Bridgwater: Castle

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1992.

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A P Baggs, M C Siraut, 'Bridgwater: Castle', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), ed. R W Dunning, C R Elrington( London, 1992), British History Online [accessed 25 July 2024].

A P Baggs, M C Siraut, 'Bridgwater: Castle', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Edited by R W Dunning, C R Elrington( London, 1992), British History Online, accessed July 25, 2024,

A P Baggs, M C Siraut. "Bridgwater: Castle". A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Ed. R W Dunning, C R Elrington(London, 1992), , British History Online. Web. 25 July 2024.


William Brewer (d. 1226) was licensed in 1200 to build a castle at Bridgwater which descended with the manor, or one third of the manor, until 1627. (fn. 1) While the Crown had custody 1233-48 it appointed constables and used parts of the castle as a prison and a store. (fn. 2) The Crown again occupied the castle 1322-6 in case Roger Mortimer should escape from the Tower and use it as a base for operations in Wales. (fn. 3) When he sold his interest in the manor in 1627 Sir George Whitmore retained the castle, which had been separately leased in 1591 to William Goble, collector and bailiff, (fn. 4) but he sold the castle in 1630 to Henry, son of William Harvey of Bridgwater, a lawyer. (fn. 5) Henry's son Henry died in 1671, and the castle passed first to his uncle Francis, owner in 1673 and 1690, and by 1699 to his nephew John Harvey (fn. 6) (fl. 1715). In 1721 John's son Francis conveyed the castle and other properties on the site and elsewhere in the town to James Brydges, duke of Chandos. (fn. 7) The duke sold the estate to Thomas Watts in 1734, and in 1738 Watts and his wife Mary conveyed it to John Anderdon, M.D. In 1777 John's son Edward was owner of two houses and extensive gardens, formerly the castle bailey, besides the remains of a substantial mansion. (fn. 8) Robert Harvey, M.D., is said to have been the owner in 1791. (fn. 9)

The castle was apparently rectangular in plan and lay in the north-east corner of the town and on the west bank of the river. Only the early 13th-century Water Gate and a stretch of curtain wall north of it survive above ground. In 1242 the constable was ordered to repair the mound upon which the castle keep stood, to mend the turrets, and to make other necessary repairs. (fn. 10) In 1246 the towers were to be roofed and the surrounding palisade renewed. (fn. 11) In 1360 the building was said to be in ruins, (fn. 12) although repairs had been made to the chapel and a barn within the walls in 1347-8. (fn. 13) Part of the surrounding ditch had by then been filled and built over; other sections were used for grazing and growing timber, while the southern stretch towards the town still held water, and reeds growing there were cut to thatch some of the castle buildings. (fn. 14) In the 1380s, when the castle formed part of the network of the Mortimer estates in the West and Wales, small repairs were regularly made both to the defences and to buildings within the walls. A substantial oak palisade was rebuilt on the north side in 1394-5; the eastern wall, strengthened with at least two towers, one at a corner, was frequently repaired. The main entrance was a 'great gate' or 'outer gate towards the town', evidently detached beyond the ditch, which gave access across the outer drawbridge to the outer bailey; an 'inner bridge facing the tower within the ditch' led to a second drawbridge and the inner bailey. (fn. 15) Two other towers stood at the time. (fn. 16)

About 1400 the buildings within the inner bailey included chambers for estate officials, a kitchen, a cellar, a horse mill, and a dungeon. A barn mentioned in 1347 seems to have been replaced as a hay store in the 1390s by the castle hall, known as Mortimers Hall. Detached buildings included stables, a dovecot, and a chapel. (fn. 17) A new chamber was mentioned in 1408, and three men were ordered by the manor court to return two guns to the castle; the bailey was being used to graze cattle (fn. 18) and for archery practice. (fn. 19) Private dwellings had been established within the walls by the 1450s. (fn. 20) Successive owners from the earlier 15th century appointed their retainers to offices such as doorkeepers and constables. In the 1530s and 1540s one man was described as constable and bailiff of the ditches of the castle, and the keepership was a Crown appointment until c. 1607. (fn. 21) Before 1502 buildings had been erected on each side of the main gate of the castle, which by then gave access from the high cross to the town's north gate. (fn. 22)

