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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 The three rows of castle wall are now joined by two pepper-pot roofed turrets, and the castle door has been replaced by a portcullis, within which is a head, either intended to be a face or the leopard as we know it today.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.

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.

Wax Seal
Issued by the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses 1792

This was attached to a Lease for the Swan Inn, issued to Nathaniel Tucker, dated 28 November 1792. The poor definition of the imprint suggests that that seal matrix was quite worn by this time. This is much larger than the old medieval seal, being c.62mm in diameter.

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.

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.

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

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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