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Bridgwater

Find out what the old Somerset words ‘shrowcropped' and ‘bombay runners' refer to, who tried to assassinate Oliver Cromwell (and missed) what is a squib and why Bridgwater is so crazy about carnivals!

Welcome to the Bridgwater hidden history Storywalk linked to the England Coast Path. This trail is designed to be like a skimming stone of interesting facts, myth, history and tales linked to this location. The walks are designed to be read aloud to family and friends and to embellish your experience of Bridgwater.

Route - beginning at the Admiral Blake statue in the middle of town, this trail then journeys through the streets and past the Blake Museum to finally finish at the docks.

To delve deeper into the local history, then please visit the Blake Museum, the Brick and Tile Museum, or Bridgwater library.

Length - 1 mile / 1.7km, allow a couple of hours at an amble.
Access - generally level throughout.
Directions - this trail begins at the Admiral Blake statue near the Corn Exchange in the middle of Bridgwater. TA6 3BX What3words address ///raft.order.amaze 51.128409, -3.0035900
 
Chapter one

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘shrowcropped' refers to an animal which is terrified as it has a shrew or mouse crawling on its back, and a ‘bombay runner' is a cockroach!
Chapter two

To Begin

Bridgwater grew as a bustling port on the River Parrett. Much of the architecture, from the Corn Exchange to the public library, shows pride in its civic architecture. But just as the river meanders and changes its route, so Bridgwater's fortunes have fluctuated over time.

From here you can see two statues, one celebrating carnival, the other honoring Admiral Blake. Carnival plays a key role in the town's history and is still very much at the heart of its community and annual celebrations today. The West Country Carnival dates back to the gunpowder plot of 1605, which was instigated by Robert Parsons of nearby Nether Stowey.

The original celebrations involved the burning of old boats here at Cornhill but as these became more scarce and perfectly good boats were sometimes burned instead, the tradition evolved. Today, the carnival sees a lavish parade of brightly lit carts in procession around the town. We have peppered carnival images, old and new throughout this Storywalk, to give you a flavour of the spectacle. But to be honest, to really get a feel for the evening, the heat of the lamps, the sway and bounce of the floats as they pass, as well as the music and general extravagance of the night, you just have to come!
Chapter three

A Damp Squib

The second figure holds a firework on the end of a cosh, this is called a squib. You will no doubt have heard the phrase ‘a damp squib', meaning anything that doesn't meet one's expectations. The term allegedly originated when the Bridgwater squibs were affected by moisture and disappointingly failed to go off.

During carnival, people are granted licence to be a little more eccentric than normal but even they admit holding lit fireworks over your head is not for everyone. The image above taken by Timeless Image of Bridgwater really captures the wildness of squibbing during a recent carnival. The Devon town of Ottery St Mary has a similar tradition as they race through the streets holding aloft flaming tar barrels!
Chapter four

Corn Exchange

The prominent sandstone building with the pillars and curved frontage is the former Corn Exchange, designed by Charles Knowles in 1875, he was also commissioned to design St Peter's Church in nearby Combwich.

The market hall for grain was originally built in 1779 and by the 1790s, Bridgwater was the principal market town in Somerset for corn, livestock and cheese. In the late 1820s the hall was destroyed as part of a road widening scheme and replaced with the Cornhill Dome designed by John Bowen which you see today.
Directions - Walk over to the smaller statue of a man 'squibbing' for the next chapter to reveal. Note - you can refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘backsundied’ (pronounced baak-zundud) might refer to.
 
Chapter five

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘backsundied' (pronounced baak-zundud) is quite simply a place which is always facing north or away from the sun.
Chapter six

NatWest Building

Just behind the squibbing statue, currently the NatWest bank you will find York Buildings, a fabulous example of the Edwardian Baroque style and erected in 1904. Prior to this, in the 1860s this was the site of a Turkish Bath House.

