BRIDGWATER is a municipal borough, market and union town, head of a petty sessional division and county court district, parish and port on the river Parret, with a station on the Bristol and Exeter section, of the main line of the Great Western railway, 151 miles from London, 44 ½ south-west from Bath, 33 south-west from Bristol, 42 ½ north-east from Exeter, 95 ½ from Plymouth, 12 northeast from Taunton, 33 north-east from Tiverton, 67 from Torquay, 19 north-east from Wellington, 23 ½ south-west from Wells, 16 south from Weston-super-Mare and 25 north-west from Yeovil, and is in the Bridgwater division of the county, hundred of North Petherton, rural deanery of Bridgwater, archdeaconry of Taunton and diocese of Bath and Wells.
The river Parret is navigable here for vessels of 300 tons, and runs in a winding course between the hundreds of Cannington and Huntspill, falling at Burnham into the Bristol Channel and forming in its route a small island, called ''Dunball Isle.''
In accordance with an Act passed in 1882 a line of railway has been constructed from this place to Edington station, on the Somerset and Dorset line, reducing the distance to London to about 145 miles, and affording easier communication with the South of England; there is a terminal station on the Bristol road.
Bridgwater is a very ancient town, and was a place of note before the Norman conquest: in ancient charters it is called ''Brugia'' or ''Brugie,'' ''Brugg-Waiter'' and ''Burgh-Walter,'' and derives its name from Walscin, or Walter de Douay, on whom it was conferred by William I. Prior to this, as appears from Domesday, it belonged to a Saxon thane, named Merlesuain.
Bridgwater was one of the towns taken by the barons durinig their revolt against Henry III. In the Civil War it stood out for a long time for the king, and Colonel Wyndham, then, governor of the castle, defended it against the Parliament from 12 to 23 July, 1645, but was at length compelled to surrender to General Fairfax. About 150 officers, 50 gentlemen, a number of ecclesiastics, 1,000 other prisoners, 800 horses, 44 barrels of powder, 5,000 stand of arms, 36 pieces of ordnance and a great quantity of jewels, plate and other articles of immense value, were taken by the besiegers. On the raising of the insurrection of the Duke of Monmouth in June, 1685, the inhabitants of Bridgwater supported his claims to the throne, and he was here proclaimed king by the mayor and corporation.
William, 1st Lord Briwere, commenced the building of a stone bridge of three arches over the river Parret, completed in the reign of Edward I. by Sir Thomas Trivet, whose arms, arg. a trivet sa., were affixed to the coping of the structure.
The first charter was granted to the town by King John, on the 26th of June, 1260; and twelve other charters were granted to it between that time and 1683. The elective franchise was conferred by Edward I. in the 23rd year of his reign (1294-5), and the borough returned two members to Parliament from that date until it was disfranchised in 1870 by the Act 33 and 34 Vic. cap. 21. The town, divided into north and south wards, is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors.
In 1896 the borough was enlarged, portions of the new parish of Bridgwater Without and Wembdon being added thereto.
By Local Government Board Order 18,102, which came into operation March 28, 1886, the hamlet of West Bower was added to Durleigh and a detached part of the Bridgwater parish transferred to Chilton Trinity. By Order 18,101, the parts of Durleigh and Wembdon, in the municipal borough, were added to the civil parish of Bridgwater.
The Borough has a commission of the peace and a separate court of quarter sessions and police force.
The town is pleasantly seated about 9 miles from the sea, in a level but well-wooded country, with the Polden and Mendip Hills to the north-east and on the west the Quantock Hills. The river Parret divides the town into two parts, connected by a handsome iron bridge, the western portion being the larger: the streets are well paved and lighted with gas supplied by a company from works on the Old Taunton road, established in 1834: the houses are generally good, and several of the shops are of a superior class.
Previous to 1880, the town depended on small wells for its supply of water, but in that year the Corporation established water works at Ashford Spaxton: the water is procured from various streams and is filtered and pumped to a reservoir on Wembdon Hill, from whence it is supplied to the town by gravitation.
That part of the town on the east side of the river Parret is called Eastover, and includes the railway station. The river is navigable to Bridgwater for vessels from 300 to 400 tons; but it is subject, like some other rivers in the Bristol Channel, to a rise at Burnham of nearly six fathoms and at Bridgwater of three fathoms, at spring tides: the flow of the tide is preceded by a head water, commonly called the ''Bore,'' and at such times the sudden, swell, which varies in height to four feet, rushes up the river with great force and has often caused much damage among the shipping.
