Friday 15 May 2020


Saltworkers by John McKenna.        Photo: Droitwich Spa Civic Society
by Dave Roberts
As dedicated readers of 'The Middlewich Diary' will know, there's only one Middlewich. Or is there? I was talking recently to one of our local councillors who mentioned the fact that, despite the fact that Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire hasn't produced salt commercially since the 1920s, the town still makes much of its connections with salt.
There aren't any salt works there now, and haven't been for many years, but the town celebrates 'Salt Day' every year, and is still Britain's only salt water spa town. Droitwich also shares with our neighbours at Nantwich the rare distinction of possessing swimming baths fed by natural brine springs.
The discussion brought back something I remember being told years ago, in early Heritage Society days. Someone told me then that  'Middlewich' was used  by Droitwich salt makers at one time as a name for one of the town's three brine springs.
This information has been lurking at the back of my mind ever since then, so today I decided to do a little bit of internet research, and what I found out has revealed that Droitwich was once a kind of parallel universe, where a microcosm of the Mid-Cheshire salt industry existed.
There were indeed three brine springs in Droitwich, and they were called Upwich, Middlewich and Netherwich, forming a miniature Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich in the middle of Worcestershire.
Even today Droitwich claims that its Roman name was Salinae, which will, I'm sure, ring a bell locally.
This lends credence to the alternative theory that neither of the towns was actually called Salinae, but that the Romans labelled all places of salt manufacture with the name, which just means 'salt workings'.
Tales are told of Middlewich salt workers having a good laugh at poor old Droitwich when, in the last days of its dying salt industry, it was reduced to bringing in supplies of brine by road tanker. Anyone can tell you that's not the way to do things.
On the other hand, the attractive Worcestershire town can teach us a thing or two about promoting our own heritage.


BBC Long Wave Transmitter at Droitwich    Photo: Arquiva/BBC Engineering Information
Droitwich's other claim to fame is the Long Wave radio transmitter which broadcasts BBC Radio 4 throughoutmuch of the country on 198kHz. And even this national institution owes its existence, or at least its location, to salt. The transmitter site at Wychbold was chosen because the underlying salt deposits make a good 'ground' for the transmitter and help produce a good clear signal (this property of salt was also exploited by the pirate radio ships of the sixties who could reach large areas of the country with relatively low powered transmitters because of the 'ground wave' produced by the briny waters all around them).
We all know, of course, that the benefits of salt are many and varied, but how many people knew that it also helps bring us the Shipping Forecast?

Facebook feedback:

Mally Mal 'helps bring us the Shipping Forecast'....until the valves conk out.

Dave Roberts Yes indeed, But that's another story.

Mally Mal Indeed.

(What Mally is referring to here, is the fact that the Droitwich transmitter is living on borrowed time. It uses glass valves which are no longer manufactured, and when the last one blows, it's goodbye to Long Wave - Ed.
UPDATE: (December 2014) This turned out to be something of an over-simplification. During 2014 extensive engineering work was carried out on the Droitwich transmitter ensuring that it would be in service, according to a BBC spokesman, 'for at least the next ten years, and probably longer').

UPDATE (14th May 2020)

John Williams writes:
An interesting read! Coincidentally I moved to Middlewich four years ago from Droitwich Spa and can see many similarities between the two. Unfortunately the Spa baths referred to in the story are now closed (although the brine lido still opens each summer) and the radio masts remain in place as you can see from the picture. One small enterprising business uses the local salt to make handmade salt caramel fudge. Popular in the local shops.

Published 2nd December 2011
Re-published 8th August 2016
Up-dated and re-published 15th May 2020


1 comment:

  1. Middlewich even followed me here, to SE Kansas... the area just NW of here is where the majority of the salt comes from for the US & there is even a city called Salina!


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