DROITWICH, an ancient borough and market-town, having exclusive jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the Upper division of the hundred of Halfshire, Eastern division of the county of Worcester, 6¾ miles (N. E. by N.) from the city of Worcester, and 118 (N. W.) from London; containing 2832 inhabitants. This place was anciently denominated Wich or Wiche, from the wiches, or salt-springs, wherewith the neighbourhood abounds; and the prefix Droit, right or legal, is supposed to refer to some exclusive privilege for the manufacture of salt, obtained by the inhabitants. It appears to have been the town of the ancient Britons called by Richard of Cirencester Salinæ, from its saline springs, situated on a British road, styled the Saltway. There is no evidence of its having ever been occupied by the Romans; but under the Saxon government it rose to importance, and seems to have given name to their province of Wiccia, of which Worcestershire constituted the principal part. During the war between Charles I., and the parliament, the inhabitants adhered steadily to the royal cause, and received a letter from that unfortunate monarch, acknowledging a due sense of their loyalty.
The Town is situated on the river Salwarp, upon which are several corn-mills. The manufacture of salt existed here at the period of our history when the Romans held partial possession of the county, though it was not until the year 1725 that the strong brine, for which it is now famous, was discovered; the purity of the salt is considered superior to that of any salt obtained elsewhere, and the quantity produced amounts to about 50,000 tons a year. By charter of James I., the exclusive privilege of sinking pits within the borough was given to the corporation, who granted licences to others; but this was overthrown about 1690, by a legal decision in favour of an enterprising individual, who, by a breach of this supposed right, successfully encountered the opposition of the party claiming it. Pits then became numerous, and the trade was thrown open to competition, to the great advantage of the community. The principle or method of making the salt remained unvaried until lately, when several persons adopted other modes, and obtained patents for them, but afterwards resorted to the old practice. In 1841, Mr. Benjamin Smith received a patent (subsequently assigned to Mr. George Ellins) for "an improved apparatus for making salt from brine," whereby five large pans of brine are heated and made to produce salt, of a superior quality and grain, with the same quantity of fuel that was previously required for one pan only. The supply of brine is obtained by boring, upon the Artesian principle. Mr. Ellins sank a shaft of seven feet diameter to the depth of 200 feet, the last thirty being through a bed of rock-salt, and then formed a large cavity, into which a powerful spring of brine introduced itself, instantaneously filling it and rising to the surface. He afterwards sank another shaft equally deep, the water having burst in upon the first; but this, also, has been abandoned, as the fresh water could not be kept out; and Mr. Ellins has sunk another well in the neighbourhood of the old pits. It was always thought that the brine was confined to the valley between the High-street and Dodderhill church; but in 1847 Messrs. Walter and John Noak, natives of the town, after surmounting various difficulties, found a bountiful supply of brine of excellent quality, beneath the surface of a field called Covercroft, near the union-workhouse, on an eminence far removed from any other brine-pit.
An act was procured in 1767, for a canal from this town to the river Severn, which was begun in 1768, and completed in 1771, under the direction of Brindley, the celebrated engineer, at an expense of £25,000; it is navigable for vessels of sixty tons' burthen, and the junction takes place at Hawford. The Birmingham and Gloucester railway has a station a mile and a half eastward of the town; and an act was passed in 1845 for a railway from Oxford, by Droitwich, to Wolverhampton; with a branch of four miles from Droitwich to Stoke-Prior, on the Birmingham and Gloucester line. A building called the Exchequer-house, where the payments from the persons who held licences to make salt, and the other profits derived by the corporation from the brine-pits, were made weekly, was erected about the year 1581; but it was taken down in 1826, and new court-rooms have been built near the spot on which it stood. At the same time an old market-house was pulled down, and a new one formed under the courtrooms; also a good prison. The hot and cold salt-water baths, here, were established in 1836, at the suggestion of Dr. Hastings, of Worcester, and are celebrated for their efficacy in cases of rheumatism, paralysis, asthma, and affections of the spine. Gas-works were erected in the same year. The malting-trade is carried on to a limited extent. The market is on Friday; and there are fairs on the Monday before the 20th of June, and the Wednesday before St. Thomas' day, during which a court of pie-poudre is held.
