A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1913.
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THE BOROUGH OF DROITWICH
Wic, Saltwic (ix cent.); Wich, Wiche, Wy3, Wichium (xi to xiii cent.); Drightwich, Drutwich (middle of xiv cent.); Dertwich, Drightwich, Droitwich (xv cent.).
Droitwich lies on the banks of the River Salwarpe on undulating ground in the central Worcestershire plain. The streets of the old town are narrow and hilly; the town conforms to no regular plan, and has no open market-place. The original main street, High Street and Friar Street, lies to the west of the ancient road to Bromsgrove and south of the Salwarpe, the principal side streets branching south from the High Street. The town lies on the main road from Worcester to Birmingham, and was in Roman times well placed for trade purposes (fn. 1); the Upper and Lower Saltways of later times indicate the principal road routes by which Droitwich salt was carried to the neighbouring counties. The small river was the only means of water communication until the Salwarpe and Droitwich Canal was begun by Brindley in 1767 and opened in 1771. From the 17th century there had been schemes for better water communication, connected with the names of Endymion Porter, Yarranton and Wall, Lord Windsor and Baker, (fn. 2) but all these were unsuccessful.
In 1852 the position of Droitwich was further improved by the creation of the Droitwich Junction Canal (fn. 3) to join the existing canal with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Hanbury Wharf. The railroad connexion is also good; the station on the West Midland section of the Great Western is connected with the Midland by a loop line.
The brine baths and salt manufacture lend to the town all its characteristic features and give it two very different aspects. The pleasant surroundings necessary for a health resort are offered near the baths, while in the lower part of the town the decay caused by abandoned salt works and ruined buildings gives it a desolate appearance. When the salt trade was carried on by John Corbett there were several salt manufactories at work, and Droitwich was a prosperous place. Now (1912) there is only one salt manufactory, the Covercroft Works, in use. The main pumping of brine is for the use of the baths, and it seems likely that in a few years salt will cease to be made at Droitwich, and it will become solely a health resort. The spread of the town is to the higher lands, to the south towards Witton, and west to the railway station, where the risks of subsidence, much felt in the old part of the town, are not incurred, as they lie outside the salt area, which is very clearly defined.
Droitwich was the site of a Roman villa or spa, (fn. 4) but how far its salt was worked on a commercial scale there is nothing to show. The Anglo-Saxon charters give the first direct evidence proving that the salt springs had given the place commercial importance, but most of those which enter into detail are open to suspicion. (fn. 5) A forged Evesham charter (fn. 6) of date 716 refers to a grant of Hampton juxta Wiccium emptorium, and in another (fn. 7) of date 716–17 a part of a 'mansio in Wico emptorio salis quem nos Saltwic vocamus'; in the same charter 'illa portio quam nostratim Sele nuncupamus' is freed from tribute. The salinae or 'seals' of a later time will often come under notice below, and this early definition is important. (fn. 8) In a list of Worcester charters (fn. 9) a grant is calendared by which Ethelbald of Mercia gave two camina or furances in Wich to Worcester Priory and gustarium salis, perhaps a measure of the salt water to be boiled in the furnaces. In a genuine charter (fn. 10) of date 888 the signatures are stated to be given 'in publico conventu ad Saltwic congregato,' and the place of the Witan's assembly is identified by Kemble as Droitwich.
But the best evidence of the value set in early English times upon the salt springs of Droitwich is to be found in the Domesday Book. In 1086 Droitwich was assessed at 10 hides, and of these 10 a quarter, 2½ hides, lay in Witton, (fn. 11) so that this hamlet had already become associated, for fiscal purposes at all events, with the more important though possibly later settlement of Droitwich. Droitwich is not styled 'burgus' in Domesday Book, neither is it treated as a royal manor. The king had rights in it but did not 'lord' it. Of the 10 hides which rendered geld, a half-hide was attached to the king's hall at Gloucester; the remaining hides were distributed among certain churches and tenants in chief of the king. What William I held in demesne was the whole of the salt springs, the 'pits.' To other men had been given salinae, seals, portions of the salt water; but in the wells or pits at that time sunk the Norman king had undivided lordship. (fn. 12) King Edward the Confessor had held a share only in the springs; he had shared with the earl, whose right may have been that of the original under-king. Both king and earl had farmed their rights in the Confessor's time for a total farm of £76. That the king's total had once been £80 is indicated by the claim of the Abbey of Westminster to a tenth, £8, (fn. 13) a sum which was still being paid in the time of Edward III. (fn. 14) There had been further decline since the Confessor's day, for William's farm from the sheriff was 65 pounds by weight. The king had eight pits or wells, five unnamed, three named, Upwic, Midelwic and Helperic. This last must be a personal name. Later we shall find pits in three districts known as Upwich, Middlewich and Nethermostwich, or Netherwich, and we shall find that it is shares in these pits that carry the burgess-ship. Upwich lay on the north side of the Salwarpe, Middlewich probably on the south. Netherwich is still a district, and lies west of the old site of St. Nicholas's Church. From each spring the king in the Confessor's time had a certain number of salinae or 'seals,' shares of salt water to be boiled in houses which later got the name of 'seals.' The yield of 'seals' from the five unnamed pits appears in Domesday as small compared with that from the named pits. Besides his 'seals' the king had also hocci, a word which occurs only in connexion with royal rights and is given once as hoch. (fn. 15)
The enjoyment of salinae had been originally due, in all probability, to royal grant; and in 1086 many persons had rights to salinae and also to renders of salt in mitts, horse-loads, sextaries, or to renders of money's worth from salinae, renders due in some cases to estates in distant counties. The word 'wich' having by this time come to mean a salt spring, (fn. 16) it cannot always be definitely determined whether the salt springs of Droitwich or those of Cheshire are indicated, unless it can be shown that the manor which had 'seals' appurtenant belonged to a lord who had land in Droitwich.