The port of Bridgwater extends from Brean Down on the north-east shore of Bridgwater Bay to Inkley Point on the south-west shore, and includes Burnham, Highbridge, Combwitch, Dunball and Bridgwater.
The foreign trade is chiefly with the United States, Canada, South America, The Mediterranean, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic.
A statement of the number and tonnage of vessels arrived at this port in the following years:-
The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port under Part I. of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, on December 31, 1900, was 100 of 6,223 tonnage. A considerable number of fishing boats were formerly registered at this port, bearing the letters B.R. but all are now discontinued as registered boats, as they fish within the three miles limit.
The principal imports to Bridgwater are coal, esparto grass, foreign timber, linseed, grain, hides, valonia and other goods. Coal and slates are imported from Wales and conveyed into the different parts of the country by rail, river and canal; the river Parret is navigable to Bridgwater and thence by barge to Langport, and the canal runs to Taunton. The total value of the imports for the year 1900 was £93,682. The exports are timber and pit wood, cement, plaster of Paris, gypsum, bath bricks for scouring, ordinary and perforated bricks, tiles, drain pipes, brickyard goods and iron ore. The total value of the exports for 1900 was £3,966.
The Great Western Railway Co. have extensive warehouses, erected in 1868, and spacious wharfage on the docks; the company are also owners of the docks and of the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, made in 1827 and extended to the docks in 1841, and there is a branch railway to the docks from the main, line, crossing the river by an iron bridge, with footway at one side; a portion of the bridge is opened and closed by steam) machinery at each tide for the passage of vessels.
An important handicraft, peculiar to this place, is the manufacture of scouring bricks, known as ''Bath bricks,'' which are made from a peculiar kind of slime deposited on the banks of the river Parret, within two miles of the town; several millions of these bricks are made here and sent out annually. The ordinary kind of bricks, pottery, tiles, and drain pipes are also made.
There are breweries, maltings, iron foundries, a collar and shirt factory and a large mill for the making of oil cake and cotton cake, from seed imported direct from the Black and Baltic seas. The manufacture of plaster of Paris, cement &c. Windsor chairs and perambulators is also carried on.
The parish church of St. Mary is a fine edifice of stone, partly in the Perpendicular and partly in the Decorated style: it has chancel with chapels, nave of five bays, aisles, transepts, the north wing being longer than the, south, north and south porches, a chapel between the north porch and transept, a small projection or chantry between the south porch and transept, and an embattled western tower with spire 200 feet high, containing a clock and 8 bells and a set of chimes: the tower was restored, and the bells re-cast and renovated in 1899: near the Corporation pew, at the south end of the transept, is a stained window, presented in 1852 by the late Thomas Ford esq. then mayor of the borough: in the chancel is a marble monument (with recumbent figures) to Francis Kingsmill and his two sons: the altar-piece is a picture of great beauty, probably by an Italian master, and representing ''The Descent from the Cross'': it is supposed to have been found on board a captured French privateer and was presented by the late Hon. A. Poulett, for many years member for this borough: the pulpit (1480) and side screens, believed to date from 1420, are of fine black oak, beautifully carved, and another screen of the Jacobean period encloses the Corporation pew; in the north porch is a built-up hagioscope, and in the north, transept another, so arranged that the altar could be seen from the porch, which exhibits some fine Geometrical work: the organ, was placed in the north chapel in 1871, at a cost of £800: the communion plate is dated 1558 and 1620: in the churchyard is a stone altar-tomb to John Oldmixon, the historian, who was born, here in 1673, and died July 9, 1742: the church was restored between 1848 and 1857, when a new oak roof was fixed, and again restored in 1878 at a cost of £2,200: in 1887- 8 the tower and spire were restored and re-pointed and new buttresses added, the western arch re-opened and a screen of Hamhill stone erected therein at a total cost of £1,550: there are about 1,020 sittings, of which one-third are free. The register dates from the year 1558. The living is a vicarage, consolidated with the rectory of Chilton Trinity, joint net yearly value £325, with residence, in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, and held since 1001 by the Rev. Arthur Herbert Powell M.A., LL.D, of St. John's College, Cambridge.
Holy Trinity is an ecclesiastical parish, formed March 2, 1841: the church, in the Taunton road, was built in 1839 and is an edifice of stone, with a belfry containing one bell: the interior is surrounded by a gallery; the church was thoroughly restored and reseated in 1876, and has 850 sittings, of which 500 are free. The register dates from the year 1839. The living is a vicarage, endowed with £100 yearly, and pew rents, net yearly value £130, with residence (erected in 1880), in the gift of the vicar of Bridgwater, and held since 1901 by the Rev. Charles Fenton Bolland M.A. of Clare College, Cambridge.
