Droitwich – A brief history.


Droitwich's modern geological story, which leads to human habitation in the area since the Mesolithic period and is the story behind this thriving town was laid down in the Triassic period between 228 to 237 million years ago when the area was below shallow seas. These seas laid down rich salt deposits, which now lie 60+ metres (200ft) below the present-day ground levels but come to the surface naturally through artesian wells as brine at a density of 0.25kg/litre (2.5lbs/gallon).

Iron Age and before.

There is evidence of human activity from during the Stone Age (8000 to 6000 years ago) as flint tools have been found in excavations along the River Salwarpe. With the brine having a density of ten times that of sea water and on par with the Dead Sea a thriving salt industry grow up from the Iron Age (800BC-43AD) onwards with evidence of Round house and hearths for salt making. The evidence would suggest the Iron Age salt industry was well organised. Several sites around the town have been excavated by archaeologist and they have found that the brine, after collection from the springs was taken to purpose-built tanks, probably for settlement. These tanks were sunk into the ground and lined with clay to make them watertight. The salt from the brine was extracted by heating it over an open fire. The salt crystals after evaporation were raked off and put into pottery vessels known as 'briquetage' for drying out and distribution. The industry at this time generated great wealth for the owners and controllers as gold cones have been found in Droitwich and Hanbury

Roman Salinae

Emperor Claudius extended his empire as far as Britain in AD43 and his troops reached Droitwich (then known as Salinae – meaning salt works) some time between AD60 and AD100, when a wooden fort was constructedon at Dodderhill, one of a series between Gloucester and Wroxetr. It appears that the army took control of the salt making until round AD150 when an 18 room villa with underfloor heating, mosaic Floors and painted plaster work at Bays Meadow was built with the occupants taking over the running of the local industry. Salinae was never a town but was considered to be a "vicus" or industrical settlement thus lacking defences and puplic buildings. The salt was transported along the ancient 'Saltway' which had been improved by the Romans who realised the importance of these tracks in establishing good communications for trades of not only salt but also other goods. Salt was considered so important that Roman soldiers were paid a salt allowance – a salarium' - from which the modern word 'salary' is derived.


Droitwich at the time of the Anglo Saxons, who knew it as Saltwic (as recorded in AD888) was a large settlement with centred around the present Queen Street where a Roman road junction and a river crossing met, a major road from Exeter to York. There is signs of a tannery and a farmstead to the south. A new furnace was constructed in the fifth or sixth century inducting that the industry continued following the departure of the Romans legions in 409/410. There was a Mercian royal hall at Wychbold and many of the roman builds were also in used during this period. The settlement was moving forward to become a town or have borough status by thime the Normans invaded in 1066.

Normans to 1800AD.

The Doomsday Book, compiled in 1086, shows 'Wich' as it was then known, as an important industrial and commercial centre. As a borough, the town could manage its own affairs and proceeds from the salt industry were used to build churches, an exchequer house and to pave the streets. There were about 250 salt houses and 5 brine pits in the town at this time. The king owned most of the rights to make salt and earned in rent £90.00 per year. The brine was lifted out of the pit in the 'Common Bucket' and then distributed among the salt workers.

Richard de la Wyche was born in Droitwich in 1197 and took his name from the place of this birth. He studied at Oxford, Paris and Bologna before being ordained as priest and returning to England where King Henry III initially opposed his installation as Bishop of Chichester. Between 1247 and 1249, however, he returned to Droitwich when the salt industry was in a state of decline because the Great Pit had failed and the brine springs had dried up. Under Richard's instructions, the pit was cleaned out and given his Episcopal blessing. The brine began to flow again. Richard died in 1253 and was declared a saint by Pope Urben IV in 1262. Much of the early medieval town was devastated in a great fire in 1290.

By 1347 the name 'Drightwich' appeared originating from the Saxon word 'wic' which had many meanings, but most likely 'specialist place' in this context, possibly even 'salt works' like Nantwich and Middlewich with the prefix coming from either 'drit' (dirt, mud) 'dryht' (troop, army) or dryht (laundatory, grand, famous). By royal licence money was raised in the form of taxes to pave the streets and building and maintaining bridges. Droitwich was never walled; instead a ditch was used to control access, with tollgates at verious entrances. By 14th Century the strret lay out around the High Strret we see today was laided out.
Salt was transported to the River Severn using the River Salwarpe but this was very unreliable and in 1768 construction commenced on a canal. Completed in 1771 but closed in 1939 due to it falling into disrepair. the canal was reopened together with the canal linking Droitwich with the Worcester Birmingham Canal in 2011. The railway arrived in Droitwich in 1852 and it was this that saw the decline of the canals.

Victorian's to Now.

It was in the 1830's that the first Brine Baths were built. These brought relief to many sufferers and are reputed to have effected miraculous cures. not long afterwards that John Corbett , who hailed from the Black country , purchased six acres of land at Stoke Prior on which be built a salt works whose improved production methods would eventually bring the decline of the salt making industry in Droitwich. Around 1870, after attempt to unseat the local MP, John Pakington, in the General Election, Corbett purchased the Manor at Impney and commissioned a French architect, Auguste Tornquois, to design a grand house for his wife which would rival that of his political rival at Westwood Park. In 1874, Corbett represented the Liberals, defeating the Conservative Parkington in the General Election and became MP for Droitwich.

Ultimately, however Corbett's marriage failed and also in his business fortunes, so he turned his attention to Droitwich with a view to turning it into a fashionable Spa resort. He purchased the "Royal Brine Baths" and a hotel nearby and turned them into a purpose built spa complex. This attracted many visitors and to cope with the influx, Corbett built the "Worcestershire Brine Bath Hotel" in 1881. Corbett then rebuilt the railway station and opened another hotel - " The Elephant and Castle" which is known today as "The Castle". The town's second brine baths complex, the "St Andrew's Brine Baths" opened in 1887 with its entrance being St Richards House in the centre of the thriving town close to the Worcestershire and the Raven Hotels. At the time of his death in 1901, it is estimated that John Corbett owned half of Droitwich. The link with the salt industry was maintained with a new brine bath located off Victoria Square, opened in 1985 but was closed 2009 because of problems with it's upkeep.
Futher information can be found at the Tourist Centre, which is situated in the origenal main entrance to the brian baths. It also contains a small but intresting museium to the salt industry. The Upwich salt pit in Vines Park is marked with a display


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