The tenants in chief who held lands in Droitwich had 'burgesses' in Droitwich in varying numbers. A hundred burgesses can be thus assigned, and thirteen can be added as appurtenant to the neighbouring manor of Wychbold and answerable for certain agricultural services there at fixed seasons. The king's eleven houses probably also contained burgesses, but it is not certain that all 'houses' in Droitwich can be reckoned as 'burgesses' houses, for in 1240 the Worcester Register states that the ten houses in Droitwich attached to the manor of Hallow were of 'servile condition' and paid merchet, toll and 'thac' and 'sok.' (fn. 17)
Salinarii were held by some of the owners of properties to which salt rights attached, and it may be that to the burgesses we may add the salinarii as members of the same class. The question of the precise meaning of the word 'burgess' in Domesday Book is wrapped in doubt, and can in all likelihood only be explained, more or less speculatively, case by case. In the case of Droitwich the evidence points to the fact that burgherhood has always been closely associated with certain franchises connected with the salt trade; possibly the Domesday burgess of Droitwich was enfranchised with but one franchise, and that a franchise which made him more free than other men in respect of the salt trade. We have seen that the king had in 1086 a farm of 65 pounds weight from Droitwich; the men answerable for this payment were presumably the payers of salt-gafol, persons who in return for their gafol shared in the monopoly of the Droitwich salt springs and salt trade. One evidence for this theory is offered by a comparison of the terms in which Domesday describes Droitwich and Nantwich. In the description of the Cheshire Wiches there is a very elaborate statement on the subject of toll; here there were no burgesses, at least none is named. Now in the description of Droitwich, on the other hand, there is not a word of toll, but here there are burgesses. Having regard to the usual burghal arrangement, it is natural to suppose that, though some persons might incur toll when carrying Droitwich salt through the gates of Droitwich, these persons would not be burgesses. The case of the Gloucester monks goes further to suggest that this was so. It is noticeable that the half-hide attached to the king's hall at Gloucester and the half-hide attached to the monastery at Gloucester, unlike most of the Droitwich hides, had no burgesses appurtenant. The two burgessless half-hides are described as being in one consuetudo. (fn. 18) The Gloucester monks, having no Droitwich burgesses, and having, perhaps for that reason, no means of escaping toll on the salt they obtained from Droitwich, were at the pains to get a charter exempting them from Droitwich toll. In Stephen's reign Waleran Count of Mellent, addressing his reeve and servants of Droitwich, ordered all the Gloucester monks' demesne —whatever their men could 'affy' to be theirs—to be quit of toll and custom at Droitwich, as it had been in the time of King Henry; and King Stephen, visiting Droitwich, probably before 1139, gave the men of the Abbot of Gloucester their lands in Droitwich to hold freely as under Henry I. (fn. 19) The mention of Henry I seems to point to the fact that then first had the Gloucester monks found a means to escape toll, probably by royal grant. Later on, when the burgesses of Droitwich purchased the firma burgi, the monks of Gloucester will be found contributing to the farm, (fn. 20) and this, the price that others had to pay, may have been the price they paid for an effective release from toll. In 1215 we shall find John granting in fee farm to the burgesses the whole of his rights in the salt of Droitwich, and he does it by giving the vill cum salsis et salinis. By the salsae he seems to indicate his salt dues, the gafol paid for a share in the control of the springs, perhaps also the toll paid by the carriers of salt. He gives also his seals (salinae), these being the shares of brine drawn into his own vats and boiled in his own houses. This interpretation seems to be supported by the salsa rolls which are preserved among the Droitwich records. (fn. 21) These give the names of persons who appear to be contributing their shares of salt-gabelle to the farm of the borough. There are other lists of payers of consuetudines who appear to be nonburgesses. For further evidence it may be pointed out that the Worcester monks' payment of salsa, recorded in their own and in the borough MSS., may well have been in return for their right to use the 'common bucket,' to hire Droitwich men to draw their salt water (salsa) and to boil their salt (sal) and repair their boilers, rights which Henry III interfered to defend by writ when the bailiffs of Droitwich sought to hinder them. (fn. 22)
Droitwich is explicitly called a 'burgus' for the first time, and as far as we know the only time before the charter of 1215, in the Pipe Roll of 1155–6, when an aid of 20s. was paid; in later Pipe Rolls Droitwich, without the description 'burgus,' appears, somewhat irregularly, as contributing to aids and tallages. (fn. 23) The seemingly exceptional case in which the term 'burgus' is applied to Droitwich, and the terms of John's charter of 1215, may raise a doubt whether the burgesses of Droitwich enjoyed before 1215 the jurisdictional privileges of a borough court. The relation of the men of Droitwich to the king may have been a peculiar one, and if they were burgesses merely in respect of their salt franchise this would be accounted for. Their enjoyment of certain privileges in the working of the king's salt springs laid them under contribution to his aids. More cannot be said with safety until John in 1215 (fn. 24) freed the burgesses from suits of shires and hundreds. Thenceforward Droitwich appears as a hundred co-ordinate with the hundred of Halfshire. (fn. 25)
The charter of John saved the pleas of the Crown, but the burgesses were given sac and soc and toll and team and infangthef, the last giving jurisdiction over thieves caught with stolen goods upon them within the area of the borough, but not over other criminal cases in which life and limb were at stake; 'team' gave the borough court power to call vouchers to warrant and in so far to deal with real actions; 'sac and soc' enforced the attendance of the burgesses as suitors to the borough court at fixed terms—terms at which the view of frankpledge would be held. A borough court was thus established which was of the humbler order of borough courts. 'Toll' made the burgesses quit of toll throughout the king's realm, and gave them liberty to sell all kinds of merchandise in England, in cities and boroughs and elsewhere, in markets and out of markets.