St. John the Baptist's, Eastover, is an ecclesiastical parish, formed Aug. 4, 1846: the church, erected by the late Rev. John Moore Capes M.A. of Shipton Moyne, at an estimated cost of £10,000, and consecrated 17 Aug. 1846, is an edifice of Bath stone in the Early English style, consisting of chancel of three bays, nave of six bays, south porch and a western tower, with pinnacles, containing one bell: the nave has an open timber hammer-beam roof, strengthened by boldly projecting buttresses; all the windows are stained: the chancel has sedilia: the church was restored in 1882 at a cost of £1,300, and affords sittings for 500 persons. The register dates from the year 1846. The living is a vicarage, with an endowment of £293, net yearly value £321, with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and held since 1887 by the Rev. Charles Bazell M.A. of Durham University, and surrogate.
All Saints' Mission chapel, connected with St. John's church, Eastover, was built in 1882, and consists of chancel, nave and transepts: there are sittings for 250 persons.
The Catholic church, in Binford place, fronting the river and dedicated to St. Joseph, was erected in 1882; it is an edifice of red brick and Bath stone in the Early Decorated style, erected at the expense of the late Mr. Philip Hewett, a native of Langport, and consists of chancel, nave of four bays, sacristy and a north aisle with a chapel at the east end, in which a magnificent altar to the memory of J. J. Scholes, architect, has been erected by his son, the Rev. A. J. C. Scholes: many of the windows are stained, and the interior exhibits a good deal of rich carved work.
The Congregational church, in Fore street, built in 1862, at a cost, including site, of £6,000, is an edifice of grey limestone, with dressings of Bath stone, in the Early Geometric Decorated style: there are sittings for 958 persons.
The Baptist chapel, in St. Mary's street, rebuilt in 1837, is a rectangular edifice of stone in the Italian style, the front being relieved by columns of the Corinthian order: it will seat 670 persons.
There is a Bible Christian chapel in Polden street, built in 1876, and seating 250 persons, and meeting rooms for the Brethren in Friarn street and Northgate. The Mariners' chapel, in St. John's street, built in 1837, at a cost of £430, is for the use of seamen connected with the port, and has 350 sittings. There is also a Free Methodist church in St. Mary's street, erected in 1858 and seating 300; a Unitarian chapel in Dampiet street, built in 1688 and rebuilt in 1788, and now seating 300; and a Wesleyan chapel in King street, built in 1816 and rebuilt in 1860, to seat 450. The Society of Friends have a meeting house in Friarn street. The cemetery belonging to St. Mary's church, on the Wembdon road, was formed in 1851, and comprises about 7 acres, with two mortuary chapels: it is under the control of the vicar and churchwardens and certain dissenters.
St. John's cemetery, in the Bristol road, was opened in August, 1878: it is about 13 acres in extent, and contains two mortuary chapels, and is under the control of a burial committee of nine members; a portion, is reserved for Catholic burials.
The Town Hall and municipal buildings, in High street, opened 10 July, 1865, are of Bridgwater brick and Wembdon Hill and Bath stone, in the Italian style, from designs by Mr. C. Knowles, town, surveyor: the ground floor is occupied by the Free Library and Reading Room and the police court; in the latter are held the borough quarter sessions and county and borough petty sessions: the hall, placed in the rear, is capable of seating 1,200 people -800 in the body and 400 in the gallery, which runs round both sides and one end of the hall; at one end is a platform, and below it a large retiring room with offices: the hall contains oil paintings, life-size, of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria and H.R.H, the late Prince Consort, copied by Mr. W. Baker, a native of this town, from the originals by Winterhalter at Windsor Castle, and presented by J. Browne esq. formerly mayor; there is also a portrait of the donor, presented by the inhabitants of Bridgwater: a bronze bust of Her late Majesty was also placed in the hall in 1889: the building is licensed for theatrical performances. The upper portion contains the offices of the borough accountant and borough surveyor, and the council chamber, in which are some beautiful pieces of tapestry, purchased from Enmore Castle by the late Alderman Chapman and presented by him to the Corporation; in the same room are two portraits of the famous Admiral Robert Blake.
