Bridport, an Anglo-Saxon town made famous by its rope making is the largest town in West Dorset. Such was the fame of Bridport rope that those who ended their days on the gallows were said to have been 'stabbed by a Bridport dagger'. The town is still Britain's main source for twine.
The town grew up round the rope industry, which developed during the Middle Ages following King John's request that the townsfolk make 'night and day as many ropes for ships both large and small and as many cables as you can.' Hemp and flax were grown locally and its long, straight alleys were once `rope walks’ where twine and rope were laid in long rope walks extending from the backs of houses as part of a cottage industry.
Bridport and the nearby harbour at West Bay, also dating from the 14th century, reached their peak of prosperity in the 18th and 19th century, corresponding with Britain's sea power in the age of sail. Many of the houses which can be seen in South Street today were built during this period.
For more than 700 years Bridport has been at the forefront of net-making technology and among a number of local firms, the Bridport-Gundry group is today a world leader in the production of specialist textiles and nets. Bridport made nets are used by fishing fleets all over the world. Bridport-Gundry also make a whole range of other nets, including the arrester nets used by the Space Shuttle, equipment used by leading international airlines and those used at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships
In the town centre a wide range of independent shops, including a number of Antique shops, are complemented by branches of national chains and supermarkets and there is a popular twice-weekly street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Historically interesting buildings include the Medieval parish church and chantry, the Tudor museum, and the Georgian town hall. The main streets have recently been remodeled and plans are in hand for a major development at West Bay and a light railway is proposed to link the "Bridport Harbour" with the main town.
Situated on the banks of the river, on the southern edge of the town is Britain's only thatched brewery, Palmers of Bridport. Over two hundred years old, the brewery is very much the traditional, family-run business. The Palmer family took over the brewery in about its fiftieth year, and have been building up the business ever since. But the emphasis has always been on tradition - not only in their attitude towards the brewing process, but also towards their employees and the local community.
First impressions of the brewery, apart from the thatched roof on some of the older buildings, are of its well organized and beautifully functional equipment - lots of lovely Victorian brewing equipment and even a proper copper (they're usually stainless steel these days). The brewery has always made the most of the river on whose banks it lies. In the past, the beer was transported to its destination by boat, though nowadays the river there is no longer navigable. Power for the brewery has been drawn from the river by means of a water wheel. That is, until a few years ago when the wheel's huge cast iron shaft broke under the force of the river's flow. Plans are afoot however to restore it to its former glory.