The trade which the burgesses desired to carry on was mainly no doubt a trade in salt. The salt could now not be taxed at the gates of other boroughs, so far as it was in the king's power by his grant to prevent this. (fn. 26) The vill, that is to say what was the king's to give away in it, was made over to the burgesses in fee farm, cum salsis et salinis and all appurtenances and other liberties and free customs belonging to the king's part of the town, for a payment of £100 a year, to be paid at Michaelmas and Easter. When at the close of the 17th century the claim of one Steynor to sink a salt-pit on his land was contested by the corporation, the words of this charter were closely canvassed by the parties to the action. As has been explained above, the burghal monopoly could probably find its best warrant in the phrase cum salsis, but we cannot cross-examine the lawyers of John's time on the precise meaning they attached to the phrase. In return for the salsae and salinae and their appurtenances which the sheriff till now had farmed, the burgesses promised to pay a higher farm than the sheriff had paid, that they might manage their own affairs. The creation of new pits was not contemplated, but there can be little doubt that a royal right to all salt springs which had not been given away already could have been maintained. (fn. 27)
This charter remained the governing charter of the borough till the time of Mary. It was confirmed by Edward III, (fn. 28) Richard II, (fn. 29) Henry IV, (fn. 30) Henry VI, (fn. 31) Edward IV, (fn. 32) Henry VII (fn. 33) and Henry VIII. (fn. 34) For the original charter the burgesses paid 50 marks. (fn. 35) On the morrow of the grant John gave William Longsword Earl of Salisbury the £100 of yearly fee farm. (fn. 36)
About this date the reeve and burgesses of Droitwich agreed with the monks of Gloucester that they would pay the monks' 20s. due to the earl's farm, if the abbot and monks would help to get the receipt at the king's Exchequer. The abbot and monks were to be quit of toll and all exactions and be of the Droitwich communa on the same footing as the burgesses ('habebunt communam inter nos sicut unus nostrum'). (fn. 37) The monks of Gloucester had by that time added to their half-hide the half-hide attached to the king's hall at Gloucester, (fn. 38) so that their Droitwich interests were considerable.
After the purchase of the fee farm, the town's prosperity seems to have diminished. In 1227 the king pardoned 28 marks of the 32 due as tallage. (fn. 39) In 1238 the town was in arrears over £23 for the farm, and the Sheriff of Worcestershire was ordered to distrain the burgesses. The bailiff of the town, Thomas Fitz Hugh, had 'affied' at the Exchequer for the debt, and was sent back to Droitwich as a prisoner, in order that he might attempt to recover the money. (fn. 40) In 1257 Droitwich was let to the burgesses to farm at the king's will, the sheriff being ordered not to interfere as to the farm or amercements for the farm till he was ordered to do so. (fn. 41) In 1262 two burgesses named, probably the bailiffs, rendered account for £80 blanche or £84 by tale, (fn. 42) which was probably the farm required under Henry's grant of 1257. Again in 1265 the farm failed, and the king complained to the sheriff that the seals were diminishing in value, and ordered him to view the pits with some knights and report. The sheriff reported that the pits needed thorough renewal, as the wood was old and they had never been repaired. The cost would be £40, for it would be necessary to destroy and afterwards rebuild some houses in the neighbourhood which were not of the king's demesne, in order to dig round and get to the bottom. The sheriff reported that the repairs once done would last a lifetime, and that they must be done before the boiling season began at Midsummer, (fn. 43) or the king's rent from the town would fall to 20s. (fn. 44) In 1271 the borough was let to Simon Aleyn and Richard Fitz Joce, probably the two bailiffs of the borough, and the town was committed to them to farm for five years. (fn. 45) At the end of this time the borough appears to have recovered the fee farm.
In 1274 complaint was made (fn. 46) that the community of the town subtracted money due from a 'seal,' and that men who ought to answer with the hundred of Halfshire had been appropriated by William de Valence at Goseford, for the men dwelling there did not answer with the men of Droitwich as they always used to do. The complaint presumably means that the tallage and the 'murdrum' fines of the rest of the hundred were affected by this 'subtraction.' Goseford, represented by Gosford Street, now Queen's Street, at the east end of Droitwich, going down to Chapel Bridge, in the parish of St. Peter of Witton, had paid with Droitwich as one unit; a loss on this unit had to be distributed over the rest of the hundred of Halfshire. The hundred of Halfshire also noted that the burgesses of Droitwich and other boroughs were distraining one neighbour for another, although the man distrained was neither himself the debtor nor the pledge of the debtor. The 'neighbour' was no doubt a suitor to the same court as the debtor, and by this rough-and-ready means of self-help remedies were obtained for wrongs. The practice was maintained in the boroughs after it had ceased in the county, though burgesses were among the first to secure their own chartered privilege from similar treatment.
The burgesses of Droitwich in their turn made complaint that Sir William de Valence, after the battle of Evesham, had appropriated part of the vill of Goseford to the damage of the king's farm. The men of Goseford were constrained to go to his court outside the town, and he appointed his own bailiffs and regulated his own measures. Goseford used always to answer with Droitwich. The town ultimately recovered control of Goseford, for St. Peter's, Goseford, was one of the parishes on which pavage was levied in 1380. Besides this complaint, which seems to hint that the jurisdictional and fiscal boundary of the borough was somewhat indeterminate, two further complaints show the burgesses' anxiety to prevent any reduction of the number of houses on which the borough could levy tallage. One man had alienated his house outside the community of the town into another liberty, to the damage of the king 4s. a year for tallage. The Hospitallers of Grafton had appropriated a tenement in Droitwich and damaged the king's tallage in the same way. Probably this last was a grant in mortmain (fn. 47) unlicensed by the borough court; other boroughs were seeking to make grants in mortmain illegal unless they had been licensed by the borough court. In 1290 a fire began at St. Andrew's Church and destroyed the greater part of the town. (fn. 48)
In 1316 the town received the first grant of pavage, (fn. 49) a royal licence to take certain tolls on vendible goods, the money collected to be spent on paving. These grants were made for terms of years and frequently renewed. In 1327 the bailiffs, John Cassy the elder and the younger, were suspected of diverting pavage from its purpose, and a royal order for an inquiry was issued (fn. 50); so also in 1341 (fn. 51) and 1346. (fn. 52) A grant of pontage was made in 1331, and an inquiry of a similar kind was made as to the expenditure of the money in 1366.
