Bridgnorth

BRIDGNORTH, a borough and a market-town having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Stottesden, S. division of Salop, 20½ miles (S. E.) from Shrewsbury, and 140 (N.W.) from London; containing in the municipal borough 6198 inhabitants. This place, anciently called Brugia, Brug, and (including Little Brug) Bruges, derives its name from a bridge over the river Severn at Quatford, built by the Saxons, and which, after many sanguinary conflicts with the Danes, was finally destroyed, to prevent the future incursions of these marauders. Upon the erection of a new bridge, about a mile and a half to the north of the former, it obtained the appellation of Brug North, whence the present name of the town is deduced. Bridgnorth is supposed to have been founded by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great: it was afterwards enlarged by Robert de Belesme, Earl of Shrewsbury, who erected, or probably rebuilt, the castle, and fortified the town with walls and six strong gates, some portions of which are still remaining. On the earl's rebellion against his sovereign, Henry I., in 1102, the town and castle were besieged, and, after an obstinate defence, were surrendered to the victorious monarch, who gave them to Hugh de Mortimer. This grant was confirmed by Stephen; but it appears to have been little more than nominal, since "Præpositi," or provosts, were appointed to collect the revenue for the crown. Mortimer having risen in rebellion against Henry II., that monarch laid siege to the castle, which he nearly demolished, and in this state it lay until the reign of John; he afterwards confirmed to the inhabitants all the privileges and franchises which they had enjoyed under Henry I. In 1216, King John passed a day in the town, on his march to Worcester, where he was soon afterwards interred; in 1263, the place was taken by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.

During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Bridgnorth, being a royal garrison, was in 1646 attacked by the parliamentarians, who gained an entrance through the churchyard, and, the royalists retiring into the castle, set fire to the town, which was nearly consumed. The parliamentarians having made the church of St. Leonard their magazine, the royalists planted cannon on the round tower of the castle, and set fire to the church; the flames spread to an adjoining college, and entirely destroyed it. The castle was now closely invested, but being strongly fortified both by nature and art, it sustained a siege of three weeks without receiving any material injury. The besiegers, despairing of success, had begun to undermine the rock on which it was built, when the garrison, having exhausted all their ammunition, capitulated on honourable terms, and retired to Worcester.

The town is most romantically situated on the banks of the river Severn, which divides it into two parts, called Upper and Lower. The Upper Town is built on the summit and steep acclivities of a rock rising abruptly to the height of 180 feet from the western bank of the river, and presents an appearance singularly picturesque. Crowning the summit of the rock, at the southern extremity, are the small ruins of the square tower of the castle, declining considerably from the perpendicular line, and the modern church of St. Mary Magdalene; while at the northern extremity is the venerable church of St. Leonard, with its lofty square embattled tower, crowned with pinnacles. Upon the castle-hill walk, and forming a conspicuous object, is the reservoir, a capacious flat square tank, supported on lofty pillars of brick, assuming at a distance the appearance of a handsome portico. On the side of the rock rising from the river are several successive tiers of detached houses, intermixed with caverns and rude dwellings, and interspersed with gardens, shrubberies, and lofty trees. The walk round the castle-hill is defended by a palisade of iron, and commands a most extensive view of the surrounding country, which abounds with picturesque scenery, being richly diversified by cultivated fields, well-watered meadows, wood-crowned eminences, and barren rocks. Two streets, containing well-built houses, lead from St. Mary's church into the High-street, and there are others of a similar character. Over the river is a stone bridge of six arches, leading into the Lower Town, the streets in which contain some modern and several ancient houses; among the latter is Cann Hall, a very antique structure in the Elizabethan style, where Prince Rupert resided in 1642, when he addressed a letter to the jury empanelled for the choice of town officers, entreating them "to select such men for their bailiffs as were well affected to his Majesty's service." The town is partially paved, and the inhabitants are supplied with soft water from the river, and with spring water from Oldbury, at the western extremity of Bridgnorth. The public library in St. Leonard's churchyard, a handsome octagonal brick building lighted by a dome, was founded by the Rev. Hugh Stackhouse, to whose memory a marble tablet has been erected over the fireplace: it was extended, by subscription, from a theological to a general library, and contained more than 4000 volumes; but is now chiefly restricted to theological works; and a new general library has been recently erected on the castle-hill. A theatre, a neat and commodious edifice of stone, was erected in 1824, on part of the site of the ancient moat of the castle, accidentally discovered; it has been since sold, and converted into shops. Races are held in July, on a race-course about a mile from the town.

The trade principally arises from the navigation of the river, which affords every facility for the conveyance of goods; but it has declined in consequence of the more certain transit by canals: some vessels are built; and a great quantity of malt of very superior quality, and of grain, is sent to various parts of the country. The iron-trade has greatly declined; but there is a foundry where a good deal of casting is done, and nails are made to a small extent: two carpet-manufactories were established about 1810, and increased at subsequent periods; and there is a considerable manufactory for tobacco-pipes. The market, held on Saturday, is abundantly supplied with wheat, barley, and beans, to the growth of which the land in the neighbourhood is particularly favourable. The fairs are on the third Tuesday in February; third Tuesday in March, for horned-cattle and sheep; May 1st, a pleasure and statute fair; third Tuesday in June, for wool and cattle; first Tuesday in August, for lamb's-wool and cattle; third Tuesday in September, for cattle, sheep, and cheese; October 29th, a large fair for salt butter, cheese, hops, and nuts; and on the first Tuesday after the Shrewsbury December fair, which is a great fair for cattle and general merchandise.