The town was originally incorporated by a Charter from John, conferring on the inhabitants various privileges, which were confirmed and increased by succeeding monarchs; and by the charter of the 22nd of James I., which refers to prior charters, the body corporate consisted of two bailiffs, a recorder, two justices, a town-clerk, burgesses, &c. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; and a commission of the peace has been granted by Her present Majesty to the borough, which has now nine magistrates. The powers of the county debt-court of Droitwich, established in 1847, extend over nearly the whole of the registration-district of Droitwich. The town returned two burgesses to the parliaments of Edward I., and to those held in the 2nd and 4th of Edward II., from which period the privilege ceased until 1554: it now sends only one member, having been deprived of the other by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45. The right of election, according to a decision of the house of commons in 1690, was vested in the burgesses of the corporation of the salt-springs, in number about forty; but by the act just mentioned, the privilege was extended to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, comprising by estimation 22,656 acres: the mayor is returning officer. The town is the place of election for the eastern division of the county.
The ancient borough comprises the greater part of the united parish of St. Andrew and St. Mary-de-Witton, containing 790 inhabitants; the parishes of St. Peter-de-Witton, 703, and St. Nicholas, 588; and a small portion of that of St. Augustine-de-Wich, or Dodderhill, 686. The parishes of St. Andrew and St. Mary were united by letters-patent of Edward VI., dated 4th of June, in the second year of his reign; and the union was confirmed by an act obtained in the 13th of Charles II. St. Andrew's contains 541 acres, St. Peter's 697, St. Nicholas' 307; and the liberties forming part of Dodderhill 22 acres. The living of St. Andrew's is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £7. 12. 1., and in the patronage of the family of Silvester for one presentation, and then of the Crown; the tithes have been commuted for £208, and the glebe comprises 20 acres. The church, which was rebuilt after its destruction by a casual fire in 1293, has some fine portions in the early English style, with additions of later date; it is very neat in its interior, and has a good organ. The living of St. Peter's is a discharged vicarage, endowed with the rectorial tithes, valued in the king's books at £6, and in the gift of Earl Somers: the tithes have been commuted for £170, and the glebe contains half an acre. The church has a tower in the later English style, a handsome ceiling of carved oak, some fine decorated windows, and a small quantity of ancient stained glass: Dr. Nash, the historian of Worcestershire, and editor of a splendid edition of Hudibras, lies buried here. A chapel of ease stood on the bridge, but was taken down in 1763. The living of St. Nicholas' is a rectory, rated in the king's books at £4. 9. 7.: the tithes until recently were wholly impropriate, but onehalf of them is now paid to the incumbent of St. Andrew's, who has the spiritual care of the parish; they have been commuted for £105. The church was greatly injured during the parliamentary war, and is now entirely demolished. There are places of worship for dissenters. A school is supported by an endowment from the Right Hon. Henry Coventry; and there is a national school, endowed with £20 per annum from the Oakley estate at Salwarp. A Sunday school for boys was founded in 1789, by N. G. Petre, who endowed it with £850 three per cent. consols.; there is also an infants' school. The Coventry hospital, in St. Peter's parish, was founded with a bequest by Henry, son of Lord Coventry, keeper of the great seal in the reign of Charles I.; who, previous to his death, in 1686, left £1000 for the erection of a workhouse, and also estates for its maintenance, which last were converted into a rent-charge of £473, and, with accumulations vested in the funds, produce an income of £1109 per annum. The poor law union of Droitwich comprises twenty-six parishes or places, and contains 17,465 inhabitants. Richard de Wich, Bishop of Chichester, a man of extensive erudition, and who was canonized by Urban IV., in 1262, nine years after his death, was born here: the inhabitants held his fame in great estimation, and were wont to celebrate an annual festival with games, &c., in honour of him. Serjeant Wilde, an eminent republican lawyer, who was made lord chief baron of the exchequer under the protectorship of Cromwell, was also a native of Droitwich, and was buried in St. Peter's church.See Dodderhill.