Bridgwater is a market town and civil parish in Somerset, England. It is the administrative centre of the Sedgemoor district, and a major industrial centre. Bridgwater is located on the major communication routes through South West England. According to the 2011 census, the town had a population of 35,886.
Bridgwater is situated, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, in level and well-wooded country, having to the north the Mendip range and on the west the Quantock hills. The town lies along both sides of the River Parrett, from its mouth, has been a major port and trading centre and maintains a large industrial base. It is linked to Taunton by the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. Bridgwater is located between two junctions of the M5 motorway and Bridgwater railway station is on the main railway line between Bristol and Taunton.
Historically, the town had a politically radical tendency, being involved in several events of note on the national stage, and was defended by its own castle. The battlefield of the Battle of Sedgemoor, where the Monmouth Rebellion was finally crushed in 1685 is nearby. Among several places of worship the chief is the Church of St Mary. A house in Blake Street, largely restored, was the birthplace of Admiral Blake in 1598, and is now the Blake Museum. The town has its own arts centre and plays host to the annual Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival.
Bridgwater is mentioned both in the Domesday Book and in the earlier Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dating from around 800, owing its origin as a trade centre to its position at the mouth of the chief river in Somerset. It was formerly part of the Hundred of North Petherton. In a legend of Alfred the Great, he burnt some cakes while hiding in the marshes of Athelney near Bridgwater, after the Danish invasion in 875, while in 878 the major engagement of the Battle of Cynwit may have been at nearby Cannington.
During the 11th century Second Barons' War against Henry III, Bridgwater was held by the barons against the King. Other charters were granted by Henry III in 1227 (confirmed in 1318, 1370, 1380), which gave Bridgwater a gild merchant which was important for the regulation of trade allowing gild members to trade freely in the town, and to impose payments and restrictions upon others. Bridgwater's peasants under Nicholas Frampton took part in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, sacking Sydenham House, murdering the local tax collectors and destroying the records.
It was incorporated by charter of Edward IV (1468), confirmed in 1554, 1586, 1629 and 1684. Parliamentary representation began in 1295 and continued until the Reform Act of 1870 when the original borough constituency was disenfranchised for corruption in 1870. From 4 July 1870 the town was incorporated within the county constituency of West Somerset. When there was a redistribution of Parliamentary seats to take effect at the 1885 general election, a new county division of Bridgwater was created. A Saturday market and a fair on 24 June were granted by the charter of 1201. Another fair at the beginning of Lent was added in 1468, and a second market on Thursday, and fairs at Midsummer and on 21 September were added in 1554. Charles II granted another fair on 29 December. The importance of these markets and fairs for the sale of wool and wine, and later of cloth in declined after medieval times. The shipping trade of the port revived after the construction of the new dock in 1841, and corn and timber have been imported for centuries.
In the English Civil War the town and the castle were held by the Royalists under Colonel Francis Wyndham, a personal acquaintance of the King. British history might have been very different had his wife, Lady (Crystabella) Wyndham, been a little more accurate with a musket shot that missed Cromwell but killed his aide de camp. Eventually, with many buildings destroyed in the town, the castle and its valuable contents were surrendered to the Parliamentarians on 21 July 1645. The castle itself was deliberately destroyed the following year, while in 1651 Colonel Wyndham made arrangements for Charles II to flee to France following the Battle of Worcester.
Following the restoration of the monarchy, in 1663 the non-conformist Reverend John Norman, vicar from 1647 to 1660, was one of several 'religious fanatics' confined to their homes by Lord Stawell's militia. A large religious meeting house, thought to have been Presbyterian, was demolished and its furniture burned on the Cornhill in 1683. By 1688, matters had calmed down enough that a new chapel, Christ Church, was founded in Dampiet Street, the congregation of which became Unitarian in 1815.
