History Files
 
 

 

Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Bridgwater Castle

by Peter Kessler, 4 December 2021

 

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo is in the public domain

Bridgwater Castle seems to have been built in 1202 by William de Briwere. As sheriff of Devon and justiciar to no less than three successive Plantagenet kings - Richard I, John, and Henry III - William acquired extensive wealth, part of which he used to fund the construction work here.

William served in various sheriff's roles during his career, including Berkshire, Cornwall, Devon (twice), Hampshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset and Dorset, Sussex, and Wiltshire.

His interest in extending his wealth and vast estates, though, seems to have alienated him from many of the nobles and merchants he supposedly served. The people of Cornwall and also Somerset and Dorset even paid the king to remove him.

The lithograph shown here was created around 1830, based on a painting by John Chubb. It shows the remnants of the mansion which had been built on the site of the castle keep (quite possibly the house of Henry Harvey - see below), while the new houses of Castle Street sit to the right of it.

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

King's Square was the site of the original bailey (presumably the 'inner' bailey). A second, outer bailey was later raised as the castle's use and role expanded along with the town of Bridgwater which sat on its southern flank (to the right of the photo).

The bailey formed the westernmost area of the castle grounds. Those grounds extended eastwards towards the River Parrett, roughly in line with the northern side of King's Square (towards the far left of the photo) but some way farther south of today's Castle Street alignment (on the right-hand edge of the photo).

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

The site of the keep is now occupied by 10-14 King's Square, built over the original mansion house replacement for the keep (those post-keep ruins are shown in the lithograph, above).

The castle also contained a chapel which was dedicated to St Mark, along with Mortemere's Hall, living quarters, stables, kitchens, a bell tower, and a dovecote. Some of those items were certainly later additions to the original medieval construction.

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

This stone wall sits on the eastern side of Crowpill Road, immediately behind the site of the keep. It is not known to be an original feature but it may contain re-used stone from the old castle walls.

The castle went through varying fortunes following the death of William de Briwere in 1226. His son and successor died in 1232, after which William's estates passed to the crown.

The castle became a gaol and storage area for a while, until in 1248 it was gained by Maud de Braose, Baroness Mortimer, the wife of Roger Mortimer, first Baron Mortimer. That meant it played a part in the Second Barons War (1264-1267), when Roger held Bridgwater for the king.

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

This is Bond Street, which cuts across the former castle site, as seen looking north from Castle Street (running left-to-right), and with Queen Street behind the camera.

Bond Street was a Georgian construction, named for the distillery which was located here within what were then the still-partially-surviving castle walls.

The castle had to be repaired and refortified in the 1380s and 1390s, having been somewhat neglected since the early part of the century. By the 1400s private dwellings were beginning to appear inside the walls, a mark of urbanisation which was not exclusive to Bridgwater.

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

At the back of No 5 Castle Street, on the eastern side of Queen Street, are these remnants of castle wall. They provide a rough idea of how far back from Castle Street ran the southern curtain wall.

In 1626 the castle was granted to George Whitmore (lord mayor of London in 1631). He sold it to Henry Harvey, who built his house within the remaining walls, demolishing more of the castle to make way for his comfortable residence. It is likely to be this mansion whose ruins are shown in the lithograph (above).

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

The former Water Gate Town House Hotel sits at the corner of Castle Street (seen on the left of the photo) and West Quay, which faces onto the River Parrett.

Remains of the three-arched water gate itself sit between Nos 11-12 here, but they are not visible from the street, while the hotel's side wall where it meets the brown glass doors on the right of the photo looks suspiciously like re-used castle wall materials, relaid for this building when it was new.

The castle provided a focal point for the Royalist cause in Bridgwater during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarian siege did serious damage to the already-dilapidated defensive structures, and more damage was done afterwards to render them entirely useless.

Bridgwater Castle in Somerset
Photo © P L Kessler

This is thought to be the only large remaining section of curtain wall (albeit disputed), facing onto West Quay.

If this was indeed the original curtain wall then it would have provided the boundary against the River Parrett which, at that time, would have lapped right up against it (the modern street which bears the name West Quay is a much later construction). Alternatively, it could have been the boundary of a walled garden within the castle grounds, whether during the castle's time or built afterwards out of robbed castle stone.

The Parliamentarian destruction of the remaining walls pretty much removed the castle from the map. The town expanded greedily into its grounds, with the present buildings being constructed over and even into elements of castle structure. Several basements still display castle traces - notably along Bond Street - along with the few visible elements already seen.

 

Seven photos by P L Kessler, taken in November 2021.

Main Sources

Historic England Research Records: Bridgwater Castle

Historic England: castle wall, Watergate, and undercroft

Cumbrian Castle blog

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.