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By an Act of Parliament of 1834, Bridgwater was permitted to introduce gas lighting to the streets replacing the previous oil lamps which were lit by John Gillingham and his son.  The introduction of gas for street lighting brought the added benefit that gas then became available for domestic and commercial premises.  Each evening, the lamp lighter would walk the streets, turning the gas lights on, and then switching them off as daylight broke, cycling around on his bicycle with his long lamplighter’s pole.  The first gas-lamp in the town was lit by Mr. W J Ford at the premises of Edward Jefferies, a chemist in Fore Street.  The first public building to use gas lighting was the town theatre situated in Back Street (Clare Street), a replica of the Adelphi in London.  A theatre programme of 1837 announced that the theatre would be ‘brilliantly lighted with gas’. The theatre was eventually pulled down and replaced with a row of cottages called “Theatre Place”.

The local gas works were erected in what is now Old Taunton Road where tar, with its distinctive smell, was produced as a by-product.  This was then used on the road surfaces as early as 1908 but not seriously trialled until 1921 when it was used on the stretch of road between Bridgwater and North Petherton.  The trial was successful and in 1925 Trinidad Lake Asphalt was laid around the town centre roads, bringing with it the end of the bonfire on the Cornhill, since asphalt burns very readily.

Water also became an issue as the town began to grow and in December 1879, the Bridgwater Corporation Waterworks were opened at Ashford Reservoir near Cannington.  Durleigh (1938) and Hawkridge Reservoirs (1962) were to follow.  Until the creation of the Ashford Reservoir, the town had been dependent on locally bored wells for its water supply.  From Ashford, water was pumped up to an underground holding tank at Sandford beyond the top of Wembdon Hill, still visible today.

In earlier times, back in 1694, Richard Lowbridge of Stourbridge was granted permission to take water from the Durleigh Brook by means of an engine, and to convey it to a cistern which was built over the High Cross at the Cornhill.  The part of the brook from which the water was extracted was known as Friars and was owned by George Balch and in 1709 he took owned the supply system, which used elm pipes to convey the water..

Text Copyright © 2008 Roger Evans

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