Place:Highbridge, Somerset, England

Watchers
NameHighbridge
Alt namesHuish-Juxta-Highbridgesource: area in centre of parish
Burnham Withoutsource: civil parish existed 1896-1917
North Highbridgesource: civil parish existed 1896-1917
TypeTown, Urban district
Coordinates51.217°N 2.983°W
Located inSomerset, England
See alsoBurnham, Somerset, Englandparish of which it was a chapelry until 1894
Burnham on Sea, Somerset, Englandurban district with which it merged in 1933
Sedgemoor District, Somerset, Englanddistrict municipality covering the area since 1974
source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
source: Family History Library Catalog
the text in this section is based on an article in Wikipedia

Highbridge is a small market town situated on the edge of the Somerset Levels near the mouth of the River Brue. It is in the County of Somerset, and is approximately 20 miles (32.2 km) north west of Taunton, the county town of Somerset. Since 1974 Highbridge has been in the District of Sedgemoor, being situated approximately 7 miles (11.3 km) north of Bridgwater, the district's administrative centre. Highbridge closely neighbours Burnham on Sea, forming part of the combined civil parish of "Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge" and shares a town council with the resort town. In the 2001 census the population was 5,986. In the 2011 census the population of the town was included in the ward of Highbridge and Burnham Marine, which totalled 7,555.

Highbridge was historically a hamlet and chapelry in the large ancient parish of Burnham. It briefly became a separate civil parish in 1894, but in 1896 the civil parish was abolished and divided between the new civil parishes of North Highbridge and Burnham Without. The town had by then expanded south of the River Brue into the parish of Huntspill, and in 1896 the new parish of South Highbridge was carved out of Huntspill parish. North Highbridge and South Highbridge together formed the Highbrige Urban District which existed until 1933. The 1931 census listed a population of 2,585. In 1933 the Urban District was abolished and merged into Burnham on Sea Urban District. In the 1974 local government reforms, this became a civil parish within the new District of Sedgemoor. The civil parish is now known as Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge, with a single town council.

The joining of the two towns remains a contentious issue. A 2001 independence referendum was unsuccessful, but there remains strong feeling among some sections of the community, as evidenced by a number of incidents of vandalism involving signs on the approach to the town.

In 2004 a community group, the Highbridge History Project, commemorated the 150th anniversary of opening of the town's station by publishing the results of their own five-year-long study into the town's history (Source:Weston Mercury "A Glimpse into the past").

History

There is archaeological evidence of occupation around the Highbridge area at least as far back as the Roman period. A bridged crossing over the River Brue at this location has existed since the 14th century and it has always been an important crossing on the route from Bristol to Devon and Cornwall. The town that sprang up around this crossing takes it name from the bridge. An older name for the local manor was "Huish" a contraction of the phrase "Huish jaxta altum pontem" (next to a high bridge). There are historical references to a wharf at this site and to usage of the river as part of the drainage plan for the Somerset Levels by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey.

Highbridge grew in importance as a regional market and industrial town during the latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Important employers included the livestock and cheese market, Highbridge Wharf, Buncombe's Steamrollers, and the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway rail works, which closed in 1930. Heavy industry and transport declined in Highbridge after the Second World War as the Wharf proved too small for the newer generation of ships, with the last cargo of timber arriving in 1948. The wharf was closed to shipping the following year, and commercial freight moved away from the railways. Since the 1970s close proximity to the M5 motorway has driven a growth in light industry and in the town's commuter population.

Research Tips

  • The Somerset Heritage Centre (incorporating what was formerly the Somerset Record Office and the Somerset Local Studies Library) can be found at its new location at Langford Mead in Taunton. It has an online search facility leading to pages of interest, including maps from the First and Second Ordnance Survey (select "Maps and Postcards" from the list at the left, then enter the parish in the search box).
    The Heritage Centre has an email address: archives@somerset.gov.uk.
  • Three maps on the A Vision of Britain through Time website illustrate the changes in political boundaries over the period 1830-1945. All have expanding scales and on the second and third this facility is sufficient that individual parishes can be inspected.
  • Somerset Hundreds as drawn in 1832. This map was prepared before The Great Reform Act of that year. Note the polling places and representation of the various parts of the county.
  • Somerset in 1900, an Ordnance Survey map showing rural districts, the boundaries of the larger towns, the smaller civil parishes of the time, and some hamlets and villages in each parish
  • Somerset in 1943, an Ordnance Survey map showing the rural districts after the changes to their structure in the 1930s
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