Why make salt here?
The production of salt was the third most important industry after agriculture and fishing in Anglo-Saxon times. Before refrigeration was developed, salt was used to preserve foods like meat, fish and vegetables and it was needed in large quantities by the local population.
If you lived by the coast, the easiest way to produce salt was by extraction from sea water. In the late-medieval period the whole coastline would have been covered with salt ponds. We know the salt industry here at Newtown dates back many centuries. In the 17th century there were 14 saltpans here, and the evidence of the salt industry's more recent history can still be seen next to the quay.
Making salt at Newtown
The two square ponds close to the black hut were saltpan feeder ponds, or lagoons. They are separated by man-made levees. The ponds were flooded at high tide, then the water was let out over the saltpans next to them.
Over a period of days the water evaporated, becoming saltier and gaining a muddy crust of salt. This strong brine was boiled in large iron pans in a salt house, where the remaining water was turned to steam leaving only salt crystals. They could then be scooped off and packed and stored or sold.
Sadly, the salt house no longer exists – it had fallen into a terminal state of disrepair – but bricks marking its outline can be seen on the footbridge side of the black hut at low tide.
The demise of an industry
The salt industry at Newtown closed in the 1930s because it had become uncompetitive. By that time it had become cheaper to transport salt dug up from the underground mines in Cheshire or on the continent than to make it here. Then better means of preserving food were found and became more affordable, notably fridges and freezers.
Nearly all the salt we use on our tables today comes from underground deposits, though there are some traditional sea-water evaporation sites still working in other parts of the world.