The turning point for Bridgwater came in the year 1200 with King Johnon the throne. In earlier years, Brewer had been instrumental in delivering the ransom money which paid for the release of Richard the Lionheart whenhe had been incarcerated in Germany. In later years, 1215, he would be at King John’s side advising on the signing of the Magna Carta. Brewer had recognised the potential for Bridgwater to be more than just a quayside. He knew that if a bridge could be thrown across the river, the village would become a strategic point in Somerset with tall-masted ships bringing goods in from the Bristol Channel being unable to sail beyond the bridge. Thus Bridgwater would become a transport depot where sea-borne goods would be transferred from ships to barges, and horse and foot traffic would cross the River Parrett using the new bridge, unhindered by the tide.
Such a crossroads of land and river routes would require a castle to defend it. King John, in his second year on the throne, was with William Brewer in France, travelling to Chinon, near Tours. On the way, Brewer suggested to King John that Bridgwater was an ideal location for a bridge and a castle. As the day progressed, scribes began to draw up the charter which would grant Bridgwater its freedom, giving it borough status allowing burgage rent to be collected by the town’s reeves and putting an end to serfdom. During the evening of June 26th, 1200, King John placed his seal upon the charter and Bridgwater as a free town was born. It was time for William Brewer to turn his vision to a reality. A town with a bridge, a commercial centre unlike any other in the county.
Text Copyright © 2008 Roger Evans