Droitwich High Street
In the time before subsidence wreaked havoc on the High Street, the road surface was level as can be seen in photographs taken around 1860. It was not until all the brine extraction was moved to the new works at Stoke Prior at the end of the 19th century that subsidence occurred and caused the buildings to lean at odd angles.
There used to be several inns here. One that remains, The Talbot, is a late 17th century timber framed building with a third storey added in the 18th century.
The facade has been rebuilt in brick. Some of the buildings along this street may have been used by salt merchants, who bought and transported large quantities of salt with the Midlands and beyond. Behind the 18th and 19th century facades are much older buildings, many dating from the 15th to 16th centuries. The original structures can be seen at Star Yard, and from Gurney's Lane and Tower Hill.
The restoration of Tower Hill Pumping Station was a project sponsored by Wychavon District Council. It consisted of restoring Droitwich Spa's only complete remaining set of brine pumping equipment and it's display.
The brine well at Tower Hill is the only operational well in Droitwich Spa. Fully saturated brine rises under artesian pressure and this produces a naturally occurring continuous overflow into the canal and River Salwarpe from springs and old wells in the Vines Park and Vines Lane areas. The Tower Hill well is set at a level that prevents brine overflowing.
Tower Hill brine well was constructed in the 1890s but does not appear to have been used until 1921. The brine pumping equipment on view is that which was originally installed. By 1970 it was decided to replace the reciprocating pumps and the gas and oil engines with an electric submersible pump. Eventually the early brine pumping equipment was taken out and removed to the High School for public display, where it remained for 16 years until reinstallation at Tower Hill in 2002.
Gurney's Lane is the site of one of the last remaining bring pumping stations which was operational from 1850 until 1921. At one time there were over 30 brine wells in the Vines Park area. The brick arch, brick wall and chimney base form the back of a large timber shed which housed the boiler and beam engine. The well is still below the manhole cover in front of the large green cast iron air receiver, designed to control the pressure created by the pump when in operation.
After being pumped to the surface, the brine was heated by coal in large iron pans that measured 7.01 x 0.30 x 3.96 metres (23 x 1 x 13 feet). When all the liquid had been evaporated, the salt crystals were packed into oblong wooden boxes for drying. Salt crystals could be either fine or coarse, depending on the rate that the brine was boiled. The faster the boiling the finer the crystals of salt.
An enormous amount of fuel was needed in the evaporation process, which led to the town becoming notorious for its pollution problems. In medieval times, about 6,000 cartloads of wood (obtained by managing the woodlands) were consumed each year in the brine boiling hearths. Coal became the main fuel in the 18th century, but had been used to supplement firewood since the 14th century.