Stephen Whatley

England’s gazetteer : or, An accurate description of all the cities, towns, and villages of the kingdom.
3 vol, 1751
This extract comes from Vol 1. Many contractions were used in the original printing: M = Market or Magistrate, f = fair, etc. In this version they have been expanded, and the text split into paragraphs.

BRIDGEWATER, (Som.) 116 calculated miles and 143 measured miles from London, was given, after the conquest, to one Walter, a Norman ; and in all the old charters, particularly King John’s, the first that made it a free Borough,.it is called Brugge-Walter, or Walter’s-Borough The castle here was built in the Reign of King John, by William de Brivers, Lord. of Bridgewater, who also founded the house near the East gate, which was a chantry to pray for the souls of King Henry. II. Richard I. and King John. He also first made the key, called the Haven, and began the stone bridge over the river Parret, which was finished by the next Lord of the manor, Thomas Trivet, a Cornish-man. King Edward. II and Edward. III confirmed its charter by King John. Edward IV. and Queen Elizabeth or, as some say, Henry IV granted it others, for changing the bailiff to the mayor, who governs it together with a recorder, 2 aldermen who are justices of the peace, and 24 Common Council men. They have also a town-clerk, clerk of the Market, water-bailiff, and 2 serjeants at mace ; and out of the Common Councillors are annually chose 2 bailiffs, who have the same power as sheriffs, and a receiver, who collects the town rents, and makes payments.

The revenues, which consist of the manor of the Borough the great and small tithes, the manor of East-Stower in Dorsethire, &c. are valued at 10000£ a year. Its freemen are free in all the ports of England and Ireland, but 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 town-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 hence to most of the streets. Its Church has a spire, the third of the loftiest in England ; and here is a fine meeting-house, with an advanced seat for the mayor and aldermen who happen to be dissenters, as also a private academy for such of their youth, as are intended for preachers. Here is a large free school belonging to the chamber, and under it are lodgings for the poor of the parish. Here is also a neat alms-house, the gift of Major Ingram of Westminster, who was a native of this Town, but it is inhabited by the poor without endowment. In 1724 the late Duke of Chandos built a fine street here, with convenient warehouses.

Its Markets are on Thursday. and Saturday. the fair granted by Henry VII. and its fairs, which are two days each, are the first Tuesday in Lent, May 17, June 24, September 21, and December 29. In a field here, called the Friars, where St Matthew’s fair is kept, was a priory, which, in the Reign of Henry VIII. was dissolved with the other religious houses. King James I granted the castle to Sir George Whitmore and Thomas Whitmore of London, who purchased the site and Lordship from the crown : and as the Title had been erected into an earldom in the Reign of Henry VIII. in favour of Henry, Lord. Aubigny, with whom the title expired, King James again dignified it with that title, in savour of John Egerton, Lord-High-Chancellor, from whom descended the late Scrope, who was created Duke by King George I. William Harvey, Esq; bought the castle and manor in the Reign of Charles I. who by a charter gave all the parishioners the same privileges as the burgesses.

In the civil wars this Town sustained several hot Sieges. It was at first garrisoned for the Parliament, but at length reduced by the King’s forces, who held it out for him, ’till the war was almost at an end ; but in 1653 it surrendered to Oliver Cromwell, after it had suffered severely by the siege, with a treasure, amounting to 10000£ besides cannon and military stores. The Duke of Monmouth lodged in its castle in 1685, was proclaimed King here, and touched persons here for the king’s-evil. James II. came hither next year, and lodged in the castle, where he celebrated mass ; but his judges touched for the evil in these parts, by those butcheries which are recorded in the bloody-assizes, or western martyrology.

The Town stands 12 miles from the Start-point, where the Parret runs into the Bristol-channel, from whence a spring-tide flows 22 foot at the key, and comes in with so much rage and roar, that it is called a Boar. Ships of 2oo ton may come up to its key ; by which convenience for navigation, they carry on a pretty good coast-trade to Bristol and all down the Severn to Wales for coal, to Cornwall for slate, &c, and at least 10 coal-ships arc constantly employed. The receipts the customs here amounts to 3000£ a year. Its foreign trade is chiefly to Portugal and Newfoundland. Wool is brought hither in good quantities from Ireland. A great retail trade is carried on here, and its Thursday Market is the most considerable in the County for corn, cattle, hogs, sheep ; and for cheese there are few, if any, greater Markets in the Kingdom. Many waggon loads coming in here, on a Market-day, for Devonshire; Tuesday and Saturday are great flesh-Markets. and the shambles the finest in England for their bigness. The best of provisions are so cheap here, that it may justly be called a paradise for epicures.

Transcribed by Tony Woolrich.