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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Agriculture. The four Domesday manors which lay within the ancient parish, Bridgwater, Bower, Hamp, and Horsey, together measured 8½ hides. Bridgwater manor, the largest, gelded for 5 hides but comprised 10 ploughlands. Two hides were in demesne worked by 3 teams; the tenant farms, worked by 8 teams, measured 3 hides. Horsey, next in size, gelded for 2 hides but comprised 7 ploughlands. Three virgates were in demesne and the remainder was worked with 5 teams. Hamp was about half the size of Horsey and was shared equally between lord and tenants. Bower gelded for ½ hide with land for 3 teams; there was 1 on the demesne, 1 on the tenant farms. The demesnes together were worked by 7 teams with 11 servi; the recorded tenants totalled 25 villani, 24 bordars, and 9 cottars. There were 40 beasts on the combined manors, 48 pigs, and 111 sheep, the last shared only between Bridgwater and Horsey. There was a riding horse at Horsey but only 2 beasts at Hamp. A total of 25 a. of pasture was found at Bridgwater and Horsey. (fn. 1)
Bridgwater manor, whose stock included 100 ewes in 1185-6, (fn. 2) was divided between two lords in the mid 13th century. Each share included an agricultural estate at Haygrove, urban rents, and market and port dues. In 1249 the demesne of the Mortimers' share, one third of the manor, measured 91 a. of arable and 24 a. of meadow. Farm rents and cash in lieu of works from customary tenants were worth 20s. in 1249, 34s. from 8 customary tenants in 1282, and 19s. from 9 tenants for rent and 5s. for works in 1304. In 1249 the estate was valued at £21 2s. 10½d. (fn. 3) In 1256-7 the other two thirds of the manor had nearly 140 a. under crops. Rents amounted to 37s. 2d. from 19 customary tenants who performed 132 works. The gross income was £85 4s. 11d., of which sales of grain, stock, and pasture accounted for over £51. The demesne was staffed by 2 ploughmen and 1 carter and the arable in that year was divided between oats (51 a.), wheat (37 a.), beans (26 a.), rye (15 a.), and barley (10 a.). (fn. 4)
By 1347-8 the demesne of the Mortimers' third was almost entirely let and total rents amounted to £23 1s. 7d., including a small sum from the rent of the demesne meadow and from the sales of wax paid for chevage. (fn. 5) Crops were lost in 1381-2 and later because of flooding north of the town around Crowpill, (fn. 6) and in the summer of 1413 income was slightly reduced because herons and sparrowhawks had not nested and bees and rabbits had disappeared. (fn. 7)
Horsey manor in the 13th and 14th centuries included a demesne farm of c. 130 a., all but 12 a. arable, and rents of free tenants amounting to 8s. There were at least 12 customary tenants in 1327; 9 tenants in 1337 had each a messuage and 8 a. and paid 2s. in lieu of services and labour. (fn. 8) Other holdings east of the town in the 13th century and later seem to have been fragmented, one in 1208-9 having 7 a. in five places and 1 a. in a new meadow apparently in Bower and Dunwear. (fn. 9) Another in the 1290s comprised 26 a. of arable and 6 a. of meadow in Dunwear and Slape. (fn. 10) A farm of similar size in the same area by 1316 survived in the 15th century; (fn. 11) holdings in North Bower, Dunwear, and nearby Slape formed part of the much larger and scattered estates of William Dodesham in 1455 and of James Hadley in 1532. (fn. 12)
Common arable cultivation was still practised in the parish in the 16th century. Blackland, perhaps earlier known as the field by Crowpill, (fn. 13) North field, Matthew's field, and Hayle or Hey field lay north-west and west of the town. (fn. 14) Hamp field still retained some arable strips in the 1540s, but part had by then been converted to pasture. (fn. 15) Land at Bower called Pulfurlang in 1208-9 (fn. 16) may have been part of a field which survived in 1847 in small and narrow inclosures collectively called Brimpsfield and Crow Lane field near Slape Cross on the boundary with Chedzoy. (fn. 17) Small parts of Horsey field remained in the 1550s (fn. 18) and Great and Little Dunwear fields, named in 1847, may have survived from the Dunwear or West field named in 1763. (fn. 19)
Common arable cultivation seems to have been abandoned in the eastern part of the parish by the early 16th century and the contrast between it and the west was then marked. In the 1530s, when corn tithes for the whole parish were worth over £25 compared with tithe hay at 17s. 4d. and tithe of wool and lambs together at 34s., Horsey, Dunwear, and North Bower accounted for nearly three quarters of corn and other arable crops tithed. (fn. 20)
By 1539 Castle field, formerly the arable demesne field of Eastover, was pasture (fn. 21) and St. John's hospital's adjoining Hundred Acres was divided into 80 customary holdings of which the largest comprised an enclosed pasture of 30 a., 13 a. of arable, and common grazing. (fn. 22)
In the 1540s Hamp manor, which lay on both sides of the river south of the town, was divided between 5 freeholds, 4 leaseholds, and 42 customary tenancies. Copyhold and leasehold land together amounted to some 620 a., of which more than three quarters were almost evenly divided between arable and pasture. The largest holding, with the capital messuage and some demesne, was 78 a., two others were c. 50 a., most were between 10 a. and 20 a. and comprised small closes. One had a sheep house and a hay house, another a barn and stall under one roof, a third a hay loft over an ox stall. One tenant was licensed to let his house fall down. (fn. 23) The lords sold 165 elms from Hamp manor in 1556- 7. (fn. 24) In 1568 they organized and partly paid for making a new channel for the river. (fn. 25)
