Dave Chapple takes an interesting perspective to Bridgwater as a rebel town through the lens of 21 years of trade union activism.
There is the Somerset end of national headline movements. From the Miners Strike and the closing of the last Somerset pits, to comradely shows of support for the anti-nuclear movement, anti poll tax movement and the anti-Iraq War movement. That you might expect. But there are less well-known chapters. The protest turned brawl between Orangemen and the Somerset Community Defence Campaign along the Bristol Road, a long-forgotten incident prompted by the fact that local MP Tom King was Northern Ireland secretary at the time.
There are local disputes such as the Quantock Poultry Packers campaign, that became part of the Bridgwater fight against unemployment and attracted Jack Dromey to come and address the town. There was the fight against the closure of Bridgwater’s Mary Stanley Maternity Hospital.
The disputes, campaigns and protests are meticulously documented. But also richly illustrated with archive photos, press cuttings, letters and activists flyers that will be interesting for many local people.
But whilst the main theme of the book is about radicalism and activism, the incidentals that come with it are what made it for this reviewer. The description of some of the town’s large employers, mostly long gone, the importance of carnival, residents associations and the importance of community. And its all polished off with an afterward that gives context to the book by bringing on another near 20 years to today.
The pages are littered with biographies of locals who played their part in the story and there’s a brief anatomy of the local trade unions in the town too.
In the end this is a book that tells a left of centre story. But along the way it tells the story of the town of Bridgwater, a town in transition and a politics in transition too.
Bridgwater Somerset, 1983 to 2004: a working class, left wing, rebellious town? Is available from Dave Chapple direct priced £12 including package and postage. For more information contact Dave by email.