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BIDEFORD, a pleasant and well-built market town, seaport, and municipal borough, is picturesquely seated upon two acclivities, rising from opposite sides of the broad and majestic river Torridge, which is here crossed by a stone bridge of 24 arches, and of excellent masonry, 677 feet in length. The river is navigable up to Torrington, with the aid of a small canal from Wear Gifford; and below the town it expands into a broad estuary, which falls into Bideford or Barnstaple Bay, with that of the Taw, about three miles below. Few places excel in romantic scenery this beautiful little seaport town of North Devon, which is the head of a large Union, and Polling and County Court Districts, and is distant nine miles S.W. of Barnstaple, seven miles N. by W. of Great Torrington, 52 miles N. of Plymouth, 42 miles N.W. of Exeter, and about 200 miles W. by S. of London, being 50 deg. 2' north latitude, and 4 deg. 3' west longitude. Its Parish comprises about 4510 acres of land, and had 5211 inhabitants in 1841. Its population amounted to only 2987 souls, in 1801; to 3244, in 1811; to 4053, in 1821; and to 4846, in 1831. The town is mostly on the western side of the river, and being on a bold acclivity, and within three miles of the sea, it is highly salubrious, and the streets are clean and well drained; descending to the bank of the river, where there is a commodious quay, and where the long bridge, with its numerous arches, has a very picturesque appearance. The name of Bideford is a corruption of its original appellation, By-the-ford. The manor was settled by William the Conqueror on his consort Matilda, and was given by William Rufus to Sir Richard, de Grenville, whose descendents resided here and at Kilkhampton, in Cornwall, for many generations; and three of them represented Devon in Parliament. Sir Richard Grenville, of Bideford, distinguished himself in the reign of Elizabeth, as an adventuring navigator, and was, with Sir Walter Raleigh, the joint discoverer of Virginia and Carolina, of which he published an account. In 1521, being then vice-admiral of England, he sustained with his single ship, the most glorious but unequal conflict that is recorded in naval history, against the whole fleet of the enemy; and after having repulsed them fifteen times, yielded not till his powder was all spent. He died of his wounds two days afterwards, on board the Spanish Admiral's vessel. His own ship, reduced to a bulk, sunk before it could be got into port. His great-grandson, Sir John, who first wrote his name Granville, is well known for the active share he had in bringing about the restoration of Charles II., who, in 1601, created him Baron Granville of Bideford, Earl of Bath, &c. After the death of the last Earl of Bath of the Granville family, in 1711, their Devonshire estates were divided. The manor of Bideford was purchased in 1750, by John Clevland, Esq., and it now belongs to Archibald Clevland, Esq., and is vested in trust during his minority; but a great part of the parish belongs to L.W. Buck, Esq., G.B. Hart, Esq., J.S. Ley, Esq., and many smaller freeholders. Daddon is the property of Lewis Wm. Buck, Esq., one of the parliamentary representatives of North Devon, who has a handsome seat called Moreton House, pleasantly situated in a spacious and well-wooded lawn, about a mile S.W. of the town. The Bucks came from Ireland, and settled in Devonshire in the latter part of the 17th century. George Buck, who died in 1743, married the heiress of the Stuckleys, of Daddon and Afton Castle.
Bideford is called a borough in ancient records, but it does not appear to have ever returned members to parliament, except twice, in the reigns of Edward I. and II. A market day on Monday, and a fair for five days at the festival of St. Margaret, were granted to Richard Grenville, in 1271. The gallant Sir Richard Grenville procured a charter from Queen Elizabeth, which incorporated the town, made it a free borough, confirmed the market and fair, and granted two other fairs. This charter was confirmed and extended by other charters, in the 7th and 10th of James I. Under these charters, the government of the borough was vested in a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 10 capital burgesses; with a recorder, town clerk, two sergeants-at-mace, and other officers. By the Municipal Act of 1835, the government is vested in a mayor, 4 aldermen, 12 councillors, a recorder, and several borough magistrates. The borough has a separate court of quarter sessions; and petty sessions are held here once a fortnight, both for it and the division of Great Torrington. The County Court is held monthly, at the Guildhall, for the parishes in Bideford Union, as well as those of Horwood, Instow, and Westleigh. Mr. J. Rooker is clerk of this court, and Richard Buse is the high bailiff. Early in 1643, a fort was erected on each side of the river, and a small one at Appledore. A parliamentary garrison was then placed at Bideford, but it surrendered to Col. Digby in September. Chudleigh Fort, on the eastern acclivity of the valley, is said to have been built by order of Major-General Chudleigh, and its site is now enclosed by a stone wall. In consequence of the patronage of the Grenville family, a trade with Virginia and Carolina, then recently discovered, was established at Bideford in the reign of Elizabeth, and the town continued to enjoy a considerable share of American commerce till the breaking out of the war, which ended in the independence of the United States. In the reign of Charles I., the merchants here imported large quantities of wool from Spain; and afterwards, besides their commerce with France, Holland, and the Mediterranean, had so large a share of the Newfoundland trade, that in 1699, they sent out more ships than any port in England, except London and Topsham. In some years of last century, Bideford