West Bower manor had been inclosed by the 1550s and its land, lying also in Cannington, Wembdon, and Durleigh, was shared between 11 tenants. (fn. 26) In 1635 the manor house was let with 115 a. Much of the rest of the estate was let in holdings of 4 a. or less. (fn. 27)
In 1655 Hamp manor contained 472 a. in 43 holdings: the largest was just over 90 a., another 61 a., and a third 55 a. Most were under 10 a. Half the manor lay on 'deep, solid earth' which was being cropped four years in five and produced beans and good corn 'with little help'. Other land, on sand and gravel, needed less ploughing and more manuring, but produced wheat. The wet marsh supported coarse grass only. One tenant was described as 'exceeding bad', and another had 'impoverished' his tenement; a field recovered from the river was 'the choicest ground' in the manor. Meadow was cheap and rated low for tithe. There were no commons except the small Hamp green; rents and heriots were high. (fn. 28) By 1698 some holdings had been consolidated: the demesne farm was 99 a. in 1694, and by 1705 another had increased to 115 a. (fn. 29)
Sixty husbandmen and 13 yeomen in the parish contributed in 1661 to a voluntary gift to the king in comparison with 63 tradesmen. (fn. 30) By 1709 tithe payments showed a change from the 1530s: little over one third of the corn in the parish was produced east of the river and Horsey's contribution had fallen to under one fifth of the whole. Wheat in the whole parish then covered 188 a., barley 158 a., beans 72 a., pulse 61 a., peas 29 a., and there were smaller areas of vetches and oats. (fn. 31)
In 1774 Benjamin and Thomas Allen were rated between them for over 500 a. at Dunwear and Edward Pleydell for over 200 a. at Horsey. Other large holdings were at East Bower. (fn. 32) By 1788 the Allens' holdings were much reduced, Thomas's comprising a dairy farm with a new brick house, 14 a. of cider orchards, and 89 a. of land. Benjamin's was a compact farm of 76 a. including 6 common rights in King's Sedgemoor. (fn. 33) Other farms in that part of the parish were much smaller but together claimed 30 common rights until 1795 when Bridgwater parish was allotted land in the south-east beside the Weston Zoyland road in respect of claims by farmers in Horsey, East Bower, and Dunwear. (fn. 34) The only other common grazing in the parish was Chilton common, shared with Chilton Trinity, Durleigh, and Wembdon; it was partly inclosed by agreement in the 18th century and finally allotted in 1802. (fn. 35)
By 1847 meadow and pasture accounted for 3,060 a. in the parish; arable covered only 533 a., orchards 215 a. There were then six principal landowners of whom Margaretta Michel had 370 a., Sir Thomas Reynell 289 a., and John Allen 222 a. The largest farm, Dunwear, was 147 a.; one at East Bower was 143 a. and several others were just over 100 a., including the later Foundry farm, Coxpit farm, and one at Haygrove. Horsey farm was just under 100 a. and several were just over 70 a. (fn. 36) By 1862 the Tyntes' estate centred on West Bower had been consolidated as a farm of 273 a., but small holdings persisted around Haygrove and at East Bower until the earlier 20th century. (fn. 37) By 1905 the amount of arable land had been further reduced to 383 a., (fn. 38) and by 1982 there had been a further fall in arable. In that year there was a total of 77.5 ha. under crop, more than half winter barley. Returns were then made of 33 farms of which 2 were over 100 ha. and 12 between 30 ha. and 100 ha. Six farms specialized in dairying, 3 in stock rearing, 2 in general horticulture, and 1 in poultry. (fn. 39)
In 1086 Walter of Douai had a mill in Bridgwater. (fn. 40) Following the division of the lordship the Mortimers held a third of two mills in 1249. (fn. 41) The two mills, probably under a single roof, were still in operation in 1395. (fn. 42) No further reference to those mills has been found.
A mill known as Little Mill, recorded c. 1361, (fn. 43) retained the name in the mid 16th century when three quarters of it belonged to Bridgwater Castle manor. (fn. 44) By the early 17th century it was known as the Town mill or Bridgwater mill. (fn. 45) The mill, at the southern end of Blake Street, was driven by a leat from the Durleigh brook. (fn. 46) In 1886 it was described as a disused sawmill. (fn. 47) It was used as a builder's store until 1988 when it was bought on behalf of the Bridgwater Museum Society for incorporation into the town's museum. (fn. 48)
A mill on Hamp manor by 1549, perhaps also known as South mill, (fn. 49) continued in use in the 17th century. Its sluice required repair in 1647 and the mill was said to be ruinous in 1655. It was evidently rebuilt, and in 1694 Bristol corporation sold it to Edward Raymond. (fn. 50) No further trace of it has been found.
A water mill at West Bower, owned by William Gascoigne in 1423, (fn. 51) passed to Sir Alexander Hody (d. 1461) and descended with West Bower manor. (fn. 52) It was still in use in 1909. (fn. 53) The mill stood west of West Bower Manor.
A water mill east of the Parrett granted by William of Horsey to William Brewer (d. 1233) (fn. 54) may be the mill at 'Arknelle', described in 1251-2 as alienated from Pignes. (fn. 55) No further reference to it has been found.
A horse mill was in use in Bridgwater castle in 1304. It was said to have been ruinous in 1372 but was working in 1382 and by 1389 was leased with 12 a. of land for the support of five horses. It was still in use in 1413, but no further trace has been found. (fn. 56)
A horse mill formerly belonging to St. John's hospital was sold by the Crown in 1544 to Sir John Fulford and Humphrey Colles and by them in the same year to John Newport. (fn. 57) John Newport's son Emmanuel sold the mill to Alexander Jones in 1591. (fn. 58) No further trace has been found.
