Packed out Arts Centre for Bridgwater History Day

Local historians at the well attended event
Local historians at the well attended event

Bridgwater History Day, held at the Arts Centre on Saturday 12th November, and sponsored by Bridgwater Town Council left no-one in any doubt that we are rich in history, local historians and local people who are proud of their heritage and want to work to retain and maintain it.


Joyce Hurford, of Blake Museum and Friends of Wembdon Road Cemetery gave a fascinating account of some of Bridgwater’s lesser known historic people and their achievements.


Bob Croft, County Archaelogist for the South West Heritage Trust talked about why Bridgwater’s archaeology is of such historic importance, including sites such as the Friary, St John’s Hospital and Hinkley Point, and why the Heritage Trust needs to keep a close eye on developments there.


History comes to life on the Art Centre stage
History comes to life on the Art Centre stage

Miles Kerr-Peterson, Chair of the Friends of Wembdon Road Cemetery, currently working in the University of Glasgow and the Burrell Collection presented the mystery of Bridgwater’s Medieval Masterpiece – a beautifully carved work currently in the Burrell Collection, found by accident in the 19th century, in a house in St Mary Street and sold to the US millionaire William Randolph Hearst. It was too large and too ornate for a small house in St Mary Street, so where was it taken from: St Mary’s Church? The Friary? St John’s Hospital? Perhaps we’ll never know.


Eugene Byrne, former Bridgwater resident, currently visiting research fellow in History at UWE spoke of the squatters movement in 1946, headed by ex-servicemen, who took over empty military camps around Britain and forced the government into providing council homes for thousands of British families. Eugene has so far found one in Westonzoyland. Were there more in and around  Bridgwater?

Dave Chapple tries to find something good to say about the Conservative party.
Dave Chapple tries to find something good to say about the Conservative party.


Dave Chapple, local postman and Chair of Bridgwater & District Civic Society, took us through some memories of the 1950s in Bridgwater, from Rock Around the Clock (which caused riots in cinemas and was banned in some towns) and teddy boys, to Hi-Fi, motor cars and traffic jams


Finally, Brian Smedley, leader of Bridgwater Town Council today, but member of punk rock bands in the 70s and 80s and editor of the infamous “Sheep Worrying” magazine and theatre group, revived memories of punk rock and Poll Tax in a town famed for its rebelliousness.


Town Council Leader Brian Smedley retells the 70's and 80's through the medium of 'Sheep Worrying'
Town Council Leader Brian Smedley retells the 70’s and 80’s through the medium of ‘Sheep Worrying’

It was a memorable day, not least because of Jim Goddard’s exhibition of ghost photographs: ”Bridgwater Old & New”, and the Arts Centre’s own exhibition celebrating its 70-year history.

Large numbers of local people took part and the atmosphere was a demonstration of Bridgwater’s surviving sense of community cohesion.

A medieval recipe potage was provided by Kate Gardiner of  Purple Spoon Catering and paid for by the Town Council to sustain the multitudes throughout their day long attendance.

The event was chaired by Westover councillor Kathy Pearce, Deputy Leader of Bridgwater Town Council.

What next?

So, where do we go from here? It was agreed by everyone present that such events should become a regular part of the Bridgwater calendar, and there is no shortage of topics for future presentation.

Glen Burrows chairs the final  'what do we do next?' debate
Glen Burrows chairs the final ‘what do we do next?’ debate

It was agreed that

  • We establish a Bridgwater History Forum (or similar), with web-site
  • The next event to be held early in 2017
  • schools and colleges , U3A and Somerset Film be invited to participate.
  • A session be devoted to “How to do your own historical research” – to build confidence in accessing and dealing with historic reference materials.
  • Music and theatre to play a vital part .
  • A “Listening Project” would provide valuable archive material and the web-site could contain: “Bridgwater Life Stories