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MARKET TOWNS OF DORSET (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Bridport in 1836

BRIDPORT, a borough and market-town in Dorsetshire, on the highway from London to Exeter, and distant from London by the road, about 135 miles. It appears from a notice in Domesday Book, to have been a considerable place before the Norman Conquest, and has been noted from an early period for its hempen manufactures : the soil in the surrounding country being strong and deep, formerly produced excellent hemp. That now used is imported principally from Russia. There is an old saying in allusion to a man who has been hanged, ‘He has been stabbed with a Bridport dagger,’ which shows the antiquity of the manufacture of hemp at Bridport.

The earliest. charter of which any certain memorial remains is dated the 22nd June, 37 Henry III. This charter received subsequent confirmations, - the governing charter dated the 15th Aug., 18 Charles II. By the Municipal Reform Act, Bridport is divided into two wards, and has 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. The town is lighted by gas. Queen Elizabeth, in her 36th year, granted to the bailiffs and burgesses a market on Saturdays, on which cattle might be sold, from the Friday before Palm Sunday to Midsummer-day ; and three fairs, viz., on March 25th, on Holy-Thursday and two following days, and on Michaelmas-day, with a court of pie-poudre. The profits and tolls of the fairs and markets average about £203 annually. The present market-house was built under an act obtained in 1785.

The prosperity of Bridport is materially dependent on that of the harbour, which is at the mouth of the river Brit, about a mile from the town, the communication being by an excellent road. Many efforts have been made to improve this harbour. In 1318, one John Huderesfield obtained from Richard II a grant, for improving the port, of a half-penny toll for every horse-load of goods imported or exported here. Other attempts were unsuccessfully made, but the haven was repeatedly rendered almost useless, by the tides barring it up with sand. In 1722, an act was obtained, of which the preamble states, that by reason of a great. sickness, which swept away the greatest part of the most wealthy inhabitants, and other accidents, the haven became neglected and choked with sand, the piers fell to ruin, and the town consequently to decay. The works, for which this act was obtained, were not begun till 1741, and the pier was finished in 1742, towards the expense of which the two representatives of the borough contributed £3,500, an individual £1,000, and the town £500. Further improvements were made in 1756, sluices were constructed, the fresh-water bayed back, and at the ebb of the tide discharged with rapidity, in order to scour the sand.

Until 1822, the corporation were the exclusive trustees of the harbour ; but in that year a new act was obtained for its improvement, by which, besides the bailiffs and burgesses, many individuals were made commissioners for the execution of the act. This act fixed a maximum of tonnage dues on vessels, and of dues to be received on exports and imports. A sum of £17,800 was borrowed, and together with the surplus dues applied to the improvement of the harbour, which has thereby been rendered safe and commodious for shipping not exceeding 250 tons burthen. The trade of the port is rapidly increasing. In 1804, the number of vessels which entered was 128, their tonnage 9,926, the harbour dues £459. In 1833, it stood thus







Foreign trading vessels





Coasting trading vessels





Bridport was made a bonding port in 1832. The total amount of harbour duties in 1833 was £5,224.

The staple productions of the town are twine, lines, and fishing-nets. Of late years the manufacture of sail-canvas and shoe-thread has become extensive. The exports consist principally of these manufactures, and of butter, for which the county of Dorset is celebrated ; and the imports of hemp, flax, deals from the Baltic, wines, spirits, skins, coals, culm, and slates. The town is also celebrated for the skill of its ship-builders.

The population of the borough and parish of Bridport, which were formerly co-extensive, has considerably increased since the beginning of the present century. The population of the new borough created by the Reform Bill, which is more extended than the old one, cannot be ascertained with certainty, but is probably about 7,000. The borough returns two members to Parliament.

The old mail road from London to Exeter passes through Bridport, and forms the main street. The principal streets are spacious, and tolerably well built. The church of St. Mary’s, near the lower end of South-street, is an ancient building, in the form of a cross. There are four dissenting chapels. There were several religious foundations and chantries, few relics of which now appear. In the borough and parish there are sixteen daily schools, one of which contains eighty-two children, and is supported by an endowment. There are four Sunday schools, all supported by voluntary contribution. Within the last two years a mechanics’ institute has been established, and handsome and commodious reading and lecture rooms have been erected.