A horse mill in use on the south side of High Street in 1655 belonged to the Halswell estate. (fn. 59)
A fulling mill built c. 1409 in Bridgwater castle was still in use in 1413 (fn. 60) but no further trace has been found.
In 1548 the mayor and burgesses of Bridgwater granted the site of a former mill on the bank of the Parrett for building a weir. The site, described as between a mill tail and a barn and stretching from the low water mark 14 yd. towards the middle of the river, seems to have been for a tide mill. (fn. 61)
Messrs. Spiller operated steam-driven flour mills in Chilton Road, Crowpill, from 1845. The mills were disused by 1886. (fn. 64)
Market and fairs.
William Brewer was granted a free market at Bridgwater in 1200. (fn. 65) Stalls were set up in High Street by the mid 13th century, and by 1367 some stalls were housed in a market hall (domus stallorum) there, while others stood in Fore Street. (fn. 66) There were separate fish stalls by 1449, and butchers' stalls were in the flesh shambles, mentioned in 1472 (fn. 67) and surviving until the rebuilding of the north side of High Street in the early 1820s. (fn. 68) By 1615 a separate shambles stood in the market place, in the 1730s comprising stalls under three of the arches on the north side of the high cross. (fn. 69)
Market day was Saturday under the borough charter of 1468, but by the later 16th century it seems to have been changed to Thursday. (fn. 70) By the later 17th century cheese was sold in the Cheese Market and later bacon also. (fn. 71) Stalls in and around the high cross were from 1769 used by hide sellers. (fn. 72)
Efforts were made in the 1770s to establish extra cattle sales, (fn. 73) and by the 1790s markets were held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; the principal market day remained Thursday, largely for cattle and cheese in the 1790s, and also for corn in the 1820s. (fn. 74) The town's markets were by the 1790s the 'most considerable' in the county for corn, horned cattle, sheep, pigs, and cheese. (fn. 75) Demand for food among the poor in 1800 drove prices up and forced the delivery of foreign wheat from Bristol and flour direct from Philadelphia, but only the turnip crop had actually failed. Crops of barley and wheat had improved in quality over the previous year but potatoes had doubled in price since 1798. Farmers could not leave unthreshed corn in the fields for fear of theft. (fn. 76) A special market for cattle was advertised in 1826, to be held on Thursday 30 November, (fn. 77) but contraction of business is suggested by a petition of 1839 to protect the Thursday market from competition. (fn. 78) An annual 'great market' was established in the 1880s, held on the first Wednesday in December (fn. 79) to coincide with the change in the principal market day from Thursday to Wednesday made in 1857, while at the same time the lesser market days were established as Monday and Saturday. (fn. 80) By 1902 enlarged markets on the last Wednesdays in January, March, and June and a fatstock show on the Thursday before the first Wednesday in September had replaced all but one of the ancient fairs in the town, while the 'great market' continued on the first Wednesday in December. (fn. 81) By 1914 the fatstock show and the 'great market' were combined on the first Tuesday and Wednesday in December and the special markets in January and March had ceased. (fn. 82)
A triangular area within the west gate was known by 1399 as le Orfaire, and was evidently the site of the cattle market. (fn. 83) Cattle and pigs were offered for sale in the same place, then called Penel Orlieu, in the 19th century, when the sheep market was in West Street. The cattle market was enclosed in 1875 and improved in 1889-90. (fn. 84) The market was removed to a new site in Bath Road in 1935, (fn. 85) where it operated in 1991. By 1909 meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables were sold in the market hall on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and later every weekday. (fn. 86) A general market was held at the cattle market on Saturdays in the 1980s, but an attempt to extend it to Sundays during the summer months in 1986 was not successful (fn. 87) and in 1991 it was held on Saturdays only.
The old Tolsey in High Street was referred to between 1352 and 1708. (fn. 88) The Cheese Market, measuring 100 ft. by 13 ft. 6 in., stood in the centre of St. Mary Street at the east end of the churchyard by 1674. (fn. 89) It was removed between 1794 (fn. 90) and 1822 and a new building erected on the corner of Friarn Street and St. Mary Street, on the site of the Three Cups inn. (fn. 91) By 1830 it had been converted into an inn. (fn. 92)
A corn market house was built in brick by 1791. (fn. 93) The north and south sides of the building were demolished for road-widening in 1825, and an Act was secured in 1826 under which a new frontage was constructed. (fn. 94) It is said to have been completed c. 1827 and to have been designed by John Bowen. (fn. 95) The present building has a portico with heavy Ionic columns leading into a corn exchange rebuilt in 1875. Behind is the earlier market house, entered from north and south through gateways flanked by Ionic columns in antis.
