The town of Droitwich Spa is about 25000 inhabitants strong and lays in central England, 35 km to the south of Birmingham. Very close to Worcester and the beautiful Costwolds hills where one can walk and trek, it is also only 50 km away from Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s city, at the heart of the England of woods, cottages and cosy pubs. Droitwich Spa’s partner towns are Bad Ems in Germany, and since 2010, Voiron in France.
The history of Droitwich Spa was shaped all along by the brine springing from the area’s wells. This resource, already known during the Bronze Age, was then worked by the Romans, who set up a fort at the crossing of the major roads they had built. Traces of two roman villas from the 3rd century have been found, and several roads of the county are still following the ancient roman vias.
Saltwork went on enriching Droitwich until the end of the 19th century. Two canals were built in order to facilitate the transport of salt towards Bristol. Artificial wells allowed for more and more brine extraction, so much so that the ground gave way in several places: the bell tower of a church had to be demolished before it collapsed, and the ancient main street now shows an astonishing concave profile, some façades deliberately leaning on their neighbours.
Around 1830, the “King of Salt” John Corbett had to face the fact that saltwork, undermined by competition, was no longer economically viable. In order to find new resource, he launched the fashion of brine baths. This is how “Droitwich” became “Droitwich Spa”, a rich spa town attracting the gentry, for some time…
The spas opened from 1836 on have all been closed since the end of the 20th century, except for one which still opens in the summer: the “Droitwich Spa Lido”. The canals, which had been derelict since 1939, were restored and opened to tourist barges in 2011. The narrow barges are remarkably refurbished in painting and fitting.
John Corbett also left an astonishing mansion in Louis XIII style: “Chateau Impney” was built in 1875 in honour of his French wife, and later converted into a hotel.
And every radio fan knows “Droitwich”, the radio station famous in France for broadcasting Charles de Gaulle’s 18th June Call to the Nation in 1940 and subsequently all “The French speak to the French” programmes until the end of the war.