The constitution of the borough in mediaeval and Tudor times is well exhibited in a fine series of borough records preserved at Droitwich; the earliest borough court rolls and accounts date from the beginning of the reign of Edward III. The importance of their monopoly and the comparative smallness of the number of burgesses made the borough one of the so-called 'democratic' type. No powerful council was developed, and the burgesses always retained a share in the government of the borough. There were two bailiffs and twelve jurats, but the bailiffs, at all events, were annually elected by the burgesses, and the jurats appear to have been persons of importance in the borough court, where they made the presentments rather than in the borough council.
For the government of the salt trade and for the issue of by-laws affecting the borough the burgesses met at the 'Chequer' or Exchequer building, built, as the Droitwich accounts show, in 1327. The Chequer was at Droitwich the equivalent of the Guildhall of other places, the Guildhall generally including a chequer chamber. The reckonings were made, no doubt, upon a chequered cloth as at the Westminster Exchequer. The assembly of the community meeting at the Chequers was called a 'burgess chamber,' a 'great house' or a 'common hall.' At the 'halls' it was determined when the salt boiling or 'walling' (A.-S. 'weallan') should begin and end, the term being usually about 25 June to 25 December; the price of salt was fixed and rules for its sale were drawn up, as also for the cleaning and mending of the pits. These last were duties performed at the expense of the borough, and annually accounted for with the other borough expenses by the bailiffs. In the 'halls' gifts of salt were agreed to, and on one occasion it was ruled that there should be gifts only to the four orders of mendicants (Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite and Augustinian). One by-law ordered that none might monger salt for pears and apples, perhaps to prevent small retailing, and because it was thought injurious to the borough to exchange the precious salt for perishable goods. It was ordered that the friar who preached on St. Richard's Day should be paid, a reference, no doubt, to the feast of St. Richard of Wich, Bishop of Chichester. Leland has set on record (fn. 53) that games were annually played at St. Richard's salt springs and certain vats called by his name. (fn. 54) The belief that when the chief spring failed St. Richard started it again does not appear to have any basis recorded in the biography of the saint. (fn. 55)
The early records do not appear to contain any entries to show by what means the body of burgesses was renewed and enlarged, other than an order from the Earl of Warwick (as sheriff) in 1370, that a certain man be made a commoner and admitted to the burgesses' privilege. In the early 16th century owners of boilers (plumbi) appear to have been burgesses, and there were many country burgesses. All were assessed to the king's 'lewne' or levy.
The burgesses' prerogative which gave them control of the salt trade necessitated the creation of an executive specially designed for the protection and control of the springs. From the 14th century there come lists of the presentments of the 'tractatores' or 'teyzemen,' 'tymen' or 'tiesmen,' the 'drawers' of brine (A.-S. 'teon' = to draw). It was the business of the 'tractatores' to control the drawing of the brine and see to its distribution in due proportions, as also to prevent fraud in the process of salt-making. The rules to secure equality in the draughts of good, middle and inferior qualities of brine to be supplied to each of the seals were elaborate (fn. 56); and the 'dalls' and 'priors' mentioned in the Worcester Register and elsewhere in connexion with Droitwich salt may have reference to this. (fn. 57)
The drawers of the three wiches, Up-, Middleand Netherwich, made the lists of presentments, (fn. 58) and appear to have acted as constables of the wards did in other towns, and the three 'wiches' seem to have been treated as wards. The drawers' presentments are not confined to offences in salt manufacture or salt trading. The presentments make known the existence of a school in the 14th century, for the carrying off of doors and windows from the 'schools' is made a ground of accusation. The borough's corporate ownership of property is similarly noticed; the parson of St. Andrew's was charged with building on the community's ground. (fn. 59)
The court of the borough was known as the law hundred, hundredum legale, in the 14th century. Like other borough courts, it had a certain amount of control over burgesses' wills, and some early wills are enrolled among the Droitwich records. The rolls of the time of Henry VIII show that the hundredum legale had by that time divided into two distinct sessions, one a curia parva for the recovery of small debts, the other a great court, or king's court, in which the view of frankpledge was held and conveyances recorded and seisin delivered. Before the charter of James I the bailiffs doubtless exercised some of the powers of justices of the peace, but there was no chartered grant.
The special nature of the burgesses' monopoly and trade accounts for the absence of any mention of a merchant gild or of craft gilds.
