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Bridgwater Castle

Bridgwater Castle was an impressive building for its day covering 10 acres, big enough to support 2-3,000 troops in times of strife.  It had walls 12 to 15 feet thick and was surrounded on three sides by a 30 foot moat, the fourth side being the river.  The north moat was known as the Common Ditch and the other two sides as the Castle Ditch.  The boundaries as we would recognise them today, would be the river on the west, Fore Street on the south, Chandos Street to the north and Castle Moat to the west.  Within this area the castle was split into the upper bailey, roughly King Square and all the surrounding buildings, and the lower bailey, being everything between King Square and the river.  Stand at the top of Castle Street today and you can see how the upper bailey was on level ground and the lower bailey was on the bank sloping down to the river.

There were two main entrances into the castle, the Watergate from the river and the Market Gate leading into the market place at the Cornhill. Each entrance was protected by barbican towers plus a drawbridge and portcullis. Evidence of the outer walls can still be found at the Watergate Restaurant on the West Quay, where the Romanesque arch is still clearly visible, at the private car parking area at the bottom of Chandos Street where a large section of wall is clearly visible and at the back of Boots the Chemist where a section of wall and evidence of a well can be seen.  The walls were built mainly of red Wembdon sandstone, on a foundation of Blue Lias from central Somerset.  Archways and windows were trimmed with the fawn-coloured Ham stone from South Somerset.

Within the castle walls there was St. Mark’s Chapel (looked after by the brethren of St John’s), stables, a smithy, an armoury to serve the troops, a bell tower and a dovecote which provided fertiliser for the vegetable gardens.  Many of these buildings were roofed with green glazed tiles, the source of which remains unknown.  Within Mortimer’s Hall, being the great hall within the keep, there was a raised dais where the privileged would sit.  Vaults beneath ground level acted as both dungeons and wine cellars. There are numerous buildings in the Castle Street area where these undercroft vaults still exist and some were used by the Customs House which was once at the lower end of Castle Street and accounts for the naming of Bond Street.

Text Copyright © 2008 Roger Evans

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