On Wednesday 17th January 2018, at 18:30 on BBC TWO, Michael Portillo visits Nantwich – as part of the Great British Railways Journeys television series.
The current series (Series 9) is set in the Edwardian period. When the production team contacted Bill Pearson, a volunteer at Nantwich Museum, he managed to persuade them to include a minor detour to Nantwich – although technically it wouldn’t be on the programmes planned route from Nottingham to Liverpool. The production team became very interested in the history of the Brine Baths Hotel.
Before becoming a hotel, the building was Shrewbridge Hall, where the famous Nantwich cricketer A. N. Hornby (also known as Monkey Hornby) learned to play cricket. Monkey Hornby was one of only two people to captain the country at both rugby and cricket. He is remembered as the England cricket captain whose side lost the Test match – which gave rise to the Ashes, at home against the Australians in 1882.
The TV production team wanted to do a story about how Nantwich sought to emulate Droitwich and become a spa town, but failed. However Bill told them that far from being a disaster the hotel was a major centre for society events, and hosted major events like the Cheshire Agricultural Show, hunt balls, and meetings of newly formed motoring clubs.
The Brine Baths Hotel specialised in treating patients in its “well-appointed suite of brine and medicinal baths”. The hotel claimed “the strongest saline baths in the world” and were said to help gout, sciatica and rheumatism amongst other ailments. The brine was so strong that patients had to be strapped in the brine to avoid them floating! During treatments chemicals were added and the brine would fizz.
Visitors for the brine treatments included football clubs, such as Stoke City. The hotel had a resident nurse – called Nurse Coffin! In Nantwich Museum’s archives, Bill found reports of a gentleman who arrived at the hotel in a wheelchair but was able to walk out of the hotel after treatment.
The hotel closed in 1947 and became a convalescent home for miners a year later. It closed after four years and was put up for sale. When no buyer could be found, it was demolished in 1959.
Bill gave Michael Portillo a guided tour through Nantwich, including a visit to the Old Biot. Michael also visited Nantwich Swimming Pool & Fitness Centre, where he swam in Nantwich brine in the outdoor pool as well as interviewing bathers and staff at the pool.
Nantwich Museum has booklets on Nantwich Railways and The Story of Nantwich Brine. More information about the Brine Baths Hotel can be found on our website which provides information on some of the historic buildings (past and present) in Nantwich .