The town is a borough by prescription: the first charter respecting which there is any certainty was granted by King John, in the 16th of his reign, (1215) and subsequent charters were bestowed by Henry III and VI. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., 1835 cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor is a justice of the peace, and there are thirteen other magistrates, appointed by a separate commission. A court of record, for the recovery of debts to any amount, was formerly held, but is now disused; general sessions of the peace are holden quarterly before the recorder, and petty-sessions by the mayor and borough justices once a fortnight. The powers of the county debt-court of Bridgnorth, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Bridgnorth. The municipal limits of the borough comprehend the parishes of St. Mary, St. Leonard, part of Quatford, and the liberty of Quatt-Jarvis; and comprise 3006 acres of pasture and meadow land, 70 of arable, and 5 of wood. The borough received the elective franchise in the 23rd of Edward I., 1295 and from that time has continued to return two members to parliament: the right of election was formerly vested in all the burgesses, whether resident or not; but is now, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., 1832 cap. 45, confined to the resident burgesses within seven miles, and extended to the £10 householders. The mayor is returning officer. The borough for parliamentary purposes embraces 10,731 acres, of which 5137 are arable, 5539 meadow and pasture, and 55 wood. The town-hall, erected about the year 1646, is a spacious building of timber framework and plaster, supported on pillars and arches of brick forming a covered area for the use of the market: above, is a large room where the public business of the corporation is transacted, besides a smaller apartment in which meetings of the council are held.

Bridgnorth town comprises the parishes of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Leonard, containing, respectively, 2773 and 2997 inhabitants; and gives name to a royal peculiar, of which the late Thomas Whitmore, Esq., was lay dean. The living of St. Mary Magdalene's is a perpetual curacy; net income, £258; patron, the Representative of the late Mr. Whitmore. The church, formerly the chapel belonging to the castle, and exempted by King John from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, was made parochial in the 4th of Edward III., 1330 and rebuilt of freestone, in 1792, at the cost of about £8000; it is a handsome edifice in the Grecian style, with a lofty tower surmounted by a cupola. The interior is supported by a line of plain stone pillars of the Ionic order, and of large dimensions, extending from the entrance along each side of the body of the church. The living of St. Leonard's is also a perpetual curacy; net income, £288; patron, the Representative of Mr. Whitmore. The church, once collegiate, was erected in 1448, on the site of a structure raised in the reign of Richard I.; and was originally a magnificent edifice, comprising seven different chapels, the arches leading into which from the present nave, and now walled up, are still discernible. It suffered greatly while in the possession of the parliamentarians, during the civil war, and was consequently rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, in 1646. In each of the parishes is a parsonage-house, purchased partly from Queen Anne's Bounty, and partly by the impropriator; and about 20 acres of excellent land are attached to the livings, being a devise of Francis Wheeler in 1682: the rent, with some deductions leaving about £90 per annum, is divided between the incumbents. There are places of worship for Baptists, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, and Irvingites. The free grammar school was established in 1503, and has three exhibitions to Christ-Church College, Oxford, founded by Mr. Careswell in 1689; the property, which is chiefly in land near the town, produces an annual income of about £80. The Blue-coat charity-school, kept in an old castellated brick building, over one of the ancient gates, was instituted in 1720, and is supported partly by a small endowment arising from benefactions vested in the funds; the entire income is about £100 a year. There is also a national school, maintained by subscription. The hospital in St. Leonard's churchyard, for ten aged widows, was founded in 1687, by the Rev. Francis Palmer, rector of Sandby, in Bedfordshire; the income is about £120. The almshouses in Church-lane, endowed with estates producing £130 per annum, under the direction of the trustees of charities within the borough, are for twelve widows or single daughters of burgesses. The poor law union of Bridgnorth comprises 29 parishes or places, and contains a population of 16,118.

At the southern extremity of the High-street is part of an arch which formed the entrance to the castle ward; also some portions of the walls, which inclosed an area of fourteen acres. At the northern extremity of the town, on the west bank of the river, are the remains of a convent of Grey friars, which have been converted into a malt-house: the great hall, or refectory, is still nearly in its pristine state; and the panelled oak ceiling, the stone fireplace, and many of the windows, though the lights are stopped with plaster, are in entire preservation. About a quarter of a mile south of the Lower Town was an hospital for lazars, converted in the reign of Edward IV. into a priory, and now a private mansion. In making the shrubberies to the north of the house, in 1823, thirty-seven bodies were discovered lying in rows, within eighteen inches from the surface, having evidently been buried in winding sheets and without coffins; they were in good preservation, the teeth still retaining their enamel. Some slight vestiges of the church may be traced in the walls of the outbuildings. There are also remains of several fortifications in the neighbourhood, it having been the scene of frequent battles between the Saxons and the Danes. About a mile south of the town, on the eastern bank of the river, is a large mount, with a trench on all sides except the west, on which it is defended by a rocky precipice overhanging the Severn; Robert de Montgomery had here a strongly-fortified palace. Half a mile eastward lay the forest of Morfe, which, in Leland's time, was a "hilly ground, well wooded; a forest, or chace, having deer," and for which a forester and steward were appointed from the time of Edward I. to that of Elizabeth. The brother of King Athelstan is stated to have passed the life of a hermit here; and a cave in a rock, still called the Hermitage, is supposed to have been his solitary abode. On a portion of the tract are five tumuli in quincunx, under some of which the remains of human skeletons have been discovered. The sylvan features of the forest long since disappeared, and the whole, comprising between 5000 and 6000 acres, was inclosed in 1815. Dr. Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore in Ireland, and compiler of Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, was a native of Bridgnorth; and the house in which he is said to have been born, in 1728, is still remaining.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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