Image above is from a Bridgwater carnival float as it passes through the town on Guy Fawkes carnival night.
Chapter seven

The Livestock Market

The livestock market was located at the top of the High Street at Penel Orlieu. The area was once called Pig Cross and was laid out as a more formal cattle market which you can discern from the image above. Notice also the bowler hats and suits, the photograph clearly illustrates the different classes working in Bridgwater during the 1890s.

The great annual cattle market was held on the first Wednesday in December, with more general cattle markets held every Wednesday. The market place was moved from its central location onto Bath Road in 1935.
Chapter eight

The Old Stocks

From the 1300s a pillory was situated on the High Street for public punishment of petty crimes. Across the country a statute was passed in 1351 that all towns and villages must maintain one. Pillories are similar to stocks, often made from oak with holes to manacle ankles, hands and sometimes heads. The culprit would have to stand with their head and hands locked up for a day or two, or until their public humiliation was complete.
Directions - Back on the High Street, use the pedestrian crossing then turn left and follow the pavement around past the Corn Exchange to St Mary’s Church. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘heeltap’ (pronounced ee'ul-taap) and what a ‘camel’ might be.
 
Chapter nine

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘heeltap' (pronounced ee'ul-taap) refers to the last drop of liquor in the bottom of your glass which can't be drunk. But a ‘camel' was a technique for raising the draught of a ship's keel. Firstly two heavily laden vessels would be lashed to either side of the ship in question. These boats would then be unloaded which would have the effect of raising the central boat in the water and enabling this ship to travel in shallow waters.
Chapter ten

St Mary’s Church

The stone spire, standing some 114ft proud of the church tower was split by lightning in 1814 but thankfully repaired the following year. The tower played a key role in history as during the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 the Duke of Monmouth climbed the tower to look out across the landscape and to the east, at Westonzoyland, he spied the forces of King James II assembling for battle.

In 1660, after the Civil War, Charles II was restored to the throne. He was succeeded by his younger brother James but James was Roman Catholic and the old religion was feared and frowned upon in seventeenth-century England. Monmouth led a rebellion against James, this was also known as the West Country or Pitchfork rebellion because the rebels were mainly poorly-armed farmers.

Monmouth was proclaimed King of England by the inhabitants of Bridgwater but this success was short-lived and he was defeated in battle at Sedgemoor, 8 miles to the north. Declared a traitor, Monmouth met a bloody end at the Tower of London.
Chapter eleven

The Bloody Assizes

Number 39 St. Mary street, now The Carnival Inn - Wetherspoon, is reputed to be the house where Judge Jefferies lodged just after the civil war ended. He was sent across Somerset and the West Country to punish any Monmouth supporters. In just a couple of days he sentenced 300 rebels to be executed.

Inside the church an Italian painting by an unknown artist measuring 13ft x 8ft was gifted by Anne Poulett (the Bridgwater member of parliament in 1775 and actually a man, despite the name). It was apparently captured as a ‘prize' from an Italian warship, though why an Italian vessel would have such a painting on board is a puzzle. But the true story behind the journey and seizure of the painting remains shrouded in mystery.

Why not step inside, the painting is currently displayed behind the altar.
Directions - Walk back through the metal arched gate at the east end of St Mary’s Church (which we came through). Then cross the road and turn right - away from the Corn Exchange and the statues. Follow the pavement down St Mary Street, The Carnival Inn - Wetherspoon will be over the road on your right. Finally turn left into Dampiet Street to stop at the brick Unitarian chapel. As you walk perhaps discuss what the word ‘slubbing’ (pronounced slaub'een) might refer to and what a ‘slubber’ might do.
 
Chapter twelve

Dialect

The word ‘slubbing' (pronounced slaub'een) was the process of loosely spinning woollen yarn, it was mechanised by the machine ‘the slubbing billy' and was worked by the slubber!

