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John Marius Wilson
Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales
1870-72

BRIDGEWATER, or Bridgwater, a town, a parish, a subdistrict, and a district in Somerset. The town stands in a level, well-wooded country, on the river Parret, contiguous to the Bristol and Exeter railway, 6 miles SSE of Bridgewater bay, and 32 and 1/2 SSW of Bristol. It dates from remote times; and was anciently called Burgh Walter. It took that name from Walter de Dony, a Norman baron, to whom the Conqueror gave the manor; and it may have obtained its present name either by corruption of the ancient one, or from a bridge across the Parret. William de Briwere or Bruer became owner of it in the time of Henry II.; and founded at it a stone bridge, instituted an hospital, and built a strong, large, moated castle. The last gave the place military consequence, and drew on it the scourge of the civil wars. The barons seized it in the revolt against Henry III.; the royalists garrisoned it in support of Charles I.; and the parliamentarians, under Fairfax, besieged it, captured it, and laid it desolate. The castle mounted 40 guns against Fairfax; and, soon after being taken by him, was demolished. The Duke of Monmouth took special post in the town; was received and proclaimed as king; mustered his forces on the Castle field; and marched hence to his fate at Sedgemoor. Many of his partisans, who fell into the hands of the victors, were afterwards treated cruelly or put to death here by Judge Jeffries and his minion Kirke.

The town stands chiefly on the right bank of the Parret; was almost entirely rebuilt after the damage done to it by Fairfax; is now a neat place, principally of red brick houses; and contains some good streets. The part of it on the right bank is suburban and inferior; and bears the name of Eastover. an iron bridge of one arch, on the site of the ancient stone one, connects the main body with the suburb; and a bridge, with an arch of 100 feet in span, takes across the railway. The castle stood in King-square; and a fragment of it exists in the Watergate. The ancient hospital stood on the ground now occupied by St. John's church; and was upheld for a community of Augustinian monks, and for the entertainment of pilgrims. An ancient monastery of Grey friars, probably originating with the same founder as the hospital, stood in Silver-street; and an arched doorway of it still exists. A house in Mill-street, of Tudor architecture, was the birthplace of Admiral Blake. The townhall has a great cistern over it for supplying the town with water; and contains three pieces of tapestry, which were formerly at Enmore Castle. The market house is a handsome modern structure, with an Ionic portico; and is surmounted by a dome. St. Mary's church is a large edifice of red stone, partly of the 14th century, but principally of the 15th; has a slender spire, rising 120 feet from the tower, and 174 from the ground; and contains an altar-piece after Guido, and a monument, of 1620, to Sir Francis Kingsmill. Trinity church is a modern Gothic structure, built at a cost of £3,254. St. John's church, in Eastover, is a handsome edifice of Bath stone, built in 1849, at a cost of £10,000. The tomb of Oldmixon, the historian, who was a native of the town, is in the churchyard of St. Mary; and a memorial stone over victims of the cholera, is in that of St. John. A new Independent chapel was built in 1863, at a cost of £5,000. There are also chapels for Baptists, Quakers, in Unitarians, Wesleyans, P. Methodists, Free Methodists, Brethren, and R. Catholics; two endowed schools, six other public schools, a school of art, a literary and scientific institution; a workhouse, built at a cost of £9,000; an infirmary, alms-houses, and other charities.