In 1200 William Brewer was granted an annual eight-day fair beginning on 24 June. (fn. 96) The fair seems to have lapsed c. 1359 when no merchants came. (fn. 97) It was revived by the charter of 1587, when it was to last for six days. (fn. 98) By the mid 18th century a fair was held only on Midsummer day, and it included a shoe fair, transferred in 1743 from George Lane to Dampiet Street. (fn. 99) By 1857 it was held for two days, 24 and 25 June, but from that year it was held for one day, the last Wednesday in June. (fn. 100) The fair remained in existence as a horse fair until 1936 or later. (fn. 101) In 1869 a summer fair was also held on 7 July in Eastover for horses only, but it was then said to be in decline. (fn. 102)
By 1249 the lords of Bridgwater had an eightday fair around St. Matthew's day (21 Sept.) (fn. 103) and its site, St. Matthew's field outside the west gate, was established by 1404. (fn. 104) The fair was not mentioned in the borough charter of 1468, but was one of the three confirmed in 1587, and in 1628 was to be held for three days. (fn. 105) With the new calendar of 1752 the fair began on 2 October. (fn. 106) By 1852, perhaps only temporarily, it included a Saturday pleasure fair. (fn. 107) In 1857 the fair was transferred to the three days beginning on the last Wednesday in September. (fn. 108) In the late 1920s it was extended to four days. (fn. 109) By 1822 the fair was claimed to be one of the largest in the West of England. (fn. 110) By c. 1900 the first day of the fair was for the sale of cattle and horses, the other two for cattle and general merchandise, but by 1914, when sheep also were sold on the first day, the other two days were solely for pleasure. (fn. 111) In the late 1920s the fair was extended to include Saturday. (fn. 112) In 1988 it was held for four days as usual. (fn. 113)
The lords of Bridgwater also had two small fairs at Ascension and Whitsun. Both existed in 1358 but thereafter declined. The Whitsun fair was held in 1403 but not in 1405; the Ascension fair was held in 1405 but very little toll was taken. (fn. 114) In 1468 the former Ascension day fair seems to have been re-established as one for five days from the Monday after Shrove Tuesday, (fn. 115) and it was continued by the borough charter of 1587. (fn. 116) In the 1740s the fair included a special sale of shoes, and in the 1780s of narrow cloths and shap. (fn. 117) In the 1790s the fair was apparently limited to the first Sunday in Lent, (fn. 118) but by 1800 it was held on the second Thursday in Lent. (fn. 119) In 1857 the fair was transferred to the last Wednesday in March; it is said to have survived until c. 1900. (fn. 120)
By the charter of 1683 a fair for all marketable goods and for large and small cattle was to be held in High Street on 28 and 29 December. (fn. 121) By the mid 18th century it was known as the Cock fair or Cock Hill fair, (fn. 122) and it continued as the Christmas fair until the later 19th century, held on 28 December until 1857 and from then transferred to the last Wednesday in January. (fn. 123)
Plausible interpretations of the town's name (fn. 124) indicate that Bridgwater already by the 11th century used the river for trade. The inclusion of lastage as part of the income of the town in 1200 has been seen as evidence that there was a port, where duty was collected on freight landed and vessels moored. (fn. 125) The lord's 'water tolls' in the later 13th century were worth rather less than the market tolls, (fn. 126) and a century later had declined both absolutely and in relation to the market tolls. (fn. 127) Nevertheless, the town provided sailors for the Welsh campaign in 1277, (fn. 128) and on at least 13 occasions between 1301 and 1417 sent ships on military expeditions to Ireland, Scotland, France, and Spain. In 1319, when it was liable jointly with Bristol for one ship for Scotland, the only vessel available had already gone on service to Gascony; in 1342 jointly with Combwich it sent four ships and a barge to Brittany. (fn. 129)
Until the early 15th century the customs accounts for Bridgwater were subsumed in those of Bristol. The tolls payable to the lords of the town give an indication of the volume of trade: the Mortimers' estate received 16s. 2d. in 1347-8 and 12s. 8d. in 1358-9, but much less than half those sums in nearly every year 1381-1403. (fn. 130)
About 1300 Bridgwater merchants were trading in wine with Bordeaux, and in 1330 the port was a centre for victualling for the same destination. (fn. 131) The Bardi used Bridgwater as a collecting port for wool exports in the 1340s, (fn. 132) and Bridgwater merchants were involved in the export of agricultural products to southern France, northern Spain, Wales, and Ireland. David le Palmer and Hugh le Mareys were licensed in 1331 to ship 500 qr. of corn to Wales but not to foreign parts, (fn. 133) and in 1364-5 John Michel and others were licensed to export wheat, beans, and peas to Cornwall, Ireland, Bayonne, and Spain. (fn. 134) Merchants from the port evaded customs on wool, hides, and wool fells by lading them in the river and not at the quay; John Godesland of Combwich shipped quantities of corn to Ireland to the king's enemies. (fn. 135) John Cole, probably the most prosperous merchant in the town at the time, took large quantities of beans to Bordeaux and Bayonne and to the Bristol Channel ports in the 1360s and 1370s; and Richard atte Mill was licensed with a Wellington man in 1371 to load barley and beans for Waterford, Cork, Cardiff, and Carmarthen. (fn. 136)
Imports included wine brought in on a Dunwich ship in 1360 and herrings unloaded in 1382. (fn. 137) In 1396-7 the town's bailiff accounted for money charged for moorage, for the use of the bushel measure, and for the hire of planks, ropes, and skids used to take wine from ships to the town cellar. In that year a wooden gangway (via de meremio) was made for landing wine and stone. In the year 1399-1400 the town charged for the haulage of 101 tuns of wine. (fn. 138)