Directions - turn left off St Mary Street into Dampiet Street and walk along a little to the brick Unitarian chapel on your right.
Chapter thirteen

Caught in the Change of Church

The chapel you are standing outside of was built just after a very frictionful period of English history. The Reverend John Norman founded the congregation here during the civil war, a time when the Puritans abolished many features of the Church of England. But when the civil war ended and the Church of England was suddenly back in power (along with Charles II) the Puritans found themselves out of favour and became persecuted.

Lord Stawell, a Royalist who had been imprisoned during the civil war, became the local MP for Bridgwater and Somerset. He ordered the Reverend John Norman to be imprisoned, and whilst under arrest the furniture of the chapel was burnt at Cornhill.

At the time, it was said that people ‘pranced around May poles as a way of taunting the presbyterians and independents'. But by 1688 matters seemed to have calmed down and a new chapel was built here. Today it is marked as the oldest nonconformist building in Bridgwater, built 1688, rebuilt 1788, restored 1988.
Chapter fourteen

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge also preached here in 1797 and 1798, as he did in many churches in Somerset. Coleridge was the 9th son of the Reverend John Coleridge who was rector at St Mary's Church of Ottery St Mary in Devon.

Whilst living nearby in Nether Stowey, Coleridge was joined by his friends Dorothy and William Wordsworth who took up residence at Alfoxden Hall in the Quantocks. Together they published ‘Lyrical Ballads' designed to challenge poetical works of the time and destined to change poetry for ever.

Today Coleridge is perhaps best known for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he wrote having read of seafaring journeys to the Antarctic, he called himself a mariner of the library!
Directions - Just past the chapel you will find Blake Street, walk down to the museum at the end. Refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below. As you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect words ‘arsyvarsy’ (pronounced aa'rsee-vaa'rsee) and ‘bantwivytwist’ (pronounce ban twuv'ee twus) might refer to.
 
Chapter fifteen

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect words ‘arsyvarsy' (pronounced aa'rsee-vaa'rsee) and ‘bantwivytwist' (pronounce ban twuv'ee twus) mean upside down and askew.
Chapter sixteen

Admiral Blake

Your walk commenced at the bronze statue of Admiral Blake (1598-1657). It was made by Mr. J. W. Pomeroy, and erected in 1900 at a cost of about £1,200, a considerable sum at the time. But who was Blake?

Blake was one of the most famous English admirals of the 17th century and he is regarded as a founder of England's naval supremacy. From a prominent and wealthy family, he was brought up in nearby Bishop's Lydeard. He attended school in Bridgwater and then studied at Oxford University, before becoming a merchant. He returned to Bridgwater in 1638 and became its MP in 1640.

During the Civil War of the 1640s, Blake was a parliamentarian. He had very little previous military or naval experience but he fought well at the siege of Taunton and won the siege of Dunster. His naval battles began in 1649 and you can read more about how he transformed the navy in the museum here, which is also the house where he was born.
Directions - Walk back out of Blake Street and turn right to continue along Dampiet Street. Follow the pavement and road down to the river and public library entrance. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘cantle’ (pronounced kan'tl) might refer to.
 
Chapter seventeen

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘cantle' (pronounced kan'tl) is simply a wedge of cheese.
Chapter eighteen

What's in a Name?

One would assume that Bridgwater gained its name from the many bridges crossing over its waterways, but were that to be the case almost any town or city could be called Bridgwater. Notice also the missing ‘e.'

After the Norman Conquest of 1066 the manor was given to Walter of Douai, a Norman baron. At the time it was called ‘Brugge' or ‘Brugie' and one story of its origins is that it then became ‘Brugie of Walter' which gradually became ‘Bridgwater'.
Chapter nineteen

Bridgwater Library

Another stunning civic building is Bridgwater Library and again a good illustration of the town's wealthy past. It was the gift of Andrew Carnegie esq, of Skibo Castle and opened in 1906. If you want to get deeper under the skin of the town then this is naturally where your research should begin.

