Why did Droitwich Spa get a Salt Charter from King John on August 1st 1215?
Celebrate 800 years of having a Royal Charter
Why a Salt Charter? Well Droitwich, called Wich in 1215, was known throughout England as the place where the purest and easiest to obtain salt could be found. Salt had been made in this location for over a thousand years by evaporating dense brine that bubbled out of the ground from artesian wells or springs. When the Romans conquered Briton, they improved the manufacture of salt using bucket lifts and large lead pans. They efficiently organised production and distribution under a single management system. At first it was the army with its headquarters on Dodderhill just north of where St Augustan’s church now stands. After the area became ‘Romanised’, one of the largest Villas in the county was built to house the salt administrator. There is evidence that both the fort and the villa came under attack during Roman occupation. Even so, ‘Wich’ became a large and valuable settlement efficiently providing salt throughout the empire. Evidence of this is the remains of the road network – salt ways –, brine pits, and flood barriers; also flash locks and moorings on the river Salwarp; showing that Droitwich salt was exported far and wide.
When the Romans left salt manufacture declined, but did not disappear, as local tribal chiefs and later Kings of Mercia issued edicts on the ownership etc of the salt. From Roman times onwards the wells, pits, springs and brine collected in Wich was split into many parts each owned by different elite people as handed out by the chieftain or King. Nearly all of these owners lived outside Droitwich, most of them over 100 miles away. Sharing the profits from salt manufacture was complex suggesting that organisation of salt manufacture and distribution was inefficient and possibly corrupt. By 1215, the owners had employed managers and merchants to control the salt trade with elected burgesses forming a crude ‘town council’ with a Reeve in charge, producing about 100 tons of salt per year. Even so, the King’s taxes were very difficult and expensive to collect.
King John, who was trying to raise money for an army to get back the lands he had lost in France, was granting ‘Fee Farm’ charters to developing trading towns such as King’s Lynne and Newcastle. As King John owned significant shares in the salt trade and had found difficulty collecting tax dues for the previous year, the merchants of Wich took the opportunity when John was in the region to proposition him for a Fee Farm Charter. This they achieved for an annual payment of £100, a sum close to that collected by John’s tax gatherers the previous year. In return, John handed over his salt interests and granted the town new privileges including the right to its own council: self government. This was a significant sum of money for John as Worcester city was only worth £30 pa and Hereford city £40 pa.
The town’s people must have been overwhelmed with joy. A Royal Charter! We can now get organised and become rich! They even changed the name of the town from Wich to Droitwich (Royal Salt place). Well they probably did get organised, but they did not get rich! For the next hundred years, they found it difficult to pay the crown £100 each year. Burgesses were put in prison for not paying the annual fee. In 1248 the town asked the bishop of Chichester to come back to the place were he was born and bless the largest well – the Upwich pit – which had stopped flowing. This he did, which was one of the many miracles that made him Saint Richard de Wych. In 1290 the whole town burnt to the ground except for the walls of St Andrew’s church. All records were lost so we do not know exactly the reason why it took so long for the town to become rich. 475 years later, they were still only paying £100 per year!
ALL THIS WAS RE-ENACTED IN VINE’S PARK ON SATURDAY AUGUST 1st 2015
AND PROBUS ‘87 PLAYED A BIG PART
PROBUS 87 FRIARS LEADING THE PARADE
THE ROYAL BARGE BRINGS KING JOHN TO WICH
JOHN MEETS THE BURGESSES OF WICH
JOHN APPEARS TO BE UPSET BY FRIAR RICHARD, THE CHARTER MAKER, PLAYED BY PROBUS MEMBER KEITH GARVEY
PROBUS MARSHALLS CONTROL THE CROWD
PROBUS MARSHALLS CONTROL THE CROWD
FRIAR RICHARD SHOWS THE ROYAL SEALS THAT WILL BE FIXED TO THE CHARTER PARCHMENT
THE PROBUS FRIARS TOOK THEIR PART SERIOUSLY
THE ROYAL SEALS WERE BONDED TO THE CHARTER AND THE DEAL WAS DONE: ALL FOR £100 PER YEAR IN PERPETUITY.
