Our Town. Our Heritage.
The Society was founded in 1972 by the Mayor of Bridgwater, Cllr. Irene Tester. As a Registered Charity (No. 265031) we are a not-for-profit organization supported entirely by passionate local volunteers. Our honorary committee takes action on behalf of the membership to address local matters. Together we strive to maintain and achieve the following:
For over 40 years the Society has been well respected as an organisation of local people with a collective wealth of knowledge and experience. Society representations to authorities, on behalf of our wider membership, are recognised and valued in debates on community action and opinion. We are a non party-political organization seeking only to work for you, the residents of our town and villages, to preserve historic Bridgwater and support the change that you want to see.
We are a registered charity pertaining to the preservation and enhancement of Bridgwater and Sedgemoor's heritage. Our service to members and community is regulated by the Charity Commission. Go to the About Us section for more information.
Join Us Today
Membership is open to everyone. If you are passionate about your town and the area and want to have your opinion heard, please join our Society. We listen to your views, ideas and concerns and TAKE ACTION. Supporting the Society is not costly - only £10 a year, or £2 if you're a student! For an application form please go to our Membership Page. Subscription, fund-raising and donations all help to provide:
The Society actively supports and encourages people of all ages to get involved and enjoy the benefits of community spirit. If you would like to get involved with projects in the town or villages or, just want to share your thoughts and contributions with others, please do get in touch. We are also able to assist with providing opportunities and references for volunteers.
The Blue Plaque Initiative
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this is one of our most noticeable achievements. Over the last 10 years the Society has been permanently commemorating local places of historic or public interest with a Blue Plaque. We recently published an informative Blue Plaque Booklet detailing the sites. It has been so well received we've had to order another print run! Please see our Blue Plaque section for more information.
Bridgwater Town Guide
In April 2013, the Bridgwater Town Guide was released in print. However there is now also a free App to provide all of this information digitally. Download the App today and you can have instant access. If you go to the 'about' section on the App then 'heritage sites', the Society's Blue Plaques are listed under Bridgwater Trails.
Friarn Community Garden
The Society listened to the views of residents from Friarn Avenue and collaborated with them and Bridgwater (Cannington) College BSc. Landscape Design Students to create a Community Garden. We have helped local people to preserve this historic green space which is the only area left undeveloped since the site housed Somerset's late medieval Franciscan Friary (1245-1538). To date, the Society assisted with re-fencing the area and installed a commemorative Blue Plaque.
With a beautiful design, created by residents and students, we are very happy to be working on transforming the site into an attractive place for everyone to enjoy. We offer our sincerest thanks to the Somerset Community Foundation and Bridgwater Town Council for recently providing funds to buy materials and undertake the necessary works across 2015-16 and into the future.
During 2014 volunteers worked really hard preparing the site which included removing tonnes of litter, glass and metal to make the area safe and, levelling the soil to make the garden accessible to everyone in the future.
Throughout 2015 volunteers worked on creating the raised beds. For our BLOG and updates go to Projects section (top of page) and click on 'Community Garden' or, like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friarn-Community-Garden-Bridgwater/717161205012144
As this garden is being created solely by volunteers we could always do with a helping hand. Local residents and the Society would be very grateful if you could offer an hour of your time to help with the project so please do get in touch. We are happy to offer character references to participants. Please support us in our aim to show just what can be achieved with a bit of willpower and community spirit!
Save Your Community Assets!
The Community Assets Lists allows buildings which are of community value to be saved from sale and demolition for 6 months, to provide an opportunity for fundraising for community purchase. It does not guarantee success, but it is at least a way of raising the profile of community assets and putting pressure on owners to consider community need, and not just commercial marketing.
In 2015 the Civic Society campaigned to preserve the Magistrates' Courthouse as a Community Asset. A number of potential viable community uses were identified and we believe this historic building can continue to serve local people. Therefore we made an application to Sedgemoor District Council in order to be given the opportunity to raise money to purchase it. Derek Gibson, our President, commented in the press 'this is a community affair that should attract support' and it did - with a very successful public viewing of the Courthouse on 20th February 2015. The viewing was well attended by people of all ages and interests; there was much enthusiasm about the building's history and lots of positive ideas about it's future.
However, the Council did not list the Court as a Community Asset before it was went to auction. Subsequently, it was sold to an out-of-town private investor; in the time since, the building has been left empty and boarded up.
The Civic Society, along with Town and Parish Councils, is authorised to make applications for the Community Assets List. The Civic Society invites individuals or organizations to nominate a community building or space they would like to see protected on the Bridgwater Community Assets List.
For further information go to the 'Projects' section (top of page) and click on 'Community Assets'.
Voluntary work can be very rewarding; it is also particularly beneficial to presenting a well rounded C.V. and improving your employability. As a charity with a committee of unpaid volunteers, we need as much help as possible with administration, fund-raising, heritage events and community projects. We can provide you with a character reference for your C.V. Please use the Contact Us tab for more details about the ways in which you can donate your time to us and make a difference where you live.
Wednesday 14th September 2016
The next meeting of the Bridgwater & District Civic Society on Wednesday 14th September, is a visit to Wembdon Road Cemetary. We will meet at 2.30pm at the gate in Wembdon Road for an informative tour highlighting the work of the Friends. It is expected to last about an hour and sensible shoes are recommended as the ground is very uneven. Drivers have permission to park in the Quantock Pub car-park.