Before we move on, cast your eye across the water to Salmon Parade where you can see the old hospital infirmary building with the words ‘supported by voluntary contributions' on the front. See if you can spot any of the buildings in the photograph from the previous chapter and work out where you are standing.
Directions - Continue along to Eastover Bridge with the river to your right but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘pirdle’ (pronounced pour'dl) and ‘twirdly’ (pronounced twuur'dl'ee) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘pirdle' (pronounced pour'dl) and ‘twirdly' (pronounced twuur'dl'ee) mean simply to spin and to twirl.
Chapter twenty-one

The Town Gaol

The block of 1960s buildings on your left was the location for Bridgwater Gaol (jail) until 1875 when it moved to Clare Street (near Pig Cross). The image above depicts the borough police force which was established here on Fore Street. But the security of the cells would seem quite wanting since on Thursday 11th October 1849 it was reported in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette that another escape was made from Bridgwater Gaol!

A man was put to sleep in a room with two other prisoners, but during the night, with the assistance of his companions, he managed to make a hole in the ceiling of his room, which is of lath and plaster, and by that means got on the roof and got clear off, with nothing on but his shirt.

The article continues to suggest the culprit was finally apprehended by Inspector Hill at the railway station as he was trying to catch a train. Today the three bells which struck the hours at the Gaol, along with a piece of glass from one of the cells, on which a prisoner etched his name, are part of the Blake Museum collections.
Chapter twenty-two

The Docks

The 1830s and 1840s were a time of great expansion for Bridgwater. The companies trading through the port in the early nineteenth century kept pushing for improvements to the area. In 1836 the Bristol and Exeter railway obtained permission to construct a railway passing through Bridgwater and this threat of competition provided more impetus to improve the docks. Thus in 1837 works were started to extend the canal and to build a larger quayside. These were opened, to much fanfare, in 1841.
Directions - Turn left on Fore St (away from the river) and then take the first right into Court Street. This will lead along a short distance onto Queen Street where next we will stop at ‘The Concrete Castle’ which will be tucked in on your right. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘ballyrag’ (pronounced baal'irag) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-three

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘ballyrag' (pronounced baal'irag) is to scold or abuse.
Chapter twenty-four

Concrete Castles

This unique building was indeed built as homage to castles, celebrating the bonds of two great Sedgemoor families, the Ackermans and the Boards, when they extended their brick empire into cement. William Ackerman, grandson of John Board, who joined the company in 1871 is credited with developing the first true ‘portland cement' mix. Many segments of this building were prefabricated by casting portland cement and then hoisting the parts into position, a groundbreaking technique at the time.

Having been a grade II listed building since 1974, and recognised as a unique piece of British architecture it was in a terrible state of great dilapidation until quite recently. But in 2018 the scaffold finally came down to reveal the completion of the external conservation works. The original design was based on a tudor gatehouse, and though today we are surrounded by concrete, the initial explorations into this medium were thoughtful and creative.
Directions - Continue along Queen Street then right at the end to rejoin the river. Walk north along West Quay with the river on your right to the old crane. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘smeechy’ (pronounced smee'chee) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-five

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘smeechy' (pronounced smee'chee) refers to dust in the air, or it being smoky or sticking. Letting off all those squibs at carnival would certainly have made the air smeechy!
Chapter twenty-six

Bridgwater Castle

Castle Street (which you have just departed) runs east-west from the Parrett to the site of the old castle of which very little remains. Here at West Quay there is a section of wall that formed part of the Water Gate; it seems such a sad and mundane end for an integral part of what was once a grand and imposing structure.

The castle was built by William de Briwere (or Brewer) in AD 1202, it passed to the King in 1233. Excavations have revealed that the moat was up to 20m wide and would have filled with water at high tide.

During the Civil War there was a royalist garrison at Bridgwater, under Edmund Wyndham. His wife, Lady Crystabella Wyndham, fired a musket shot at Cromwell from the castle wall, but missed and killed his aide-de-camp. The castle was used by local Royalists to house their valuables - unwisely as it turned out because the castle was not well defended. On 23 July 1645, after two days of assault, it was surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax, with the loss of £100,000 in treasure, a huge sum at the time. Fairfax had just proved victorious at the decisive Battle of Naseby, some 150 miles to the northeast of Bridgwater. He went on to quell most of the unrest in the South West.