imported more tobacco than London. The trade of this port is still very considerable; large quantities of timber, hemp, tallow, &c., are imported from the Baltic and America; wines, fruits, &c., from the Mediterranean; cattle, &c., from Ireland; coal, culm, iron, flag-stones, &c., from Wales; and marble and slate from Cornwall. The Newfoundland trade is again revived, and bids fair to equal its former importance. The number of registered vessels belonging to the port is 150, of the aggregate tonnage of 12,436 tons. The exports consist chiefly of agricultural produce. Four first-class emigrant ships (belonging to Mr. Richard Heard,) sail from Bideford to America, &c. Passengers find this a very desirable port to start from for the western shores; and it is remarkable, that no accident has happened to any of the ships which have left Bideford with emigrants during the last twenty years. Ship building is carried on here to a considerable extent; and during the late war, several frigates, bombs, and gun brigs, were built here for the royal navy. Steam and sailing vessels ply to Bristol, in connexion with steamers to Liverpool, London, &c. Here are three large potteries, which employ many hands in the manufacture of coarse earthenware. Here are also several malt-houses, two breweries, a number of lime-kilns, and an iron-foundry. Brown and grey paint and mineral black are got in the neighbourhood; and at Chapple Park is the valuable CULM MINE of the Bideford Anthracite Mining Company, lately established, and now employing a considerable number of hands. A tram road, more than a mile in length, is being made underground to the heart of the mine. The Port of Bideford includes Appledore, Clovelly, Hartland, and all the north coast of Devon, extending westward from the estuary of the Taw and Torridge. The Quay was constructed in 1663, and belongs to the lord of the manor. Ships of 500 tons burden may lie safely at the quay, and those of 300 tons can get up to the bridge. Small craft go up the river to Wear Gifford, whence there is a canal to Torrington. The amount of customs received here in 1840 was £5648; and in 1847, £3750. The CUSTOM HOUSE OFFICERS are, H. Rodd, Esq., collector; Jas. John Paxton, comptroller, &c.; Wm. Martin, harbour master; and John Courtis, locker. The MARKET, held every Tuesday and Saturday, is well supplied with meat, vegetables, fruit, &c.; and on the former day with corn, cattle, swine, &c. Here are great markets, for cattle, &c., on the second Tuesday in March, the last Tuesday in April, and the third Tuesday in September. FAIRS for cattle, &c., are held on Feb. 14th and 15th, July 18th, and November 13tb. There is a spacious market-place in the centre of the town, but much business is done on the Quay. The town has been much improved during the last twenty years, and in the principal streets are many neat houses, good inns, and well stocked shops. The New Inn was enlarged and superbly fitted up a few years ago, and contains excellent accommodations for families and commercial gentlemen. The paintings alone cost upwards of £700; and a large and elegant portico and verandah extend across the whole front of the building. The town is now well paved, and has Gas Works, erected about 16 years ago, at the cost of £2800, raised in £10 shares. Within the last few years, many respectable families have settled in the town, which, in point of cleanliness, salubrity, convenience, and comfort, is surpassed by but few places in England. The Guildhall, where the Town Council meet, and where the courts are held, is an old, inconvenient, Elizabethan building; but the erection of a new hall and prison is in contemplation. The receipts of the Corporation in 1848 amounted to only about £300, of which £170 was derived from borough rates, and £53 from the rent of property. The following is a list of the present TOWN COUNCIL, PUBLIC OFFICERS, &c.:-
Dr. John Shebbeare, author of the "Practice of Physic," but better known for his political writings, for which he was sentenced to stand in the pillory, in 1758, and was afterwards pensioned, was born at Bideford in 1709. He was put in the pillory, but was attended by a servant, who held an umbrella over his head; and the sheriff was prosecuted for not enforcing the sentence. Mr. Abraham Down, and his brother Benjamin, both ingenious mathematicians, and the latter the publisher of maps of Cornwall and Devon, were natives of this town.
The BRIDGE TRUST comprises property which yields an annual income of about £380, and has been vested with feoffees from an early period, for the reparation of the bridge. and for other public and charitable uses, in the parish of Bideford. This property comprises 92 houses and other buildings, with gardens, &c., in the town and suburbs, let for only £55 a year, in consideration of fines paid when the leases were granted; and about 155A. of land and many houses, &c., in this and other parishes, let at rack-rents, amounting to £329 per annum. There is also belonging to the charity upwards of £1400 three per cent. consols, purchased with savings of income. In 1810, the feoffees expended above £2500 in repairing and widening the bridge, and rebuilding the parapet walls. After providing for the repairs of the bridge, the large surplus income is applicable for " charitable, necessary, and reasonable uses and purposes;" and is consequently applied in supporting a school and fire engines, relieving the poor, repairing the Guildhall, Bridge Hall, &c. and in paying small salaries to the bridge-war, hall-keeper, scavenger, &c. The Mayor always acts as one of the feoffees, and executes the leases of the trust property. In 1848, the feoffees contributed largely towards the improvement of Meddon street. The Bridge Hall was built for the use of the feoffees, in 1758, and the Bridge, is said to have been built and endowed by Sir Theobald Grenville, in the early part of the 14th century.