We believe local people should be involved in decisions which impact on their communities. Historic buildings are being torn down. Our heritage is being destroyed. PLEASE JOIN US NOW before our historic town and villages become unrecognisable! The more people to come forward and support the Civic Society, the greater our achievements will be.
Workhouse Update 2016
"County Council Will Demolish Historic Workhouse Building"
The Bridgwater & District Civic Society have, reluctantly, accepted that they have lost the fight to keep the Blake Hospital. However, the Society remain unrepentant that there was a strong case for the iconic old building to be refurbished as a new school for the town. In particular, the Civic Society is scathing about the role of Somerset County Council, which denied the Society, and local councillors, any detailed background information until the day before the key hearing at County Hall.
Hannah West, BDCS Vice-Chair, said: "The Civic Society has done its best, but once again a local authority has let down the people of Bridgwater. Our arguments were never seriously considered. But interest in the old Workhouse, the role of the Bridgwater Board of Guardians, the post-NHS Blake Hospital, and even the Breaker Morant story, is growing in leaps and bounds. We thank the local media for its support in running these stories.
Bridgwater's heritage, which the Civic Society tries its best to preserve, is not just bricks and mortar, listed or other wise. It is also the collective memory of Bridgwater people. We condemn Somerset County Council for ignoring us. One day, hopefully, Bridgwater will get back the local council it deserves: an authority that does not ignore popular feeling, but acts on it."
Workhouse Infirmary Building
No to Northgate Demolition!
The Bridgwater & District Civic Society, are strongly objecting to another attempt by Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council to demolish the town’s former Workhouse Infirmary and Blake Hospital building. The Civic Society argues this latest Northgate ‘Masterplan’ completely ignores public opinion on preserving Bridgwater’s historic buildings and community spaces.
A Bridgwater Workhouse was built at Northgate in 1836 to accommodate 300 poor inmates. Only the Victorian Workhouse Infirmary still stands today – a building which, subsequently, became the town’s Blake Hospital. Our hospital situated on the riverside, was built later from local donations.
Back in March, over 100 people attended a Public Meeting about the future of Northgate and Brewery Field. Due to considerable public feeling that the Workhouse building should be saved, Somerset County Council agreed to halt demolition and ‘review’ their plan. Local people thought they had finally been listened to.
However, at a recent Town Development Forum meeting on 26th November, when the Councils’ presented their Northgate ‘Masterplan’, to everyone’s surprise, it was based on their original plan to completely flatten the site – a scheme previously rejected by local people. A Civic Society motion, against demolition of the Workhouse building, again received overwhelming support at the Forum last week, which was attended by 28 representatives from local community groups.
The apparent ‘Masterplan’ is to build a 420 place primary school (14 classrooms) and a 26 place nursery with shared use of outside green spaces e.g. football pitches and a children’s play area. Potential uses for other areas include a Food Store, Pub, Hotel and Cinema with Retail Units.
But the Councils’ own public consultation showed just 18% of responses liked the idea of a school. More people wanted leisure facilities (30%) or green spaces and parks (25%). Public access to these green spaces will likely reduce if shared with a school. The Civic Society remains yet to be convinced about building a large school in a green town centre location, especially given the ongoing traffic situation.
Despite objection to a fundamental part of the scheme – demolition – Sedgemoor District Council approved their ‘Masterplan’ at a formal ‘Special Meeting’ on 27th November. The meeting was also moved from 2.30pm to 11am preventing some townsfolk from attending and expressing their views. Disregard for Bridgwater people, our heritage and aspirations, must stop now.
In light of continued demolition of Bridgwater’s historic buildings and community spaces we urge residents of all ages to stand up and be counted. From our YMCA building on the river and Railway Hotel, to more recently, Sedgemoor Splash and the Hope Inn, unwanted destruction of our town needs to stop.
The Bridgwater & District Civic Society invites local people to send in their views, memories and stories about the Blake Hospital or Workhouse to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the 'Contact Us' section of this website.
Our Town. Our Heritage.
No More Eyesores Campaign
We are passionate about the history of our town and district and believe we should not have to put up with buildings falling into unsightly dereliction. Some properties, like the one we previously identified at Penel Orlieu, have spent years descending into ugly and hazardous eyesores - often subject to repeated bouts of vandalism. Unfortunately other eyesores continue to have a detrimental impact on the built environment. One of our Eyesore Awards went to the former Medical Centre on East Quay:
This building has since been demolished to make way for the ASDA petrol station which was previously refused planning consent due to it's potential impact on the Conservation Area. We now have an unsightly petrol station along with a disused and untended plot of land right on the riverside vista for everyone to enjoy.
We do not think it's right for absent property owners to ignore their responsibilities and/or attempts to deliberately facilitate the deterioration of local (and often historical) sites in order to gain planning permission. Bridgwater deserves better than that. Therefore we intend to push for more awareness and more improvements. Are you fed up of looking at an eyesore in town? If so, please let us know via our 'Contact Us' section! For more information about this campaign please go to our Projects Page.