Bridgwater Town Defences

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are no visible remains

NameBridgwater Town Defences
Alternative NamesBrugewauter; Eastover
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishBridgwater

In the 1540s there were north, south, east, and west gates, but John Leland saw no other defences. There had been a defensive wall, at least on the west, where before 1295 a tenant was identified as William the smith in the walls, and in 1302 a site was bounded by the wall on the town ditch. The 'common ditch of the vill' was still a clear boundary in the mid 14th century, but elm trees were growing on parts of it by the earlier 15th. The 'old fortifications' were still recognizable in 1653 and water at high tide filled the ditch 'for a great part about the town'. Water still ran from beyond the west gate via the Mount along the northern edge of the town to the river in the earlier 18th century and the Mount itself seems to have been in origin a bastion in the defences, possibly referred to as near the north gate in 1399.

The west gate was mentioned in 1299; it was repaired in 1556, but has not been traced thereafter. The north gate, also mentioned in 1299, was rebuilt in 1646-7 but by the 1720s it was in bad repair and was taken down to improve the road in 1798. Its site was once marked by a stone near the girls' school in Northgate Street. The south gate, referred to c. 1361, was removed when the turnpike road was improved in 1822. The east gate, mentioned in the mid 13th century and later known as St. John's Gate, still stood in 1553.

The east gate marked the entrance to the town's largest suburb, Eastover, joined by the town bridge to the main part of Bridgwater on the west bank of the Parrett. Eastover was probably established after the bridge was built c. 1200, and the building of St. John's hospital by 1213 may mark its eastern extent. A ditch was licensed in 1286 from a point south of the bridge to the hospital, to provide a water-supply, and from there ran beside a causeway northwards to the river

The single street in Eastover was known variously as 'beyond the bridge', 'between the bridge and the hospital', 'east of the bridge', and 'within the east gate'. By the mid 14th century it was usually known as Eastover. Burgages had been established there by the mid 13th century. (VCH 1992)

The town defences were outgrown early on: burgages were being laid out beyond them in the 13th century. They probably consisted of a bank and ditch, with four gates. There are references to a wall (Dunning & Siraut, 1992), but no remains of any stone structure have been found. The sites of the town gates are known approximately, but few details have yet been recovered. The West Gate (SMR 12432) was in existence in the 13th century and was repaired in 1556; documents suggest it was of red sandstone with living accommodation above (Bridgwater Excavation Committee). The 13th century North Gate (SMR 12390) was rebuilt in the 17th century and demolished as part of late 18th century road improvements. The site used to be marked by a stone. The South Gate (SMR 12433) was in existence in the 14th century. It was demolished as part of early 19th century turnpike improvements. The East Gate, or St John's Gate (SMR 12393), was mentioned in the 13th century, and was still standing in the 16th century. (Gathercole)

Parts of the medieval town ditch and wall have been located during excavations and watching briefs throughout the 1970s and 1980s. the ditch was located at 43 Friars Street (ST 29670 36830) where it was found to be at least 3m deep with a bank on its eastern side. It was open until the C 16 before being sealed by C 18 and C 19 material. (PastScape–ref. Ellis, 1985)

Gatehouse Comments

Parts of the medieval town ditch and bank have been found during excavations in the 1970's and 1980's. The ditch was 5m deep and was open until C16, before being sealed by C18 and C19 material. There were four town gates, which were removed before 1878. Single grant of murage in 1269. Leland wrote there were four gates, but houses served instead of a wall. Given map reference for site of West Gate.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceST294369
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  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 35
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 182, 183, 257
  • Dunning, R.W. and Siraut, M.C., 1992, 'Bridgwater' in VCH Somerset Vol. 6 p. 192-206 online transcription
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 download/view online
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 191
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 219
  • Jarman, S.G., 1889, History of Bridgwater p. 260
  • Collinson, J., 1791, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset (Bath) Vol. 3 p. 75 online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 422
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 162 online copy


  • Langdon, M., 1985-6, 'Somerset Archaeology 1986' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 130 p. 152
  • Ellis, P., 1984-5, 'Excavations at Friarn Street and West Quay, Bridgwater, 1983/84' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 129 p. 69–80
  • Langdon, M., 1976, 'Somerset Archaeology 1974-75' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 120 p. 73
  • Parker, G., 1878, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 23 p. 46-7

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1913, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1266-72) Vol. 6 p. 371 (murage grant) online copy
  • Dilks, T.B. (ed), 1933, Bridgwater Borough Archives 1200-1377 (Somerset Records Society) p. 48, 53, 58, 60
  • - < >Also see the Gatehouse murage pages for full details of murage [grants >], [petitions > ] and [other such >]. < >


  • n.d., Bridgwater's Economic, Industrial and Mercantile History and Future Economic Development Potential (Sedgemoor in Somerset) online copy
  • Clare Gathercole, nd (c. 2001), An archaeological assessment of Bridgwater English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey (Somerset County Council) online copy
  • Cox, P.W., and Chandler, J., 1991, The proposed redevelopment of land off Taunton Road, Bridgwater: Archaeological Assessment