Bridport Town Hall (1786) by William Tyler RA
Bridport shown within Dorset
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||West Dorset|
Bridport is a market town in Dorset, England, situated approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) inland from the English Channel near the confluence of the small River Brit and its tributary the Asker. Its origins are Saxon and it has a long history as a rope-making centre, though many of its buildings date from the 18th century.
On the coast and within the town's boundary is West Bay, a small fishing harbour previously known as Bridport Harbour.
In the 21st century Bridport's arts scene has contributed to the town becoming increasingly popular with people from outside the locality. It has an arts centre, theatre, library, cinema and museum, and several annual events. It features as Port Bredy in the fictional Wessex of Thomas Hardy's novels.
Bridport's origins are Saxon. During the reign of King Alfred it became one of the four most important settlements in Dorset – the other three being Dorchester, Shaftesbury and Wareham – with the construction of fortifications and establishment of a mint.
Bridport's name probably derives from another location nearby. In the early 10th century the Burghal Hidage recorded the existence of a fortified centre or burh in this area, called 'Brydian', which is generally accepted as referring to Bridport. 'Brydian' means 'place at the (River) Bride', and this name may have come from an earlier burh in the Bride Valley a few miles to the east, which perhaps was abandoned or not completed in favour of the harbour site at Bridport. A probable location for an earlier burh is at Littlebredy. In 1086 the Domesday Book recorded that the town was called 'Brideport'; 'port' is Old English for a market town, thus 'Brideport' may have described the market town belonging to or associated with Bredy. At a later date, in a reversal of a more typical derivation, the town lent its name to the river on which it stood; previously this had been the River Wooth, but it became the River Brit.
Since the Middle Ages Bridport has been associated with the production of rope and nets. The raw materials for this industry, flax and hemp, used to be grown in the surrounding countryside, though they were superseded in modern times by artificial fibres such as nylon. Bridport's main street is particularly wide due to it previously having been used to dry the ropes, after they had been spun in long gardens behind the houses. Ropes for gallows used to be made in the town, hence the phrase "stabbed with a Bridport dagger" being used to describe a hanging.
Many buildings in Bridport, particularly in the main street, date from the 18th century. The town hall was built in 1785-6, with its clock tower and cupola added about twenty years later. Older buildings can be found in South Street, and include the 13th-century St. Mary's parish church, the 14th-century chantry and the 16th-century Bridport Museum.
Bridport lies in the county of Dorset in South West England, in the West Dorset administrative district about 14 miles (23 km) west of Dorchester, 15.5 miles (25 km) SSW of Yeovil, 33 miles (53 km) east of Exeter and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) inland from the English Channel at West Bay. The town centre lies at an altitude of 10–15 metres (33–49 ft) and is sited between the small River Brit and its tributary the Asker, about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) north of their confluence. Another small tributary, the River Simene, also joins the Brit to the west of the town centre.
Bridport is composed of several small suburban districts, some of which used to be separate villages. These suburban districts include Allington, Skilling, Coneygar, Bothenhampton, Bradpole, Court Orchard and St Andrew's Well. Bothenhampton in particular is still regarded by locals as a separate village. One and a half miles from the town centre and within the town's boundary lies West Bay, a small fishing harbour known as Bridport Harbour until the arrival of the railway. At that time it was "rebranded" to its current name to make it sound more attractive.
Bridport is situated close to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and the western end of Chesil Beach. The loose clay cliffs in the area have abundant fossils, which attract fossil hunters. The town's most notable landmark is the conical Colmers Hill, its distinctive shape and small clump of summit trees being very noticeable from West Street.
The built-up area of Bridport extends into the neighbouring parishes of Allington, Bradpole and Bothenhampton, as well as covering Bridport parish. In the 2011 census the population of these four parishes was 13,568. The 2012 mid-year estimate of the population of Bridport's built-up area is 14,697.
The change in the population of Bridport parish only over preceding decades—not including neighbouring parishes—is shown in the table below.
|Historic Population of Bridport Parish|
|Source:Dorset County Council|
Bridport has some light industry, most notably Palmer's Brewery (JC & RH Palmer Ltd) which, under various aliases, owns other property in the town and which recently celebrated its bicentennial. Other established companies include AmSafe Bridport, successors to the old firm of Bridport-Gundry. AmSafe’s aviation products can be found on most commercial aircraft, including seat belts, restraints, cargo and barrier nets, tie-downs, and cabin interior textiles.