The GRAMMAR SCHOOL is held in a room which belongs to the Bridge Trust, and is kept in repair by the feoffees. In 1689, Susannah Stucley left £200, to be laid out in lands for the support of a Grammar School in Bideford provided the town would raise £400 more for the same purpose. Towards the latter sum, £100 was left by John Thomas. The money thus raised was laid out in the purchase of an estate called Bushton, in West Buckland parish, consisting of a farm of 57A., now let for £50 per annum; and a wood of about 20½A., which is in the hands of the trustees. Fells of timber in this wood yielded to the charity £204 in 1799. and £439 in 1813. The trustees, in 1817, laid out £420 in the purchase of a house in Bridgeland street, for the residence of the schoolmaster, for a term of 99 years. The schoolmaster is required to teach the Greek and Latin languages, and the elements of history, geography, astronomy, mathematics, &c., gratuitously to three boys sent to him by the trustees; and not to charge more than £6. 6s. per annum for any of the other day scholars. The school has been long in high repute, and was ably conducted by the Rev. Henry Alford, M.A., from 1826 till 1849, when he resigned, and the Rev. Hugh Fowler, the present master, was appointed. The NATIONAL SCHOOL is a large building, erected by the Bridge Feoffees, in 1825, and attended by about 200 children of both sexes. An Infant School, erected by subscription in 1845, has about 120 pupils. Here is also a large British School, built in 1835, and attended by about 110 boys and 90 girls. The Subscription Rooms, are neat and commodious apartments on the Quay, where assemblies are held, and where there is a good library and well supplied news room. A Literary and Scientific Institution was established here in 1846, and has now a numerous list of members, and a library of 500 volumes. In the town are several circulating libraries; hot and cold baths; a savings' bank, and other provident institutions; a lodge of free masons; and various friendly. charitable, and religious societies.
BENEFACTIONS.- The poor parishioners have the rent of 2A. 2R. 23P. of land, left by John Andrew in 1605, and now let for £10. They have a yearly rent-charge of 20s., left by John Andrew, out of property held by the Corporation. The Poor's Stock, consisting of £300 three per cent. reduced annuities, arose from various benefactions, and the dividends are applied in relieving the poor and schooling poor children. Poor Man's Meadow and Field (about 4A.) are held by the overseers, and the rents are carried to the poor rates. In 1681, George Baron left a yearly rent-charge of £6 out of an estate called the Commons, for the relief of poor old seamen or their widows. The same estate was charged by Wm. Pawley. in 1728, with the yearly payments of 21s. for the poor, and 21s. for the rector for preaching a sermon on St. Paul's day. The poor have a yearly rent-charge of 13s. 4d., left by Alex. Arundell, in 1627, out of land at West Morchard. Henry Young, in 1789, left £100 for the minister and poor of the congregation of the Dissenting Meeting-house in Bridgeland street. This legacy now forms part of £584. 11s. 11d. new four per cent. stock, purchased with this and other gifts to the aid Meeting-house. In 1810, Margaret Newcommen left in trust with the dissenting ministers of Bideford, Barnstaple, Tavistock, and Appledore, £960. 19s. 6d. new four per cents., and £176. 15s. 7d. of the same stock, in trust to apply the dividends of the former in relieving the poor, and of the latter in schooling poor children of this and other parishes.
STRANGE'S ALMSHOUSES, in Meddon street, form a row of seven tenements for the residence of seven poor families placed in them by the overseers. They were founded in 1646 by the before-named John Strange. The almspeople have each a small garden, and there is a large garden belonging to the charity, let for about £6 per ann., which is applied in repairing the buildings. AMORY'S ALMSHOUSES, in Old Town, consist of six small dwellings, occupied by poor families, placed in them by the parish officers. They are said to have been given by Henry Amory, in 1663, for the reception of the widows of seamen. Small gardens are attached to each dwelling, but there is no endowment.
BIDEFORD UNION comprises the 18 parishes of Abbotsham, Alwington, Bideford, Bradworthy, Bulkworthy, Buckland-Brewer, Clovelly, East Putford, Hartland, Landcross, Littleham, Monkleigh, Northam, Newton St. Petrock, Parkham, West Putford, Welcombe, and Woolfardisworthy, which comprise an area of 122 square miles, with a population returned in 1831 at 17,787, and in 1841 at 19,568 souls. The total average annual expenditure of the 18 parishes on their poor during the three years preceding the formation of the Union, was £7333, but in 1838, it was only £5225, and in 1849-50, £6428. 17s. 1½d. The Workhouse was erected in 1835-6, and has room for 200 paupers. H.A Harvie, Esq., is the union clerk and superintendent registrar; the Rev. H. Allford, M.A., chaplain; and Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson, master and matron of the Workhouse; Messrs. J.S. Burrow and L. Ashton, relieving officers; and Messrs. Jas. Lee, C.E. Pratt, L.S. Hole, Wm. Fry, and D.D. Carter, are the registrars of births and deaths.
Brian Randell, 20 Oct 1998
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