George Alexander Cooke

Topography of Great Britain or, British traveller’s pocket directory: being an accurate and comprehensive topographical and statistical description of all the counties in England, Scotland and Wales, with the adjacent islands: illustrated with maps of the counties, which form a complete British atlas.
London, 1802-1829

Bridgewater, anciently Burgia, Brugie, Brugge Walta, and Burghwalter, is situated on the banks of the River Parret, which runs from hence between the hundreds of Carmington and Huntspill, towards the Bristol Channel. In its course thither, a small island is formed, called Dunball Isle, which, in the beginning of the last century, is said to have been so made by some unknown persons making a cut of forty yards across the then isthmus in the night, without being ever discovered.

Bridgewater is a town of great antiquity, and was of material importance even before the Norman Conquest. The manor of it was given by the Conqueror to one of his followers, named, in doomsday book, Walter de Dowai.

King John made it a borough, by charter, dated at Chinon, in France, 26th June, 1200, at the instance of William de Brivere, at that time Lord of Bridgewater.

The castle was erected by this nobleman, and also an hospital for thirteen poor people, which, according to the custom of those times, had a small chantry, where mass was said, and other offices performed. He also built the quay, and began the stone bridge over the river, but did not live to see it completed. He dying without heirs, the manor was given to one Thomas Trivet, a Cornishman, who finished what the other had begun.

Soon after this it became a flourishing place, and was one of the first towns seized by the barons in the reign of Henry III. as a place of great importance. Its charters were renewed and confirmed by Edward the Second and Third: and Edward IV. renewed its privileges, settled the limits of the corporation, and, instead of a praeepositus, or reeve, substituted a mayor and two bailiffs for the government of the town.

There was anciently a very large castle at Bridgewater, some, small parts of which still remain on the west side of the quay: it was built about the year 1, 200, and was finally destroyed during the civil wars in 1645.

When the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth landed in the West of England, to oppose his uncle James II., he was proclaimed king at Bridgewater, and lodged some time in the castle. The royal army, having approached as far as Weston, about three miles from Bridgewater, encamped on a moor, having a ditch in their front. The duke, who knew his men were not regularly disciplined, thought to make up that disadvantage by stratagem; for which purpose he marched out during the night, and was near the king’s army before he was discovered. The battle commenced as soon as it was light in the morning; but Monmouth’s horse, under the command of Lord Gray, fled at the first fire, that nobleman, who was a papist, having betrayed the duke. The foot, who were chiefly composed of countrymen in Somersetshire, fought much better than could have been expected from men unacquainted with military discipline; but being overpowered by the fire from the artillery, they fled in great confusion, when the king’s army pursuing them, above 1,000 were killed, and 1, 500 taken prisoners. Such of the wounded as escaped, fled to Bridgewater, but no person daring to give them any assistance, great numbers perished in the streets, and most of the survivors were hanged by order of Judge Jefferies and Colonel Kirk. The unfortunate duke was afterwards discovered in a field near Ringwood, in Hampshire, from whence being brought to London, he was soon after beheaded.

Bridgewater is at present a large, populous, and flourishing town, commodiously situated in a woody flat country, with some rich moors to the north and east of the banks of the river Parret. It is one of the most considerable in the county, being not only a place of great merchandise, but also a great thorough fare, so that it has many good inns for travellers. There is only one church in the town, which is a handsome and spacious structure, and the spire is the most lofty of any in this part of the kingdom. There is also a large elegant meeting-house for the use of Protestant dissenters. Near the church is a free school, a very handsome edifice, built of free stone.

The corporation consists of twenty-four capital burgesses, including a mayor and two aldermen. The borough had also a recorder, who with the mayor and aldermen, are empowered to hold four sessions every year, for determining all crimes and misdemeanors, under capital offences, committed within their jurisdiction. They also hold a court of record every Monday, which has cognizance of all debts, of whatever amount, and of every other plea. The rules and practice are those of the court of common-pleas. The authority of the magistrate extends through the whole parish, who, together with the rest of the corporation, are conservators of the River Parret.

Bridgewater sends two members to parliament. The right of voting is vested in the inhabitants paying scot and lot. It is a vicarage, with Chelton, annexed, in the presentation of the Crown, and of small value, the corporation receiving the great tithes.

The corporation revenues, which consist of the manor of the borough, the great and small tithes, the manor of East-Stour, in Dorsetshire, &c., are valued at 5, 000l. per annum. Its freemen are free of all the ports of England and Ireland, except London and Dublin; and the sheriff of the county cannot send any process into the borough, it having been made a distinct county by Henry VIII. It has a spacious hall, and a high cross, with a cistern over it, to which water is conveyed by an engine from a neighbouring brook, and carried from thence to most of the streets.

This town was regularly fortified in the civil wars, and sustained more than one siege. The situation of it renders it easy to be fortified, the river and haven forming the greater part of the circumference. The tide rises here, at high water, near six fathoms, and sometimes flows in with such impetuosity, that it comes two fathoms deep at a time; and when it does so unawares, it often occasions great damage to the ships, driving them foul of each other, and frequently oversetting them. This sudden rage of the tide is called the Boar, and is frequent in all the rivers of the Channel, especially in the Severn. It is also known in the North, particularly in the Trent, and the Ouse, at their entrance into the Humber, at Bristol, and in several other places.

The manufactures of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, &c., for the internal parts of Devon and Cornwall, are brought to this port in large troughs, and from hence conveyed in waggons. The duty paid at the custom-house on import, has amounted to about 2, 500l. a year.

About forty vessels, from thirty to one hundred tons, are employed in bringing coals from Wales to this place, and from hence the neighbourhood is supplied at a moderate rate. The river is navigable for large barges from Taunton to Langport. About six miles south of the town, the Rivers Tone and Parret meet.

The inhabitants carry on a considerable trade to Wales, Ireland, Newfoundland, Virginia, the West Indies, and the Mediterranean.

According to the returns under the act, Bridgewater contains 857 houses, and 4, 911 inhabitants.

The famous Admiral Robert Blake was a native of this place. He was born in 1599; in 1651 he burnt and destroyed the whole fleet of Prince Rupert, two ships only excepted. In 1653, he gained a complete Victory over the Dutch fleet, consisting of one hundred and twenty men-of-war, commanded by Van Tromp. He performed many other glorious actions recorded in history, and died August 17, 1657, aged fifty-eight.

Transcribed by Tony Woolrich.