Posted on 11 September 2010 by Elizabeth Solopova
The town on the Gough map identified by Parsons as Droitwich is accompanied by a comment in Latin in the original hand 'Hic fit sal' ('Salt is made here'). The name has almost completely disappeared, and only '...wych' was read by Parsons (which can still be read, albeit with difficulty). According to the English Place-Name Society (EPNS) volume for Worcestershire, Droitwich translates as 'muddy settlement'. The second part of this compound word is Old English ‘wic’ ('settlement'), whereas the first is the word 'dirt' in one of its Middle English spellings, probably further altered to disguise the unpleasant associations of the name. The authors of the EPNS volume comment that 'The place was low-lying and would doubtless be muddy and "dirty"'. But as they also observe it had salt-pits. This is in fact attested by its Anglo-Saxon name ‘Saltwic’, found in early Middle English copies of Old English charters. In the Domesday Book, however, the town's name appears simply as 'Wich'. This seems to have been the form used during the early Middle English period. Different forms of the modern name Droitwich are attested, according to the EPNS volume, from 1347. Scholars have speculated about the significance of the Latin comment concerning the making of salt. Millea notes its economic significance, particularly as information for merchants (The Gough Map, 2007, p. 37), whereas Birkholtz observes the importance of salt as food preservative for an army on the march (The King’s Two Maps, 2004, p. 124). Whatever its role, this comment is unique. Considering the above observations, it may simply reflect the map maker’s knowledge of an earlier form of the name, though this would be also unique, because the map generally does not display awareness of Anglo-Saxon onomastics.