Bridport is a market town in Dorset, south-west England, just over a mile inland from the English Channel. It lies near the southern edge of the open flat Brit Valley, which drains the Rivers Brit and Mangerton (and Asker), running from the bowl-shaped vale around Beaminster down to the sea at West Bay. The valley is surrounded by the rolling wooded hills around Powerstock to the east, the Axe Valley hills to the north-east and the conical Chideock Hills to the south-west. Marshwood Vale lies on the western side of the valley, to the north of the town. The confluence of the Rivers Brit and Asker form the river valley floodplains, a Y-shaped area of flat low-lying ground running down to the sea at West Bay.
Bridport’s origins are Saxon, and it has a long history as a rope-making centre, which was known for centuries around the UK and the world. So important was this industry to Bridport, that its distinct architecture, street layout and character – notably the ropewalks and spinning ways – is shaped by the an industry that once employed hundreds and thousands of people in the town and nearby villages in the growing, processing and manufacture of flax and hemp into rope, net and twine.
The bedrock geology of the Bridport area comprises Early and Mid Jurassic sandstones, clays and mudstones. The town itself (together with West Allington and Skilling Hill) lies on the Eype Clay siltstones and limestones. North of this is a band of Bridport Sand forming Allington, Coneygar and Watton Hills, defined by fault lines running to the north and south. The historic core of Bradpole also lies on Bridport Sands, with outcrops of Beacon Limestone to the west under Gore Cross and Colfox School. Bothenhampton lies on the Down Cliff and Thorncombe sandstones. The bedrock beneath West Bay is Bridport Sands and mudstones of the Fullers Earth Formation, overlain by superficial deposits.
Bridport and its surrounding landscape lies within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), of national and international significance for its landscape, natural biodiversity and its cultural history. The characteristics of this West Dorset landscape vary: from the clay vales; hills of Upper Greensand; the deeply incised valleys with scattered hamlets and farms linked by narrow winding lanes; abundant hedgerows; stonewalls and linear wet woodlands; small oak and ash woodlands on valley sides with large arable and pastoral fields; long open views along the valley floor; extensive reed beds and grazing marsh towards the coast; scattered orchards and clustered human settlements along branching valleys bottoms of golden limestone and thatch; the annual return of a population of swifts nesting in the nooks and crannies of town’s architecture.
Like other rural communities, the town faces many challenges. Housing locally is amongst the least affordable as a proportion of local income in the country. Local industry and culture is under pressure from rising rents and proposals to smarten up strategic sites close to the centre of town through residential redevelopment. Industrial production and agriculture, historically the basis of Bridport’s economic prosperity and cultural identity – and which have profoundly shaped the urban fabric of the town – face increasingly uncertain futures.