Hereford & Worcester

Droitwich Spa brine baths: Campaign to reopen 'unique' facility

Brine baths
Image caption The brine baths became very fashionable in the 1920s. The waiter would have had to keep his feet on the bottom of the pool due to the density of the water

A man known as the town's 'salt king' created the first spa in a Worcestershire town in the late 19th Century.

More than 100 years later, campaigners hope to reopen the brine baths in Droitwich Spa.

The baths, owned by the private BMI Droitwich Spa Hospital, have been closed for three years due to problems with the upkeep of the building.

William Moy, who chairs Save Our Brine Baths (Sobbs) and has lived in Droitwich for 41 years, said: "The paint's coming off the wall, the pool needs re-tiling and maybe a new handrail and pipe work.

"But it's not something that can't be done, we estimate we would need £1.5m to refurbish them."

'Missed opportunity'

The team of 40 Sobbs campaigners also worked to reopen the Droitwich lido, something of which Mr Moy is proud.

He said: "One way or another the group is going to get a brine facility back in Droitwich because they go back hundreds of years.

"People who visit us still think they're running and I don't know anyone who lives here who doesn't want them reopened."

Image caption Campaigner William Moy said the refurbishment would cost £1.5m

The first baths opened in the 1830s, taking advantage of the natural brine springs that have been used in the town since Roman times.

With the backing of the local salt 'magnate', John Corbett, the town became the only salt-water spa-town in Britain.

Mr Corbett created the first spa, St Andrew's Brine Baths, in 1887 as part of the Raven Hotel.

Sarah Davies, of the Droitwich Spa heritage centre, said: "The water in the baths are as dense as the Dead Sea. Because of where Droitwich sits - we're the lowest point of the Salwarpe Valley - we're low enough for the saltwater to spring to the surface.

"When the Romans discovered the town, they built the salt routes stretching along the roads because of salt's worth as a commodity.

"But it wasn't until the 19th Century that we became a so-called spa town."

Medicinal and fashionable

Mrs Davis said the baths became famous for their medicinal purposes and people used to travel from all over the UK to use them.

She said: "It was mainly for things like skin complaints, pre and post operative treatment, easing arthritis and also for sheer relaxation.

"But then people started coming because it was fashionable, right up to World War II before they eventually closed."

They were reopened again in 1985 as part of the hospital but closed in September 2009 for health and safety reasons.

Mrs Davis said: "Every day people come into the heritage centre asking where they are or when they will reopen but we simply can't say if or when they will."

A spokesman from the BMI hospital in Droitwich said: "We are aware of the importance of the brine baths to the people of the town.

"We're working with the local authority, the community and any potential future investors to try to secure the future of the brine baths."

A meeting on Friday between hospital staff, Wychavon District Council and members of Sobbs is taking place to discuss the baths' future.

A consultation by the council in 2010 showed public support for reopening the facility.

Phil Merrick from the council describes the absence of the baths as a "missed opportunity".

He said: "It's a big part of the town's heritage and something that makes us unique which is hard to achieve in this day and age.

"It's always good to find something that distinguishes a town and the brine baths do just that."

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