The Market Hall and Corn Exchange, on Cornhill, form a handsome edifice, with an Ionic portico, and surmounted by a dome and lantern. The sheep market is held in West street; adjoining are cattle and pig markets, constructed in 1889. The market on Wednesday, for corn, sheep, cattle, pigs and vegetable produce, is well attended; there is also a small market on Saturday for general produce, such as vegetables, fruit and meat. The fish market is open daily.
The Corn Exchange, opened 19 May, 1875, and erected from the designs of Mr. Charles Knowles, late borough surveyor, incloses an area 44 by 36 feet, and is partially covered with glass.
In 1891 a parish room was erected in St. Saviour's avenue, in connection with Holy Trinity parish, by Mrs. Marshal and Miss Sealy.
The Borough Police Station is in High street, near the Town Hall and contains separate wards and day rooms for male and female prisoners.
The C squadron of the West Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry is stationed here; also in Friarn street is the armoury of the I and K Cos. 2nd Volunteer Battalion Prince Albert's Somersetshire Light Infantry Regiment.
Bridgwater Steeplechase and hurdle races were re-established in 1898 under National Hunt rules, and are held annually at Crook on Whit Monday and Tuesday: the course is a fine grass one, over a mile round, with a natural grand stand in the centre, accommodating over 3,000 people.
Fairs are held on the last Wednesday in January, March and June, for horses and cattle; the last Wednesday in September for horses and cattle, and the two following days for cattle and merchandise: there is a, fat stock show on the Tuesday before the first Wednesday in September, and an annual great market for cattle on the first Wednesday in December. Sales of fat and store stock are conducted in the cattle market every Wednesday by Messrs. Horace Hurman, W. Stiling and W. H. Tamlyn.
The early closing day is on Thursday at 2 p.m.
There are four banks in the town and several good hotels, and at the Royal Clarence hotel are assembly rooms. Two newspapers are published here weekly, viz.-''The Bridgwater Independent'' and the ''Bridgwater Mercury.''
The Bridgwater Club Limited, formed in 1890, had in 1901 about 100 members, and is situated in King's square.
The Free Library and Reading Room occupy a portion of the Town Hall buildings in High street, and contain a library of about 3,500 volumes of standard works; the reading room is well supplied with newspapers &c. and has a lending library attached. There is a branch reading room and library in St. John street, presented in 1894 by Councillor William Bouchier; the library now (1901) contains 860 volumes.
The premises of the Young Men's Christian Association, known as the ''George Williams , Memorial Buildings,'' are in Eastover, and were erected in 1887; they consist of an upper and lower hall (the former seating about 450, and the latter 120 persons), reading room, young men's parlour, class rooms, gymnasium, lavatories &c.; the halls are also available for public lectures.
The Young Men's Association, a separate society, has premises in St. Mary's street, comprising a reading room, well supplied with newspapers &c.; committee rooms and billiard and whist rooms.
The Bridgwater Infirmary, in Salmon parade, was erected in 1813, and a new front with a portico was added in 1876. In 1894-5 a special fund was raised for providing additional accommodation for the staff; and the adjoining house was acquired and altered so as to communicate with the original building at a cost of £705; there are beds for 50 in-patients: the infirmary is supported by voluntary contributions, and the eye dispensary is now incorporated with it: the number of out-patients during 1900 was 2,149, and of inpatients 379, and 115 dental patients were also treated.
There are several, charities, endowed with land and houses, the income of which is given away to the poor of the parish of Bridgwater and to poor widows not in receipt of parochial relief: 34 small loaves of bread are also given away every Sunday at St. Mary's church.
Bridgwater Castle was originally built in 1216 by William, Lord Briwere, in the reign of King John, and appears to have stood on the site of the present King square: at the beginning of the 17th century it was still in good condition, and a place of considerable strength, the walls in some places being 15 feet thick; on the north it was bounded by the bailey ditch, 30 feet wide and of great depth, and fragments of the western wall may still be traced: near the custom house are vaulted cellars, believed to have had a communication with the castle, and a portion of the ancient castle bridge is said to be still intact, though now covered by the sea. During the civil war the castle was strongly fortified, and defended with 40 guns; but on its surrender to Fairfax, as already mentioned, it was dismantled, and subsequently razed.
Blake Gardens, purchased from R. C. Else esq. by the Corporation in 1898, at a cost of over £2,000, comprises an old mansion and about 2 ½ acres of ground situate on the west bank of the river Parret, in the centre of the town. This space is beautifully laid out with lawns and flower gardens, and contains some fine chestnut trees.
