Newenham to Bridport (12 miles)

Henry VII travelled to Bridport and stayed there on Monday 6 Nov. According to the Catholic old calendar, this day was dedicated to St. Leonard of Limoges.

Starting out from Newenham, there was no special reason to go through Axminster. Leland himself reached Charmouth by Axmouth and Lyme Regis, but there’s no reason to believe Henry VII took this more circuitous route either. Perhaps the travellers cut up Woodbury Lane, up the hill to meet the Lyme Road, which was on the old Roman road, Ackling Dyke. By the time they had climbed 500 feet to Raymond’s Hill, it had become the Charmouth Road, a two mile section covered nowadays by the A35.

The descent into Charmouth from Penn Cross on the old road was closer to the modern A3052, since the A35 has been straightened and now includes a bypass. The old road went through Charmouth town centre, along The Street.

Pre-dissolution, Charmouth was still owned by the abbots of Forde Abbey (now Forde House) and had a meagre population of around 200.  However, there were several hostelries, including The George, The Fountain (Charmouth House) and The Rose and Crown which go back to the times of the monks. There’s also a former doorway in the Abbots House on the Street.  Catherine of Aragon (allegedly) stayed there four years later, in 1501, and Charles II slept there during his flight to France in September 1651. More recently it was known as the Queens Armes.

Early 19th Century sketch of the Abbot’s House

Leland described Charmouth as a “good fisshar toune, a long mile”

Although we know the course of the old road from Axminster to Charmouth hadn’t changed from Roman times to Victorian, the exact route of the next section of Roman road, from Charmouth to Bridport (which definitely existed) remains unknown.  The current road, which Henry and Leland both surely took, may not be above the Roman one.

At the east end of The Street there’s Charmouth Bridge over a small brook, and then a few hundred metres later the road crosses the River Char. Leland mentioned them both:

Here I first passid a litle broket, and after in the very botom and farther end of the toun I passid over Charebroke, a that a litle lower goith into the se: and of this ryver the town takith the name.

Soon after this point, the old road reconverges and continues underneath the modern A35 through Morecombelake (which didn’t merit a comment by Leland) and Chideock (which did).

From Charmouth to Chidwik b a -3. miles by meatly good grounde. This is a fisshar town distant a mile from the shore. Arundale of Lanheron in Cornwaul is lord of this town, and hath a manor place and park there.

In the farther end of this town I passid over a broke that thens resortith to the se.

The Arundells had recently married into this estate. The related John Arundel had very recently been a Canon at Windsor and Dean of Exeter, but was at this time the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.

The remaining stretch of road to Bridport is also now buried under the A35, until you enter Bridport by West Road, the same road probably used by Leland and Henry VII.  Both must have crossed the River Simene around where the 30 mph zone starts today.  This area was a centre of flax growing.

From Chidwik to Bridport by corne, pasture and wood, 2. miles.

At the west ende of this town rennith a ryver : and going a mile lower enterith into the ocean.

Nature hath so set this ryver mo[uth] in a [valley by]twixt 2. hilles that with [cost the se] might be brought in, and [an haven] made.

Britport, of sum written Bruteport, is a fair larg town, and the chief streat of it lyith in lenght from west to est.

Ther crosse a nother fair strete in midle of it into the south. At the north ende of this streate is a chapelle of S. Andreas, wher sum say that the paroch chirch was yn old tyme. The paroch chirch of the town is now stonding in the south end of this streate.

There’s more than one rope works on the 1887 map which hark back to Bridport’s medieval history as a major producer of nets and rope used for (among other things) judicial hangings.  Hence there’s a joke about the Bridport Dagger, which Leland repeated: “at Bridport be made good daggers”.

By curious coincidence, Richard III also visited Bridport 14 years earlier, on November 5, 1483, on his way to Exeter to mop up the remnants of the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion. It is thought he stayed overnight at the Priory of St John the Baptist which was near East Bridge (over the River Asker) on East Street, but was dissolved around 1539. The exact location is uncertain, however it’s thought to be by the river where the former Marquis of Granby building stands (see map). It’s not even certain which order the Priory was of, but one source [Hunt & Co.’s Directory of Dorset, Hants, Wilts, Som, 1851] speculated it was the Carthusian Order. The Priory beside Henry’s royal palace at Sheen (Richmond) was also Carthusian.

See side-by-side map

Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to guess that these were the best lodgings in town, so maybe Henry stayed there as well.

The original Roman road ran all the way from Exeter to Salisbury, via Dorchester, which would be Henry’s next stop, on 7 November.

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