From the time of John's grant of the farm to the Earl of Salisbury its descent can be traced with little breach of continuity. (fn. 60) The grant to the earl was confirmed by Henry III in 1217. (fn. 61) On the earl's death in 1226 it probably reverted to the Crown. In 1236 it was granted to Eleanor, queen of Henry III. (fn. 62) The farm, which had fallen to £80 blanche, rose to £85 blanche in 1280, (fn. 63) and to £89 5s. in 1290, and at this figure Eleanor held the 'manor' till her death in 1291. (fn. 64)
In 1299 Margaret, queen of Edward I, received the farm. (fn. 65) She died in 1317 and Isabella, queen of Edward II, seems to have held it for two years. (fn. 66) In 1319–27 the farm was held by the king's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, by knight service. (fn. 67) On Edmund's execution in 1330 his enemy Roger Earl of March obtained the farm and held tili his execution in the same year. Margaret Countess of Kent, Edmund's widow, then held till her death in 1350. (fn. 68) The grant passed to her son John till his death in 1352, when the farm had risen to £100. John's sister Joan held till her death in 1385, her husbands, Sir Thomas Holand and Edward Prince of Wales, in turn acknowledging her receipts. Her heir, Thomas Holand, half-brother of Richard II, held till his death in 1397. His widow Alice held in dower, and their daughters and their descendants afterwards held in shares. By their several marriages the following persons became recipients: Roger Mortimer and Edmund Earl of March, Sir John Grey and his descendants the Greys of Powys, Edmund of Langley Duke of York, Sir Henry Bromflete, George Duke of Clarence, the Dukes of Somerset and their descendants. John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, receiving a charge on the dower of Edmund of Langley's widow, had £5 charged on the fee farm. The mother of Edward IV had £70 17s. 10d. charged on the farm, and Elizabeth, queen of Henry VII, and Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and the Duke of Richmond succeeded to this share. (fn. 69)
The payment seems then to have been allowed to fall into arrears, and in the 17th century £9,000 was charged against the bailiffs. (fn. 70) The Stuarts revived among the ancient claims one to a 'lewne' for provisioning the royal household, and Charles I granted Queen Henrietta for life £82 1s. 10d. from the vill. (fn. 71) The trustees of the Commonwealth in 1650 sold this yearly sum to the chief baron of the Exchequer, John Wilde, for £738 16s. 6d. A patent of 1670–1 appointed trustees for the sale of the same. (fn. 72) The fee farm continued to be a charge upon the borough during the 18th century. In 1704 Sir John Pakington sued the burgesses for his share of the fee farm, then divided among a number of persons. (fn. 73) It was stated then that 5s. 10d. a year per vat was the usual contribution to the farm (fn. 74); complaint was made by the plaintiff that many newlysunk pits were not contributing. In 1708 a bill was brought to the House of Commons to make the new pits contributory, but it was thrown out. How the payment of farm gradually lapsed does not appear, but the fact that it had lapsed is made known in the evidence on Sir John Pakington's petition, 1747, (fn. 75) and in the report of the commissioners in 1835.
The long descent of the farm of the 'sheriff's seal,' later called 'shrethales,' 'shrefvessel,' 'shervesputt,' and perhaps identical with the 'sheriff's walling,' which is often mentioned, can also be traced through many centuries. The right of Urse D'Abitot, Sheriff of Worcester, passed with Elmley Castle and the hereditary shrievalty to his descendants the Beauchamps, afterwards Earls of Warwick. During the reign of Stephen William de Beauchamp seems to have lost the sheriffdom and the appurtenant seals, but they were restored to him in 1141 by the Empress Maud, (fn. 76) to hold as his father Walter had held. The payment of £20 to Warwick Castle for a seal and bullary of eight vats called 'shirrevesele' appears on the early borough accounts. (fn. 77) It was in the neighbourhood of the sheriff's seal, within the borough, that Steynor at the close of the 17th century sank a pit on his own land, which was the means of breaking the burgesses' monopoly.
The king's farm was made up in part by levies of land gafol (longavel), paid at the close of the 13th century by thirty or forty persons, and of 'salsa,' which we take to be a 'gabelle' on salt, each person paying about 1s. The 'salsa' rolls appear to represent in early times the later 'salt rolls of farm assessed,' rolls giving the shares which burgesses contributed to the farm. There was also a render of 'hocksilver,' 'hokeselver,' 'hooselver,' paid by the Prior and convent of Worcester, (fn. 78) the Prioress of Westwood and the Abbot of Bordesley. Possibly this 'hocksilver' may be connected with the mysterious 'hocci,' 'hoch' of Domesday Book. The Abbot of Bordesley's rights in Droitwich salt were derived from Waleran of Mellent, who allowed the monks to keep the new pit, made by their own work, on an island at Droitwich 'near Cholevilla,' the salt to be for their own use 'sine venditione quam inde faciant ibi.' (fn. 79) Possibly by the payment of hocksilver the monks were admitted to the right to sell salt by retail.
The rolls which record the payment of 'longavel,' 'salsa' and 'hocksilver' name also a 'ledsmyth' payment of 20s.—a payment perhaps for the monopoly of making or mending the boilers. They name also the 140 or more persons who paid consuetudo, which we take to be a fee in the nature of toll from country burgesses or non-burgesses who were admitted to the salt trade. Toll eo nomine forms a distinct account and probably refers to other wares; the toll was farmed for £36 in the reign of Edward III. An account of 1345–6 shows that with 'perquisites' from foreigners, fines for evasion (asportatio) of toll, stallage, pickage and amercements, the borough receipts amounted to £132 10s. 7½d.
By the Letters Patent of 1553–4, (fn. 80) confirming the charter of John, the burgesses were formally incorporated under the name of the bailiffs and burgesses of the borough of Wich. The two bailiffs were to be annually elected at the Exchequer, or some other convenient place, on the Tuesday after Michaelmas, and sworn in before the recorder and burgesses. The burgesses were to choose a recorder learned in the law from time to time, also a clerk of the borough court. In the borough court meeting on Tuesdays the bailiffs and burgesses were to have jurisdiction in all actions under the value of £5, and were authorized to make by-laws. Two serjeants-at-mace were to act as executive officers, and the borough was to be represented by two members elected by the bailiffs and burgesses. The market was to be held on Monday and to enjoy the same privileges as the markets of Wenlock and Ludlow.
The charter of 1625 is of a fuller and more formal character. (fn. 81) It recites the charter of John and explicitly forbids the sinking of new pits. The bailiffs and burgesses assembled in the Exchequer House were given power to make trade regulations and to sell and let lands. View of frankpledge was granted and a court leet twice a year, and the town clerk was ordered to act as steward in this court. Both this court and the pie-powder court had fallen into disuse in 1835. The two bailiffs were to be elected annually and were to act as coroners. They were given power to enroll bonds obligatory under a statute merchant seal, and had the authority of clerks of the market. The recorder, bailiffs and last two bailiffs, or any two of them, had full power to act as justices of the peace. The borough court was to be held weekly on Thursday, and its competence was to extend over all actions not exceeding £10 in the amount at issue. The borough was to have a common prison for the custody of persons fined before its courts.
