This page seeks to chart the known coronation celebrations recorded in Bridgwater. The earliest seem to be banquets are recorded among the town’s expenses for the Proclamations of James I (VI of Scotland) in 1604 and the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 (Lawrence pp.90, 109)
James III (James Scott, Duke of Monmouth), 1685
No contemporary description mentions Monmouth being Proclaimed king in Bridgwater, but the historian John Oldmixon (1673-1742) wrote the following in his History of England, during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart, published in 1730. Oldmixon worked in Bridgwater, so was presumably drawing on recent memory:
The Duke, after he was proclaim’d King at Taunton, march’d to Bridgwater, eight Miles distant. He had then with him the greatest Number of Men that ever were for him together, near 6,000 tolerably well arm’d. He was proclaim’d in this Town at the High Cross by the Mayor Mr. Alexander Popham, and his Brethren in their Formalities. Here his Declaration was read, and the Inhabitants with a sort of Emulation who should do most, sent all kinds of Provisions to the Soldiery in a rude sort of Camp in Castlefield near the Town, where six Regiments of Foot appear’d, distinguish’d by their Colours, and had the Face of an Army. … The Duke’s Quarters were in the Castle, where King Charles II and King James II at several times had also their Quarters. Here he rais’d more voluntary Contributions than in any other place, by the Management of Mr. Roger Hoar, Mr William Coleman, and other Inhabitants, great Friends and great Suffers for this cause, a very unaccountable one indeed at that time.
William IV and Adelaide, 8 September 1831
Bridgwater Alfred 12 September 1831 THE CORONATION
THE day appointed for the formal recognition of that compact between the King and his People, which is virtually made, at the instant on which the Monarch is first called upon to perform the duties of the kingly office, has been hitherto, by the common consent of mankind, dedicated to festivity and rejoicing. With us, this day was appropriately ushered in, by the launch of a schooner, of about 150 tons burthen, from the Dock-yard of Messrs. Watson and Co. As this correctly moulded and well-built little vessel glided into her native element, she was hailed by the name of the ‘William the Fourth,’ thus associating her with an event, which all loyal subjects celebrate, elusively on its own account, without any reference to the fleeting politics of the day.
The Bridgwater and Stowey Troop of yeomanry performed their evolutions, and fired a feu do joie in honour of the day. There were likewise several public dinners on the occasion, at most of which that rule was steadily adhered to, which is established among gentlemen as a principle never to be lost sight of;—that no local politics, or factious matter in debate shall be dragged forward to mar the harmony of a day which ought to be devoted to strictly constitutional loyalty. In the evening the Town was generally illuminated, and there were altogether fewer offensive marks of party spirit displayed than could have been expected, considering the unprincipled efforts made by a few vulgar demagogues to convert, for their own selfish purposes, a day of national rejoicing into another exhibition of democratical outrage.
Victoria, 28 June 1837
Summary from Squibbs’ History of Bridgwater: The 28 June, being the Coronation day of Queen Victoria, was kept as a general holiday with much rejoicing. The Corporation and Freemasons walked to St Mary’s Church and afterwards went in procession through the streets of the town.
Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 20 and 21 June 1887
Summary from Squibbs’ History of Bridgwater: On Monday 20 June the Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated. The occasion was marked in Bridgwater and throughout the neighbourhood with every demonstration of loyalty. Some months previous to the day a representative town committee was appointed and the question as to how the Jubilee might best be commemorated was earnestly discussed. It was then agreed that an effort should be made to mark the occasion by establishing public baths in the Borough, the cost to be provided by public subscription. Alderman F.J. Thompson generously offered £100 towards the cost, but the public appeal for subscriptions was so disappointing in its result that the proposal had to be abandoned. It was then agreed that the funds should be spent on a general demonstration. There was a grand procession through the town, including the Mayor and Corporation, Rifle Volunteers, three bands, the West Somerset Yeomanry, Magistrates, Fire Brigades, Friendly Societies, and general inhabitants, and all attended a special service at St Mary’s Church, which was crowded.
Those taking part in the procession afterwards assembled on the Cornhill where the national anthem was sung by the multitude, and the Volunteers fired a feu de joie. At 1pm a free dinner was provided at the Market House for 700 poor persons over 60 years of age. About half a ton of beef and mutton was cooked, and about the same weight of potatoes. A great number of plum puddings were kindly given by residents of the town.
Over 3,000 children of the town were provided with tea in Mr J.H. Waddon’s Rope Walk. Afterwards, and to their great joy, they played various games. They were also presented with commemorative medals, as were many who did not attend the celebrations, and the total number of medals distributed was about four thousand. In the afternoon a public fete took place at Blacklands at which some 2,000 people were present. A variety of entertainment was much enjoyed and a military tournament attracted much interest.