Other companies include Curtiss Wright and Edwards Sports. Amsafe and Edwards Sports are the main survivors of Bridport's 750-year-old rope and net making history. Even today, the goal nets of any major football championships are likely to have been made in Bridport as would be the tennis nets, the wooden posts and the umpire's chair at Wimbledon.
Bridport has a twice-weekly street market and monthly farmers' market. In 2005 there were 128 shops in the town, with a floorspace totalling 119,000 square feet (11,100 m2). Several national chains have stores in the town, including W H Smith, Boots, Morrisons, Co-op, Superdrug, Waitrose, New Look and Fat Face. The food retail catchment area of the town extends up to 5 miles north, east and west, and in 2001 had a population of 19,200. R J Balson & Son, a butcher's shop on West Allington, is known as "England's Oldest Family Butchers", and claims a continuous line of family butchers back to the year 1515. According to the Institute for Family Business, it is the oldest continuously trading family business in the UK.
In the 21st century Bridport's arts scene has contributed to the town becoming increasingly popular with people from outside the locality. It has an arts centre, theatre, library, cinema and museum, and several annual events.
Bridport Arts Centre originated in the early 1970s when local activists bought an old Wesleyan chapel and adjacent schoolroom and converted them into a theatre and art gallery—named the Allsop Gallery in memory of broadcaster and local resident Kenneth Allsop. The centre hosts a diverse programme of cultural events and since the 1990s has received funding from the Arts Council.
The Electric Palace Cinema has occupied its existing site since 1926. It closed down in 1999 but an ensuing campaign to 'Save the Palace' resulted in the building being listed before being bought by a new owner and refurbished to include a digital projector, auditorium murals, a new restaurant and art deco bar. It reopened in 2007 and in March 2009 hosted the world premiere of The Young Victoria.
The Lyric Theatre, which reopened in 2010, hosts quirky theatre, puppetry, comedy, clowning and music. It is also the base of children's theatre company Stuff and Nonsense. Bridport Museum, located in South Street, includes an extensive exhibition of the town's long history of rope-making.
Bridport features as 'Port Bredy' in the fictional 'Wessex' of Thomas Hardy's novels, and is the setting for Eden Phillpotts' 1918 novel The Spinners. For several years the town was the home of the writer Tom Sharpe. Frederick Harcourt Kitchin, under the pseudonym Bennet Copplestone, used the area in his 1922 novel The Treasure of Golden Cap.
Bridport holds a number of festivals. The Bridport Literary Festival has been running since 2005 and has played host to literary figures such as Elizabeth Jane Howard, Victoria Glendinning, Minette Walters and Fay Weldon. Bridport Food Festival is held in late June at Asker Meadow. It showcases locally produced foods for which the area is well known. The Food Festival week concludes with the Round Table Beer Festival. Since 2010 there has been an annual Hat Festival for a weekend every September.
Bridport holds an annual carnival on the third Saturday in August. The main feature is a carnival parade of floats, walking acts and majorettes, with other attractions including a car boot sale, fete and funfair. After the carnival South Street is closed for the night as live music is played while people dance in the street. The funfair is also open late. On the following night a torchlight procession takes place, with 1,500 torches carried 2 miles from the town centre to a bonfire at West Bay. This is followed by live music and fireworks. West Bay's funfair opens until late. The events raise money for local good causes and organisations.
Local artists in Bridport and the surrounding area open up their studios as part of Bridport Open Studios, which marked its 15th year in 2013. The event takes place over the three days of the August Bank Holiday weekend and over 100 artists participate. The popularity of the event has led to three more open events in November, Easter and May. The biggest artist led venue is the St Michael's Studio complex on the St Michael's Trading Estate. It provides studios for 25 artists and attracted over 700 visitors to the 2009 event.
In July the RNLI organise a raft race in the River Brit basin at West Bay. Participants build their own rafts.
The A35 trunk road between Honiton and Southampton passes around the centre of Bridport on a bypass. Routes which start in the town include the A3066, which heads north through Beaminster towards Crewkerne, and the B3157 coast road to Weymouth.
On weekdays the X53 Exeter – Poole coastal bus service runs every two hours, and there are other regular buses to Weymouth and Axminster. There are a few buses a day to Crewkerne and Yeovil, with minor buses also serving surrounding villages.
Railway (until 1975)
Bridport railway station closed on 5 May 1975 – one of the last closures directly associated with the "Beeching cuts" of the 1960s. The Bridport branch line ran from the junction with the Weymouth-Yeovil-Bristol "Heart of Wessex" line at Maiden Newton railway station; it was usually operated in its final years by a single carriage "Class 121" diesel train.
