Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Etymology of Bridgwater, Somerset

In response to an email recieved this week asking why there is no 'e' at the end of the 'bridge' in Bridgwater, I recall the entry for the town from my book Somerset Place Names.

A name which, not surprisingly, is seen as 'the bridge over the water' and where one 'e' has been lost over the centuries. The missing vowel is correct but the definition is not. The record from Domesday gives this place as Brugie, while a century later in 1194 this has become Bridgewaltier. This 12th century example is significant for it shows that the second part cannot be 'water', for this is never seen in forms this early. The true origin here is 'the place at the bridge held by a man called Walter', with the suffix and early name coming from Old English brycg. While this individual is neither known nor recorded, it was a popular name at the time and is undoubtedly the basis for the place name.
Locally we find Barclay Street, named after the Barclay Arms Inn. Castle Bailey takes the name of the medieval castle, as does Castle Street. Yet the latter was earlier known as Chandos Street and what is now Chandos Street was once Little Chandos Street and the two remember the family name of the Duke of Buckingham who funded these developments.
Eastover was recorded as Estovre in 1323, a name describing 'the 'eastern bank of land'. Horse Pond was where these animals were taken for centuries to be watered in Durleigh Brook. Friarn Street and Friarn Avenue are named after the Franciscan Friary which was founded here in the 13th century. Penel Orlieu was originally two streets named from a member of the family which should have been Orloue.
Other pubs here include the Cross Rifles, acknowledging the formation of the local Rifle Volunteer Force in 1859. The Great Escape may conjure up images of the film of that name, but it is used here as a message of invitation to get away from it all for a while, similarly the Bunch of Grapes advertises the product on sale within. The Bristol and Exeter remembers the railway line which served these places and which was opened in 1840.
Patriotic names include the Rose & Crown, the Three Lions, the British Flag, and the King Alfred Inn which remembers the man who united the English against the Danes. The Green Dragon shows this was associated with the holdings of the earls of Pembroke, while the Quantock Inn refers to the hills of that name to the north and which are defined under their own name.
The Parrett Inn overlooks the River Parrett across Salmon Parade for this was where these coveted food fish were brought. Horse Pond was a watering hole for horses on the Durleigh Brook for centuries. High Street is only above the remaining roads in importance and stature, not elevation. St Mary Street is overlooked by the church which gave it a name, while Friarn Street remembers the 13th century Franciscan Friary. Chandos Street features the family name of the dukes of Buckingham. Castle Street and Castle Bailey are reminders of the medieval castle, however neither the town moat and Moat Lane are no more. Dampiet Street was listed as Damyet Street five centuries ago, which shows it featured a raised area to help prevent flooding. Penel Orlieu is an unusual street name, with an even more unusual evolution for it comes from two former streets Pynel Street and Orliue Street which, in turn, are named from former residents.
One of the town's best known sons is remembered by Blake Street. Robert Blake was born in Bridgwater in August 1598, the eldest of twelve sons he was educated before carrying on his father business. Blake's first 40 years are quite unremarkable, indeed surprisingly so considering what he achieved afterwards. In 1640 he entered parliament, representing his home town. During the Civil War he served under Popham, securing decisive victories against Prince Maurice at Lyme in 1644, followed by a major turning point in the war with victory at Taunton after a battle which lasted a year. In 1649 he was given command of the fleet, winning naval engagements against isolated Royalist strongholds in Scilly and Jersey, defeated the Dutch, routed pirates in Tunis and Algiers, and virtually eliminated the Spanish at Santa Cruz. It was when returning from that final victory when, on 7th August 1657 and in sight of Plymouth Harbour, Admiral Robert Blake died.

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