Winter In Nantwich
WHEN my parents wanted to spice up their shopping, they would spend a day in Nantwich, just 40 minutes from their home. They’d visit either on market day or when the local auction house had a viewing.
Despite being so close, it is somewhere we only ever seem to pass by, which is why, with a crisp winter’s day forecast, we parked on Welsh Row.
A number of local towns have a “wich” suffix, denoting a salt-making heritage, which in Nantwich’s case goes back to Roman times. The Latin invaders discovered brine springs which were used to make salt for the garrisons in Chester and the Midlands.
Welsh Row points west towards the border, and it can be no coincidence that the Welsh word for stream, “nant”, added to “wich”, makes up the town’s name.
Not that the Welsh were always welcome visitors. Henry III destroyed the town in 1245 to prevent the Welsh gaining access to salt.
Another catastrophe played a positive role in creating one of Cheshire’s most attractive historic towns. In 1583 a fire started close to the riverside mill, which consumed most of the town’s buildings.
Town Square contains a number of beautiful old buildings erected after the fire. The Crown Hotel is unusual in that the upper floor is a long gallery, where the floor rises and falls with no concession to the horizontal.
Across the square, the inscription outside Queen’s Aid House remembers Queen Elizabeth’s contribution to rebuilding the fire-damaged town.
The centre is a charming mix of black and white timber-framed buildings, some leaning precariously, following an ancient street pattern radiating out from the church.
We walked into town past the pretty Cheshire Cat pub. Originally three cottages, these were converted into widows’ almshouses over 300 years ago and served that purpose until the 1930s.
A little out of town, towards the canal basin, Sir Roger Wilbraham’s almshouses are also in fine fettle, having been rescued from dereliction in the 1970s.
We found them dusted with snow as our day turned more wintry, and when we reached Town Square we sought shelter in the church as a brief blizzard enveloped the town.
Ellen, one of the duty wardens, spotted us. I mentioned remembering something about the poor having a place near the church wall, but Ellen corrected me.
“Do you know the saying ‘the weakest go to the wall’? When the church was built, the congregation gathered on the floor, but around the edge of the wall there was a ledge where the weak could rest during the service.”
She led us to a glass panel, where the seat was visible below the current floor level.
“This ran all round the walls. We had to excavate near the doorway to install a lift for disabled visitors,” churchwarden Ray Wilson added.
Ray’s wife Margaret is responsible for worshippers’ comfort as her tapestry group created the main door’s Jubilee curtain and, over the years, stitched a wonderful array of hassocks to ease kneeling for prayer.
“Every one is different,” Ellen said, finding one showing a Rolls-Royce, manufactured in Crewe.
“My favourite feature is this beautiful ‘Creation’ window,” Ellen admitted, pointing up to Betty
Neil McAllister enjoys a warm welcome in this beautiful Cheshire town.