Posted February 13th, 2012
by Richard Savage
Most people, in Somerset at least, know that there isn’t a Bridge in Bridgwater. That is, the only “e” in Bridgwater is in the water. The way to remember is by referring to its ancient origin, the Saxon settlement of Brycge, which means a jetty or gang-plank for unloading ships. It was only after the Norman conquest that the Baron Walscin, known to the Normans as Walter of Douai, replaced the Saxon thane Merlswain, and Brugie-Walter gradually became reduced to Bridgwater in Medieval times.
It wasn’t until around 1200 that the first Town Bridge was built across the River Parrett by William Brewere, with stone piers and a timber roadway. Around 1400 John Trivet provided funds to complete the Town Bridge with stone arches. The whole central arch of the bridge was replaced by a drawbridge during the Civil Wars in the 1640s, and the arch rebuilt after the war. The stone bridge was removed in 1795 when a new iron bridge was constructed, the forerunner of the bridge of today, built in 1883 a few yards further upstream. It proved difficult to remove the old stone piers and they remained as convenient moorings for ships for a number of years.
Town Bridge, Bridgwater, looking downstream
In later years three bridges have been built further downstream from Town Bridge.
The last bridge over the Parrett is the Drove Bridge, constructed in 1992 as part of the Bridgwater Northern Distributor road scheme.
Drove Bridge viewed from the south
The next road bridge upstream is Chandos Bridge built in 1988 to convey road traffic from The Clink to the north side of Bridgwater. It runs to the south of the Black Bridge, the pedestrian and cycle steel bridge which is the remnant of the telescopic railway bridge built by Francis Fox in 1871. It carried the railway, originally broad-gauge and then narrow gauge, over the river to the docks until 1953.
In March 1958 a new reinforced concrete road bridge, the Blake Bridge, was opened as part of a bypass to take the A38 and A39 traffic away from the centre of Bridgwater.
Further upstream, the Somerset Bridge on the southern edge of Bridgwater close to Huntworth is a railway bridge built from 1838-1841 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to carry the Bristol and Exeter Railway across the River Parrett. Brunel left the central scaffold in place as the foundations were still settling but had to remove it in 1843 to reopen the river for navigation. Brunel demolished the brick arch and had replaced it with a timber arch within six months without interrupting the traffic on the railway. In 1904 it was replaced by a steel girder bridge.
Slightly further upstream is the modern concrete motorway bridge started in 1971 and opened in 1973 which carries the M5 motorway over the river and the railway line, and the canal.
So there we are. There are currently 7 bridges across the River Parrett in and around Bridgwater.
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