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Bridgwater, England

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Bridgwater, Somerset, United Kingdom (Not to be confused with Bridgewater)

Bridgwater is the administrative centre of the Sedgemoor district of Somerset in south west England, between two junctions of the M5 motorway[?].

It's though 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 and 3,634 in 1801).

Table of contents

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. leading to the building of a bridge across the river and of Bridgwater Castle[?].

In the English Civil War the town and the castle were held by the Royalists - who lost to the Parliamentarians with many buildings destroyed. The castle was deliberately destroyed the following year (1645).

In the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James, 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 Kings position near Westonzoyland. Unfortunately surprise was lost when a musket was accidentally discharged, and the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle on Enlglish soil, resulted in defeat for the Duke. He later lost his head in the Tower of London. 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.

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 preparation 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.

Industry

Formerly a major seaport for the south west of England, Bridgwater also became a major manufacturing centre for clay tiles and bricks in the ninteenth century, including the famous "Bath Brick". The docks and the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal are a remnant of this era, which came to and end after World War II. The last commercial use of the docks was in 1971, and are now a little used marina.

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

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.

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.

People

Admiral Robert Blake, until Horatio Nelson the most famous of British Admirals, was born in Bridgwater. His home is now a museum and contains details of his career amongst its exhibits.

Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter, was born in Bridgwater in 1778.

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.

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