Siege of Bridgwater, July, 1645

Research notes on the Siege of Bridgwater, July 1645.

Not Bridgwater, but the Siege of Rheinberg in 1598 by Mendoza. This at least gives a good impression of a fortified town, and the envelopment by an early-modern army.

Primary Sources

Joshua Sprigg, Anglia Rediviva; Englands Recovery: Being the History of the Motions, Actions and Successes of the Army under the Immediate Conduct of His Excellency Sir Thomas Fairfax, Knight, Captain-General Of all the Parliaments Forces in England. 1647

Various extracts relating to the castle.

Historians

Emanuel Green, F.S.A., ‘Siege of Bridgwater, July, 1645‘ Originally published as No 4 of Bye-paths of Bath and Somerset History, 1905

Clement Trenchard, ‘The Siege of Bridgwater‘, East Gate Press 1929

Additional Notes

Bridgwater’s first historian George Parker, who lived from 1796 to 1888, recalled in 1877 the construction of St John Street in the late 1830s, when it was laid out to connect up to the new railway line, which reached the town in 1841. “on the east end of the town, near where Barclay Street stands, were very high mounds of earth, in which were removed for building purposes, the workmen found human bones, bullets, swords, and other military weapons.”

During the 1640s Bridgwater was very heavily fortified. The town was surrounded by serious earthworks, the old medieval ditches were enlarged, and the suburbs of the town, West Street, North Gate and Monmouth Street, were all flattened to create a clear line of fire. The ruins of the old Friary were probably victim to this clearance.

A large fort was also built outwith the defences: contemporary accounts of the storm of the town mention a Great ‘Fort Royal’ and this might be the feature described by Parker, as the area where Barclay Street now stands is certainly well beyond the town’s perimeter at the time.

While removing this feature we can perhaps understand the finding of bullets. Swords are unusual, as these would tend to be picked up afterwards, unless they were mangled to the point of uselessness. But bones are a little harder to square. Aside lost teeth and the odd finger, bodies are not usually left on the battlefield after the event.

One explanation for this is to assume that the earth used to create this fort may have been dug up from the area of the old medieval hospital of St John, as a ditch was dug around Eastover during the war, which was filled with the river tides, then sluiced up. If this passed through the Hospital ground, then the old burial ground would have been disturbed, hence the bones. Mind, it could be that a pit was dug around this fort after the battle, especially if the fighting was particularly heavy in this area. I shall leave this mystery with you.