Bustling Bridgwater is a busy market town set in the heart of Somerset's vastly contrasting but equally beautiful countryside. The town lies in the valley of the fiercely tidal River Parrett at the foot of the Quantocks, with the Somerset levels and the Mendip Hills stretched out before it. Such a position has made Bridgwater and ideal centre for holidaymakers wanting to explore the delights and charms of the West country with its picturesque villages wealth of history and world-famous attractions.
Bridgwater was made a borough by royal charter in 1200 and was granted the right to have a mayor in 1468. At an early date it became known as a river port and is shown as such on a map drawn for the 'History' written by Matthew of Paris in 1250. It was also known in the Middle Ages for its market and its fairs. One of these, St. Matthew's Fair, which began in the middle of the 14th century has survived and still flourishes. The town also had two important religious houses, the Hospital of St. John and the Friary (the only Franciscan house in Somerset) which were closed in 1539 by Henry VIII.
A community has existed here in Bridgwater for about 1000 years. During this time, the town has inevitably altered much having developed and evolved in parallel with cultural, economic and technological changes. A settlement was sited where Bridgwater now stands because of an area of slightly raised land which was less liable to flooding than the surrounding moors and formed a convenient site for crossing the River Parrett. The settlement is listed in the Doomsday Book as an agricultural community called BRUGIE. In 1200 AD William de Bruere was granted a Royal Charter for the Borough and at about the same time commenced construction of a castle on the west bank of the river.
By the 15th century the town had grown to about 300 houses and had become a thriving port. The cloth trade was well established and was the mainstay of the town’s prosperity, exporting woollen cloths from various parts of Somerset. In the Civil War the town supported the Royalist cause and suffered grievously. In a major siege at the end of July 1645, Parliamentary artillery pounded the town for 3 days and destroyed virtually all the timber framed domestic and commercial buildings. Roundheads subsequently destroyed the castle as a reprisal for the town’s resistance.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the cloth trade enjoyed a further boom before falling victim to the industrial revolution, which moved the centre of commercial and industrial activity northward towards the sources of cheap power. As Bristol grew in importance the port and town of Bridgwater declined and into a long period of stagnation. The commercial manufacture of roofing tiles and bricks and improvements to communications helped the town grow in the 19th century. The railway station was located to the east of the town and encouraged the growth away from the river.
During the 20th century the local brick and tile industry declined. The town welcomed new industries such as Cellophane and now has a much wider industrial and commercial base. Since 1974 Bridgwater has been the administrative centre of the District of Sedgemoor. The population has grown from about 15,000 at the beginning of the century to over 33,000 today. Whilst Bridgwater has seen many developments and changes in recent years much of the older parts of the town have retained their character, historic buildings and the mediaeval street pattern.