Portillo and Great British Railway Journeys BBC team in Nantwich square

Michael Portillo’s visit to Nantwich as part of the popular Great British Railway Journeys BBC TV series will be screened this week.

The production team filming the current series, which is set in the Edwardian period, was persuaded to take a detour to Nantwich by museum volunteer Bill Pearson.

The original planned route for the episode was from Nottingham to Liverpool.

But when Bill told them about the history of the Brine Baths Hotel, they changed their plan and included a visit to South Cheshire.

Bill said: “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 the Brine Baths Hotel became a major centre for society events, and hosted things like the Cheshire Agricultural Show, hunt balls, and meetings of newly formed motoring clubs.

Michael Portillo and Bill Pearson in the square - great british railway journeys
Michael Portillo and Bill Pearson

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 among other ailments.

The brine was so strong, 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.

It 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.

In the programme, 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, The Story of Nantwich Brine and A. N. Hornby.

More information about the Brine Baths Hotel can be found on the museum’s website, which provides information on some of the historic buildings past and present in Nantwich.

The show will be screened on Wednesday January 17 at 6.30pm on BBC2.

Contact Nantwich Museum on [email protected], call 01270 627104, visit www.nantwichmuseum.org.uk, https://www.facebook.com/nantwich.museumoffical and https://twitter.com/NantwichMuseum

Visiting the Old Biot by River Weaver Nantwich - BBC Great British Railway Journeys
Filming at the Old Biot by River Weaver


  1. what was the reference to a nurse coffin about? My neighbours surname is Coffin and is doing family research on the name

  2. BBC iPlayer – Great British Railway Journeys
    Series 9: 13. Sheffield to Nantwich: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09p35h9/great-british-railway-journeys-series-9-13-sheffield-to-nantwich

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