The oaths of the borough officers, preserved in a Droitwich minute book, of the time of Charles II, add some further details of the municipal executive. The bailiffs served all warrants and held the assizes of bread, beer and victuals, punished brawlers and swore to make just account and to see 'that the pit goes straight,' and that none occupy 'walling' other than his own inheritance. The burgess swore to be ready to come at the common bell (fn. 82) to attend at the Chequer and confer on any controversy, and to be privy to no wrong or oppression upon the pit. The oaths of the drawers at Upwich and Netherwich (Middlewich then lying waste) required them to watch the masters of 'le bechin,' 'beachin' or 'beargin,' (fn. 83) and the middlemen who bore the brine, and to see to the fair filling of the vessels. There were also sealers of leather, showing that a tanning industry had begun. (fn. 84)
By a Private Act of 1689–90, of which only the title appears to be known, new regulations were made for the salt works (fn. 85); the bailiffs seem to have been discharged from their responsibility for the government of the pits, and governors were appointed in their stead. But in 1704 the governors ceased to exist. Robert Steynor's suits in Chancery and the King's Bench 1690–5, finally determined by the Lord Keeper's decision 24 January 1695, completely altered the character of the salt trade, which now ceased to be a monopoly of the burgesses.
At the time of the Municipal Reform Act the charter of James I was still the governing charter. The bailiffs and recorder received no salary and the serjeants-at-mace acted as constables without other salary than the fees which they claimed from persons who needed their services. The charter of James I gave no power to levy a rate for police or general purposes, and in 1835 the only source of municipal income was the rent of some cottages, about £10 a year. In 1835 it was reported that the bailiffs applied these rents to their own use, but spent far more at their own charges in keeping the court-house and prison in repair. When Droitwich was brought under the scheme of municipal reform the town clerk of the old régime made strenuous resistance, conveyed the site of the town hall to himself and refused to give up the documents. (fn. 86)
The charter of James I laid down no rule for the creation of burgesses or for the inheritance of the burgess-ship, and numerous disputes arose as to the law of the Droitwich burgess-ship and parliamentary franchise. Habington, writing in the 17th century, asserts that the first burgesses, who claimed other than by inheritance or marriage, were created by election in 1570, but an earlier case (1370) has been mentioned above. As soon as the burgess-ship ceased to have a commercial value and became valuable as a means to the parliamentary franchise the by-laws on the subject of admission to burgess-ship began to vary with the strength of political feeling or rival family interests. In the 16th century or later it seems to have been an accepted custom that every burgess must own a quarter of a vat in the 'original springs,' and when the borough monopoly had ended and the original springs ceased to be worked, those who were anxious to secure the parliamentary franchise used various legal but highly artificial means to comply with the condition. Any number of imaginary quarter-vats could be charged on non-existent springs, and passed from hand to hand for peppercorn rents and the like. As early as 1632 by-laws were made to prevent irregular creations of new burgesses, but none remained permanently effective. (fn. 87) In 1692 and 1747 the House of Commons agreed that the right to elect members of Parliament was in 'the burgesses of the corporation of the saltsprings of Droitwich,' but one of the issues in the Earl of Shrewsbury's case, 1686, (fn. 88) against the burgesses, as to whether 'proprietors,' persons inheriting shares in the springs, needed no formal admission and were by inheritance alone made burgesses, appears to have been still doubtful when Sir John Pakington presented a petition on this question in 1747. (fn. 89) In 1835 there were five resident and about thirty non-resident burgesses. In the 18th-century 'book of minutes of common halls' will be found the signatures of the electors on each occasion of a parliamentary election, and little further record of municipal government. The borough had been represented by two members in the Parliaments of Edward I and II, but not again till Mary's reign, when two members began to be sent regularly until 1832. Only one member was returned from 1832 to 1885, when the parliamentary representation of the borough was merged in that of a county division.
The best mediaeval evidence as to the population of Droitwich is provided by the Lay Subsidy Rolls published by the Worcestershire Historical Society, but the information they furnish is imperfect. The earliest roll is of about 1276–82 and names eightyseven persons who paid a total of £26 13s. 2d. In 1327 a roll of ninety persons paid £5, Witton then paying apart from the borough. In 1340 the burgesses declared the ninth of their goods to be worth 20 marks. (fn. 90) Nash quotes records which give Droitwich 151 families in the four parishes in 1563 and 249 families in 1781. The parliamentary returns of 1801 (fn. 91) give 439 houses and 1,845 inhabitants. The population at the census of 1901 was 4,201, and in 1911 was 4,146.
John's charter of 1215 had granted to the burgesses a fair beginning at the feast of the Translation of St. Andrew and St. Nicholas (9 May), to last for eight days. Edward III in 1330 (fn. 92) gave instead a fair on the vigil and day of St. Thomas the Martyr (29 December) and on the vigil and day of St. Simon and St. Jude (28 October) and three days after. Mary's charter granted three fairs, on the vigil of St. Philip and St. James (1 May) and two days after, the vigil of St. Peter and St. Paul (29 June) and two days after, and the vigil of St. Simon and St. Jude (28 October) and two days after. The fairs were to be as open as those of Wenlock and Ludlow and under the same regulations. The charter of James I changed the market day from Monday to Friday and formally granted a pie-powder court for the same. In 1792 the fairs were held on Friday in Easter week, 22 September, 21 December and 23 September for hiring. (fn. 93) The present-day fairs are the Monday before 20 June, and for cattle only 12 December, (fn. 94) superseded by the fortnightly stock sales.
