The Seal of Bridgwater

with notes by Dr Peter Cattermole and Miles Kerr Peterson

The Seal of the Commonality

in use at least between 1313 and 1343

Seal of the Commonality
affixed to a Bridgwater deed of 1343
reference Somerset Record Office DD\S\WH/61 by permission pic P E Cattermole
Seal of the Commonality
Taken from Dilks T.B. Bridgwater Borough Archives 1200-1377, Somerset Record Society Vol 48 1933

The seal of the community or commonality of Bridgwater (in green wax) is attached to an undated (prob. early 13th century) manuscript ‘Ordinance of the Burgesses’ [No. 10 in SRS 48; SRO D\B\bw/132]:

Ad amorem et caritatem inter nos nutriendum et lites et rancores reprimendum
For the nurture of love of and charity among us and for the prevention of quarrels and bickerings.

Thomas Bruce Dilks interprets this seal as “castle with portcullis and three towers” [No. 10 SRS 48] and “a triple tower with portcullis, surmounting a triple-arched bridge under which flows the river”[SRS 48 xiii]. The illustration above however shows four arches.

A fragment of the the seal of the community is attached to the Will of Gilbert Russel, which is dated 20 September 1317 [No. 80 SRS 48].

Dilks considers that “the wooden bridge shown on the seal of the community is of course conventional” [SRS 48 lii]. He notes: “But the earliest bridge must have been of that material, and according to Leland’s tradition the ‘right ancient stronge and high bridge of stone of 3 arches’ had been ‘begon of William Bruer.’ There we must leave it, for Trivet’s building comes later” (1395).

What is the evidence for a 13/14th C. bridge?

Trivet’s bridge is described in the deed of defeasance [No. 477 SRS 53] as la novel pont de Bruggewater, the new bridge.

That there was an old bridge preceeding it is suggested in several documents.

  • King John’s charter of 26 June 1200 (?) granted to Willelmo Briwer that Brug’ Walt’ should be a free borough with the right to raise pontage (fees for the construction & maintenance of a bridge)
  • in the early 13th C., the Burgesses granted a lease of unum dimidium burgagium ultra pontem half a burgage beyond the bridge [No. 23 SRS 48]
  • by his will, Gilbert Russel [1317, v s] left xs ad emendos lapides ad viam corigendam inter hospitale et pontem (10s. to buy stones to mend the road between the hospital and the bridge)
  • all Hugo Godwyne’s tenements in occidentali parte pontis were devised to his son John and in orientali parte pontis to his son Richard in the early 14th. C. [No. 107 SRS 48]
  • conveyance of a tenement on 31 May 1355 scituato in alto vico ex opposito castri sicut itur a magno ponte ad forum [No. 176 SRS 48, and disposal in 1363 [No. 207 SRS 48]
  • conveyance of a mesuagio … magni pontis in alto vico sicun itur de dicto ponte versus ecclesiam paroch on 8 June 1355 [No. 177 of SRS 48]
  • conveyance of a tenement on 5 January 1371 in vico sicut itur … et magnum pontem [No. 260 SRS 48]
  • in the record of debts outstanding to the parish church in 1373, there are five names associated with cicus inter pontem et cimiterium [No. 283 SRS 48]
  • the receiver of the community 1373-75 accounts for 6s from Ric. Peke for the rent of the house on the bridge domus super pontem for three terms [No. 297 SRS 48]

by 1540: The Borough Seal

Here we have the seal of Bridgwater as we can recognise it today. The three rows of castle wall are now joined by two pepper-pot roofed turrets, and the castle door has been replaced by a portcullis, within which is a head, either intended to be a face or the leopard as we know it today. The castle now stands on some sort of wooden structure, either a bridge or a quayside. The source of the Leopard is possibly Arms of Nicholas de Cantilupe or Jane Duchess of Northumberland.

1650: The Maces

Here we see the origins of the major variant of the Bridgwater Seal. The third row of the castle is more or less absent, and the top most one has risen to become another turret. The structure below the castle is now quite clearly stone, with small rounded arches over the water.

