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Bridgwater

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Bridgwater is a market town in Somerset, England.

Bridgwater is the administrative centre of the Sedgemoor district of Somerset in South West England, between two junctions of the M5 motorway.

It is thought that the town was originally called Brigg, meaning Quay. After the Norman invasion the land was given to Walter Douai, a Norman prince, hence become BriggWalter, eventually corrupted to Bridgwater. An alternative version is that it derives from "Bridge of Walter" (i.e. Walter's Bridge).

The town had a population of 36,000 in 1998 (up from 22,718 in 1951, 3,634 in 1801, and 7,807 in 1831). Historically, the town had a politically radical tendency, being involved in several events of note on the national stage.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Industry
3 Arts
4 Annual Events
5 People
6 Natural Environment
7 Twinning
8 External links
9 See also

History

Bridgwater originated as a market town and is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and previously at around 800 A.D. in Saxon chronicles.

Alfred the Great famously burnt cakes when hiding in the marshes of Athelney near Bridgwater, after the Danish invasion in 875.

King John of England granted the town a charter in 1200 A.D., with William de Briwere as lord, and leading to the building of a bridge across the river, of Bridgwater Castle, and of St John's hospital.

During the 11th century revolts of the barons against Henry II, Bridgwater was held by them against the King.

Bridgwater's peasants under Nicholas Frampton took place in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, sacking Sydenham House, murdering the local tax collectors and destroying the records.

The 1605 Gunpowder Plot is thought to have been masterminded by Robert Parsons, born in the nearby village of Nether Stowey.

In the English Civil War the town and the castle were held by the Royalists under Colonel Sir Francis Wyndham, a personal acquaintance of the King. British history may have been very different had his wife, Lady Crystabella Wyndham, been a little more accurate with a musket shot that missed Cromwell but killed his aide de camp. Eventually, with many buildings destroyed in the town, the castle and its valuable contents were surrendered to the Parliamentarians on July 22, 1645. The castle itself was deliberately destroyed the following year (1645), while in 1651 Colonel Wyndham made arrangements for Charles II to flee to France following the Battle of Worcester. Some remains of the castle can still be seen - the watergate, a wall in Queen Street, and the route of the moat in Castle Moat.

In the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed King in various local towns including on the Cornhill in Bridgwater. He eventually lead his troops on a night-time attack on the King's position near Westonzoyland. Unfortunately surprise was lost when a musket was accidentally discharged, and the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle on English soil, resulted in defeat for the Duke. He later lost his head in the Tower of London, while nine locals were executed for treason. Allegedly, until recently members of the Royal Family would not pass through Bridgwater without drawing the blinds of their train as a result of this escapade.

Bridgwater became the first town in Britain to petition the government to ban slavery in 1797.

In 1896, the trade unionsists of Bridgwater's brick and tile industry were involved a number of strikes. The Salisbury government sent troops to the town to clear the barricades by force.

A by-election in 1938 enbled the town to send a message to the government and Hitler, when an Independent anti-appeasement candidate was elected.

In World War II the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, designed to prevent the advance of a German invasion. Pilboxes can still be seen along its length. The first bombs fell on Bridgwater on August 24, 1940, destroying houses on Old Taunton Road and three men, three women and one child were killed. Later a prisoner of war camp was established at Colley Lane, holding Italian prisoners. During the preparations for the invasion of Europe, American troops were based in the town.

1950 saw the start of a significant increase in post-war housebuilding, with council house estates being started at Sydenham and Rhode Lane and the former coperative estate near Durleigh. The first council estate to be built was in the 1930s at Kendale Road, followed by those at Bristol Road.

The 1973 national reform of local government removed the historic status of Bridgwater as a Borough, as it became part of the district of Sedgemoor.

Industry

With a 9m (30') tidal range on the river, allowing ships of up to 300 tonnes to reach the town centre, Bridgwater was formerly a major seaport for the south west of England, and the fifth largest in England until eclipsed by Bristol in the 18th century. Imports included wine, grain, fish, hemp, coal and timber. Exports included wheat, wool, cloth, cement, bricks and tiles. Unlike Bristol, Bridgwater was never involved in the slave trade and, in 1797, was the first town in Britain to petitioned the government to ban it. The Bridgwater ship the Emanuel was one of three that took part in Martin Frobisher's 1577 search for the North West Passage. In 1828, 40 ships were registered in the port, averaging 60 tons each.

