds
in a coal mining district.
Many of the houses are screwed and bolted together to keep them
secure". Local administrators like Verdin had to face up to the
constant problems caused by subsidence. Gloomy prophets were arguing:
"If the salt works continue to be prosecuted with their present
vigour, the time will come, when a great portion of the town and
the neighbourhood of Northwich will be sunk beneath the waters of
the Weaver. Witton corn mill fell some years ago.
Adjoining its site is the "Leicester Arms" public house, in which
a gradual subsidence of the earth has converted the sitting rooms
and tap room into cellars and the apartments used as sleeping rooms
at that period are now the sitting rooms and the tap room. “ In
Verdin's time Northwich was producing enormous quantities of rock
and white salt. The rock salt was going the Belgium and Prussia.
The white salt was being exported to the United States.
Rock salt had been discovered at Marbury by accident over three
hundred years earlier but it was not till the mid-19th century,
when the railway network was largely complete that firms like Messrs
Verdin made the really big profits from the industry. In his day
the most visited of the local mines was the Old Marston mine. This
had then been worked more or less for a century and Verdin had vivid
memories of the visit of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia in 1844.
In Verdin's day the main cutting in the mine, when illuminated with
farthing candles along its walls of rock salt was known by the miners
as "Piccadilly". Northwich's prosperity and dirty appearance was
also increased by its docks and boat building establishments. Winsford
was similarly shrouded often in smoke. There 600 pans were used,
keeping 2,000 men employed. There 500,000 tons of white salt were
being shipped every year.
Verdin was keenly interested in securing good access to the Winsford
and Northwich area by water and was made a Commissioner for the
Upper Mersey. For some years he was President of the White Salt
Trade Association. Chairman also of Winsford Local Board, responsible
for providing proper drainage and sanitation, he found time to as
a magistrate for Cheshire. Educated by private tutors, he had entered
as a young man the family business of Verdin Brothers, merchants
Verdin himself died young and was Northwich's Member Parliament
for little over a year. He died at the Brockhurst, Northwich on
July 27 1887. In the short time he had been in Parliament he had
however taken full opportunity to express in Parliament the special
problems salt merchants were experiencing.
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