Bridgewater or Bridgwater, a municipal and parliamentary borough and a parish in Somersetshire. The town stands on a level, well-wooded country, on the river Parret, with a station on the G.W.R., 151 miles from London, 6 SSE of Bridgewater Bay, and 32½ SSW of Bristol. A short line connects Bridgewater with Edington station on the Somerset and Dorset railway, reducing the distance to London to about 145 miles, and affording easier communication with the south of England. The town 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 Btone 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 baroas 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 Northgate. 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 Blake Street, of Tudor architecture, was the birthplace of Admiral Blake. The town-hall contains three pieces of tapestry which were formerly at Enmore Castle. In 1880 the Corporation established waterworks at Ashford Spaxton for supplying the town with water. 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. The church has been restored from time to time, and in 1871 a fine organ was placed in the north chapel. Trinity Church is a modern Gothic structure, built at a cost of over £3000. 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. The Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St Joseph, in Binford Place, is a building of red brick and Bath stone in the Early Decorated style, erected in 1882. A new Congregational chapel was built in 1863 at a cost of £5000. There are also Baptist, Quaker, Unitarian, Wesleyan, Congregational, and Roman Catholic chapels, two endowed schools, a school of art, a literary and scientific institution, a workhouse, built at a cost of £9000, an infirmary, almshouses, and other charities. The Corn Exchange was opened in 1875. The premises of the Young Men's Christian Association, known as " The George Williams Memorial Buildings" are in Eastover, and were erected in 1887, and consist of an upper and lower hall, with class-rooms, gymnasium, &c. The town has a head post, money order, and telegraph office, two railway stations, and several banks; is a seat of quarter sessions, and a coastguard station; and publishes two weekly newspapers. Weekly markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday, great market first Wednesday in December, and fairs on the last Wednesday in January, March, June, and Sept.; for horses and cattle, and general, second Thursday in Lent, 2, 3, and 4 Oct., and 28 Dec. The chief manufactures are bath-bricks, red bricks, coarse pottery, and ironware. The bath-brick works are the only ones in the world, and produce bricks to the value of about £13,000 a year. They are made from a peculiar settlement of mud and sand brought up by the tide and deposited on the banks of the Parret. The Parret is navigable up to the town for vessels of 300 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. 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, 6 aldermen, and eighteen councillors, and at one time sent two members to Parliament, but was disfranchised in 1870, and is now included in the Bridgewater division. The borough has a commission of the peace and a separate court of quarter sessions. Area of the municipal borough, 717 acres; population, 12,436. 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. Area of the civil parish, 3967 acres; population, 13,341; population of the ecclesiastical parish of St Mary with Chilton,. 3716; of Holy Trinity, 3290. The living of St Mary is a vicarage, united with the rectory of Chilton, in the diocese of Bath and Wells; gross value, £325 with residence. Patron, the Lord Chancellor. Trinity and St John are separate benefices, St John being a perpetual curacy with net yearly value of £307 and residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Bath and Wells; and Trinity a vicarage with a gross value of £100, in the gift of the Vicar of Bridgewater.
Bridgewater Parliamentary Division of Somersetshire was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885,. and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 48,226. The division includes the following:- Ilminster (part of)-Ashill, Beercrocombe, Broadway, Buckland St Mary, Combe St Nicholas, Curry Mallet, Donyatt, Fivehead, Hatch Beauchamp, Ilminster, Ilton, Isle Abbots, Isle Brewers, South Bradon, Whitestaunton; Bridgewater- Ashcott, Asholt, Bawdrip, Bridgewater, Broomfield, Cannington, Catcott, Charlinch, Chedzoy, Chilton Common (extra-parochial), Chilton-super-Polden, Chilton Trinity, Cossington, Durleigh, Durston, Edington, Edstock and Beer, Enmore, Goathurst, Greinton, Huntspill, Lyng, Middlezoy, Moorlinch, North Petherton, Othery, Otterhampton, Pawlett, Puriton, St Michael Church, Shapwick, Spaxton, Stawell, Stockland. Bristol, Sutton Mallett, Thurloxton, Wembdon, Westonzoyland, Woolavington; Taunton (part of)-Bickenhall, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Corfe, Creech St Michael, Curland, North Curry, Hillfarrance, Orchard Portman, Ruishton, Staple Fitzpaine, Stoke St Gregory, Stoke St Mary, Thomfalcon, Thurlbear, West Hatch, West Monckton; Bridgewater, municipal borough.
The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.
|Ecclesiastical parish||Bridgwater St. Mary|
|Poor Law union||Bridgwater|
Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.
Ancestry.co.uk, in association with Somerset Archives & Local Studies, have images of the Parish Registers for Somerset online.
Directories & Gazetteers
We have transcribed the entry for Bridgewater from the following:
- Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858. (Bridgwater (St. Mary))
Online maps of Bridgewater are available from a number of sites:
- Bing (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- Google Streetview.
- National Library of Scotland. (Old maps)
- old-maps.co.uk (Old Ordnance Survey maps to buy).
- Streetmap.co.uk (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- A Vision of Britain through Time. (Old maps)
Newspapers and Periodicals
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Somerset papers online:
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
- Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser
- Western Gazette
- Wells Journal
- Somerset County Gazette
The Visitation of Somersetshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.