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The Seals of Bridgwater
with notes by Dr Peter Cattermole and Miles Kerr Peterson

The Seal of the Commonality
in use at least between 1313 and 1343
Green Wax Seal of 1343 Sketch of Seal of Commonality
Seal of the Commonality
affixed to a Bridgwater deed of 1343
reference Somerset Record Office DD\S\WH/61 by permission pic P E Cattermole
Seal of the Commonality
Taken from Dilks T.B. Bridgwater Borough Archives 1200-1377, Somerset Record Society Vol 48 1933

The seal of the community or commonality of Bridgwater (in green wax) is attached to an undated (prob. early 13th century) manuscript 'Ordinance of the Burgesses' [No. 10 in SRS 48; SRO D\B\bw/132]:

Ad amorem et caritatem inter nos nutriendum et lites et rancores reprimendum
For the nurture of love of and charity among us and for the prevention of quarrels and bickerings.

Thomas Bruce Dilks interprets this seal as "castle with portcullis and three towers" [No. 10 SRS 48] and "a triple tower with portcullis, surmounting a triple-arched bridge under which flows the river"[SRS 48 xiii]. The illustration above however shows four arches.

A fragment of the the seal of the community is attached to the Will of Gilbert Russel, which is dated 20 September 1317 [No. 80 SRS 48].

Dilks considers that "the wooden bridge shown on the seal of the community is of course conventional" [SRS 48 lii]. He notes: "But the earliest bridge must have been of that material, and according to Leland's tradition the 'right ancient stronge and high bridge of stone of 3 arches' had been 'begon of William Bruer.' There we must leave it, for Trivet's building comes later" (1395).
What is the evidence for a 13/14th C. bridge?
Trivet's bridge is described in the deed of defeasance [No. 477 SRS 53] as la novel pont de Bruggewater, the new bridge.

That there was an old bridge preceeding it is suggested in several documents.

The Borough Seal
from at least 1540



Here we have the seal of Bridgwater as we can recognise it today. The three rows of castle wall are now joined by two pepper-pot roofed turrets, and the castle door has been replaced by a portcullis, within which is a head, either intended to be a face or the leopard as we know it today. The castle now stands on some sort of wooden structure, either a bridge or a quayside.


The Maces
made 1650



Here we see the origins of the major variant of the Bridgwater Seal. The third row of the castle is more or less absent, and the top most one has risen to become another turret. The structure below the castle is now quite clearly stone, with small rounded arches over the water.


Bridgwater Farthing
made 1666



HA number of local coins were made in the 1660s - here we see a design similar to that of the town maces.


John Strachey
drawn c.1735



Strachey was a topographer, although his sketch map of Bridgwater is very vague and contains a number of known errors - his doodle of the town's seal is likely to be as inaccurate. It is worth noting the return of the wooden structure below the castle at least.


The Iron Bridge Plaques
cast 1795



Two plaques were mounted on the iron town bridge, which was cast in 1795. One plaque is now in the Blake Museum, while the second can be seen on the portico of the Royal Clarence Building (Specsavers) on the Cornhill. Here we see the little face/leopard under the portcullis that could be seen in the 1540 seal, with the addition of the star on the left hand side, and the fleur de lis on the right.


Bridgwater Halfpenny
made 1794



Made for Benjamin Holloway, draper of Fore Street.


A Printed Borough Seal
from a document dated 1797



This photograph was published in Powell's 'Bridgwater in the Later Days' (1910), although the exact document they were from is not noted. This appears to be a woodblock print.


A Bridgwater bank note
from c.1797



From the collections of the Blake Museum. Although we don't see the star and fleur de lis, the small head under the portcullis can be seen. As well as the Brittania-like figure (a personification of Bridgwater perhaps?) St Mary's Spire and the Chandos Glass cone are shown.


A Bridgwater Volunteers Button
from c.1804



Single-piece button assumed to date from the Napoleonic iteration of the Bridgwater Volunteer Regiment c.1804-1814. Shows a version of the seal largely based on those seen on the 1650 maces, with stone bridge.


Letterhead for Major's Brick and Tile Yard
from a letter dated 1873



In the nineteenth century we see a number of local businesses adopting the Borough Seal in their letterheads.


Encaustic tile in St Mary's Church
dating to 1876



These special commission tiles, possibly by Minton, show the full seal with every element.


The Town Bridge Plaques
added 1883



Presumaby the Fleur de Lis on the right hand side has fallen off at some point.


Letterhead for T.H. Boys
from a letter dated 1883



In a similar style to Major's above.


Cast Borough Seal, Blake Gardens
dating to 1901



Similar seals could be seen at Victoria Park and the New Market. These are perhaps the first to have a clearly defined leopard under the portcullis.


Borough Coronation Medal
dating to 1902






Postcard Shield for Bridgwater
dating to about 1905



This design seems to have been taken from the 1650 Maces, with the addition of the star and fleur de lis, and could be found on many Bridgwater souvenirs of the period.


Borough Coronation Medal
dating to 1911






Arms from a Borough Guide
dating to about 1914






First World War Victory Medal
dating to 1919






Embossed Book Stamp
on a book published in 1933






Borough Coronation Medal
dating to 1937






Letterhead for the Royal Clarance Hotel
dating to about 1950






Seal on the cover of a Town Guide
dating to about 1960



It is hard to precisely date the Town Guide this seal comes from. It was certainly written after 1952, from a mention of the town's population, and before 1965, as there are mentions of the old Holy Trinity Church and the Congregational Chapel. A date of around 1960 seems most likely.
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5 December 2008 P. Cattermole. Revisions M. Kerr-Peterson, September 2019. All Content © Bridgwater Heritage Group, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved, do not reproduce material without permission.

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