Bridgwater, a separate port from 1402, exported more than 100 cloths in each of 11 years up to 1450, and more than 200 in 1415-16 and 1422-3. For 75 years from 1472 the number of cloths leaving the port (which included creeks outside the town) never fell below 100 a year, and from 1488 to 1506 never below 300: 966 cloths were exported in 1481-2 and 974 cloths in 1500-1. The average for the period 1402-1506 was just over 200 a year, (fn. 139) and was higher 1506-47. (fn. 140) Wine imports fluctuated widely. (fn. 141) The town's income from charges for the use of moorings, quays, the crane, measures, and planks was on average between £5 and £6 in the 1420s and c. £2 10s. in the 1460s. (fn. 142) The charges made by the water bailiffs for unloading, storing, and moving imported goods show a growth of imports by the end of the century, yielding c. £20 a year, (fn. 143) but only half as much 1525-43 before rising to an average of over £25 1549- 83. (fn. 144) In that period trade was said to be increasing, making the port the busiest in the county. (fn. 145) The number of ships belonging to the port, however, was only 5 in 1508-9, 'few' in 1570, and in James I's reign only 4, compared with 37 belonging to Bristol and 16 to Barnstaple. (fn. 146) The income from charges fell markedly in the mid 1580s, but a partial recovery gave an average 1600-53 of c. £15. (fn. 147)
Bridgwater's cloth exports in the later 15th and early 16th century were principally to San Sebastian, Fuenterrabia (Spain), Bayonne, Andalusia, Bilbao, Bordeaux, and the Irish ports, (fn. 148) and trade continued there in the first half of the 16th century. Serges, kerseys, and Tauntons were exported, for instance, in the last quarter of 1547, (fn. 149) Tauntons being, with Bridgwaters and Chards, cloths defined by an Act of parliament which Bridgwater corporation obtained in 1555. (fn. 150) A consignment of poldavy, canvas belonging to an Antwerp merchant, which may have been on its way to Bristol, was confiscated in 1563. (fn. 151)
Agricultural products were the other main export to both international and regional markets in the later Middle Ages. Half was to the Irish ports of Wexford, Waterford, Youghal, Galway, Limerick, and Rosse, and was mostly beans. (fn. 152) In 1519 a consignment of wheat and rye destined for Cork or Kinsale was landed at Tenby. (fn. 153) Several export licences were issued in the 16th century for beans, malt, or pulse, and Leland reported that Bridgwater became a kind of staple for beans when corn was dear overseas. (fn. 154) Edward Dyer was licensed in 1568 to export 1,000 qr. of wheat and beans from Bridgwater and Minehead to any friendly country, and in 1571 Bridgwater was one of the ports for grain, butter, and cheese exports to Ireland. (fn. 155)
Hides were exported in varying quantities in Henry VIII's reign. (fn. 156) Only one of the four ships leaving the port in the last quarter of 1547 had hides, 94 doz. calfskins and 40 unspecified hides on a ship from San Sebastian. The remainder of the cargo comprised 51 serges, 34 doz. kerseys, and 32 doz. Tauntons. (fn. 157) Miscellaneous exports included a consignment of tin sent to Bordeaux in the 1480s. (fn. 158)
In the later 15th century annual wine imports averaged 102 tuns (25,704 gallons), but figures fluctuated between 366 tuns in 1475-6 and none in 1470. (fn. 159) In 1504-5 just over 285 tuns were unloaded, including small amounts of sweet white wine in Gascon and Breton ships. (fn. 160) Average annual wine imports in Henry VIII's reign amounted to just over 79 tuns (fn. 161) and still, as in the 15th century, came from La Rochelle, the Bordeaux region, Portugal, and southern Spain. (fn. 162)
In the 1470s a picard of Wexford took beans from Bridgwater and returned with red herring, salmon, conger eels, and barrels. (fn. 163) Coastal trade extended from the Bristol Channel ports around the south-west peninsula to Dartmouth, Exmouth, Melcombe Regis, and Dorchester, and there were frequent links with Bristol and London merchants. (fn. 164) Among prominent businessmen in the port in the 15th century were John Kedwelly, owner of a crayer called the Cog John of 24 tons and another ship of 50 tons, both evidently captured by the French in the Channel c. 1410. The first was bound for La Rochelle with wine, the other laden with 60 cloths. (fn. 165) John Hill (d. 1482) had a quarter share in two ships and an eighth share in another (fn. 166) and Denis Dwyn (d. 1504), an Irishman but a burgess and former bailiff of Bridgwater, owned a ship called the Gabriel and traded with Bordeaux in woad, cloth, and wine, and with a Limerick merchant in whiting and cod. (fn. 167) John Smythe was apprenticed in the town and continued to trade through the port after moving to Bristol. (fn. 168)
Millstones and grindstones, imported from the Forest of Dean by 1503-4, were distributed from the 1550s in Devon and almost as far as the Dorset coast. During the period 1562-73 the corporation established a monopoly on their import and resale. At the end of 1572 it held a stock of 38 millstones, 45 grindstones, 19 cornstones, 4 mustard mills, and 1 horsemill stone, and in 1590-1 it sold 76 stones. (fn. 169)
About 1600 general trade improved considerably. In the 1590s imports had been erratic and depressed, hardly paying the fees of the customs collector, and only one large ship belonged to the port. (fn. 170) Export licences for trade to Ireland and resumed business with France, Spain, and Portugal, doubled the amount of customable trade from c. 1603, (fn. 171) but there was far more coastal traffic than a century earlier and direct trade with France and Spain was rare. In 1603-4 red, white, and canary wine and sack came via Bristol, salt via Barnstaple, iron via Cardiff, and iron and train oil on a Weymouth barque. Other commodities in that year included Spanish wool, raisins, sugar, and sumach. (fn. 172) In 1614-15 the range of imports was narrower, but included metheglin, probably from Wales, block wood, tombstones, copperas, and campecha, presumably Campeachy wood. (fn. 173) In 1639-40 roughly the same amount of goods was imported, involving 189 vessels of which 153 were local ones plying the Bristol Channel. Coal and salt were then the principal commodities, together with building materials such as cases of glass, laths and other timber, nails and iron rods, besides cloth known as Manchester ware. (fn. 174)
