The earliest mention of Bridgnorth in historical records was in 895 when the Danes set up a camp at ‘Cwatbridge’. In 912 Ethelfleda, the lady of Mercia and King Alfred’s daughter, built a castle at ‘Bridge’.
The same year, Roger de Montgomery founded a church at Quatford dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. Robert de Belleme, son of Roger, succeeded as Earl in 1098 and in 1101 he transferred both church and borough to a more defendable site at Bridgnorth.
Bridgnorth Castle was founded in 1101 by Robert de Belleme, the son of the French Earl, Roger de Montgomery, who succeeded his father to become the Earl of Shrewsbury.
In 1102 Henry I besieged Bridgnorth for three months and took it from Robert de Belleme. The town then began to extend into the High Street and became a ‘Royal Peculiar’. This meant its church was not subject to a bishop’s rule, and the king became its Patron.
In 1157 Bridgnorth received its first Royal charter.
Bridgnorth Town Wall was built in the reign of Henry 111. In the early part of his reign a stockade composed mainly of dead timber was present but by 1260 this stockade had been almost completely replaced by a strong stone wall.
In the 12th century their were five gates used to enter Bridgnorth: Cowgate in Cartway, Listley Gate, near the Library, West Gate at the end of Listley Street, Whitburn Gate at the end of Whitburn Street, and finally the surviving Northgate.
In 1295 Bridgnorth sent its first members to Parliament.
In 1646 Bridgnorth was held for the King during the Civil War, but on 31 st March, Parliamentary forces forcibly entered St Leonard’s Close. Some of the guards were killed, and Colonel Billingsley, the Royalists’ leader, was mortally wounded and died. (See Lavingtons Hole)
The Royalists retreated back inside the Castle, setting fire to some stables in Listley Street (not far from Bridgnorth Library). St Leonard’s Church was also set alight by incendiary ‘bombs’ fired from the north east tower of the Castle. This caused ammunition stored inside the Church to explode and burning timbers were scattered all over the High Town starting the Great Fire.
Most of the old town records were housed within the church and were lost in the Great Fire which subsequently destroyed most of the High Town. A few half timbered buildings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have survived.
On 26 April 1646 the Castle surrendered to Royalist forces and during the next year was virtually destroyed. Unfortunately no plans or drawings exist of the Castle before its demolition but limited archaeology exists behind the Post Office and in Pound Street and part of the ancient keep can be seen in the Castle Grounds.
Originally there were two seals of the Borough, but one was lost durig the Civil War (1642-1651). The other, a Seal of the Office of Baliffs, was discovered in the 1850’s. Rev. Bellett took an impression of the seal and sent it to the British Museum. Rev. Bellett created the motto, “In the town’s loyalty lies the King’s safety” and Bridgnorth adopted it as its borough arms around 1875.
For many centuries, Bridgnorth was an extremely busy river port. Merchandise was ferried down river in trows or barges and pulled up the river by teams of four to eight men harnessed to a tow rope. Bridgnorth’s early trades included malting, tanning, weaving, nailers, drapers and iron founders.
Bridgnorth has always had many inns and ale houses, mainly due to the river traffic, the earliest was recorded in 1203. The town had at least two breweries.
Between 1804 and 1815 steam locomotives were built at Hazeldine’s Foundry in Low Town. One famous one called Catch Me Who Can was built in 1808 and was the first steam locomotive to draw fare paying passengers, at one shilling a ride.
The river trade began to decline with the opening of the railway in 1862, and in 1895 the last barge came down the river, the last trow being built in 1868.
In 1709 the Stoneway Chapel was built on the Stoneway Steps, described in deed dated 2nd August, 8th year of Queen Anne, 1709, as:
“All that messuage, cottage, or tenements, with all the gardens thereunto adjoining and belonging, on the north side of Stoneway, the which John Wilson bath lately purchased from Mr. Thomas Wollastone, and Anne, his wife. together with the new building thereupon since erected,”
Schoolrooms, built upon the site of a house occupied by Mr. Barber, were erected in 1842. The Chapel was sold in around 1960 and became the Theatre On The Steps.
In 1891 the Cliff Railway was opened and is now the only inland inclined railway in England, operating a service throughout the year.
Other notable buildings are the seventeenth century Bridgnorth Town Hall and a surviving town gate; Daniel’s Mill, an historic iron watermill is situated a short distance along the River Severn from Bridgnorth; and Bishop Percys House built in 1580 by Richard Forster and the birth place of Thomas Percy, the Bishop of Dromore and author of ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’.
In 1887, John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles listed Bridgnorth like this:
Bridgnorth, mun. bor. with ry. sta., Shropshire, on river Severn 7 miles S. of Coalport, 13 1/2 miles SW. of Wolverhampton, 24 miles SE. of Shrewsbury and 149 miles NW. of London, 3194 ac., pop. 5885; 3 Banks, 1 newspaper. Market day, Saturday. The town is picturesquely situated on both sides of the river, which is here spanned by a handsome bridge. B. has mfrs. of carpets and worsted, and some trade in agricultural produce. It is an ancient town, said to have been founded by a daughter of King Alfred. A large portion of the castle, built shortly after the Conquest, still remains. B. returned 1 member till 1885.
In 1911 the Northgate was restored / rebuilt.
Until 1961 the Royal Air Force’s initial recruit training unit was at RAF Bridgnorth, a station opened in 1939. During the Second World War, two women were killed during a German air raid in August 1940 when bombs hit neighbouring houses in High Town.
In 1978, Bridgnorth twinned itself with the French town of Thiers, and later in 1992 it also twinned with the Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen, Germany that had already twinned with Thiers a few years earlier. On 21 August 2003 Bridgnorth was granted Fairtrade Town status.
In 2005, unverified German papers dating from 1941 were found, outlining new details about Operation Sea Lion, the military plans of Nazi Germany for an invasion of Britain. Two quiet Shropshire towns were mentioned in the documentation—Ludlow and Bridgnorth. Some experts believe that it was Hitler’s intention to make Bridgnorth his personal headquarters in Britain, due to its central position in the UK, rural location, rail connections and now-disused airfield. ( See Hitler Wanted Sleepy Bridgnorth)