Monday, 13 July 2009

Somerset: Bridgewater and the District of Sedgmoor

Bridgwater in Somerset, England, is a market town, the administrative centre of the Sedgemoor district, and the leading industrial town in the county. Bridgwater is located on the major communication routes through South West England.
It is situated, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, in a 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, 10 miles (16 km) from its mouth, here crossed by an iron bridge. The town is located between two junctions of the M5 motorway, the southern most of which houses a motorway service station. Bridgwater railway station is on the main railway line between Bristol and Taunton.
Bridgwater had a population of 35,800 according to the 2001 census.

Historically, the town had a politically radical tendency, being involved in several events of note on the national stage.
Among several places of worship the chief is St Mary Magdalene's church; this has a north porch and windows dating from the 14th century, besides a lofty and slender spire; but it has been much altered by restoration. It possesses a fine painted reredos. A house in Blake Street, largely restored, was the birthplace of Admiral Blake in 1598, and is now the Blake Museum. Near the town are the three old churches of Westonzoyland, Chedzoy and Middlezoy, containing some good brasses and carved woodwork. The battlefield of the Battle of Sedgemoor, where the Monmouth Rebellion was finally crushed in 1685, is within 3 miles (5 km); while not far off is Charlinch, the home of the Agapemonites.

It is thought that the town was originally called Brigg, meaning Quay. It has been argued that the name may instead come from the Old English brycg (gang plank) or Old Norse bryggja (quay), though this idea has been opposed on etymological grounds. In the Domesday Book the town is listed as Brugie, while Brugia was also used. After the Norman invasion the land was given to Walter Douai (a Norman prince), hence becoming known variously as Burgh-Walter, Brugg-Walter and Brigg-Walter, eventually corrupted to Bridgwater. An alternative version is that it derives from "Bridge of Walter" (i.e. Walter's Bridge).


Athelney flooding

Bridgwater is mentioned both in the Domesday Book and in 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 nearby at Cannington.

A map of Bridgwater from 1946

William Briwere was granted the lordship of the Manor of Bridgwater by John of England in 1201. Through William's influence, King John granted three charters in 1200; for the construction of Bridgwater Castle, for the creation of a borough, and for a market.

Excavations at Bridgwater Castle, Tower foundation stones

Bridgwater Castle was a substantial structure built in Old Red Sandstone, covering a site of 8 or 9 acres (32,000 to 36,000 m²). A tidal moat, up to 65 feet (20 m) wide in places, flowed about along the current streets of Fore Street and Castle Moat, and between Northgate and Chandos Street. Unusually, the main entrance opposite the Cornhill was built with a pair of adjacent gates and drawbridges. In addition to a keep, located at the south-east corner of what is now King Square, documents show that the complex included a dungeon, chapel, stables and a bell tower. Built on the only raised ground in the town, the castle controlled the crossing of the town bridge. A 12 feet (4 m) thick portion of the castle wall and water gate can still be seen on West Quay, and the remains of a wall of a building that was probably built within the castle can be viewed in Queen Street. The foundations of the tower forming the north-east corner of the castle are buried beneath Homecastle House.
Other charters were granted by Henry III in 1227 (confirmed in 1318, 1370, 1380), which gave Bridgwater a gild merchant.
William de Briwere also founded St John's hospital which, by the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, was worth the substantial sum of almost 121 pounds, as well as starting the construction of the town's first stone bridge. One of William's sons went on to found a Franciscan priory in the town.
During the 11th century Second Barons' War against Henry III, Bridgwater was held by the barons against the King.
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.
In the medieval period the River Parrett was used to transport Hamstone from the quarry at Ham Hill, having become independent of Bristol and recognised as a port in its own right by 1348. Historically, the main port on the river was at Bridgwater, largely importing coal from south Wales, although by trans-shipping into barges at the town bridge it was navigable as far as Langport and (via the River Yeo) to Ilchester.

Bridgwater and Taunton Canal at Firepool lock

After 1827, it was also possible to transfer goods to Taunton via the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. The trade reached its peak in 1857 when there were 142 vessels totaling 17,519 tons. The last vessel built at Bridgwater was the ketch Irene which was launched in 1907. By 1954 only 12 vessels were registered from the town, and of these five were yachts, largely due to the limitations imposed by the size of the dock which was 180 feet (55 m) long and 31 feet (9 m) wide.

Edward Vl

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. 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 the 21st of September were added in 1554. Charles II. granted another fair on the 29th of December. The medieval importance of these markets and fairs for the sale of wool and wine and later of cloth has gone. 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.

The 1605 Gunpowder Plot is thought to have been masterminded by Robert Parsons, born in the nearby village of Nether Stowey. To this day Guy Fawkes is celebrated as a local hero during the carnival season, including a grand illuminated procession through Bridgwater town centre, which culminates in the Squibbing.

In the English Civil War the town and the castle were held by the Royalists under Colonel Sir 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 July 22, 1645. The castle itself was deliberately destroyed the following year (1645), while in 1651 Colonel Wyndham made arrangements for Charles II to flee to France following the Battle of Worcester.

King Charles ll

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. Matters seem to have calmed by 1688 when the Dampiet Street Unitarian chapel was founded.

In the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed King in various local towns including on the Cornhill in Bridgwater. 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. Allegedly, until recently members of the Royal Family would not pass through Bridgwater without drawing the blinds of the Royal Train as a result of this escapade.

Duke of Monmouth

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. This was the first use of the Riot Act in the UK in an industrial dispute, and not the UK miner's strikes of the 1980s as is commonly stated.
Sydenham Manor House
Previously a manor estate built in the early 16th century, which was refronted and rebuilt after 1613. It now stands in the grounds of the former British Cellophane plant. Its owners were on the losing side in the Civil War and again in the Monmouth Rebellion.

Sedgemoor is a local government district of Somerset in England.
Memorial to the Battle of Sedgemoor

A low lying area of land close to sea level between the Quantock and Mendip hills, historically largely marsh (or moor) and contains the bulk of the area also known as the Somerset Levels, including the World's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track.
The district was formed on April 1, 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, by a merger of the municipal borough of Bridgwater, the Burnham-on-Sea urban district, Bridgwater Rural District and part of Axbridge Rural District.
Place-name meaning
Sedgemoor does not mean "sedge moor", but is instead "marsh of a man called Sicga" from the Old Norse personal name Sicga and Old English mor "moor". The name was recorded as Secgamere in 1165.

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