In the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed King on the Cornhill in Bridgwater and in other local towns. He eventually lead his troops on a night-time attack on the King's position near Westonzoyland. Unfortunately surprise was lost when a musket was accidentally discharged, and the Battle of Sedgemoor resulted in defeat for the Duke. He later lost his head in the Tower of London, and nine locals were executed for treason.
Bridgwater became the first town in Britain to petition the government to ban slavery in 1785. In 1896, the trade unionists of Bridgwater's brick and tile industry were involved a number of strikes. The Salisbury government sent troops to the town to clear the barricades by force after the reading of the Riot Act.
In World War II the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, designed to prevent the advance of a German invasion. Pillboxes can still be seen along its length. The first bombs fell on Bridgwater on 24 August 1940, destroying houses on Old Taunton Road, and three men, three women and one child were killed. Later a prisoner of war camp was established at Colley Lane, holding Italian prisoners. During the preparations for the invasion of Europe, American troops were based in the town.
The first council estate to be built was in the 1930s at Kendale Road, followed by those at Bristol Road. The 1950s saw the start of a significant increase in post-war housebuilding, with council house estates being started at Sydenham and Rhode Lane and the former cooperative estate near Durleigh.
On 4 November 2011 West Quay alongside the River Parrett and 19 adjoining properties were evacuated after a stretch of the retaining wall partially collapsed after heavy rain and flooding.
Port of Bridgwater
In the medieval period the River Parrett was used to transport Hamstone from the quarry at Ham Hill, Bridgwater was part of the Port of Bristol until the Port of Bridgwater was created in 1348, covering of the Somerset coast line, from the Devon border to the mouth of the River Axe. Under an 1845 Act of Parliament the Port of Bridgwater extends from Brean Down to Hinkley Point in Bridgwater Bay, and includes parts of the River Parrett (to Bridgwater), River Brue and the River Axe.
Historically, the main port on the river was at Bridgwater; the river being bridged at this point, with the first bridge being constructed in 1200 AD. Quays were built in 1424; with another quay, the Langport slip, being built in 1488 upstream of the Town Bridge. A Customs House was sited at Bridgwater, on West Quay; and a dry dock, launching slips and a boat yard on East Quay. The river was navigable, with care, to Bridgwater Town Bridge by vessels. By trans-shipping into barges at the Town Bridge the Parrett was navigable as far as Langport and (via the River Yeo) to Ilchester. After 1827, it was also possible to transfer goods to Taunton via the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal at Huntworth. A floating harbour was constructed between 1837–1841 and the canal was extended to the harbour. The harbour area contained flour mills, timber yards and chandlers.
Shipping to Bridgwater expanded with the construction of Bridgwater Docks, and reached a peak in the nineteenth century between 1880 and 1885; with an average of 3,600 ships per year entering the port. Bridgwater also built some 167 ships; the last one being the Irene launched in 1907. Peak tonnage occurred in 1857, with 142 vessels totalling .
Dunball wharf was built in 1844 by Bridgwater coal merchants, and was formerly linked to the Bristol and Exeter Railway by a rail track which crossed the A38. In 1875, the local landowner built The Dunball Steam Pottery & Brick & Tile Works adjacent to the wharf.
Although ships no longer dock in the town of Bridgwater, of cargo were handled within the port authority's area in 2006, most of which was stone products via the wharf at Dunball. It is no longer linked to the railway system. The link was removed as part of the railway closures made as a result of the Beeching Report in the 1960s. Dunball railway station, which had opened in 1873, was closed to both passengers and goods in 1964. All traces of the station, other than "Station Road" have been removed. The wharf is now used for landing stone products, mainly marine sand and gravels dredged in the Bristol Channel. Marine sand and gravel accounted for of the total tonnage of using the Port facilities in 2006, with salt products accounting for in the same year.
Sedgemoor District Council acts as the Competent Harbour Authority for the port, and has provided pilotage services for all boats over using the river since 1998, when it took over the service from Trinity House. Pilotage is important because of the constant changes in the navigable channel resulting from the large tidal range, which can exceed on spring tides.