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AS-Salt-Extn-art - 9/26/09


"Common Salt Extraction in Anglo-Saxon England" by Melanie Wilson.


NOTE: See also the files: salt-msg, salt-comm-art, mining-msg, med-ships-art, Lrds-Salt-Exp-art, pickled-meats-msg, stockfish-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


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Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2000 08:08:59 -0000

From: "Melanie Wilson" <MelanieWilson at bigfoot.com>

To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>

Subject: Salt in Anglo Saxon Period


Common Salt Extraction in Anglo-Saxon England

by Melanie Wilson


The extraction of common salt (Sodium Chloride) in England was limited to two methods, coastal and inland extraction. Both were employed prior, during and after the Anglo-Saxon Period, often utilizing the same site or locale.


During the early stages of Anglo-Saxon settlement only coastal extraction appears to have been practiced. At this time the sea level was rising, as the Roman coastal defenses eroded. As a result extraction sites moved back as the coastline altered, then in time returned to sites nearer our present coastline, as defenses were gradually rebuilt. As this happened huge amounts of peat were extracted, creating the area known now as the Norfolk Broads, and this peat was utilized to provide the fuel necessary for evaporation of Common salt out of solution. Coastal saline solution is far less pure and less concentrated than that found inland. Several sand leachings concentrated the solution. This was then boiled, evaporating the water and precipitating the Sodium Chloride leaving unwanted or dangerous metallic salts, which are more soluble, in solution.


Sites on coastal areas are found near woodland sites, and the Doomsday record indicates 64 salt producing villages in Norfolk. In Lincolnshire and Sussex there are 34 villages with multiple salt pans. Giving an estimated total of 360 salinae in the eastern coastal counties.


Around 577 AD, we find evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Severn Valley, centered around present day Droitwich an area of natural brine springs, which had been utilized since the early Iron Age. There is evidence of Anglo-Saxon inland extraction in the late 6th Century at Upwich.


There was a huge advantage to inland salt production, especially in the Droitwich area as the brine from the springs there is unusually pure in Sodium Chloride, possibly even unique in it presents naturally as a saturated solution. Each extraction pit in the area has its own characteristics, even those separated by only 6 feet. The brine flow is regulated  by artesian pressure and one particularly prolific pit at Upwich was calculated in one study as producing 589 gallons/hour.


Much of the information on salt extraction comes from linguistic and written sources. Later in the period, salt charters granting salt extraction rights, generally owned by local inhabitants can be found and records detailing salt tolls payable.


Some sources indicate wic(h) as a signifier of a salt making site. However, Linguists generally define wic, to mean settlement or place, for instance, Droitwich was originally known as Saltwic (recorded 884AD). Wic is also associated with other trades, indicating for instance a specialized woodland area producing prepared sticks (hlot) for charcoal making, as in hlot wic.


In recent times, excavations have produced Archaeological indications of Anglo Saxon salt works, such as remnants of post holes, pot shards and charcoal, in a chemically altered soil indicating salinity.


From these small clues it has been deduced that typical Anglo Saxon salt production utilized two or three shallow rectangular lead pans over each stone furnace. In conjunction with dating from charcoal samples an accurate picture is starting to be drawn up, which supports the later written evidence, available in greater abundance.




A. Bridbury, England and the Salt Trade in the Later Middle  Ages, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1955).


Adshead S A M Salt & Civilization Canterbury University Press(1992)


K. de Brisay, The Red Hills of Essex in: "Salt"-the Study of an ancient Industry Press (1972)


Campbell The Anglo Saxons Penguin (1991)


CBA archaeological reports on excavations vol #107 . Colchester Archaeological Group, England (1975).


Stafford P The East Midlands in the Early Middle Ages Leicester University Press (1985)


Field English Field Names David & Charles (1982)


Fielding, Andrew Lyon Salt Museum discussions with.(1999) 01606 41823


Finberg H P R The Agrarian History of England & Wales Vol I-II AD 43-1042 Cambridge University (1972)


Gratten & Singer Anglo Saxon Magic and Medicine Oxford University Press(1952)


H. Goswin, Coastal Peat Beds of the British Isles and North Sea, J. Ecology,  31, 217 & Fig. 12 (1943).


Hagan Anglo Saxon food,(1992) Anglo Saxon food & drink(1995) Anglo Saxon Books


Hopkinson Beatrice discussions with.(1999)


Hurst Derek , Worcester Archaeological Unit discussions with (1999) 01905 855401


J. Ives, Remarks upon the Garianium of the Romans,the Site and Remains Fixed and described, I.D. Downes for Messrs. G.&J. Robinson, London (1815).


Laing Anglo Saxon England Routledge (1979)


Lester The Anglo Saxons David & Charles (1976)


Singer A History of Technology Vol II, Oxford(1956)


Wilson C Anne Food & Drink in Britain Constable (1973)


Wilson C Anne  Waste not Want not Edinburgh University Press (1991)


Copyright Melanie Wilson 1999


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org