1666: Bridgwater Farthing

A token issued in the town, of a value of a farthing, usually made as a result of a lack of money circulating from the official mints. Here we see a simple stone castle and a multi-arched bridge. Possible flags rising from the turrets. Note the early spelling of BRIDGWATER

c.1735 John Strachey

Strachey was a topographer, although his sketch map of Bridgwater is very vague and contains a number of known errors – his doodle of the town’s seal is likely to be as inaccurate. It is worth noting the return of the wooden structure below the castle at least.

1792: Wax Seal Issued by the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses

This was attached to a Lease for the Swan Inn, issued to Nathaniel Tucker, dated 28 November 1792. The poor definition of the imprint suggests that that seal matrix was quite worn by this time. This is much larger than the old medieval seal, being c.62mm in diameter. Here we see what seems to be the first instance of the little face/leopard under the portcullis that could be seen in the 1540 seal, with the addition of the star on the left hand side, and the fleur de lis on the right.

1795 Iron Bridge Plaques

Two plaques were mounted on the iron town bridge, which was cast in 1795. One plaque is now in the Blake Museum, while the second can be seen on the portico of the Royal Clarence Building (Specsavers) on the Cornhill.

1797 Printed Borough Seal

This photograph was published in Powell’s ‘Bridgwater in the Later Days’ (1910), although the exact document they were from is not noted. This appears to be a woodblock print.

c.1800 A Bridgwater bank note

From the collections of the Blake Museum. Although we don’t see the star and fleur de lis, the small head under the portcullis can be seen. As well as the Britannia-like figure (a personification of Bridgwater perhaps?) St Mary’s Spire and the Chandos Glass cone are shown. Other examples of the banknotes do show star and fleur de lis.

1815 Button from the Bridgwater Volunteers

A gilt button from the local volunteer force, formed during the Napoleonic Wars.

1850s Mayor’s Pew, St Mary’s Church

The Mayor’s Chair in the Corporation Pews, St Mary’s Church. Although the Corporation Screen is late medieval, the carving here looks Victorian, so probably dates to the time of Brakespear’s ‘Restoration’.

1873 Letterhead for Major’s Brick and Tile Yard

In the nineteenth century we see a number of local businesses adopting the Borough Seal in their letterheads.

1876 Encaustic tile in St Mary’s Church

These special commission tiles, possibly by Minton, show the full seal with every element.
Floor Tile in the Chancel St Mary’s Church, c.1876. The beast is possibly inspired by the Leopard under the portcullis in the Seal.

1883 The Town Bridge Plaques

Presumaby the Fleur de Lis on the right hand side has fallen off at some point.

1883 Letterhead for T.H. Boys

In a similar style to Major’s above.

1901(?) Cast Borough Seal, Blake Gardens

Similar seals could be seen at Victoria Park and the New Market. These are perhaps the first to have a clearly defined leopard under the portcullis.
Plaque inside Ashford Waterworks
Plaque outside Ashford Waterworks

1902 Borough Coronation Medal

1905 Postcard Shields for Bridgwater

This design seems to have been taken from the 1650 Maces, with the addition of the star and fleur de lis, and could be found on many Bridgwater souvenirs of the period.
Bridgwater Crested China, especially popular 1900-1918.

1911 Borough Coronation Medal

c.1914 Borough Seal from a Town Guide

1919 First World War Victory Medal

c.1919 Allotment Society Medal

The Association was formed on 25 April 1919 (Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser 11 January 1922; Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser 10 January 1923). This medal was presumably made to give as a prize at the annual show or dinner. The organisation was still active in the 1960s.

1933 Embossed Book Stamp

1937 Borough Coronation Medal

1950 Letterhead for the Royal Clarence Hotel

1960 Seal on the cover of a Town Guide

Undated

Mayor’s Chair, Town Hall. Unknown date, probably late Victorian.
Councillor’s Chair in the Town Hall. Probably contemporary with the Mayor’s Chair.
Impressed seal from a matrix used by the Town Council