The agricultural system of the early community has left no such clear and definite traces as to encourage the hope that the arable area of the mediacval borough can be divided into its original fields. It is even possible that Witton was the original agricultural centre. There are some few traces of the open-field system in the chartularies which describe the lands of the neighbourhood, but nothing of so definite and satisfactory a kind as to make it certain that Droitwich was not a district of isolated farmsteads, but a settlement equipped with arable hides on the Germanic model.
The territorial area of the borough at present covers 1,856 acres, or less than three square miles. An enlargement followed the Reform Act, which, however, affected the population rather than acreage, and the mediaeval acreage appears to have been approximately what it is now. It does not appear that the urban inhabited area of the Middle Ages was inclosed by any wall; a ditch and toll gates were probably its sole defences. (fn. 95) No murage grant was made to the borough.
In 1456 the boundaries of the borough were thus described (fn. 96) : from the stone wall of the churchyard of St. Augustine's, Dodderhill, on the south of the church at the stile by the priest's house, down by the common way to the church towards the east, by a tenement lying behind that of the Prior and convent of Worcester, up to the 'marestake' at the top of the hill. And so by the old boundaries down to the hall, lately rebuilt, of John Meredith's house, through the middle of the hall to the road called the common cart-way from Wich to Bromsgrove, to John Walker's old house, now Alice Pershore's. And so across the highway to a short lane leading to the wood there called Purdesore, (fn. 97) to the east. And so by the lane under the wood of the pasture called the Fordmill meadow next the Floodgates pit, on the south. And so down by the ditch of Purdesore wood to the ditch between the meadow called the Millmeadow on the west and the lord of Impney's meadow on the east. And so down by the ditch of Purdesore Wood to the River Salwarpe otherwise called the Mill Pond. And so up by the footbridge at the end of the Millmeadow by Wich highway on the south of the river and by the river up between Impney's meadow on the north and 'le Ruddecroft' on the south. And so up by the river to the 'Clerkenbath' where sheep are washed; and up the river to a little 'sechet' of water called Bottybroke under Impney on the west, which sechet descends by the Gerveysecroft into the Salwarpe, down by a small parcel of land lately inclosed by Thomas Corbett lord of Impney. And so up at the end of the sechet of Bottybroke, where it enters the Salwarpe by Thomas Corbett's parcel on the west, and the custumary land of the lord of Impney on the cast, by Gerveysecroft and Peter Cassey's pasture on the south of the sechet and up by the sechet to the upper end of a pasture by the side of the sechet called Blackmoor by Hanbury Field called the Westfield, by the Corbett place of Impney. And so up by the Bottybrook to the upper end of the Blackmoor pasture next the court place of Impney, to the king's highway on the south of Blackmoor pasture, and on the west of a certain common pasture called Nomansland to the east of Blackmoor pasture. And so up straight from Nomansland turning back by the said highway stretching between the demesne land of Hadsor to the south and the Blackmoor to the north, to the sechet called Grytenbrook, at the east end of Gerveysecroft. And so up straight on the west side of the sechet to the Cokescroft, leaving the croft to the east. And so up by the said croft and sechet stretching between the demesne land of Hadsor on the east and a field of Wich called Le Byttomfeld on the west. And so up between the Hadsor demesne land on the east and a certain common pasture there and a piece of land called Canonys land on the west to the field called Willot's Field towards the south. And so down from the upper end of the piece of Canonys land stretching by Willot's Field up to a short lane between the said field on the south and the field called Betemefield on the north. And so beyond the highway there called Prymmes Lane (fn. 98) to a field called Le Redefeld to a parcel of land in the lower part of the said field called Froxemere's Slough. And so up by Wynturesland on the north and the land called Lenchesland on the south, and straight to the short lane lying between the field called Littlefield on the south and La Redefield to the north. And so down the said lane by the upper end of a croft called Locarescroft and down under the foot of Tagwall Hill to the spring called Tagwall; and then down to the highway under Brazecroft, and leaving that croft on the north side of a lane called Le Thorny Lane stretching towards a meadow called Banardesmore and the field there called Loweshull Field on the south, to the sechet in Banardesmore under Spitalcroft with the culver-house to the north of the sechet. And so down by the sechet between Banardesmore and Falshamfield to the west, to the marl-pit called Falfordespit, within the franchise of Wich. And so down by the said sechet to the pool called Newpool by the Salwarpe demesne, and through the middle of the pool as far as Le Bolteshede, and from this head, at the pool's head straight down from Bolteshede by the gutter of the same to a sechet there towards the north called Northbrook, stretching straight to the Salwarpe under the park pale of Salwarpe by the bridge there called Cowbridge. And so up from the end of the sechet entering the river of Salwarpe, to the end of the Haymeadow, and straight by the river between the Brademeadow on the south of the park pale on the north, to the upper end of Overham meadow inclosed within the park pale by Breryhill land on the north of the meadow. And so down by the river to the sechet called Bileborne to the end of Micham meadow. And so up by the sechet called Bilborne under the hill called Appellerhill to Boycotebridge, by the old messuage called Le Alfordsland in the Over Boycote. (fn. 99) And so across the common way leading to Ombersley towards the west and from Boycotebridge towards the tenement lying in Le Overboycote, and under it and a piece of land called Bruggesland on the south. And so by the old lane at the head of the marl-pit there by the head, and by the lane to the 'meseplace,' late John Selling's. And so by the old water-lane stretching towards the arable field called Le Hydefurlong. And so up by a sechet descending from Honeybornebridge (fn. 100) and from that bridge to a selion called the headland lying between two big pieces of arable called Fekenaputreeland. And so up by the headland to Cokeseysland to a footway called 'a mereway' (fn. 101) between the land called Blackfurlong to the north and Burfordsacre to the south by the Buryefield. And so up by the Buryfield on the north up to a new ditch between Cassy's land on the west and the demesne land of the rectory of Dodderhill on the east. And so under the rectory close to the west end of Dodderhill Church. And so round by the stone wall of the churchyard on the south of the church up to the priest's house.