The town has a head post office, a railway station with telegraph, three banking offices, and three chief inns; is a seat of assizes and sessions, a polling-place, a bonding port, and a coastguard station; and publishes three weekly newspapers. Weekly markets are held on Tuesday and Saturday; and fairs on the second Thursday in Lent, 24 June, 2,3, and 4 Oct., and 28 Dec. The chief manufactures are Bath-bricks, red bricks, coarse pottery, and iron- ware. The Bath-brickworks are the only ones in the world, and produce bricks to the value of about £13,000 a year. The Parret is navigable up to the town for vessels of 200 tons; rises, at the mouth, in spring tides, to 36 feet; and, like other rivers in the Bristol channel and the Solway frith, flows in a sudden upright wave of great velocity. This is usually 5 or 6 feet high, but sometimes, after a westerly gale, 9 feet high; and is liable to do great damage to shipping. A canal 12½ miles long, cut in 1811, goes from the town to Taunton, and is continued thence to Chard; and a project has long been entertained of forming a railway from it down to Stolford on Bridgewater bay. The vessels registered at Bridgewater port, at the beginning of 1868, were 72 small sailing vessels, of aggregately 2,803 tons; 57 larger sailingvessels of 10,046 tons; and 5 steam-vessels of 264 tons. The vessels that entered in 1867, counting repeated voyages, were 14 British vessels from foreign ports, of 2,330 tons; 33 foreign vessels from foreign ports, of 4,021 tons; 10 British vessels, and 2 foreign, from British colonies, of 3,998 tons; 3,823 sailing-vessels, coastwise, of 172,896 tons; and 447 steam-vessels, coastwise, of 48,324 tons. The amount of customs, in the same year, was £6,273. Chief exports are Bath-bricks; and chief imports, timber, tallow, hemp, wine, and coal. The town was constituted a borough by King John; is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and sends two members to parliament. The borough is of the same extent parliamentary as municipally; and consists chiefly of part of Bridgewater parish, but includes small portions, with two houses, in Durleigh and Wembdon parishes. Direct taxes in 1857, £5,868. Real property in 1860, £34,554; of which £2,378 were in the canal. Electors in 1868, 679. Pop. in 1861, 11,320. Houses, 2,123. The town gave the titles of Earl, Marquis, and Duke to the Egertons.

The parish includes also the hamlets of East Bower, West Bower, Dunwear, Hersey, Hamp, and Haygrove. Acres, 4,315; of which 190 are water. Real property, exclusive of the borough, £15,963. Pop. in 1841, 10,450; in 1861, 12,120. Houses, 2,274. The living is a vicarage, united with the rectory of Chilton, in the diocese of Bath and Wells. Value, £325.* Patron the Lord Chancellor. Trinity and St. John are separate benefices, vicarages, of the value of £200 and £300;* the former in the patronage of the Vicar; the latter in that of the Bishop.

The subdistrict contains the parishes of Durleigh, Wembdon, Chedzoy, Chilton-Trinity, and the greater part of Bridgewater. Pop., 13,694. Houses, 2,589.-The district comprehends also the subdistrict of Middlezoy, containing the parishes of Middlezoy, Othery, Lyng, Weston Zoyland, and parts of Bridgewater and North Petherton; the subdistrict of Huntspill, containing the parishes of Huntspill, Pawlett, Puriton, Bawdrip, Woolavington, Cossington, and part of Shapwick; the subdistrict of Polden-Hill, containing the parishes of Moorlinch, Greinton, Ashcott, and the greater part of Shapwick; the subdistrict of North Petherton, containing the parishes of Enmore, Goathurst, Broomfield, Thurloxton, St. Michael-Church, and part of North Petherton; and the subdistrict of Stowey, containing the parishes of Over Stowey, Nether-Stowey, Aisholt, Fiddington, Stockland-Bristol, Otterhampton, Cannington, Charlinch, and Spaxton. Acres, 92,273. Poor-rates in 1866, £21,638. Pop. in 1861, 34,420. Houses, 7,019. Marriages in 1866, 253; births, 1,073,-of which 56 were illegitimate; deaths, 663,-of which 212 were at ages under 5 years, and 27 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 2,570; births, 11,413; deaths, 6,481. The places of worship in 1851 were 45 of the Church of England, with 13,801 sittings; 14 of Independents, with 3,020 s.; 7 of Baptists, with 853 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 330 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 280 s.; 11 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 1,966 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 234 s.; 1 of Bible Christians, with 138 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 96 s.; 1 of Latter Day Saints, with 38 s.; and 2 of Roman Catholics, with 370 s. The schools were 36 public day schools, with 2,686 scholars; 65 private day schools, with 1,362 s.; and 58 Sunday schools, with 4,407 s.


Transcribed by Tony Woolrich. All Content © Bridgwater Heritage Group, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved, do not reproduce material without permission.

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