The castle's fate was not a happy one, perhaps because it was seen as weak. It gradually fell into ruin until the 1720s when the Duke of Chandos developed the area, building substantial houses for the town's merchants.
Chapter twenty-seven

Lion House

Walk further along West Quay now to Benjamin Holloway house or Lion House, easily identifiable with Chinese style dogs or lions on the gate. Built in the Baroque style with flemish-bond brick of alternate red and yellow, it was much desired and became the residence of several of Bridgwater's Mayors over the following years.
Directions - Continue along West Quay with the river on your right but as you walk perhaps discuss what the ‘captain's daughter’ might be and the old Somerset dialect word ‘lurrup’ (pronounced luur'up) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-eight

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘lurrup' (pronounced luur'up) means to thrash with a leather rope and the ‘captain's daughter' (also called the ‘cat o' nine tails') was a short nine tailed whip for punishment of the crew. This would only be used on the orders of the captain or court martial and is thought to be the origin of the phrase ‘not enough space to swing a cat'.
Chapter twenty-nine

Bridgwater Fair

Bridgwater is famous for its austentatious carnival which we have already talked about, but the St Mathews fair is no small event either. Dating from 1249 and spanning over 4 days, around 40,000 people attend for the food, rides, palm reading and of course hook-a-duck.

As you stand near the river, you can see just how muddy its banks are. The town made part of its fortune from this mud. One 1914 guide to Bridgwater declared that ‘an important handicraft, peculiar to this place, is the manufacture of scouring bricks, known as ‘Bath Bricks' which are made from a peculiar kind of slime deposited on the banks of the river Parrett.' Millions of Bath Bricks were made each year, as well as tiles, pottery and even drain pipes. So important was this trade that today Bridgwater has a museum dedicated to its industrial heritage just over the bridge from here.
Chapter thirty

The Canal

As we follow the river we will eventually arrive at Bridgwater Docks, which connected Bridgwater to Taunton via a canal some 13 ½ miles long. Bridgwater was also linked by canal to Exeter, Chard and Westport.

In 1827 the canal was extended into the centre of Bridgwater which meant that all traffic could dock here rather than at Combwich, some 6 miles downstream.

Construction of the docks and the extension of the canal was not easy. Costs were four times higher than predicted and the Canal Company was heavily mortgaged as a result. The canal was busy and commercially successful but not enough to keep up with repayments of the mortgage and competition from the railway added to the financial problems.

Both port and canal gradually declined which finally closed for business in 1907. The working docks remained open until 1971 and today the canal is used mainly for leisure.

Noteworthy walk - The Somerset Space Walk which starts at Bridgwater's Maunsel Locks includes scale models of the Sun and planets at their relative distance along the towpath.
Directions - The next chapter will reveal at the remains of The Chandos Glass Cone. Turn left at the road (The Clink) and walk along the pavement (away from the river) to cross at the traffic lights. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect phrase ‘squab pie’ (pronounced skwaab'-puy) might refer to.
 
Chapter thirty-one

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect phrase ‘squab pie' (pronounced skwaab'-puy) is a pie but made with mutton, onions and apples, not young pigeons as you might initially expect.
Chapter thirty-two

The Glass Cone

The Chandos glass cone was originally designed as a glass working kiln and was a major part of the industrial development of Bridgwater. Later it was redeployed as a pottery, brick and tile kiln and continued in use until 1939. The cone of the brickwork was destroyed in 1943 and subsequently scavenged but the base is still in situ and preserved with an information board revealing more about it.
Chapter thirty-three

Sydenham Manor

If you were to cross the river and follow the path of the old railway line to the north, after about half a mile you would come to the site of Sydenham manor. The manor has a mixed history, having been on the losing side in both the Civil War and the Monmouth Rebellion!

