BRIDPORT, a sea-port, borough, market-town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Whitchurch-Canonicorum, Bridport division of the county of DORSET, 14¾ miles (W.) from Dorchester and 134 (W.S.W.) from London, on the high road to Exeter, containing 3742 inhabitants.
This place takes its name from the river Bride, or Brit, which falls into the sea at the harbour, about a mile and a half to the South of it. It was a town of some importance in the time of Edward the Confessor, and is mentioned in Domesday-book as having a mint, and an ecclesiastical establishment. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., it was garrisoned by the parliament, but not being a place of much strength, was alternately in the possession of each party. In 1685, it was surprised by some troops in the interest of the Duke of Monmouth, under Lord Grey, which were defeated by the king's forces, and twelve of the principal insurgents were after-wards executed. The town is situated in a fertile vale surrounded by hills, having on the west the river Bride, or Brit, and on the east the river Asker, over which are several bridges; these rivers unite a little below the town. It is chiefly formed by three spacious streets, containing many handsome modern houses, and is well paved, and lighted with elegant lamps, adapted to the future introduction of gas; the inhabitants are amply supplied with water.
The trade of the port consists principally in the importation of hemp, flax, and timber, from Russia and the Baltic, and timber from America and Norway; there is also a considerable coasting trade, by which the adjacent towns are supplied with coal from Wales and the collieries in the North of England, and with other articles of general consumption. Many coasting vessels, particularly smacks, for the trading companies of Scotland, are built at this port, and are highly esteemed for strength, beauty, and fast sailing. The harbour is situated at the bottom of the bay, which is formed by the head-lands near Portland on the East, and Torbay on the West : an act for restoring and rebuilding it was obtained in the 8th of George I, the preamble to which recites that by reason of a great sickness that had swept away the greatest part of the wealthy inhabitants, and by other accidents, the haven became neglected, and was choked with sand, and the piers had fallen into ruins: the work was begun in 1742, and, by the expenditure of large sums, great improvement was made. Another act was obtained in 1823, in which and the three succeeding years, upwards of £19,000 have been expended, in enlarging the basin, and filling the piers with masonry, so that the harbour is now perfectly safe and commodious. The number of vessels belonging to the port is from twenty to thirty, of from eighty to one hundred and thirty tons' burden. The principal articles of manufacture are nets, lines, small twine, girth-webbing, cordage, and sail-cloth for the use of our home and colonial fisheries, particularly for those of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, in which ten thousand hands are generally employed in the town and neighbourhood. In the reign of Henry VIII., the cordage for the whole of the English navy was ordered to be made at Bridport, or within five miles of it exclusively. The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday: the fairs are, April 6th and October 11th, for horses, horned cattle, and cheese ; there is also a smaller fair on Holy Thursday.
The government, by charter of incorporation originally granted by Henry III., confirmed by Richard II., Henry VIII., and Elizabeth, and renewed and extended by James I. and Charles II., is vested in two bailiffs, a recorder, deputy recorder, and fifteen burgesses, assisted by a town clerk, two serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers. The bailiffs, who, with the late bailiffs, are justices of the peace within the borough, (which is coextensive with the parish), are chosen at Michaelmas, by the burgesses; the recorder, deputy recorder, and town clerk, are chosen by the corporation, subject to approval by the king. The corporation hold a court of session once a year, a court of record for the recovery of debts under £20 every third Monday, and a court leet annually. The elective franchise was conferred in the 23rd of Edward I., since which time the borough has regularly returned two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, and non-resident members of the corporation living within ten miles of the borough, of which latter the number is limited to five; the whole number of electors is about two hundred and fifty: the bailiffs are the returning officers. The town hall is a handsome brick building faced with Portland stone, containing, in the upper story, a court for the borough sessions, a room for the grand jury, and a council chamber; it was erected in 1786, on the site of the ancient chapel of St. Andrew, in the centre of the town, by an act of parliament, under which the town is paved and lighted: there is also a prison for the confinement of debtors.
The living is a discharged rectory, in the archdeaconry of Dorset, and diocese of Bristol, rated in the king's books at £10. 12. 3½., and in the patronage of the Earl of Ilchester. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious cruciform structure, chiefly in the later style of English architecture, with a square embattled tower rising from the centre, and crowned with pinnacles: within are many interesting monuments, among which is an altar tomb of William, son of Sir Eustace Dabrigecourt, of Hainault, who was related to Queen Philippa. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. The free school was founded and endowed in 1708, by Daniel Taylor, one of the Society of Friends: the management is vested in trustees appointed by the members of that society, resident in Bridport and its vicinity. There is also an almshouse, founded by the same individual in 1696. Mr. Robert Bull, in 1730, left £200, directing that, of the interest, £4 per annum should be given for the instruction of twelve children, and £3 to twelve poor men; and a portion of the rent of eight acres and a half of land, purchased by the corporation, with money vested in them as trustees, is appropriated to the maintenance of a school. Turtle stone, and cornua ammonis are found in the neighbouring quarries, and copperas stones on the beach, about four miles west of the harbour.
Bridport confers the titles of baron and viscount on the family of Hood.
Volume 1, page 231