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5th Jul, 2022

Droitwich ready to welcome King John for Charter Day bash

Droitwich Editorial 31st Jul, 2015 Updated: 17th Oct, 2016

THE COUNTDOWN is under way to the Droitwich Charter Day which will be held in the town tomorrow (Saturday) to mark an important part of the Spa’s history.

The event celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Royal Charter being granted by King John in 1215.

The charter gave the burgers of Droitwich the right to produce and market salt.

There will be plenty of fun for all the family throughout the town centre, including an all-day street market and a medieval banquet castle in the High Street and a farmer’s market and pig roast in Victoria Square.

In Vines Park, there will be food, live music and, at 11am and 2.30pm, thanks to actors from the Norbury Theatre, there will be the chance to see King John arrive on the Pamela May with a new replica charter.

The replica charter has been produced because it is thought the original was burnt in a massive fire in 1290 when a lot of Droitwich was burnt to the ground. As part of the preparations, skilled local craftsman Dick Jones has created some replica medieval stocks, using traditional tools that would have been used at the time, such as side axes, an adze, a draw knife and a stock or clog knife.

Retired teacher Dick said: “The wood for the stocks comes from an English oak that fell last winter in local farm woodlands.

“It was probably about 100 years old.

“I cut it up into planks on site in the woods with a home made mill.“I used most of the wood to make bench seats, carvings and traditional oak doors.

“The left-overs were used for the stocks.”He added he had used tra-ditional methods where possi-ble, including pegged joints and hand-made nails.

Spa Mayor, Coun Graham Beale, added: “Droitwich is a great place, and it’s probably a good idea that however much we might like to, the law doesn’t allow wrongdoers to be put in these punishment stocks, so that we can all throw rotten vegetables and eggs at them.

”But, those who go along next Saturday will be able to punish their family and friends with wet sponges to help raise cash for charity – that takes place outside St Andrew’s Church, along with a slave auction.A fair with music, and stocks outside St Andrews Church and a Slave Auction will also be part of the entertainment.

Although slavery was fading out in England in the early 13th Century, Droitwich still had many slaves working in the Industrialised Salt business. At one auction, the slaves are said to have rose up and put the auctioneer in the stocks. Players from the Norbury Theatre will re-enact many incidents from the history of Droitwich.

The idea for the Charter Day was the brainchild of Coun Bob Brookes while he was mayor last year.

He said: “So many people, organisations and businesses have come together to plan the Charter Day and we now want as many residents and visitors as possible to come and join in with the celebrations.”

Go to for more on the Droitwich Charter Day.

Below is a brief history of Droitwich and how the charter came to be:

How it all began

DROITWICH owes its existence to the remarkable natural brine springs which emanate from subterranean beds of pure rock salt 200 feet below ground level. The importance of the salt can be seen in the town’s motto – ‘Sal Sapit Omnia’ meaning Salt Flavours all. Dissolved by underground springs, artesian pressure forces the salt to the surface as brine, ten times saltier than seawater. Its density and buoyancy are only rivalled by the Dead Sea.

Droitwich Spa has revolved around its salt making industry for 2,000 years.

Ancient relics dating from this period and later can be seen at the town’s local Heritage Centre. When the Romans invaded they recognised the value of salt, building a number of ancient roads, known as Saltways from Droitwich, as well as a fort and villa. They named Droitwich Salinae – Place of Salt and even paid part of their soldier’s wages in salt, known as ‘Salarium’ from which we derive our modern day word for Salary.

Many Anglo Saxon charters relate to Droitwich, then known as ‘Wich.’ The brine springs were regarded as the fourth wonder of Saxon Britain, an accolade noted by the 9th century writer, Nennius.

Before 1066, the King only had part holdings in the brine pits and salt producing pans. The Domesday Book of 1086 records that William I took over all brine pits and salt pans but allowed certain individuals rights to them. A salt tax was imposed at town gates around the country as the commercial activities of Droitwich expanded. During the Domesday period Droitwich was producing 72,000 gallons of brine per year.

The town continued to grow as the wealth generated from the salt production increased. Many half-timbered buildings dating from the 14th century can be seen in the picturesque High Street.

Among the famous sons of Droitwich are St. Richard de Wyche, who became Bishop of Chichester and Pilgrim Father Edward Winslow, one of the founders of the ‘New World.’ The life of St. Richard can be followed in a unique series of pictures made up of tiny pieces of tessellated Venetian glass at the Sacred Heart Church. These mosaics are regarded as the finest in Britain and are the result of ten years hard work.

