On Wednesday 17th January 2018, at 18:30 on BBC TWO, Michael Portillo visited Nantwich – as part of the Great British Railways Journeys television series.
The current series (Series 9) is set in the Edwardian period and Michael’s visit to Nantwich will see him look at the history of the Brine Baths Hotel. Bill Pearson, a volunteer at Nantwich Museum, talks to him about Nantwich salt and tells him about treatments at 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 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 also 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, reports were found 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.
Michael Portillo was given a guided tour through Nantwich, including a visit to the Old Biot. Michael also visited Nantwich Swimming Pool & Fitness Centre, where he swims in Nantwich brine in the outdoor pool as well as interview bathers and staff at the pool.
Nantwich Museum has booklets on Nantwich Railways, The Story of Nantwich Brine and A. N. Hornby. More information about the Brine Baths Hotel can be found on the museum’s web site, which provides information on some of the historic buildings (past and present) in Nantwich.