Langport (old forms are “Langeberga”, “Langeport”) consists of two parts, one on the hill and one by the river. The former owed its origin to its defensible position, and the latter its growth to its facilities for trade on the chief river of Somerset. Its name looks like Anglo-Saxon for “long port”, but it may well be “long market place” which could have been on the causeway which is now Bow Street. Many of the houses in Bow Street tilt backwards due to settlement of the land behind the causeway. It is speculated that Langport is the place mentioned in old Welsh sources as “Llongborth” = “Ship-port”, where the Battle of Llongborth happened. “Longphort” is a term used in Ireland for a Viking ship enclosure or shore fortress, using an identical etymology. Langport was previously also known as Langport Eastover, with the part on the western bank being Langport Westover, now known just as Westover. Langport is on the ancient way from Glastonbury to Taunton.
Langport could well have been important during the Roman occupation as there were several villas in the vicinity. It was one of the forts listed in the Burghal Hidage indicating its strategic position to King Alfred, as well as being close to the royal centre of Somerton. In 1086 according to Domesday Book it had 34 resident burgesses and was worth the large sum of £79-10s-7d.
The parish of Combe was part of the Kilmersdon Hundred, while Langport Eastover was within the Hundred of Pitney.
The first charter, given by Elizabeth I in 1562, recognized that Langport was a borough of great antiquity, which had enjoyed considerable privileges, being governed by a portreeve. It was incorporated by James I in 1617, but the corporation was abolished in 1883. Langport was represented in parliament in 1304 and 1306. In medieval times Langport was an important centre for cloth making.
The charter of 1562 granted three annual fairs to Langport, on 28 June, 11 November and the second Monday in Lent. One fair only is now held, a horse and cattle fair on 3 September. A Saturday market was held under the grant of 1562, but in the 19th century the market day was changed to Tuesday.
On 10 July 1645, the Battle of Langport was fought here, in which the last effective Royalist field army was destroyed and the Parliamentary victory in the Civil War became all but inevitable. When the Royalists retreated through the town many were killed by the bridge over the Parrett, and many of the buildings were set on fire. Although one authority states this was an act by the Parliamentary cavalry, reading contemporary accounts of the battle it is clear that the Royalist cavalry set the lower town on fire in the (vain) hope that this would hinder the pursuit led by Cromwell’s cavalry.
In 1826 it was the birthplace of Walter Bagehot a businessman, essayist and journalist, who wrote extensively about literature, government, economic affairs and other topics. He went into partnership with George Stuckey and by 1866 the company owned 14 East Indiamen as well as 19 barges on the River Parrett. This developed into the Somerset Trading Company. Stuckey’s Bank had been founded in 1770 and by 1909 its banknote circulation was second only to that of the Bank of England. It was then taken over by Parr’s Bank which became part of the Westminster Bank.
The Great Bow Bridge, which now carries the A378, is a three-arched bridge, constructed under the terms of the Parrett Navigation Act of 1836. Completed in 1841 at a cost of £3,749, it replaced the previous medieval bridge, with its nine tiny arches, all too small to allow navigation. A bridge at this site was first mentioned in 1220. The medieval bridge consisted of a total of 31 arches, of which nine crossed the river, and 19 of the original arches were located by ground-penetrating radar in 1987, buried beneath the road which runs from Great Bow Bridge to Little Bow Bridge.
Around 1840 the Westport Canal was built which joined the river at Langport. The abortive Ivelchester and Langport Navigation scheme had sought to avoid the Great Bow Bridge, by making the Portlake Rhine navigable, rebuilding Little Bow Bridge in the centre of Langport, and making a new cut to Bicknell’s Bridge. Seven locks, each with a small rise, were planned but the scheme foundered in 1797, due to financial difficulties. The railway came to Langport in 1853 and opened up new markets, but caused the decline of river traffic.
In 1856 the proprietor of the Langport Herald, James Richard Moreton, printed and published the 107 hymn tunes and 6 anthems written by his father, who was the minister of Langport Independent Chapel. This was the Reverend James Moreton’s “Sacred Music”, used by Congregationalists and other denominations in the nineteenth century (there is a copy in the British Library).
In World War II Langport was the site of a United States Army military prison or Disciplinary Training Center.