from producer of salt to spa town
Roy Murphy is a former mayor of Droitwich, and wonderfully qualified to give a presentation on the history of that ancient town. This he did at the very first talk of our 2022/2023 season.
The brine springs, rising in what is currently Vine Park in Droitwich, are 25% salt and have been exploited for at least 2000 years. So famous were they that the salt production industry was specifically targeted by the Romans during their invasion.
In his fascinating talk, Roy first of all took us on a pictorial journey through the town. As is the case with Evesham, a variety of Georgian and later facades in the main streets mask buildings which are Tudor or medieval in their origins. One such is Star Yard, in which dendrochronology has dated the building behind the current façade to the 15th century. However a number of examples of superb timber framed buildings remain.
The production of salt involves evaporating brine in large pans heated over brick kilns. Salt is highly corrosive to buildings and equipment and makes for a very heavily polluted and uncomfortable working environment. Furnaces were dependent on timber at first, but with the construction of the Droitwich Canal in 1768, coal could be imported into the town from the Severn (6 miles distant). Roy had some wonderful old photographs of workers in the brine evaporation facilities dating from about the turn of the 20th century.
He then turned to the life of industrialist and philanthropist, John Corbett (1817-1901), known as the “Salt King”. Corbett developed massive salt works at Stoke Prior, which led to the closure of the works in Droitwich town itself, which then developed as a spa (the first brine baths actually opened in 1838). Corbett opened some new baths (St Andrew’s Brine Baths) in 1887 (which lasted until they eventually closed in 1975). In 1856, he bought Impney Manor, which he demolished and replaced with the famous Chateau Impney at great expense. The Raven Hotel was another of his property developments, as was Salters Hall, built as a community centre for the workforce.
Spasmodic attempts to reopen brine baths occurred after the 1970s, but there are none extant today. Brine is still extracted however, by Churchfields Farm
A lively period of discussion followed the talk, led by Carmel Langridge, the Society’s Chairman.