A long red streamer was flown from the top of St Mary’s Church spire in honour of the jubilee.
Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee 22 June 1897
The Bridgwater Mercury of 30 June 1897 notes initial plans for a new Almshouse, a statue to Admiral Blake and trees to ornament the town, all of which had to be abandoned for lack of sufficient funds. Also abandoned was a plan to feed the aged poor of the borough. A Mayoral procession was held, which included the Volunteers, the Friendly Societies, etc, as in 1887.
‘It is true the decorations were not on such a lavish or extensive scale as the importance of the occasion demanded, but private enterprise had contributed towards making the streets present a gay and festive aspect’. Mention of draping the platfrom on the Cornhill and illuminating the the Market House and Town Hall with stars.
An open air thanksgiving service held on the Cornhill. Volunteers were led by Colonel Thomas Foster Barham, who was mounted… their band the B.A. Christy’s led their procession. Baptist Fife and Drum band also in attendance. Police and Firebrigade also processed.
Hymns sung at the Cornhill, the Mayor gave a speech, the Volunteers fired a feu do joie, the band played the National Anthem, then three cheers. The Mayoress and other ladies attended the Cornhill in a carriage.
In the afternoon tea was given to the town’s 3,000 school children on the Cornhill. Afterwards a fete, gala and sports were held.
In the evening a fireworks display.
A picture of the Cornhill dias can be seen in Bridgwater Images of England by the Blake Museum (1998), p.120.
Edward VII and Alexandra, 9 August 1902
The major feature of the day was the opening of the Blake Gardens, a detailed description can be found here.
A picture of the Cornhill decorations be seen in Squibbs’ History, no.144.
George V, 10 May 1910 – Declaration
Central Somerset Gazette 13 May 1910: The Proclamation of King George V was made at Bridgwater on Tuesday. Thousands congregated on the Cornhill to hear the proclamation read by the Mayor (Councillor R.O. Sully), a platform having been erected around the statue of Admiral Blake. The mayor read the Proclamation in clear and ringing tones, after which the Territorial companies, at the command of Colonel Edward Trevor, fired a feu de joie, the R.A. Christy band playing a verse of the National Anthem between each round. The companies afterwards gave the royal salute and cheers for the King. The Proclamation was read on the site formerly occupied by the old market-cross, at which the Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed King shortly before his defeat by the Royalist Army in 1685.
George V and Mary, 22 June 1911 – Coronation
Shepton Mallet Journal 31 March 1911 – a public subscription had been gathered to pay for the celebrations, and tickets were sold for the coronation event, the proceeds being distributed to the poor and elderly persons over 65. Children under 14 would be presented with medals.
Western Daily Press 23 June 1911 – bunting had been spread around the town, most houses were decorated with flags, while the municipal buildings were adorned with evergreens, banners and flags. Early in the morning bells were rung from St Mary’s and a silver shield was presented to the 3rd Patrol of Bridgwater Scouts by the mayor, which he had paid for. Church services were held, then processions, joined by the local companies of Territorial soldiers and the Army Service Corps, along with the boy scouts. Service in St Mary’s church was conducted by Rev. A.H. Powell, while the Dissenting Congregations held a combined meeting in the Fore Street Congregational chapel, where all the respective ministers spoke. Shortly after noon a huge gathering was held on the Cornhill, where the Mayor gave an address to the new king, which culminated in a feu-de-joie by C and D companies of the 5th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. The a procession marched through the town, then a gala and fete were held on the Taunton Road football ground.
George VI and Elizabeth, 12 May 1937
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser 08 May 1937 – the planned Coronation festivities. The town was being lavishly decorated under the supervision of the Borough Engineers, the crowning feature being the transformation of the Cornhill Market house dome into the crown. The Town Hall was also decorated with garlands, bunting and flags, with GOD SAVE THE KING running the whole length of the building. Two coronation arches were erected at either end of the town bridge. Souvenir mugs were given to schoolchildren. Distributions would be given the poor and elderly. Come coronation day, after noon the Mayor would give a speech at the Cornhill to the town’s schoolchildren. Afterwards the Mayor would plant an oak tree in Blake Gardens. Tea would be provided to school children, and patients in the hospitals and care homes, and supper to the inmates of the Workhouse. The Christie Band would perform on the Cornhill, a ball would be held in the Blake Hall, and a special Carnival procession and bonfire would be held, among other events.
Pictures of the Bristol and Exeter Pub decorations can be seen in Bridgwater Images of England by the Blake Museum (1998), p.120.