In the 1620s and 1630s licences to export grain and other goods to Ireland further stimulated cross-channel trade, (fn. 175) but restrictions on Irish trade were imposed during the rebellion there in 1649-50. (fn. 176) In 1656 Bridgwater tried to revive the trade in millstones, imported from South Wales. (fn. 177) Piracy sometimes caused disruption, (fn. 178) and in 1666 trade was said to be 'at a stand' except for foreign ships which could afford escorts. (fn. 179) Bridgwater was in 1661 asked to support an escort vessel for the Newfoundland fishing fleet. (fn. 180) The increase in trade which peace brought had only a limited effect on Bridgwater, the largest ships turning to foreign business such as salt and lime from La Rochelle and neglecting coal and cloth. (fn. 181) In 1669 a ship from Virginia was at Minehead bound for Bridgwater. (fn. 182) Bridgwater vessels were involved in French-Irish and English-Dutch trade in the 1670s and operated direct links with Spain, Ireland, and other English ports. (fn. 183) William Alloway, a general merchant of Bridgwater, between 1695 and 1704 traded in salt, tallow, Irish wool, and West Indian tobacco, and his ships visited London, Liverpool, Waterford, Cork, Dublin, Minehead, Port Isaac (Cornw.), and Barbados. (fn. 184)
Throughout the 18th century the port supported c. 1,000 tons of shipping, in 1701 made up of 33 vessels employing 171 men. Foreign trade accounted for one third or less of the tonnage until the middle of the century, but thereafter for two thirds. (fn. 185) It included 'very good' wheat exported via Bristol to Madeira, illegal rum imported from Gallipoli and Leghorn, and unspecified trade with Newfoundland. (fn. 186) About 1760 the principal foreign imports were deals, small masts, pipestaves, coal, and culm. Coasters brought in beer and cider, bottles, bricks, cheese, bacon, and wood hoops. Corn went outwards to Bristol. (fn. 187) Quantities of salt were also imported from Droitwich (Worcs.). (fn. 188) By the 1770s trade was said to be chiefly with Portugal and Newfoundland, but traders had contacts with Gibraltar, Virginia, and the West Indies, and dealt in large quantities of Irish wool. (fn. 189)
There were 32 vessels registered in the port in 1789, trading largely in coal from Wales, wool from Ireland, and timber from the Baltic and North America, and in the 1820s c. 60 vessels came regularly. (fn. 190) The growth of the brick and tile industry increased tonnage after the 1850s. Average annual trade from the 1820s was over 112,000 tons, but by the 1870s had almost doubled, in 1870-3 reaching an average of 204,809 tons a year carried in 3,793 vessels. The peak year was 1878 with 233,039 tons. (fn. 191) During the same period there were 145 ships registered in the port totalling 8,943 tons. (fn. 192)
Four companies, Stuckey and Bagehot, Haviland, Axford, and Sully dominated business in the port in the 19th century. The Havilands had a fleet of small vessels in the coal, culm, and limestone business; the Axfords, owning the London and Bridgwater Shipping Co. between 1825 and 1847, were coastal traders with fast schooners; Stuckey and Bagehot had larger vessels which used Combwich quay until the dock was built; the Sullys were coal and culm merchants, mostly engaged in coastal trade but occasionally sailing to Scotland, Ireland, and France. (fn. 193) Joel Spiller, starting in 1840 in partnership with Samuel Browne, was described as a corn merchant. His milling business was the first to establish Bridgwater as a centre for agricultural food production. (fn. 194) In 1851 at least 199 people in the parish were directly involved in overseas trade as mariners, pilots, sailors, or seamen, and a further 28 were engaged in shipbuilding. (fn. 195)
Between the 1870s and 1904 trade fluctuated, falling in 1900 to 132,000 tons but rising to 189,000 in the last year, part of the decline following the construction of the Severn Tunnel and the active discouragement of the railway company which owned Bridgwater dock. (fn. 196) Exports of tiles to Australia and New Zealand and of tiles and Bath brick to Canada, the United States, Spain, France, and Germany involved the construction of a new quay in 1903-4, and before 1914 linseed was imported for cattle feed manufacture and foreign timber for the building trades. Total trading nevertheless declined, and on one day in 1911 only one vessel was moored in the river. (fn. 197) Tonnage was 108,000 in 1912 with 1,586 vessels visiting. Technical advances in brick and tile manufacture abroad after the First World War reduced exports, and coal came increasingly by rail. In 1937 the number of vessels nearly halved in the port as a whole and there was further decline in the following year. The last sailing vessel to berth commercially at the quay came in 1934. In 1953 tonnage had fallen to 52,766, the last year when commercial shipping passed the telescopic bridge to berth at the riverside quays. The whole port, exporting an average of 5,000 tons in the 1930s, exported none in 1968. The docks, their future already uncertain, took no more coal after 1966 and were closed in 1971. (fn. 198)
Other trade and industry. By 1249 the rents of burgages, shops, and stalls and the tolls from markets, fairs, and quay were a significant part of the income of Bridgwater manor. (fn. 199) By 1257 there were 313 burgages, 13 stalls, and 5 shops. (fn. 200) From the mid 13th century the town attracted settlers not only from the immediate hinterland and elsewhere in the county (fn. 201) but also from Devon and Wales. (fn. 202) In 1256-7 there were three Jews in the town: one was licensed to live there for a year, one for part of a year, and the third was fined for a trespass. (fn. 203)
The most prominent townsmen in the later 13th century seem to have been goldsmiths and dyers. (fn. 204) A tucker was recorded in 1310 and a weaver in 1318. (fn. 205) In 1327 Bridgwater was the highest taxed town in the county, but second with Bath in the number of taxpayers; in 1340 it was the fourth highest, but in 1377 was second in the number of taxpayers. (fn. 206) General indications of decline in the mid 14th century are a petition of the burgesses against an additional tax in 1347 on account of poverty, (fn. 207) the total absence of merchants from the Midsummer fair in 1359, (fn. 208) and the lower level of tolls levied in the market and at the quay after 1359. (fn. 209)
