21 September 2006
Bridport has a long and interesting history, there is evidence in the lumps and bumps of the landscape that people have lived in this area since prehistoric times. In 1086 The Domesday book calls it Brideport. Bridiport 1157, Brudiport 1207, Bredeport 1266. The definition of the name means 'Harbour or market town belonging to Bredy', from Old English Port which can mean either 'port' or 'market' and Brit the name of the river that runs through it.
Later in the Anglo-Saxon period, probably during the reign of King Alfred (871 – 901) coins were struck at a mint in the town. Bridport also warranted a reference in the Domesday Book (1086). It was one of the four towns or boroughs in the county to be mentioned and was said to have 120 houses.
Rope, Net, Twine...
The fortunes of the rope and net industries run like a thread through much of Bridport’s history.
Flax and hemp, the raw materials for rope and net, were readily available and doubtlessly the people in and around the Bridport area had made use of them for centuries.
But it was not until the 13th century that we have any official documents that highlight the significance of Bridport in the manufacture of rope and net. In 1213 King John, fearing a French invasion, called on the town to produce ‘as many ropes for ships, both large and small, and as many cables as you can’. Then, in 1253, Henry III awarded the town its first charter. Bridport was on truly on the map.
Stabbed with the The Bridport Dagger!
The rope and net industries, enjoying a virtual monopoly, enabled the town to prosper over the centuries. One dark claim to fame was the Bridport Dagger – the hangman’s rope.
But Bridport also suffered hardships during the Black Death (1348) and the Plague (1665). In the Elizabethan period its vulnerable harbour was silted up and the resultant damage to trade prompted Elizabeth to grant the town additional privileges to help it recover.
During the Civil War King Charles II, who was then attempting to flee to France, entered the town but he was forced to move on to avoid any capture. Another visitor was the Duke of Monmouth who in 1685 landed at Lyme Regis in an attempt to seize the crown. His forced clashed with the Dorset militia in Bridport.
The town saw major rebuilding work during the 18th century and during the 19th century shipbuilding provided a further fillip to the local economy. Another boost came from the arrival of the railway in 1857.
In the Second World War US troops were stationed in and around the town before the D-Day invasion. The locals did their bit by raising around £200,000 towards of the building of HMS Bridport, a coastal patrol boat.
After the war the rope and net companies continued to be important. But the industry changed dramatically as a result of takeovers, amalgamations and the shift to overseas production. However, it continues to be a valuable asset to the town through the work of companies such as Amsafe and Huck Nets.
Meanwhile, West Bay, once the home of shipbuilding, has benefited from a multi-million project to improve sea defences and facilities.
Francis H. Newbery was brought up and educated in Bridport and went on to become the Director of the Glasgow School of Art in 1885. He is widely acknowledged to be a key figure in the promotion of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School. Read about Fra Newbery
More about Bridport