Welcome to the world of one-place studies! Twenty-six of our members are sharing something in their particular place for this year's A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our final entry is from Karen Bailey with a demonstration of how things have changed in Droitwich Spa. A big thank you to all of this year's participants for sharing your stories.
In My Place, Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire, England, there is currently ZERO spa facilities, despite its name. I know that it sounds like quite a negative place to end the A to Z task, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel!
There has been a long historical association with salt in Droitwich - since (at least) the Iron Age, people have been getting salt from the brine which flows below the town. The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and everyone up to the 19th century regarded Droitwich highly for its valuable salt, but by the early 1800s when cheaper and easier sources of salt had been discovered, Droitwich had dropped into decline.
The view of Droitwich in the 1820s seen from Dodderhill Church (which has overlooked the town since the 1200s) would have been dismal: smoke and debris from the various salt works creating a grey smog and turning buildings black and dirty; chimneys, workshops, and slum workers housing, all contributing to an image of “grey industrial squalor”. With the decline of salt manufacturing, by the late nineteenth century, the ‘industrial squalor’ was replaced “by the sadder squalor of abandoned and derelict buildings”.
The town needed a new industry for it to progress and develop. Unbeknownst to the town’s inhabitants, the answer had already been found by accident in 1832, when a large-scale cholera epidemic hit the country. With no known cure doctors could only recommend hot baths to the escalating numbers of victims. However, with no fresh water supply, the poor had difficulty getting hot water. As a result, an enterprising doctor (reputed to be local surgeon William Robson Jacques) bathed them in the hot brine pans. Many recovered, often totally cured, and the “healing virtues” of the brine had been discovered. As a side-effect of bathing for the relief of cholera, patients noticed that other illnesses, such as gout and rheumatism, were also alleviated.
With this discovery, Droitwich reinvented itself as a popular new Spa town, where patients could come and bathe in brine. Dr Charles Hastings, founder of the British Medical Association and eminent physician at the Royal Worcester Infirmary, instigated a scheme in 1835 to build the town’s first brine baths. He drew attention to the success of nearby Cheltenham and Leamington spas and the many potential patients in the workers in Midland industrial towns who could not easily get to the coast for sea-bathing. His support meant that all the shares in the new “Droitwich Salt Water Bath Company” were sold in a matter of months.
The brine baths brought with them a plethora of improvements in the town generally - the rail station and roads were improved, new housing estates were created, entertainment venues, pretty parks and a salt-water outdoor lido pool were built, and grand hotels were developed to accommodate the huge numbers of people who wanted to gain the benefits from a dip in the Droitwich waters.
Two World Wars and a decline in the idea of using spas and seaside resorts as replacements for conventional medicine lead to a deterioration of the fortunes of Droitwich Spa. In 2008, the last brine bathing facility closed down for financial reasons, and the future of Droitwich as a spa town looked set to end.
However, this isn’t the end of Droitwich Spa’s story! There are plans to build a new brine bathing facility adjacent to the same outdoor salt-water lido pool that was developed in the first spa boom, in a style sympathetic to the existing 1930s building. Those of us that are passionate about the salt-bathing heritage of the town are backing this plan and are very excited for the future!
So, maybe the title of this post should have been "Zero...but only at the moment".