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Samuel Lewis
A topographical dictionary of England, comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate and market towns, parishes, and townships, and the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with historical and statistical descriptions;
4 vol
4th ed, pub 1849
This extract is from Vol 1

BRIDGWATER (St.MARY), a port, borough, market - town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of North Petherton, Western Division in the county of SOMERSET, 35 miles (S. W.) from Bristol, 20(W. S. W.) from Wells, and 137 (W. by S.) from London 5 containing 7807 inhabitants.

This place derived its name from Walter de Douay, one of William's followers, on whom it was bestowed at the time of the Conquest, and was thence called 'Burgh Walter' and 'Brugge Walter,' by which names, both signifying Walter's burgh, or borough, it is designated in various ancient records. William de Briwere, to whom it was granted in the reign of Henry II., built a castle in the following reign, combining the strength of a fortress with the splendour of a baronial residence, and obtained from king John the grant of a market and a fair. He founded the hospital of St. John, for a master, brethren, and thirteen poor persons of the order of St. Augustine, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £120. 19. 1/4 .

He also constructed the haven and began to erect a stone bridge of three arches over the river Parret, which was completed by Sir Thomas Trivet, in the reign of Edward I. His son William founded a monastery for Grey friars, about 1230, and dedicated it to St. Francis. The barons, during their revolt against Henry 111., took possession of the town in 1260.

In the parliamentary war, the inhabitants embraced the royal cause, and the castle was garrisoned by the king's forces. In this castle, on account of its being strongly fortified, and abundantly supplied with ammunition, the inhabitants of the surrounding district deposited their money, plate, and other articles of value, as in a place of security. The parliamentarians under Fairfax soon afterwards invested the town, and laid close siege to the castle, which was resolutely defended; but the town having been fired on both sides of the bridge, the garrison capitulated on terms of personal indemnity, and surrendered the fortress, with all the treasure in it, and 1000 prisoners, into the hands of the enemy. The castle, which had sustained considerable damage during this siege, was demolished in 1645: the sally-port and some detached portions of the walls are all that now remain. In the reign of James II the inhabitants favoured the pretensions of the Duke of Monmouth, who, on his arrival from Taunton, was received with great ceremony by the corporation, and proclaimed king. He remained for some time in the town, and having from the tower of the church reconnoitred the royal army encamped on Sedgemoor, he rashly resolved to hazard the battle that terminated so fatally to his ambition. His adherents in the town suffered severely for their attachment to his cause, under the legal severity of Jeffreys, and the military executions of Kirke.

The town is pleasantly situated in a well-wooded and nearly level part of the county, the view being bounded on the north-east by the Mendip hills, and on the west by the Quantock hills: the river Parret divides it into two parts, connected with each other by a handsome iron bridge of one arch. The western part is particularly clean: the streets are spacious and well paved, and the town is lighted with gas under an act obtained in 1834: the houses, chiefly of brick, are uniform and well built; and there is an ample supply of excellent water from springs. The eastern part, termed Eastover, is inferior in appearance to the western; though very great improvement has been effected in both of late years. A new road from Bristol to this town has been lately formed, whereby the distance is shortened five miles; and the line of the Bristol and Exeter railway passes by it. The foreign trade consists in the importation of wine, hemp, tallow, and timber; but the trade of the port is principally coast-wise. Coal is brought free of duty from Monmouthshire and Wales, and is conveyed into the interior of the county by a canal to Taunton: in 1837, an act was obtained to enable the company of proprietors to continue the line of this canal below the town. The quay, which has been recently improved, is accessible to ships of 200 tons' burden, and is furnished with every appendage requisite for the convenience of commerce: the gross receipt of duties at the custom-house, for the year ended Jan. 5th, 1837, amounted to £8389. 3. 9. The principal source of employment is the making of bricks for general use; scouring-bricks, composed of a mixture of clay and sand deposited by the river within a limited distance of the bridge, beyond which it is unfit for the purpose; and a peculiar kind of brick, resembling Bath stone, of various sizes, from the ordinary dimensions to the largest size in which that stone is used: for this and the scouring-bricks patents have recently been obtained.

The market days are Tuesday, for the sale of vegetables; Thursday, principally for corn and cattle; and Saturday, which is the general market for provisions : the market-house, lately erected, is a handsome building, surmounted with a dome and lantern, and having a semi-circular portico of the Ionic order. The fairs are on the first Monday in Lent, July 24th, Oct. 2nd (which continues for three days, the first being noted for the sale of linen and woollen cloth, cattle, and general merchandise), and Dec. 27th.