THERE WAS A SLAVE MARKET WITH SCOUTS PLAYING THE PART.
THE SLAVES REBEL AND PUT THE SLAVE MASTER INTO THE STOCKS.
KING JOHN’S FEE FARM ‘SALT’ CHARTER 1215
Actually, The Charter was sealed by King John in Bridgnorth on August 1st 1215; about seven weeks after signing the Magna Carta on 15th June 1215. Four or five merchants from Wich, headed by the elected Reeve (chief), was granted an audience and knowing that John desperately in need of money, struck a bargain that benefited both parties. The King let at the yearly rental of £100, (over £100,000 in today’s money) all his royal rights to the town of Wich. This was significantly greater that that formerly collected by the local Sheriff for the King. The King had now ‘farmed ‘ out his rights for annual fee: called a fee farm which King John had already done with a few other towns in England. The result was that Wich could now essentially ‘self govern’ itself, with elected representatives, as a tenant of the King and it soon became known as Droitwich.
For the following 479 years the £100 per annum remained unchanged and seven more Royal Charters - favours - were granted to Droitwich.
For the next 100 years salt manufacture did not go well in Droitwich:
1238: Burgess Simon was imprisoned by Henry III for payment default.
1248: Richard de Wych asked to bless the Upwych Brine Pit to make it flow.
1265: Baliff Simom Aleyn imprisoned by Henry III for non payment.
1290: Droitwich destroyed by fire
1292: Edward I comes to Droitwich to witness the sad state of the salt making industry and pays for parts to be destroyed and replaced with a more efficient facility
Most of the time the Charter was held by Queens of England and the town prospered.
From 1690 to 1725 the Fee Farm rights disappeared although arguments and fights with little payments made, occurred from 1646 onwards when John Wilde - a Droitwich man, and Chief baron of the Exchequer- bought the Fee Farm from Parliament for less than £900. The biggest influence ending the Fee Farm was Robert Steynor when he broke the burgesses monopoly by digging a deep well on his land and winning many expensive court cases.(leaving him bankrupt).
DROITWICH SALT SLAVES
In 1215 slavery had nearly disappeared in England. This was due to the attitude of the church, who ruled people’s minds in the 13th century. The bishop of Worcester banned the exporting of slaves and so did William the Conqueror at the port of Bristol. The Norman’s feudal system did not need slavery; it had serfdom. In spite of this, Droitwich, then known as Wich, was an unusual place. It had a concentration of unskilled workers working around the clock in shifts, cutting wood, feeding furnaces, continually stirring salt out of boiling brine, and transporting the salt by packhorse. It was a densely populated industrial centre of workers performing difficult and dangerous tasks night and day in a very dirty and smokey environment – a rare thing in England at that time. Due to the poor condition of the roads, salt manufacture in Wich could only be achieved during the summer months. In those days, salt was essential for preserving food; without it folk would starve during the winter. Salt was so valuable that it could be used for money – hence the word salary from the Latin word for salt ‘salarium’.
The life of a salt worker could be short, especially for those collecting the salt from the brine. Long hours of hard labour raking out salt from the steaming brine was dangerous. It was easy to fall asleep with exhaustion and fall into the scalding brine! When King John granted Wich a Royal Charter in 1215, it is highly likely that slaves were used to make salt. Regular auctions would be held for salt factory owners to buy and sell slaves from captured runaways, or impoverished foreigners. We must also bear in mind that in those days a man could sell his wife; a frequent occurrence.
King John’s Royal Charter Day for Droitwich: Saturday August 1st
This is a story about the Salt Fee Farm Charter that was granted to the burgesses of Wich (now known as Droitwich Spa) 800 years ago on the first day of August 1215. The Charter was written and sealed with the Royal Seal and looked very similar to the Magna Carta. King John in desperate need of money had already granted similar charters to other important business towns in England. It was a way of getting a guaranteed yearly ‘tax’ payment without the expense of monitoring all the transactions of the salt manufacture and trade. For £100 p.a. Droitwich was allowed self-government, to hold a market and be totally free of the King’s taxes including that of exporting to other English Towns and Villages. At the time, this was more important to the people of Droitwich than the Magna Carta. Especially as it remained at just £100 for the next 479 years!
