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  Reprinted from Newsletter 129, dated 2009 August

Bridgwater visits Glastonbury (with side-trip to hospital) ... Martyn Webb

Bridgwater and District Civic Society members came for a walking tour of Glastonbury on May 9, hosted by the Conservation Society.

   We started at the Rural Life Museum, where John Brunsdon gave a short history of the museum and the ancient Abbey Barn which houses it. Then we progressed to the grounds of the Abbey House, where the highlight was the view from its back garden, down through the Abbey ruins to St Benedict’s Church.

   From there we studied the architecture of the High Street before entering the Assembly Rooms for a very interesting history presented by Paul Branson. Even the people who work there stayed to listen, and they said they would like to have recorded it!

   During the return along Bere Lane to the Rural Life Museum, unfortunately one of the visitors fell and had to be taken first to West Mendip Hospital and then to Yeovil. Our emergency services, including the quick reaction of our first-aider, John Brunsdon, mean that Ian Sampson is now recovering at home in Bridgwater.

   The remainder of us enjoyed tea and cakes at the museum café and a short tour of the museum before returning home. It is fair to say that apart from the mishap it was a successful and enjoyable event.

   “Some beautiful buildings and the very impressive shop facades interested us all,” wrote Bernice Lashbrook, the Bridgwater and District Civic Society’s secretary.

   Mr Sampson, she wrote, had broken the bridge of his nose and woke up the next day with two shiners and swollen lips. He was not kept in hospital. He had no recollection of the event other than that he was getting short of breath but wanted to keep up the pace rather than lagging too far behind. He blacked out and saw faces around him when he came to. “We are pleased it was nothing more serious.”

... And we find Bridgwater more colourful than we thought Jim Nagel

The Glastonbury dozen gathered in St Mary’s churchyard.
On the north door of St Mary’s Church, Peter Cattermole points out one of the Green Men carvings from about 1230.

A dozen from Glastonbury met up with about the same number from Bridgwater Civic Society for “a little toddle around our old town”, led by Dr Peter Cattermole on June 14. Bridgwater was granted borough status in a charter from King John in 1200. It had a church, castle, hospital and friary. Much of its medieval street pattern survives today.

   The tall, hollow spire standing on the squat tower of St Mary’s Church was begun in 1367 just after the Black Death killed half of Bridgwater’s population.

   A huge castle dominated the town until the Civil War. The Roundheads destroyed it in reprisal for the town’s supporting the wrong side. Today’s Court Street, off Fore Street near the bridge, is a filled moat, rising to where the castle stood.

   Castle Street leads from the river to King Square, lined by fine early Georgian houses that were a speculative building enterprise at the time. They stand on the ruins of the castle. Under a manhole a few paces up Castle Street from the river is an extant section of the castle walls.

39 St Mary Street (part of the Carnival Inn) is by tradition where Judge Jeffries lodged during the Bloody Assize following the 1685 rebellion.

   In 1851 a local man built Castle House — of moulded precast concrete, long before its time. It is now in a dire state.

The triple-arch Water Gate is the most ancient structure in Bridgwater. Dr Cattermole deplored its present state — a cluttered alleyway sporting a blue plaque beside a derelict pub in West Quay — and urged everyone to email their dismay to Cllr Kerry Rickards at Sedgemoor council. [Footnote: John Brunsdon wrote to him; Mr Rickards is suitably concerned but awaits new ownership.]

   In Clare Street, another of the blue plaques put up in 2006–07 by the society tells the story of Isolda Parewastel. Her intrepid pilgrimage from Bridgwater to Jerusalem in 1365, and her imprisonment and torture in Crusade reprisals, is well documented. She returned home in 1368.

   The High Street is enormously wide because the former shambles that stood in the middle of it was pulled down 150 years ago.

   32 Friarn Street was once the house of a rich merchant. Typically, the outer walls show layers from different periods: stone foundations, later brick on top, and so on. Peter admitted to special expertise on this building, because it is his own.

   Bridgwater, in keeping with its history, has an unusually high number of Nonconformist chapels, including Baptist, Quaker and Wesleyan. The oldest is the Unitarian chapel in Dampiet Street, with its shell hood over the door and box pews. It was built in 1688, rebuilt in 1788 and restored in 1988.

   Here our hosts served up a fine tea before we returned to Glastonbury, knowing a lot more than we did before about Bridgwater’s colourful past.

Dr Peter Cattermole, 1950–2015

We are sorry to report that Dr Peter Cattermole, a tireless champion of Bridgwater’s heritage, died in March 2015 at the age of just 65.

His doctorate was from Exeter in chemistry. He taught at Millfield 1974–76 and then became head of science at Winchester College — the “legendary” head of science, according to the Wykehamist magazine. His retirement home was at Shapwick. Among his manifold interests was the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust.

“In the passing of Dr Peter Cattermole, Bridgwater has lost its greatest defender and supporter,” says an insightful tribute on the Bridgwater Heritage website, one of the copious websites he founded and maintained.

As another claim to fame, Peter was a longtime user of the British-made Acorn computers — the BBC Micro, the Archimedes and its successors — and a subscriber to Archive magazine, edited and published for that niche of the infotech world by the editor of this Glastonbury Conservation Society website.

(A namesake, Dr Peter John Cattermole who lives in Sheffield, is a geologist who worked with NASA and is famous for his books about Mars and Venus.)


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