The first charter of incorporation was granted in the reign of John. Others were subsequently granted by Edward II. and 111., Henry IV., VII., and VIII., Mary,1, Elizabeth, James 1., and Charles I. and 11., under which the government was vested in a mayor, 2 alder-men, 24 capital burgesses, and an indefinite number of free burgesses, assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, three sergeants-atmace, and other officers ; the mayor, recorder, and aldermen were justices of the peace.

Under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., c. 76, (for an abstract of which see Appendix, No. I.) the corporation now consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors ; and the borough is divided into two wards. The municipal and parliamentary boundaries are the same, and are minutely described in the Appendix, No. If. The borough first sent representatives to parliament in the 23rd of Edward 1., since which time it has continued to return two members. The right of election was formerly vested in the inhabitants resident within the borough properly so called (which comprised 158 acres), paying scot and lot, the number of whom is about 400; but it has been extended, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, containing 742 acres, which, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 64, has, for elective purposes, been made to constitute the new borough: the mayor is the returning officer.

The corporation hold quarterly courts of session for the trial of all offenders, except those accused of capital crimes; and a court of record for the recovery of debts to any amount. The summer assizes, alternately with Wells, and the summer sessions for the county, are held here. The judges' mansion is a handsome modern edifice, containing apartments for the judges, the borough courtrooms, and a room for the grand jury. The borough prison contains distinct departments for debtors and criminals : the latter are only confined there previously to trial, or to their committal to the county gaol. By the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 64, this town has been made a polling-place for the western division of the county.

The living is a vicarage, with the rectory of Chilton-Trinity united, valued in the king's books at £11. 7. 6.; present net income, £342 : it is in the patronage of the Crown; the impropriation belongs to the Corporation. The church is an ancient and handsome structure, with a square embattled tower and a lofty spire: it has a rich porch in the decorated style of English architecture, and the altar is embellished with a fine painting of the Descent from the Cross, found on board a captured French privateer, and presented to the parish by the Hon. A. Poulett, member for the borough. A new chapel, containing 1093 sittings, of which 575 are free, in consideration of a grant of £500 from the Incorporated Society, was completed and consecrated in Aug. 1837. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, Unitarians, and other sects. The free grammar school was founded in 1561, and endowed by Queen Elizabeth with £6. 13. 4. per annum, charged on the tithes of the parish, to which two donations of £100 each were added: it is under the control of the corporation, who appoint the master, and the inspection of the bishop of the diocese; four boys are instructed gratuitously in English and the classics. A school, now conducted on Dr. Bell's system, was founded by Dr. John Morgan, in 1723, and endowed with 97 acres of land: the management is vested in the charity trustees appointed by the lord chancellor, under the Municipal Reform Act: a school-room and a house for the master, whose salary is £40, were erected by the trustees, in 1816; there are 30 scholars on the foundation, some of whom are clothed, and a great many more are taught in the school. A school was also founded in 1781, by Mr. Edward Fackerell, who endowed it with the dividends on £3000 in the three per cent. consols., and the rents of three messuages, producing together an annual income of £174, for clothing, educating, and apprenticing the children and grandchildren of certain relatives named in his will, and so many other children as the funds might allow: the provisions of the will were afterwards restricted, by the Court of 'Chancery, to the children of his relatives, the number of whom, at the last report, had increased to 80: the management, by the testator's will, is vested in trustees, whose accounts are periodically audited by a master in Chancery. In 1824, a Lancasterian school for about 130 children was established: it is partly supported by voluntary contributions; the master and mistress are allowed a salary of £50, with a house and garden: and an infants school is supported by subscription principally. A national school for '250 scholars has been erected, by aid of a grant of £150 from the Lords of the Treasury, under an act passed in 1833.

Almshouses, originally endowed by Major Ingram, of Westminster, with £18 per annum, are now appropriated to the poor of the parish, and the endowment is distributed among poor widows not receiving parochial relief. The infirmary, a commodious building, was established in 1813, and is supported by subscription. The poor law union of Bridgwater comprises 40 parishes or places, under the care of 48 guardians, and, according to the census of 1831, contains a population of 28,566. Admiral Blake was born here, in 1599, and received the rudiments of his education in the free grammar school. Bridgwater confers the title of Earl on the family of Egerton.

Transcribed by Tony Woolrich. All Content © Bridgwater Heritage Group, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved, do not reproduce material without permission.

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