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Multi-period salt production remains in Droitwich

A Scheduled Monument in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire

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Latitude: 52.2698 / 52°16'11"N

Longitude: -2.1491 / 2°8'56"W

OS Eastings: 389921.209336

OS Northings: 263528.725467

OS Grid: SO899635

Mapcode National: GBR 1F8.PGR

Mapcode Global: VH92G.P6QS

Entry Name: Multi-period salt production remains in Droitwich

Scheduled Date: 7 January 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020256

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30097

County: Worcestershire

Civil Parish: Droitwich Spa

Built-Up Area: Droitwich

Traditional County: Worcestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Worcestershire

Church of England Parish: Droitwich Spa

Church of England Diocese: Worcester


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the buried remains of
the multi-period salt production site at Droitwich located along the River
Salwarpe. Partial excavations in the 1970s and 1980s revealed extensive
remains of the salt making industry covering a period of over 2000 years
including brine tanks, wells, machinery, hearths, drying kilns and a
sophisticated water management system. In the 19th century, increasing
mechanisation of the industry led to the construction of factories along
the Droitwich Barge Canal. These also survive as buried features. These
remains, combined with documentary sources, provide a wide range of
information about the salt industry in the area. The Droitwich saltwater
or brine springs are particularly pure and highly concentrated, providing
ideal conditions for the development of a salt manufacturing industry. The
springs have been continually exploited since at least the Iron Age.

Evidence of the salt industry survives from every period since the Iron
Age, including early wells, timber-lined brine tanks, hearths for boiling
brine, and briquetage, (rough clay vessels designed to dry the salt and
transport it). Roman timber work, including parts of a crane or winch and
organic deposits such as rope, ash and barrels demonstrate the importance
of the industry during the Roman period. This importance continued into
the Saxon era when long, stone lined channels with lead pans were built as
hearths, and measures were taken to prevent the river from flooding and
diluting the brine. By the time of the Domesday survey five brine wells
were recorded in Droitwich and were controlled by the king; over 1000 tons
of salt were produced annually. The town bought the production monopoly
from King John and production increased reaching 1500 tons by 1400. By the
16th and 17th centuries iron pans were used for boiling, coal became the
main fuel and experiments to increase efficiency, such as brick hearths
were used for the first time. By the 17th century approximately 3000 tons
of salt were being produced and exported as far as Ireland. The town
monopoly on salt production was broken in 1695 allowing a proliferation of
wells some of which were over 60m deep reaching the underground brine
stream itself.

By the mid-18th century the Droitwich Barge Canal was constructed to
improve transportation, and in the 19th century factories were constructed
alongside the canal to facilitate the loading of salt into boats. The
factories used large iron pans with several stoking holes, and brine was
raised by pumps and delivered to the factory through iron pipes. A peak of
about 120,000 tons was reached in 1872, and whole families were involved
in production both day and night. During this period salt production was
concentrated into the hands of a single individual, John Corbett, who
relocated much of the industry to Stoke Prior and began to emphasise the
role of Droitwich as a spa resort.

Excavations in 1983 to 1984 discovered the Upwhich brine well which
included evidence of salt making houses and a timber lined well, as well
as wicker baskets and several implements and organic remains. In addition
numerous small-scale excavations and recordings have demonstrated a
sequence of remains from the pits and hearths of the Iron Age to the
industrial pumps of the Victorian era surviving along the course of the
river valley. These deposits are over 9m deep in places.

The standing remains of the industrial period brine pump and the back wall
of Salt House preserved in the public square in Gurneys Lane are included
in the scheduling.

A number of features and buildings are excluded from the scheduling. These
are: the buildings belonging to the bowls club, the Canal Society, the
motor-car tyre workshop, the car sales room, the public house and No 4
Kidderminster Road and all other modern buildings, the course of the
Droitwich Canal and towpath and all modern surfaces, street furniture and
the electrical sub station; however, the ground beneath all these features
is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Salt has been produced from sea water or, in inland areas, from brine springs
since before Roman times, and the technology used in the medieval period
displays a marked continuity with earlier production methods. Brine, from
which the water was evaporated to produce the salt, was collected in one of
two ways, either by its filtration from coastal sand, soil or pebbles
impregnated with salt water during high tides and periodic inundation, or by
its collection in pools or pits filled at high tide or by inland springs,
sometimes by way of a system of channels, dams and sluices.
Medieval salterns include a range of features connected with the collection
and evaporation processes, of which the most visually distinctive are the oval
or kidney-shaped middens of waste material which may cover areas of 2ha or
more. Other features usually survive in buried form beneath and around the
middens, illustrating the fact that salterns were often in use for periods of
at least a century, during which time they were occupied seasonally, their
component structures being rebuilt at the beginning of each summer or as
required. Evaporation was often aided by an evaporation kiln fuelled by peat
or wood products, of which several different types are known, and the remains
of temporary wooden buildings, wooden or wicker troughs and clay-lined pits
have also been found during excavation.
Salt was an expensive commodity during the medieval period, particularly in
demand for food preservation and curing. Salterns are known from documentary
sources and place name evidence to have been widely distributed around the
English coast and the inland brine springs of Cheshire and Droitwich from
at least the end of the 10th century. The industry had declined by the
beginning of the 16th century and competition with the superior and cheaper
rock salt, mined from the beginning of the 17th century, led to its demise
during the early post-medieval period.

The Droitwich salt making industry is exceptional in preserving evidence
for salt production from the Iron Age until the 19th century. Its
location, around the brine springs in waterlogged conditions has ensured
the survival of a variety of features, including buried structures, wooden
artefacts and environmental evidence. Deep deposits of ash clay and
briquetage were created as a by-product of the industry and, sealed by
alluvial silts from regular flooding, have well preserved stratified
archaeological remains many metres deep, distinguishing the Droitwich salt
pits from the other main areas of inland brine-salt production in England.
Partial excavation has demonstrated excellent preservation of both organic
remains and building structures. These will provide detailed information
about the development of the industry and its technologies over 2000
years, and the distinctive technologies that were developed in Droitwich.
These, combined with documentary sources from the Anglo-Saxon period to
modern times and more recent photographs, provide information about both
the organisation, physical remains, and individual people and families
involved in the salt industry, which will aid our understanding of the
process over time.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hurst, J D, Savoring the Past, (1992)
Woodiwiss, S, Iron and and Roman Salt production and the medieval town of Droi, (1998)
planning report, Hurst, J D, Assessment Of The Archaeological Resource In Droitwich, (1993)

Source: Historic England

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