Last Weekend: Bridgwater boy who helped Britannia rule

Rio and New Orleans may not quite quake in their fancy boots at the assertion by this Somerset market town that it is the "Home of Carnival". Nevertheless, I arrived last weekend for the first time to Bridgwater's tidy little station to find a touch of the exotic: not the model-railway shop on Platform 2, but the Pythonesque portraits on the opposite side of the tracks, part of a project called "Trains of Thought".

Exotic, too, are the destinations advertised as bus connections: Aller, spurring French visitors to go; the inspirational options of Pict's Hill, St Decuman's and Weston Zoyland; and Huish Episcopi, which presumably is either ecclesiastically significant, or a patented piece of medical equipment.

Last weekend, though, it was initially difficult to feel as enthused by the fact of being in Bridgwater as one might be in, say, Brazil's coastal metropolis or Louisiana's largest city. Goodness knows where all those charity shops get their stock, never mind customers. While nearby Glastonbury has the mystique of both a festival and converging ley lines, Bridgwater is merely where the A38 and A39 merge.

Old black-and-white prints on the walls of the Riverside Café testify to the days of plenty, when cargo ships crowded the quays of the River Parrett. The earnings from trade with the colonies paid for the handsome redbrick structures that still add gravitas to a town whose fortunes drifted out with the tide.

A sign outside the café pointed to the Blake Museum. What connection, I wondered, did the artist, visionary and poet who wrote Jerusalem have with this corner of Somerset?

None, as it turns out: William was the wrong bloke, and Blake. The statue that commands the centre of Bridgwater is of "Robert Blake, born in this town 1598, died at sea 1657" (a century before William was born).

The excellent Blake Museum, at the end of a stumpy cul-de-sac named Blake Street, occupies the house where he is thought to have been born to a local merchant at the end of the 16th century. After fighting heroically for Cromwell's New Model Army in the Civil War, Robert Blake was appointed General-at-Sea, effectively one of three commanders of the Royal Navy.

At the time, England was a puny maritime power, its strength further diminished by the chaos of the Civil War when Parliamentarians and Royalists operated competing fleets. Blake began his naval career hounding the Royalists out of Kinsale in Ireland and the Scilly Isles, then harried the Dutch, the Spanish and the Portuguese.

By the time he succumbed to his wounds on a voyage home to Plymouth, Britannia was doing a pretty good impression of ruling the waves – not least because he wrote the book on tactics and discipline, entitled The Laws of War and Ordinances of the Sea.

Despite his remarkable achievements, Robert Blake doesn't even merit an adjective in "Ye Mariners of Britain" by the Scots poet Thomas Campbell, whose faint praise refers to "Where Blake and mighty Nelson fell". But last weekend, they remembered him in Bridgwater.

Next weekend: the Orchard Garden (01278 684690; orchardgarden.co.uk), offering self-contained accommodation on an old estate three miles north of Bridgwater, still has availability.

The Blake Museum (01278 456127; blakemuseum.org.uk) opens 10am-4pm from Tuesday to Saturday, admission free.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain