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
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
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.
King John's charter of 26 June 1200 (?) granted to Willelmo Briwer that
Brug' Walt' should be a free borough with the right to raise pontage (fees
for the construction & maintenance of a bridge)
in the early 13th C., the Burgesses granted a lease of unum dimidium
burgagium ultra pontem half a burgage beyond the bridge [No. 23 SRS 48]
by his will, Gilbert
Russel [1317, v s] left xs ad emendos lapides ad viam corigendam
inter hospitale et pontem (10s. to buy stones to mend the road between
the hospital and the bridge)
all Hugo Godwyne's tenements in occidentali parte pontis were
devised to his son John and in orientali parte pontis to his son Richard in
the early 14th. C. [No. 107 SRS 48]
conveyance of a tenement on 31 May 1355 scituato in alto vico ex
opposito castri sicut itur a magno ponte ad forum [No. 176 SRS 48,
and disposal in 1363 [No. 207 SRS 48]
conveyance of a mesuagio ... magni pontis in alto vico sicun itur de
dicto ponte versus ecclesiam paroch on 8 June 1355 [No. 177 of SRS 48]
conveyance of a tenement on 5 January 1371 in vico sicut itur ... et magnum pontem
[No. 260 SRS 48]
in the record of debts outstanding to the parish church
in 1373, there are five names associated with cicus inter pontem et
cimiterium [No. 283 SRS 48]
the receiver of the community 1373-75 accounts for 6s from Ric.
Peke for the rent of the house on the bridge domus super pontem for three
terms [No. 297 SRS 48]
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.