|Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition||Public Domain via Project Gutenberg|
a market town, port and municipal borough in the Bridgwater parliamentary division of Somerset, England, on the river Parret, 10 m. from its mouth, and 151¾ m. by the Great Western railway W. by S. of London. Pop. (1901) 15,209. It is pleasantly situated in a level and well-wooded country, having on the east the Mendip range and on the west the Quantock hills. The town lies along both sides of the river, here crossed by a handsome iron bridge. Among several places of worship the chief is St Mary Magdalene's church; this has a north porch and windows dating from the 14th century, besides a lofty and slender spire; but it has been much altered by restoration. It possesses a fine painted reredos. A house in Blake Street, largely restored, was the birthplace of Admiral Blake in 1598. Near the town are the three fine old churches of Weston Zoyland, Chedzoy and Middlezoy, containing some good brasses and carved woodwork. The battlefield of Sedgemoor, where the Monmouth rebellion was finally crushed in 1685, is within 3 m.; while not far off is Charlinch, the home of the Agapemonites (q.v.). Bridgwater has a considerable coasting trade, importing grain, coal, wine, hemp, tallow and timber, and exporting Bath brick, farm produce, earthenware, cement and plaster of Paris. The river is navigable by vessels of 700 tons, though liable, when spring-tides are flowing, to a bore which rises, in rough weather, to a height of 9 ft. Bath brick, manufactured only here, and made of the mingled sand and clay deposited by every tide, is the staple article of commerce; iron-founding is also carried on. The town is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 926 acres.
A settlement probably grew up in Saxon times at Bridgwater (Briges, Briggewalteri, Brigewauter), owing its origin as a trade centre to its position at the mouth of the chief river in Somerset. It became a mesne borough by the charter granted by John in 1201, which provided that the town should be a free borough, the burgesses to be free and quit of all tolls, and made William de Briwere overlord. Other charters were granted by Henry III. in 1227 (confirmed in 1318, 1370, 1380), which gave Bridgwater a gild merchant. It was incorporated by charter of Edward IV. (1468), confirmed in 1554, 1586, 1629 and 1684. Parliamentary representation began in 1295 and continued until the Reform Act of 1870. A Saturday market and a fair on the 24th of June were granted by the charter of 1201. Another fair at the beginning of Lent was added in 1468, and a second market on Thursday, and fairs at Midsummer and on the 21st of September were added in 1554. Charles II. granted another fair on the 29th of December. The medieval importance of these markets and fairs for the sale of wool and wine and later of cloth has gone. The shipping trade of the port revived after the construction of the new dock in 1841, and corn and timber have been imported for centuries.
See S. G. Jarman, "History of Bridgwater," Historical MSS. Commission, Report 9, Appendix; Victoria County History: Somerset, vol. ii.