John Corbett, a Victorian entrepreneur did much to change the town, releasing it from its industrial image to fashionable Spa resort. He built Europe’s largest salt works near Bromsgrove and built some of the Spa’s most prominent buildings, including the Raven and Worcestershire Hotels and the Brine Baths in 1887. The frontage to this old building now houses the town’s Tourist Information & Heritage Centre.

Brine bathing remained fashionable up until the Second World War that made Droitwich Spa a popular destination for visitors from both home and abroad.

Sourcing the salt and the charter

IN 1215 slavery had nearly disappeared in England, due to the attitude of the church, who had a big influence on people’s minds in the 13th century.

The bishop of Worcester banned the exporting of slaves and so did William the Conqueror at the port of Bristol.

The Norman’s feudal system did not need slavery – it had serfdom. In spite of this, Droitwich, then known as Wich, was an unusual place.

It had a concentration of unskilled workers working around the clock in shifts, cutting wood, feeding furnaces, continually stirring salt out of boiling brine, and transporting the salt by packhorse.

It was a densely populated industrial centre of workers performing difficult and dangerous tasks night and day in a very dirty and smokey environment – a rare thing in England at that time. Due to the poor condition of the roads, salt manufacture in Wich could only be achieved during the summer months.

In those days, salt was essential for preserving food – without it folk would starve during the winter. Salt was so valuable that it could be used for money – hence the word salary from the Latin word for salt ‘salarium’.

The life of a salt worker could be short, especially for those collecting the salt from the brine.

Long hours of hard labour raking out salt from the steaming brine was dangerous.

It was easy to fall asleep with exhaustion and fall into the scalding brine!

When King John granted Wich a Royal Charter in 1215, it is highly likely that slaves were used to make salt. Regular auctions would be held for salt factory owners to buy and sell slaves from captured runaways, or impoverished foreigners. We must also bear in mind that in those days a man could sell his wife – a frequent occurrence.

The Charter

The Charter was written and sealed with the Royal Seal and looked very similar to the Magna Carta.

King John in desperate need of money had already granted similar charters to other important business towns in England.

It was a way of getting a guaranteed yearly ‘tax’ payment without the expense of monitoring all the transactions of the salt manufacture and trade.

For £100 p.a. Droitwich was allowed self-government, to hold a market and be totally free of the King’s taxes including that of exporting to other English Towns and Villages.

At the time, this was more important to the people of Droitwich than the Magna Carta. Especially as it remained at just £100 for the next 479 years!

The seal was important, as King John did not sign the charters. Two thin four inch diameter cylinders of beeswax coloured blue-green with copper powder (verdigris) were prepared for the seal press. The two halves were aligned, the cords for attaching the seal to the vellum document were laid between the two halves. The press was tightened, forming the impressions on both sides of the seal and joining the two halves together. The front of the seal, known as the obverse, illustrates the majestic power of the king, showing him crowned and seated on a throne, The other side, the reverse, shows the King on horseback indicating his fighting strength.

No one knows what happened to the original charter (it could be out there somewhere), although it is feared it was burnt in a massive fire in 1290 when a lot of Droitwich was burnt to the ground.

Recent times

ALONG with other Spa towns and resorts, Droitwich saw a gradual decline in popularity after the Second World War. Eventually the Brine Baths closed and no Spa facility existed for over ten years.

The re-emergency of interest in health and leisure resulted in the new Brine Bath complex opening in 1985, Britain’s biggest spa development this century. Unfortunately these baths are not open to the public at present.

Today’s Droitwich Spa boasts many attractions for the visitor in search of something different, be it health or heritage.

The whole development of the town, from ancient salt making centre to the present day can be explored at the Droitwich Heritage Centre.

The Charter Day celebration

Tomorrow, there will be plenty of fun for all the family throughout the town centre, including an all-day street market and a medieval banquet castle in the High Street and a farmer’s market and pig roast in Victoria Square.

In Vines Park, there will be food, live music and, at 11am and 2.30pm, thanks to actors from the Norbury Theatre, there will be the chance to see King John arrive on the Pamela May with a new replica charter.

And, in keeping with past tradition, visitors will also be able to put each other in stocks which have been crafted by Dick Jones. There they will be able to throw sponges – thankfully not rotten vegetables – at their nearest and dearest. There will also be a slave auction as part of proceedings. Both activities will be held outside St Andrews Church.


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