From the perambulation above quoted, and from the chartularies which refer to Droitwich lands, it would be gathered that there was much pasture and much inclosure at an early date. 'Le Wychfeld' is named in a deed of 1346–7, (fn. 102) and through it passed a road called 'Ermyngwey.' From the 15th century come Wychefeld, Falshamfeld, (fn. 103) Astewodfeld. Loulleleye, Lulleleye, Lelyfield appears in records from the 14th to the 16th century, and may perhaps claim the Lollaycross. Souggenhyde or Suggenhyde comes from the 14th century. Masgundry or Masguntreefield, Sucknelfield, (fn. 104) and Falshamfield appear in the 18th-century parochial terriers of which Prattinton preserved copies.
Rafunestreet is named in 1236 as running from St. Mary's Witton to 'Luthbridge' and so to 'Letherenebruge.' (fn. 105) 'Le Ruinestreet' occurs continually in the conveyances and chartularies, with Froglane (running from Gosford Street to the Salwarpe); Froxmere; Le Barrestreet, perhaps marking a tollbar; 'Wawenham' lane; and Vallance End, probably the Queen Street end where the Valence property lay. The corn-mills Frogmill alias the King's Mill (fn. 106) and Briarmill are named in mediaeval records and still exist. Besides the Chapelbridge and the Newbridge at the end of Froglane there was a Bagbridge, and Bagbridge Lane running from it where now is Asylum Lane, and a Lychebridge and others over the numerous brooks and winding streams of the borough area.
The town of Droitwich, though not wholly lacking in architectural interest, contains, apart from the churches of St. Andrew and St. Peter, little that is worthy of special remark. At the corner of High Street and Queen Street are some half-timbered houses of a comparatively early type. In the High Street, immediately to the east of St. Andrew's Church, is a good block of red brick Georgian houses.
The church and town hall face each other at the foot of St. Andrew's Street where it joins the High Street, and here the weekly market is held. The town hall is an uninteresting structure of the early 19th century. Friar Street, as the western continuation of the High Street is named, contains some work of the 16th and 17th centuries. Of the latter date perhaps the best example is a three-storied gabled house of brick, with a two-storied central porch and arched outer doorway. The string-courses and quoins are of stone. The original stone-mullioned windows have been replaced on the front elevation by large sash windows of the 18th century. The house is now divided into two. The Priory House, in the same street, is a half-timbered house of similar date. The Hope Inn, a Georgian building of three stories with a projecting hood to the doorway, is a good example of the period. The Raven Hotel, at the top of St. Andrew's Street, is a much modernized half-timber building, the original part probably dating from the early 16th century. St. Peter's Church is situated about three-quarters of a mile south-east of the main portion of the town, on the west side of the lane known as the 'Holloway.' To the east of the church stands the Manor House, the former seat of the Nash family. It is of half-timber, of three stories. The house, which appears to have been erected in 1618, (fn. 107) was restored in 1867, when the interior appears to have been wholly remodelled. Some panelling still survives, and over the fireplace of the room on the left-hand side of the entrance hall is an original plaster panel with strap-work ornamentation. On the panel is painted the following inscription: 'When you sit by this fire | Yourself to warm | Take care that yr tongue | Do your neighbour no harm.'
The lettering appears to be modern, but there seems to be little doubt that it is a more or less faithful copy of a preceding inscription. In a room on the first floor is a fireplace with a very similar panel above it. Adjoining the house is a fine brick barn, lighted by small windows with plastered mullions. At the north end of the Holloway, near its junction with the Alcester and Stratford road, are the 17th-century almshouses known as the Coventry Hospital. They form a range of eighteen two-storied houses, built of brick with plain casement windows and tiled roofs. A modern marble tablet on the front wall states that they were founded by the 'Right Honourable Henry Coventry, son of the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Coventry, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, in the reign of King Charles I.' Below, and apparently of original date, is the Coventry shield: Sable a fesse ermine between three crescents or.
The newer portion of the town, which is almost entirely of a residential character, shows a tendency to spread in a southerly direction along the Worcester road and between it and the Holloway. A new district has also grown up within the last thirty years along the Ombersley Road and in the neighbourhood of the Great Western railway station.
The old Chequer House built in 1581, no doubt on the site of the Chequer of 1327, was swept away about 1825, together with the market-house, part of the same building put up in 1628. (fn. 108) A cross is named in 1629.
The earliest allusion to the common seal of Droitwich comes from about 1220, (fn. 109) and it is probably the seal bearing the legend Sigillum communitatis de Wycho which has been figured. (fn. 110) It was a round seal bearing a shield of the ancient arms of the town with the sword and two passant lions between two wyverns. The matrix of a second seal, (fn. 111) of the early 15th century, is in the British Museum. It is 21/8 in. in diameter; within a cusped circle a shield of the town arms as on the first seal, impaling quarterly (1) and (4) Checky argent and sable, (2) and (3) Gules two salt-barrows (fn. 112) or. The legend is Sigillum commune ville Wychie. It has been suggested that the checkers refer to the Droitwich Chequer where the accounts were made up. Soon after the grant of the charter of James I a third seal was made with arms as above, with the legend Sigillum commune ville Wytchie, (fn. 113) and a statute merchant seal exists of the same date, with the checkers impaling two salt-barrows.
There are two silver maces bearing the date 1646, when they were made, and 1660, when the royal arms superseded the 'state's arms.' There are three trade tokens of the 17th century bearing the town arms (fn. 114) and an ancient measure for salt.
Of the early history of the formation of the numerous parishes included in the borough of Droitwich little is known beyond what the history of the descent of the advowsons suggests. Inasmuch as the sole element of unity was the unity of the royal demesne in the salt-pits, and the lands over which burghal jurisdiction extended formed part of the demesne of many lords, no unity of parochial development is to be expected. There seem, however, to have been distinct manors or so-called manors at Witton St. Mary and Witton St. Peter.