Sellers of cloth and wine were established in the town by the 1240s (fn. 210) and cloth merchants in the earlier 14th century were dealing not only in locally made 'mixed' cloth and broad cloth but also in Flemish products. (fn. 211) Six drapers, three of them from Taunton, were selling cloth illegally in the market in 1388. (fn. 212) Dyeing, spinning, and carding were practised in the later 14th century, a rack was standing outside the west gate in 1355, and a shuttle maker was in business in 1380. (fn. 213)
By the 15th century Bridgwater was part of a network of inland and overseas trade involving London merchants, (fn. 214) a Frome clothier with connexions in the Cotswolds, (fn. 215) a Salisbury embroiderer, a Wolverhampton burgess, and a Plymouth plumber. (fn. 216) A fulling mill was in use at the castle in the early 15th century, (fn. 217) and weavers, tuckers, dyers, and cardmakers continued to be active. (fn. 218) In the 1440s there were at least 12 weavers, 9 fullers, 3 dyers, and 2 cardmakers living in the town. (fn. 219) In the 1450s the town was home to a German goldsmith and a French mercer. (fn. 220) Inland trade was sufficiently important for the construction of a new slip above the bridge in 1488. (fn. 221)
By the later 15th century cloth was evidently the most important factor in the town's trade, merchants importing from Wales and North Devon and clothiers producing both undyed and violet cloth, both called Bridgwaters. (fn. 222) Among individual merchants involved in the trade were William Shore of London and Edward Goldeston of Taunton (d. 1502), the latter trading with a Lombard in Southampton. (fn. 223) Cloth finishing was carried out until the 1530s or later. (fn. 224) The general economy of the town, however, was in decline. The revenues of the borough were said to be reduced in 1454 (fn. 225) and claims that the town had fallen into 'so great poverty and decay' that people were leaving induced the owners of the fee farm to reduce their rents. (fn. 226) References to tenements in decay and defective rents were not uncommon for the next 80 years, and c. 1540 the loss of over 200 houses within living memory was reported. (fn. 227) The Crown found difficulty in selling the former chantry properties in the town because most were 'at the point of utter ruin', and the fee farm had to be further reduced because of the reduction of rent values after the confiscation of monastic estates in the town. (fn. 228)
The mayor and corporation, who purchased some of the former chantry land and who inherited from John Colverd (d. 1553) much of his estate both in the town and at East Stour (Dors.), (fn. 229) found themselves subject to heavy repair costs and owners of empty tenements. The annual gross value of their estate was over £30 in 1553, to which was added the profits of the port, but from which salaries and the cost of poor relief and entertainment had to be found. (fn. 230) In 1558 repairs and lost rents amounted to far more than the total rent income, by 1563-4 loans were needed to balance the account, and for ten years thereafter expenditure remained high. (fn. 231)
In 1505-6 65 wagons took goods from the town, mostly to Glastonbury, Wells, and Taunton but also to Old Cleeve and Warminster (Wilts.). (fn. 232) In 1526 nine went to Exeter, and goods were often sent overland to Bristol. (fn. 233) The river routes to Langport and Taunton were also used. (fn. 234) Cloth production was no longer important, but a weaver was still in business in 1581, felt was made at the same time, and a silk weaver was mentioned in 1611. (fn. 235)
In the earlier 17th century the town was again said to be decaying and in 1655 was said to have 'no eminent way of trade'. (fn. 236) The volume of inland business varied from year to year. It was usually in heavy goods such as millstones, iron, wine, oil, coal, salt, and soap, with occasional extraordinary cargoes such as freestone, an iron furnace, prunes, herring, and glass. (fn. 237) In 1648-9 charges were levied on 202 tons of iron, over 31 tuns of wine, 2 tuns of oil, and some casks which passed beneath the town bridge and up the Parrett, on 16 tuns of oil and wine which went overland to Bristol, and on 2 tuns of sack which probably went by road to Taunton. (fn. 238) In 1652-3 128 tons of iron and other unspecified goods passed under the bridge. (fn. 239) Quantities of coal and salt were also taken inland by river. (fn. 240) Coal and goods such as flax, hemp, grindstones, glass, long saws, and glue came through the port from the Forest of Dean to Langport in the early 18th century, and there was a similar trade with Taunton. (fn. 241)
In the 17th century merchants or mercers continued to be the leading townsmen, (fn. 242) but in the earlier 18th century professional men such as physicians and apothecaries became prominent, including John Morgan (d. 1723), founder of a grammar school, and John Allen (c. 1660- 1741), inventor, both doctors of medicine. (fn. 243) Trade guilds or companies seem to have been organized by the later 17th century, perhaps in face of contracting business and rivalry from outside the town. A tailors' guild was in existence as early as 1571-2, and companies of butchers and shoemakers by 1684. (fn. 244) The cordwainers had a separate company from 1685 until 1774 for a maximum of 12 members, (fn. 245) and London shoemakers were effectively excluded when an attempt was made to introduce them in the 1720s. (fn. 246) In 1694 goldsmiths, tanners, and 12 other trades including pewterers and booksellers were incorporated into a single company, later extended for a total of 24 trades under the title of the Goldsmiths' Company, whose clear aim was to maintain a monopoly for its members. (fn. 247) The Goldsmiths' Company survived until 1736 or later, but some of its number, including grocers, mercers, drapers, and dry salters, evidently founded a merchants' company in 1732. (fn. 248)