As trade expanded with the Industrial Revolution, Bridgwater was linked to Taunton by the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal (1827), and docks were built in 1841. In 1871 the mouth of the docks was spanned by a unique telescopic bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who also designed the dock dredger Bertha. The last commercial use of the docks was in 1971, after coal imports ceased, and although they are now a marina, they are currently little used. The surrounding quays have been developed for housing, although the remains of wooden quays on the riverbank can still be seen.

Due to it's port ship building was also an important industry. The last ship to built in the town was the Irene, built by Built by F J Carver and Son, which has its own web site. The former associated industry of rope making is commemorated in street furnishings and paving in ropewalk street.

Under an 1845 Act of Parliament the Port of Bridgwater extends from Brean Down to Hinkley Point in Bridgwater Bay, and parts of the rivers Parrett (to Bridgwater), River Brue and River Axe. Although no ships now dock in the town, in 2001 103,613 tonnes of cargo were handled within the area of the Port Authority.

Bridgwater also became a major manufacturing centre for clay tiles and bricks in the 19th century, including the famous "Bath Brick", exported through the port. These industries collapsed in the aftermath of World War II.

Now Bridgwater is largely an industrial town, with industries including the production of cellophane, plastics, engine parts, and industrial chemicals.

Bridgwater is home to the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum.

Arts

Nearing Bridgwater on the M5 motorway it's possible to see a striding human figure constructed from Willow, sometimes called the Angel of the South. Standing at 12m (39') tall, it was created by sculptor Serena de la Hey and the largest known sculpture in willow, a traditional local material.

The Bridgwater Arts Centre was opened on October 10 1946, the first community arts centre opened in the UK with financial assistance from the newly established Arts Council of England. It is situated in a Grade II listed building in the achitecturally protected Georgian Castle Street, designed by Benjamin Holloway for the Duke of Chandos, and built over the site of the former castle.

Bridgwater Arts Centre was the venue for the first post-war meeting of the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne in 1947.

Castle Street was also used as a location in the 1963 film Tom Jones.

Annual Events

Bridgwater is now best known for the illuminated "Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival" that attracts around 150,000 people from around the country and overseas, held on the Friday nearest to November 5th each year. It consists of a dazzling display of over 100 large vehicles up to 100 feet long, festooned with dancers and up to 22,000 lightbulbs that follows a 2.5 mile route over 2 to 3 hours. The carnival is believed to be the largest illuminated carnival in Europe, if not the world. It originated in 1881 and was originally lit by lamps; electric lights were first introduced in 1913. The Web site (see below) contains some photos and video clips.

Later in the evening of the Carnival, there is the simultaneous firing of large fireworks (known as squibs) in the street outside the town hall, known as "squibbing".

Towards the end of September, Bridgwater Fair takes place over three days on St Matthew's Field. The fair is now a fun fair, ranked as third largest in England after the Nottingham Goose Fair and ???, however it originated in 1249 as a horse and cattle fair, lasting for eight days near St Matthew's day (September 21), giving the venue it's name.

People

Admiral Robert Blake, until Horatio Nelson the most famous of British Admirals, was born in Bridgwater, and attended the local grammar school. His home is now the Admiral Blake Museum and contains details of his career amongst its exhibits of local history and archeology.

Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter, was born in Bridgwater in 1778.
James Sully, psychologist, was born in Bridgwater in 1842.

Members of Parliament

Bridgwater has been represented in Parliament since it was instituted in1295. After the voting age was changed in January 1970, Susan Wallace became the first ever 18 year old person to vote in the UK, during the 1970 Bridgwater by-election that elected Tom King.

Members of parliament have included:

Admiral Robert Blake
Vernon Bartlett (Independent anti-appeasement) "Popular Front" (1938-1950)
Sir Gerald Wills (Conservative) (1950-1969)
Tom King (Conservative) (1970-2001)
Ian Liddell-Grainger (Conservative) (2001- )

Natural Environment

Bridgwater sits near the edge of the
Somerset Levels and the Quantock Hills on the River Parrett, which in turn discharges into the Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve.

Twinning

Bridgwater is twinned with:

External links

See also