But in 1937, with high levels of unemployment in the town, British Cellophane set up a factory here. The factory covered 59 acres and exported products worldwide. Cellophane gave the town a distinctive smell and employed thousands of people, although it closed in 2005. Today the site is currently used for substantial accommodation for the Hinkley C workforce.
Directions - The final chapters of this Storywalk ends at Bridgwater Docks, either dip back to the riverside path or walk on from The Glass Cone, cross Valetta Place and then follow the pavement along Northgate Road. Both routes will lead you to the Docks. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect phrase ‘skilly’ (pronounced skil'ee) refers to.
 
Chapter thirty-four

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect phrase ‘skilly' (pronounced skil'ee) refers to a thin workhouse gruel.
Chapter thirty-five

Bridgwater Docks

Just a hundred years ago these docks would have been a hive of activity, built on either side of the Parrett, there have been quays at Bridgwater since at least the fifteenth century. The Langport slip was built in the late 15th century and repaired at the end of the 17th century.

These facilities were part and parcel of Bridgwater's success as an industrial town. Indeed it was the most industrialised town in Somerset. The ability to move goods by water was vital to early industrialisation as the roads at the time were poor and often impassable in winter. The railway network was built from the 1830s but Britain's rivers, canals and extensive coastline made early industrialisation possible.

By 1841 the area was redesigned by Thomas Maddicks, with a bascule (lifting) bridge and a system of sluices and culverts to scour the basin of river mud. By 1845 an act of parliament made Bridgwater the central customs port for the stretch of coast, from Brean to Hinkley Point.

It is interesting that today Bridgwater's fame has shifted from the might of industry to the spectacle of carnival. The flamboyance of stone lions and concrete castles has surfaced today in sequins, lights and a street party to rival that of even Rio de Janeiro!
Chapter thirty-six

The End

This brings us to the end of this Storywalk although there are many others of these along the Somerset Coastline to enjoy. Feel free to post a picture on the Storywalks Facebook of your family or group enjoying the trail.

These trails have been researched and written by C Jelley and Dr Helen Blackman and have been made possible by grant funding from the England Coast Path scheme, managed by Somerset County Council and the Rights of Way team. With additional support from Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival and The Blake Museum.
Chapter thirty-seven

Directions

To return to the town, it is simplest to retrace your steps along the river and then turn right at Eastover Bridge where the town gaol was once located. This is Fore Street which will take you back to the Cornhill Exchange and the sculptures where our tour began.

For Storywalk app service issues and enquiries - Storywalks contact

For Somerset public rights of way issues - Somerset County Council
Chapter thirty-eight

Acknowledgements

Images - in order of display

1 - The Michelin Man ‘walker' at Bridgwater Carnival 1912 - Photograph courtesy of Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival www.bridgwatercarnival.org

2 - Squibbing Bridgwater HIgh Street - photograph - Timeless Image

3 - Carnival Walkers - photograph - C Jelley

4 - The Spectacle of Float - photograph - C Jelley

5 - Bridgwater High Street - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/34 -The Reverend Derick Collection

6 - Assyrian Warriors at Bridgwater Carnival 1906 - Photograph courtesy of Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival

7 - Fairy Princes and Princesses at Bridgwater Carnival 1998 - Photograph courtesy of Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival

8 - Admiral Blake House - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/34 -The Reverend Derick Collection

9 - The River Parrett - Anon

10 - Bridgwater Constabulary - Anon

11 - Ironworks Float - photograph - C Jelley

12 - Performers on a Float - photograph - C Jelley

13 - Court Cards at Bridgwater Carnival 1886 - Photograph courtesy of The Blake Museum Bridgwater

14 - Viking Ship Float Driver - photograph - C Jelley

15 - Louis XIII Mousquetaires at Bridgwater Carnival 1997 - Photograph courtesy of Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival

16 - Karlstad Bridgwater Docks - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/32 -The Reverend Derick Collection
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