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The History of Bideford

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Bideford is thought to date back to Roman times. It grew to become a very important port by the 13th century. The original Long Bridge over the River Torridge at Bideford dates back to this happy time in Bideford’s history. The first timber-built Long Bridge spanning the River Torridge, and thereby connecting the East and West of the town, was erected in 1286. This was replaced in 1474 by the masonry 24-arch
bridge that stands today. The unusual ‘new’ Long Bridge has 24 arches that were built in a variety of different sizes. It is said that the 24 arches of the bridge are different sizes because they were paid for by local businessmen, with the larger arches reflecting the more generous contributions. No records are available to verify this traditional version of events. In the 17th century the people of Bideford prosecuted the bridge trustees for feasting and watching plays using money defrauded from trust funds. In the 1820s plans were mooted for a swing bridge to allow ships to pass but this came to nothing. During the 1840s attempts to build a railway track over the bridge were thwarted by the trustees but a temporary track was laid for military purposes during the First World War . In 1925 the Bridge Trust paid for work to widen the Long Bridge to accommodate modern day traffic. The Bideford Bridge Trust held office until the west arch of the bridge collapsed 1968. After this event the Department of Transport took charge and modified parts of the bridge in the 1970s. A three-tonne weight restriction was put in place in 2002 and Devon County Council's inspection of July 2007 revealed more problems with
the structure.

In the 16th century Bideford was considered Britain's third largest port, not an inconsequential position to hold in what was then very much a maritime nation. Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have landed the first shipment of tobacco there. This is a myth because Raleigh was not the first person to bring tobacco to England, despite the common legend that associates him with this act. Today Bideford has many
roads, and a hill, named after their great hero Raleigh.

The majority of Bideford yeomen and traders supported Cromwell during the Civil War . The fort of Appledore was won by the King’s forces in 1643 but was retaken by Fairfax a year later. Bideford has the dubious honour of hosting the hanging of the last women to be executed for witchcraft in England. In 1682, three Bideford women; Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards and Mary Trembles, were hanged after being found guilty for the crime of witchcraft. No other women suffered the same fate on British soil after them. The women were tried at the assizes of Exeter Castle where all three pleaded not guilty. Despite their pleas of innocence they were all hanged at Heavitree, just outside the city.

Queen Elizabeth granted a the Port of Bideford a Charter for trade with Virginia and Carolina. The overseas trade flowing through the port was substantial even before the expansion that came with this charter and because of the exploits of Devon men like Raleigh, Grenville, Drake and the Gilberts. This trade brought great prosperity and Bideford became very wealthy. Just a year after its hand in the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), the town’s share of trade with the North and the Overseas Plantations was bettered only by London and Topsham near Exeter . The imports of tobacco from Virginia and Maryland, and wool from Ireland, were to keep driving prosperity in Bideford until the middle of the 18th century. Bideford also landed a substantial share of the Newfoundland cod trade, beginning from the end of the 16th century. The trade was maintained until end of the mid-18th century, in 1700 there were 28 Bideford vessels compared with Barnstaple 's six engaged in the cod business. Two tablets along the quay mark where extensions were made in 1663 and 1692. In 1890, during work to widen it, workmen realised that a few of the quay’s original mooring posts were in fact Armada cannon! They were removed and can today be seen at Victoria Park. Ball clay is now loaded onto boats at Bideford for export at the refurbished quay. Work there in 2006 provided better flood defence and incorporated a large fountain and modern public toilets.

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The Seven Years' War Starts - 1756, W.G. Grace Scores his Hundredth Hundred - 1895, Relief of Mafeking - 1900
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