Exhibition Paints a Vivid Picture of Droitwich - a Town Built on Salt; of History - at a Pinch

Article excerpt

DROITWICH certainly isn't taking its Millennium celebrations with a pinch of salt.

It has used a National Lottery cash handout to help finance an intriguing exhibition charting the town's history over the last 2,000 years.

The exhibition, Droitwich Through 2000 Years , paints a vivid picture of the often grim and unjust life of local people down the centuries.

Put together by the Droitwich History and Archaeology Society, it features 800-year-old manuscripts, artist's impressions of the Roman Villas which once stood in the town and grainy photographs of toiling 19th century working folk.

It shows how Droitwich's history and prosperity was, until recent decades, inextricably linked to the salt industry.

As early as 300BC there was a thriving community exploiting the rich brine bubbling from the area's natural springs although conditions were harsh for the workers who lived in small round huts huddled around the sources of the salt.

Two thousand years later and despite the use of 19th century steam technology to pump up the brine, things had hardly improved.

Local men, stripped bare to the waist, and their womenfolk, draped in thin cotton chemises, toiled side by side in tropical temperatures for a pitifully small wage. It was not until 1905 that the women were no longer allowed to engage in the back breaking work.

But the tough conditions did not dull their wits. In the early 1800s a sky-high, Government-imposed duty on salt forced locals to smuggle it out under the noses of the authorities in coffins.

It was the Romans who first got the industry streamlined, building forts to protect it and a network of roads out of Droitwich to transport the commodity.

And as salt production throughout the Empire was under the direct control of the Emperor, Droitwich was run by the Roman military.

The industry continued through the Dark Ages and Saxon charters gave the name of the town as 'Wic' or 'Saltwic' and it later became renowned for its squalid and smoky environment even though it generated enormous wealth for those who owned the salt rights. …