The nearest railway stations to Bridport now are at Maiden Newton, Crewkerne, Dorchester or Axminster. There is an infrequent bus service to Maiden Newton (71) and a bus service linking Axminster station, Dorchester South and West stations, and Weymouth railway stations (31) and a bus service linking the majority of Exeter railway stations, and Weymouth, Wool, Wareham, Poole, and formerly Bournemouth railway stations (X53)
Primary schools in Bridport are Bridport Primary School, St Mary's CE VC Primary School, St Catherines RC Primary School, and Symondsbury CE VC Primary School.
The Sir John Colfox School is the town's only secondary school. It located on the outskirts of the town and serves ages 11 to 18. The sixth form is combined with Beaminster School in nearby Beaminster.
Bridport has a history of nonconformism; a Dissenters' Academy was built in the town in 1768, and by 1865 the single Anglican church, St Mary's, was outnumbered by non-Church-of-England establishments by seven to one.
St Mary's Church was founded in the 13th century though much of it dates from the 15th century and it was substantially restored and altered in the 19th century. There is a 17th-century brass in St. Catherine's Chapel that commemorates Edward Coker who was killed in 1685 during the Monmouth Rebellion. There is a strong connection with the Bridport United Church (Methodist/URC) and the two hold joint services, study groups and children’s holiday clubs. The parish is linked with Roumois in the Diocese of Évreux, Normandy. The church has a maximum capacity of 400 and hosts many events. It has a peal of eight bells.
Opposite the church is a Society of Friends Meeting House. There has been a Quaker presence in the town since the middle of the 17th century. George Fox visited the Friends in the town in 1655 and said, "A fine Meeting there is there." The Bridport Quaker Meeting still meets for worship on Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
The town's rugby union club is Bridport RFC.
Bridport & West Dorset Golf Club is situated atop of the east cliff at West Bay. The club has an 18 hole links course, driving range and pitch & putt course.
Bridport Barracudas Swimming Club is based at Bridport Leisure Centre. A thriving Water Polo section has junior and senior teams competing in the Dorset Water Polo League. Water Polo matches are held in summer in the outer harbour at West Bay, continuing a tradition dating back to 1898.
The area also hosts one of the last remaining real tennis courts that was recently renovated with the aid of a lottery grant.
Bowling is represented by Bridport Bowling Club, situated in Priory Lane (flat green outdoors in summer and short mat in winter), and Bridport Indoor Bowling Club in Shoe Lane.
Notable people and places
Bridport and the surrounding area was used to film Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Channel 4 television programme River Cottage and the BBC dramas Harbour Lights starring Nick Berry and Rockliffe's Folly starring Ian Hogg. West Bay was used to film the 1950s film The Navy Lark, the opening credits of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and much of the filming of the crime drama Broadchurch, starring David Tennant and written by Chris Chibnall who lives in Bridport.
Bridport has two local weekly newspapers: the Bridport News, owned by Newsquest and published on Thursdays, and the View from Bridport, published on Wednesdays. The Dorset Echo also serves Bridport and is published daily from Monday to Saturday.
Local television is served by the BBC's Spotlight based in Plymouth and by the ITV West Country channel based in Bristol. Terrestrial television is transmitted in digital from the Stockland Hill Transmitter and also a digital relay transmitter based at Highlands End.
Bridport's local commercial radio station is Wessex FM, which broadcasts on 96.0 FM. Owned by The Local Radio Company, it also serves Weymouth and Dorchester. BBC local radio stations BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Solent can both be received.
Bridport also lies near the boundaries of the South and South West television broadcasting regions. Viewers in Bridport are more likely to receive news about Devon and Cornwall than they are about East and North Dorset.
To bridge the gap in the county, the BBC proposed launching BBC Radio Dorset, but this was soon dropped following BBC cut backs. The Dorset Broadcasting Action Group campaigns for better coverage in the area.
Bridport is a Met Office coastal weather observation point.
Bridport has one community website, Bridport Radio, which uses a newspaper style format. It mixes local information with comedic made-up news stories. The site allows users to comment on local subjects.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bridport.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bridport.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bridport.|
- Welcome to Bridport, or Notting Hill on Sea The Telegraph, 17 March 2007.
- Bridports reaction to Notting Hill on Sea references. Bridport Radio 22 February 2007.
- Bridport: Notting Hill by Sea? BBC Dorset
- Brits love to be beside the seaside The Times, 29 April 2008.
- Postcode lottery: DT6 The Times, 2 May 2008.
- Bridport Town Council
- Bridport and West Bay Official Community website
- Bridport at DMOZ