The Birtles Collection of Photographs

29 April 2019 

The Birtles photographs bring together a complete record of Northwich during the late 1800s. As part of the Townscape Heritage project, all of the photographs held in the Weaver Hall Museum and Cheshire Archives have been collated and copied so the full collections are now held in both locations.  

To preserve the originals for the future the photographs have been digitised and a full collection can now also be seen on The Cheshire Image Bank:  http://cheshireimagebank.org.uk/index.php under the popular collections theme.

Northwich is fortunate in having the history of the town documented in many hundreds of photographs taken in 1891-2 when photography was in its infancy. The subsiding properties in the town were a great attraction for a day out for visitors to come and view the curious buildings. Visitors bought copies of the photographs as postcards which they sent to their friends and relatives using the already 40 year old postal service.

Whilst interesting for visitors, the subsidence caused by the local brine pumping was a major problem for Northwich and other areas in Mid Cheshire.  In 1871 the Northwich Salt Chamber of Commerce requested that the Board of Trade investigate the problem. Their report in 1873 led to the Brine Pumping (Compensation for Subsidence) Act being passed by Parliament in 1891. 

This Act set up compensation boards that were responsible for collecting an annual levy from the local brine pumpers in their district.  It also allowed them to assess claims for damage and pay compensation for agreed damage, funded by the annual levy.  Although the Act was aimed at Mid Cheshire, only one compensation board was set up, and that was for the Northwich district. The Cheshire Brine Subsidence Compensation Board is still in existence today.

To assess the claims the Board appointed a photographer to take a series of photographs to record the state of the properties in Northwich at the start of the Brine Boards work.  Thomas Birtles was awarded the contract and he went on to take 262 photographs of Northwich between 1891-2. Thomas Birtles had photographic studios in both Warrington and Northwich. 

Lisa Harris, Director of Places Strategy, Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “The Birtles Collection is a photographic record of the town at a turning point in its history.  From then timber framed buildings were constructed in the town to reduce the damage to buildings from subsidence.

This was a joint project involving Northwich Townscape Heritage, Chester Archives and Weaver Hall Museum.  It was funded by the Northwich Townscape Heritage project that in turn receives funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Cheshire West and Cheshire Council and Northwich BID.

See more about the Northwich Townscape Heritage project at: https://www.northwich-th.co.uk/









 

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