So, what happened to this charter? The town museum has a copy of the ‘rolls’ held at the National Archives, recording the event. But no-one, has yet found the original or an original replica containing King John’s Royal Great Seal. The seal is important, as King John did not sign the charters. Two thin four inch diameter cylinders of beeswax coloured blue-green with copper powder (verdigris) were prepared for the seal press. The two halves were aligned, the cords for attaching the seal to the vellum document were laid between the two halves. The press was tightened, forming the impressions on both sides of the seal and joining the two halves together. The front of the seal, known as the obverse, illustrates the majestic power of the king, showing him crowned and seated on a throne, The other side, the reverse, shows the King on horseback indicating his fighting strength.
Is the attached photograph a copy of the original Salt Charter? Or do we have to continue the search? – All will be revealed on August 1st in Vines Park when a royal barge will arrive bringing King John to deliver the charter to the Reeve (Mayor) of Wich at 1100 am and 1430 pm. Experience what as a major event in the History of Droitwich Spa. Come and join in the fun with medieval markets, castle banquet buffet , King John’s children’s Art Workshop, trips in the Royal Barge, taxes and slave auction, stocks and much more.
ORIGINAL NEWS PAPER ARTICLE THAT STARTED THE MAYOR OF DROITWICH SPA TO ORGANISE ‘THE ROYAL CHARTER DAY’
by Tristan Harris.
RESIDENTS in Droitwich have their very own mystery to solve after Monday's meeting to discuss ideas for the forthcoming Charter Day celebration.
Towards the end of the get-together it was announced that, although August 1, 1215, was known as the day the charter was sealed by King John and, although August 1, 2015 was the date chosen for the commemoration, no one knew where the original 800-year-old document was.
Now an appeal has made to find out if anyone has any information about the whereabouts of the 1215 Charter.
The news was announced by Alan Davey, who has been studying the history of Droitwich for the last 29 years.
He showed those gathered a replica of a salt container (briquetate) which one theory suggests could have been used to hold the Charter.
One book suggested the British Museum had possession of the Charter between 1920 and 1940 but, he said, he had asked and had discovered the organisation had handed everything to the National Library.
That was backed up by a book published in 1939 called Fragments of Droitwich History and Development. It was written by local vicar Sterry Cooper.
There is a photograph in that book of a copy of the Droitwich Town Charter that does exist. There is also a framed copy of that picture in the Droitwich Town Council Chamber.
Mr Davey has also approached the National Archives in a bid to obtain a copy of the original roll.
He was told although the organisation did have records of Royal Charters, he would have to spend time searching himself to see if any of the records were useful to him.
That could either be done online, through the National Archives website, done in person by visiting the National Archives site at Kew or research could be paid for - either funding one of the organisation's staff or by employing an independent researcher to do it.
Organisers of the Charter Day event are hoping at least a copy - maybe even the original Charter - can be found so it can be used as part of the commemorations on August 1.
Mr Davey told The Standard: "There is a possibility there might be someone in the town who knows more about the Charter - maybe even the whereabouts of the original - and if there is, I would urge them to get in touch with the Mayor."
Anyone with any information should email the mayor at email@example.com
HERE is a brief history of the time when the Charter was sealed.
On August 1, 1215, about seven weeks after the Magna Carta was signed, the Droitwich Town Charter was sealed by King John.
Four or five merchants from Wich (as the town was called then) brokered the deal with the King and the town had to pay a rental of £100-a-year (around £100,000 in today's money) for the 'right' to govern itself.
The town was renamed 'Droitwich' by King John, adding the (French word for) 'right' to Wich.
Other notable occurrences were the imprisoning of Burgess Simon in 1238 and Bailiff Simon Aleyn by Henry III - two occasions when the payment was defaulted and the blessing of the Upwych Brine Pit to make it flow - that was done by Richard de Wych in 1248.
But, probably the most important incident happened in 1290 when the town was destroyed by fire.
St Andrew's Church was one of the few parts of the town to survive the blaze.