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Bridport (St. Mary)

BRIDPORT (St. Mary), a sea-port, borough, market-town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, in the Bridport division of Dorset, 14¾ miles (W.) from Dorchester, and 134 (W. S. W.) from London, on the high road to Exeter; containing 4787 inhabitants. This was a town of some importance in the time of Edward the Confessor, and is mentioned in Domesday book as having a mint and an ecclesiastical establishment. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I. it was garrisoned by the parliament; but, not being a place of much strength, was alternately in the possession of each party. In 1685 it was surprised by some troops in the interest of the Duke of Monmouth, under Lord Grey; these were defeated by the king's forces, and twelve of the principal insurgents were afterwards executed. The town is situated in a fertile vale surrounded by hills, having on the west the river Bride or Brit, from which it takes its name, and on the east the Asher, over which are several bridges: these rivers unite a little below the town, and fall into the sea at the harbour, about a mile and a half to the south. It is chiefly formed by three spacious streets, containing many handsome modern houses; and is partially paved, amply supplied with water, and well lighted with gas. A mechanics' institution, containing a reading-room, and lecture and class rooms, has been built at the expense of H. Warburton, Esq., a late member for the borough.

The trade of the port consists principally in the importation of hemp, flax, and timber, from Russia and the Baltic, and timber from America and Norway: there is also a considerable coasting-trade, by which the adjacent towns are supplied with coal from the north of England, with culm from Wales, and with other articles of general consumption. Many coastingvessels, particularly smacks, for the trading companies of Scotland, are built at this port; they are considered remarkable for strength, beauty, and fast sailing. The harbour is situated at the bottom of the bay formed by Portland Point, on the east, and the headlands near Torbay on the west. An act for restoring and rebuilding it was obtained in the 8th of George I., the preamble to which recites that, by reason of a great sickness that had swept away the greater part of the wealthy inhabitants, and other accidents, the haven was choked with sand, and the piers had fallen into ruins: the work was begun in 1742, and, by the expenditure of large sums, great improvement was made. Another act was obtained in 1823, since which more than £20,000, raised on the security of the rates and duties, have been expended, so that the harbour is now perfectly safe and commodious. This is a bonding port for wines, spirits, hemp, iron in bars, timber, tallow, hides, and other articles; the amount of import duties is somewhat more than £6200 per annum. An act was passed in 1845, for the construction of the Wilts, Somerset, and Weymouth railway, with a branch of 11¾ miles to this town. The principal articles of manufacture are nets, lines, small twine, shoe-thread, girthwebbing, cordage, and sail-cloth, for the use of the home and colonial fisheries, particularly those of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia: 10,000 persons are generally thus employed in the town and neighbourhood. In the reign of Henry VIII., the cordage for the whole of the English navy was ordered to be made at Bridport, or within five miles of it, exclusively. The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday; fairs are held on April 6th and Oct. 11th, for horses, horned-cattle, and cheese, and there is a smaller fair on Holy-Thursday.

The government, until recently, was regulated by charter of incorporation, originally granted by Henry III., confirmed by Richard II., Henry VII., Edward VI., and Elizabeth, and renewed and extended by James I. and Charles II. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and the borough has been divided into the north and south wards, the municipal and parliamentary boundaries being the same: the number of magistrates is eight. The elective franchise was conferred in the 23rd of Edward I., since which time the borough has regularly returned two members to parliament. The right of election was formerly vested in the inhabitants of the borough (which comprised 92 acres), paying scot and lot, in number about 250; but the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, extended it to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, containing by computation 388 acres. The mayor is returning officer. The powers of the county debt-court of Bridport, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-districts of Bridport and Beaminster. The town-hall is a handsome building of brick and Portland stone, containing, in the upper story, a large room for judicial and other purposes, a council chamber, town-clerk's offices, &c.: it was erected in 1786 on the site of the ancient chapel of St. Andrew, in the centre of the town, by an act of parliament. There is also a lock-up house for the confinement of prisoners before committal.

The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £10. 12. 3½.; net income, £166; patron, the Earl of Ilchester. The church, which appears to have been erected in the reign of Henry VII., about 1485, is a handsome and spacious cruciform structure, chiefly in the later English style, with a square embattled tower seventy-two feet high, rising from the centre, and crowned with pinnacles: it contains many interesting monuments; among them is an altar-tomb of William, son of Sir Eustace Dabrigecourt, of Hainault, related to Queen Philippa. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. A free school was founded and endowed in 1708, by Daniel Taylor, one of the Society of Friends; and there are almshouses and other charities, under the management of trustees appointed in 1837, by the court of chancery. A handsome stone building for the poor law union of Bridport, and a register and other offices, have been lately erected; the union comprises nineteen parishes and places, and contains a population of 16,695. Turtle stone and cornua ammonis are found in the neighbouring quarries; and copperas stones on the beach, about four miles west of the harbour. There were formerly several religious houses here, among which were the priory of St. John, and the chapels of St. Leonard, St. Michael, and St. Andrew; but no remains exist. Bridport confers the titles of Baron and Viscount on the family of Hood.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.