Republican Robert Blake Crowned ‘King of the Bridgwater Radicals’ at Shapwick.

The polls are closed the votes are in the results are out.

Bridgwater, that radical town of revolution and rebellion. But who was the most radical son or daughter of that little Labour limboland? Who better to lead a discussion on the subject than Town Council Leader and Labour Historian Brian Smedley. And where better Village Hall.  But we did it. 10 contenders were rolled out and debated and the Shapwick History Group took a vote. All 30 of them. And crowned the winner that ardent republican Robert Blake. Maybe no surprise there (although the theme of the talk was meant to be about anti-Slave Trade campaigner John Chubb, who came second) But let’s see who else was in the running…

Bud Fisher-man of the left

Joint 10th place were 2 socialists from the early 20th century. BUD FISHER an active Communist, anti-fascist and organiser of the extremely strong National Unemployed Workers Movement in the town got 3 votes. This fiery little Welshman who stood on tiptoes to speak was a regular sight in the 30s and on Jubilee Day 1935 put out the red flag instead of the union jack and had all his windows broken.

Alfred Rosenbaum

But equal 10th with 3 votes was Labour Party organiser FRED PHILLIPS – born Alfred Rosenbaum in Czechoslovakia. Part of the European anti-Fascist resistance movement and who then fled to England during the war and afterwards organised the Bridgwater Labour Party to run the town, which it has ever since. Fred also was a strong advocate of a Borough council – and campaigned against its abolition in 1974 but would be pleased to see it’s on its way back in 2024.

Captain Blood (not a real person)

With 5 votes the amalgamated candidate of CAPTAIN BLOOD was a symbol for all the Monmouth Rebels that rose up to fight the corrupt Monarchy of 1685. 13 Bridgwater men were executed after the battle and 9 transported to the west indies as slaves. Many more were killed on the battlefield at Sedgemoor.

4 rebels with 8 votes each showed the difficult choice facing the Shapwick Commission of Enquiry.

Thomas Ingleby (Revolting peasant)

THOMAS INGLEBY was Bridgwater’s Watt Tyler and led the Poll Tax rebels of the Peasants revolt in 1381. Destroying the feudal bonds that held the peasants in chains and then literally marching to Ilchester and breaking the physical chains of the prisoners there and freeing them, Ingleby was an all-action hero. That said, as soon as the rebels heard the main rising in London had failed, they quickly dashed off back home to Bridgwater. Ingleby maintained his rebel credentials in later years after being fined for ‘keeping an unruly dung heap’ in the High Street.

Gwen Pollard

Also, on 8 votes GWEN POLLARD. This peace activist and internationalist from the mid-20th century was famous for her pushing through the opening of Britain’s first art centre, here in Castle Street. Art for all and putting Bridgwater on the cultural tour plan. What’s not to like.

Vernon Bartlett himself

Also, on 8 votes VERNON BARTLETT MP. The Progressive Independent journalist, broadcaster and twice elected MP for Bridgwater (1938 and 1945). Bartlett won the seat after a famous by-election campaign against Britain’s policy of appeasement to the fascist dictators and thereafter this became a turning point in standing up to Nazism.

Glen Burrows before storming the council 1990

And again on 8 votes Bridgwater’s only living radical on the list. GLEN BURROWS, former Labour and Independent Socialist councillor, Trades Unionist, Peace activist and involved in every radical campaign since moving to the town in 1980. And still going strong.

Isabella Metford-a feminist before there were such things

Moving on the to the top 3 and on 10 votes comes ISABELLA METFORD who lived during the late Victorian period (in the modern-day Quantock Gateway pub). Isabella was a staunch Quaker, a pacifist, peace campaigner and Victorian feminist who led the way locally on the women’s suffrage movement.

Chubbers Plays Pop.

In 2nd place and on 14 votes came JOHN CHUBB. An 18th century Whig councillor, at one point Mayor, a merchant based on the west quay in Bridgwater and crucially an artist whose sketches are still available in the Blake Museum in Bridgwater showing us what life was like in late Georgian Bridgwater. Chubb is most famous for drafting the first petition in Britain from a town condemning the evil Transatlantic Slave Trade. The petition presented in 1785 came 100 years after Bridgwater men were sent as slaves to the west indies.

Robert Blake- Puritan at Sea

But in top place with 17 votes was ROBERT BLAKE. Cromwell’s ‘General at sea’ (not an Admiral) but there’s not too many towns that have a statue of a republican in the middle of them. And a statue unlikely to be pulled down by protestors as his anti-Slavery credentials are impeccable, not least as after defeating the French, Spanish and Dutch in his campaigns he then went on to the coasts of Africa and defeated the Barbary Pirates and freed their slaves.

Its of course just a sample vote with very little historical weight and, well, one man’s radical might well be another womans tyrant. But the winners write history and I’ve written this.

Thankyou to everyone for coming and looking forward to many more radicals in future.

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