Leland described the castle in the 1540s as 'all going to mere ruin', (fn. 23) and in 1548 'the old frame of the castle' was reported as having fallen down and been removed to the house of the customer of the port. (fn. 24) In 1565 royal commissioners suggested that the buildings might be demolished to provide a site and materials for a customs house and a new quay. (fn. 25) A house was being built within the castle in 1566-7 at the expense of the town, (fn. 26) but no further work has been traced until Henry Harvey's house 'by the bridge', built c. 1637 and damaged or destroyed in the siege in 1645. (fn. 27) Harvey or his predecessor had pulled down some of the walls shortly before 1635. (fn. 28) In 1650 the castle was thought to be of possible military value. (fn. 29) Probably in the later 17th century a castellated mansion was built on the summit of the castle mound, its western front in the form of a twin-towered gatehouse. Eight rooms on the first floor were occupied in the 1720s by the estate steward and later by a schoolmistress. (fn. 30) Between the house and the eastern wall of the castle, where there had been a grove of elm trees, (fn. 31) the present Castle and Chandos steets were laid out in the early 1720s and the eastern wall was demolished in 1726 to provide access to the quay. (fn. 32) The remainder of the site was occupied by two houses and extensive gardens. (fn. 33) About 1804 the western area was an open playground surrounded by a wooden palisade. The ruins of the castellated mansion still stood surrounded by deeply pitted ground. (fn. 34) The site was subsequently laid out as King Square. (fn. 35)

In 1219 the chapel within the castle was among the churches appropriated to the newly founded St. John's hospital in Bridgwater. (fn. 36) It was dedicated to St. Mark, and in 1535 a priest celebrated there three times a week for the souls of the founder and of King John. (fn. 37) The chapel was of stone with a stone-tiled roof and a bell tower. (fn. 38)


  • 1. Below, manors (Bridgwater Castle).
  • 2. S.R.S. xi, pp. 40, 42; Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 229.
  • 3. Cal. Fine R. 1319-27, 94, 189, 358, 419; Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 230; Cal. Chanc. Wts. 537; Cal. Mem. R. 1326-7, pp. 111-12.
  • 4. P.R.O., C 66/1379.
  • 5. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1625-6, 369, 569; 1625-49, 501.
  • 6. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/717/25 Chas. II Trin.; S.R.O., D/P/bw 1170; B.L. Add. Ch. 71718.
  • 7. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/1056/1 Geo. I Trin.; S.R.O., D/D/C pet.; C. H. C. and M. I. Baker, James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos (1949), 221.
  • 8. Baker and Baker, James Brydges, 234; P.R.O., CP 25(2)/1398/11 & 12 Geo. III Trin.; S.R.O., DD/BLM (map, 1777).
  • 9. Collinson, Hist. Som. iii. 82.
  • 10. Cal. Lib. 1240-45, 129.
  • 11. Ibid. 1245-51, 21.
  • 12. Cal. Inq. p.m. x, p. 532.
  • 13. P.R.O., SC 6/968/17.
  • 14. Ibid. SC 6/968/17, 21, 25, 27; SC 6/969/11.
  • 15. Ibid. SC 6/968/27, 29; SC 6/969/2, 4; S.R.S. xlviii, nos. 226, 276.
  • 16. P.R.O., SC 6/968/25, 27.
  • 17. Ibid. SC 6/968/17, 25, 27, 29; SC 6/969/4, 6.
  • 18. Ibid. LR 3/58/9.
  • 19. Sel. Cases of Trespass from the King's Courts, 1307-99 (Selden Soc. c), 30.
  • 20. S.R.S. lx, no. 786.
  • 21. P.R.O., C 139/18-19, no. 32; ibid. SC 6/1113/11; L. & P. Hen. VIII, vii, pp. 146-7; xix (1), p. 374; Hist. MSS. Com. 53, Montagu, p. 77.
  • 22. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1938.
  • 23. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 162.
  • 24. P.R.O., E 117/12, no. 21.
  • 25. S.D.N.Q. xxx. 159.
  • 26. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1544.
  • 27. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. xxiii. 18.
  • 28. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1634-5, 502.
  • 29. Ibid. 1650, 178.
  • 30. Baker and Baker, James Brydges, 221, 229; above, plate facing p. 136.
  • 31. S.R.O., DD/SAS (C/1193) 4, p. 150.
  • 32. Baker and Baker, James Brydges, 229.
  • 33. S.R.O., DD/BLM (map, 1777).
  • 34. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. xxiii. 46.
  • 35. Above, intro. (buildings).
  • 36. S.R.S. xlix, p. 288.
  • 37. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1424; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 208.
  • 38. P.R.O., SC 6/968/17, 25, 27; SC 6/969/2, 4, 6, 11.