Shipbuilding probably began long before a shipwright was recorded in 1593. (fn. 249) In 1671 Sir William Wyndham suggested the skill should be revived, (fn. 250) and c. 1697 John Trott built the Friendship for the merchant William Alloway. (fn. 251) In the early 18th century the corporation encouraged shipbuilding both on the east bank of the river beside the bowling green and on the east quay. (fn. 252) Dr. John Allen was involved with plans for a dock in 1728 and in 1732 John Trott negotiated successfully to build a graving and repairing dock on the east bank, which in 1743 was converted to a dry dock. (fn. 253) The Trott family were still using the dock in 1814. (fn. 254) Between 1766 and 1799 40 vessels were built in the port ranging from 13 to 266 tons, (fn. 255) and sailmakers and manufacturers of rope and twine were in business. (fn. 256)
Brickmaking had begun in Bridgwater by 1655 when a brickmaker emigrated to the West Indies. (fn. 257) In 1686-7 bricks from Mr. Balch's yard were used for rebuilding corporation property. (fn. 258) There was a brick kiln at Hamp by 1708-9, another at Crowpill in the 1720s, and by the 1730s there were at least two on the riverside between them. (fn. 259) Other brickworks established in the 1760s and 1770s included those of Samuel Glover, who exported bricks to a coal mine near Kidwelly (Carms.) and imported anthracite dust to fire his kilns. (fn. 260) The Sealy family had a yard and kilns at Hamp before 1776, and by the early 19th century the brickyards in the neighbourhood were home to 'a whole colony of people'. (fn. 261)
James Brydges, duke of Chandos (d. 1744), opposed local monopolies by attempting from 1721 onwards to introduce glass and soap making and a distillery. The soap works failed in 1725; the distillery, east of the river, lasted little longer. Some glass makers, specializing in bottles, went bankrupt in 1728, others remained until 1733. The glasshouse survived, used by pottery and tile manufacturers, until 1943. (fn. 262)
In 1738 Thomas Bayley, tinman and brazier, was admitted a free burgess, and later founders included Thomas Pyke, George and Thomas Davis, and members of the Kingston family. Between them they produced bells, cannon, and a wide variety of castings for agriculture and the building trade. (fn. 263)
By the 1780s 7 surgeons and 5 attorneys practised in the town. There were then 6 mercers and drapers and a wide range of other businesses, often in curious combinations: John Chubb dealt in wine and timber, James Chubb was an ironmonger and hatter. Cheese and corn dealers made the town a distribution centre for agricultural produce. (fn. 264) Three banks were in business by the 1790s and by the early 19th century nine professions were represented including accountants and musicians, and other occupations were those of druggist, engraver, writing master, miniaturist, printer, bookbinder, cabinet maker, and basket maker. (fn. 265) By 1822-3 11 coaches came to the town and 9 carriers operated on 14 routes, including 2 to London. (fn. 266) By 1830 there were 2 fewer coaches but 15 carriers operated on 17 routes. (fn. 267) By 1842 coaches had further declined in face of the railways, but there were 18 carriers' routes from the town. (fn. 268)
By 1823 there were three brickfields at Hamp and by 1830 a fourth, worked by John Browne and William Champion, patentees of bonded ornamented bricks. (fn. 269) Bath brick, named for its resemblance to Bath stone, was made from the 1820s out of the mud deposited on the Parrett's banks. (fn. 270) Brickmaking was seasonal and wages were high in the 1830s. (fn. 271) The firms of John Sealy, Henry James Major, and Browne and Co. were the most prominent in the 19th century, producing building brick and tiles, (fn. 272) and the industry in 1840 was thought to employ some 1,300 workers, half of them habitually laid off in winter. About 1850 there were 16 brick and tile works within 2 miles of Bridgwater Bridge. (fn. 273) H. J. Major employed 120 men and 100 boys in 1881. (fn. 274) Ten local brick and tile companies made Bath bricks, used for scouring polished metal, and some 8 million were produced each year in the 1880s, increasing in the 1890s to 24 million but falling by 1900 to 17 million. (fn. 275) Poor pay resulted in a prolonged strike in the brickyards in 1896, (fn. 276) and exports of bricks, tiles, and Bath bricks were reduced after the First World War. (fn. 277) New detergents destroyed the Bath brick business, and manufacture had probably ceased by 1939. New building in the town stimulated local demand for bricks and tiles, and peak production from 13 sites within the parish was reached in 1935-7. All but two of the brickyards reopened after 1945 but in the 1960s there was a rapid decline. Colthurst Symons's yard at Castle Field was the last to close, in 1970, because the best clay was exhausted and cheaper sources were available elsewhere. (fn. 278)
Between 1800 and 1850 51 vessels were built in the port, produced by 7 shipyards, the largest vessel 459 tons. Six yards built 88 vessels 1851- 1900 but only one yard, that of F. J. Carver on the east quay, remained by 1887 and only three vessels were built there between 1900 and 1944. No ships were built later. (fn. 279)
Other types of engineering continued in the 19th century and tradesmen included James Culverwell and Co., manufacturers of brickmaking machinery, Hennett, Spink, and Else, of the Bridgwater Ironworks, makers of Hampton Court Bridge, and the railway wagon works. (fn. 280)
The town was an important distribution centre for coal, timber, and cattle food until the decline of the port, (fn. 281) and from the 1930s attracted manufacturing industries to replace its traditional sources of employment including the Quantock Preserving Co. Ltd. and British Cellophane in 1937-8, both located in Wembdon parish. (fn. 282) By 1939 industrial and commercial sites on the Bristol road were occupied (fn. 283) and from the 1950s Bridgwater has been the most industrialized town in Somerset. In 1990 plans for an industrial estate south of the town were linked with large distribution depots beside the M5 motorway, located in North Petherton parish. (fn. 284)