The Hospital of St. John, at Eastover, was founded in the reign of King John, by William, Lord Briwere, for a master, brethren and thirteen poor persons of the order of St. Augustine, for the benefit of the souls of Kings Henry II. Richard I. and King-John: this hospital had very large possessions, and was confirmed by Josceline, Bishop of Bath, in the year 1219. Leland, who visited it in 1538, describes it thus:-''In the west part of the town is onely the house, late College of St. John, a thing notable, and this house standing partly without th' est gate. This college had presets that had the apparel of secular prestes, with a cross on their breste, and to this house adjoined an hospice for poor folks.'' Its revenues at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries amounted to £120 19s. 1 ¼d.
In the west part of the town was a priory of Minorites or Grey Friars, dedicated to St. Francis and founded about 1230 by William, second Lord of Briwere; the site on its dissolution was given to one Emmanuel Lukar by Henry VIII. There was also in Leland's time a hospital for lepers.
In Blake street stands the house of the renowned Admiral Robert Blake, who was born here in August, 1599; it has been modernized, but retains the old kitchen, a dining-room with panelled ceiling and fluted chimney-piece, and other remains: Blake died as he was entering Plymouth Sound, 17 Aug. 1657, and was buried in Henry 7th's chapel, Westminster Abbey, but on the Restoration his remains were removed and re-buried in St. Margaret's churchyard.
On Cornhill, the main thoroughfare of the town, stands a bronze statue of Admiral Blake, modelled by Mr. J. W. Pomeroy, and erected at a cost of about £1,200; the statue was unveiled by Lord Brassey, Oct. 4th, 1900.
Opposite the church in St. Mary's street stands a fine old house, said to be about 300 years old: it has a handsome carved oak front, and there is much fine carved work inside. Judge Jefferies is supposed to have lodged here during the ''Bloody Assizes,'' a term used to designate the summer assizes of the western circuit in 1685, when more than 300 of the rebels concerned in Monmouth's insurrection were sentenced to death.
The area of the parish of Bridgwater Within is 497 acres; rateable value, £59,188; the population of the municipal borough in 1891 was 12,436, and 1901 was 15,209, including 123 inmates of the Workhouse, 55 of which are in the Infirmary.
The population of the municipal wards in 1891 was-North, 4,458, and South, 7,978.
The population of the ecclesiastical parishes in 1891 was:-St. Mary (parish church), 3,716; Holy Trinity, 3,290; St. John the Baptist, Eastover, 6,366.
Petty Sessions are held at the Town Hall buildings on the second & last Thursdays in each month at 11 am. The following parishes comprise the petty sessional division of Bridgwater:-Ashcott, Aisholt, Bawdrip, Bridgwater (borough & parish), Broomfield, Cannington, Catcott, Charlinch, Chedzoy, Chilton Common, Chilton-super-Polden, Chilton Trinity, Cossington, Durleigh, Edington, Enmore, Fiddington, Goathurst, Greinton, Huntspill, Lyng, Middlezoy, Moorlinch, Nether & Over Stowey, North Petherton, Othery, Otterhampton, Pawlett, Puriton, St. Michael Church, Shapwick, Spaxton, Stawell, Stockland Bristol, Stogursey, Sutton Mallett, Thurloxton, Wembdon, Westonzoyland, Woolavington.
Joint board consisting of 6 representatives from the Town Council of Bridgwater, 3 representatives from. Bridgwater Rural District Council, 2 from Burnham Urban District Council & 1 from Highbridge Urban District Council.
Board day, alternate Wednesdays, at 11.15 a.m. at the Board room, Workhouse.
The Union consists of 41 parishes, viz.:-Ashcott, Aisholt, Bawdrip, Bridgwater, Bridgwater Without, Broomfield, Cannington, Catcott, Charlinch, Chedzoy, Chilton Common, Chilton Polden, Chilton Trinity, Cossington, Durleigh, Edington, Enmore, Fiddington, Goathurst, Grenton, Huntspill, Lyng, Middlezoy, Moorlinch, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Othery, Otterhampton, Over Stowey, Pawlett, Puriton, St. Michael Church, Shapwick, Spaxton, Stockland, Bristol, Stawell, Sutton Mallett, Thurloxton, Wembdon, Westonzoyland, Woolavington. The population of the union in 1891 was 33,273, & in 1901 was 33,655; area, 88,382 acres; assessable value in 1901 was £180,225.
The Workhouse, in Northgate, erected in 1837, is a building of white brick, partly stuccoed, & will hold 388 inmates; the average number being 160; at the back of the house is a detached hospital of red brick.