Place:Bideford, Devon, England

Alt namesBedefordsource: Domesday Book (1985) p 77
Bedifordasource: Domesday Book (1985) p 77
TypeTown, Borough (municipal)
Coordinates51.017°N 4.217°W
Located inDevon, England
See alsoShebbear Hundred, Devon, Englandhundred in which the borough was located
Torridge District, Devon, Englandmodern district of which it is the main town
source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
source: Family History Library Catalog
the following text is based on an article in Wikipedia

Bideford is a historic port town on the estuary of the River Torridge in the northwestern part of Devon in south-west England. It is the main town of the Torridge local government district. Bideford was a municipal borough from 1835 (when municipal boroughs were initiated) until 1974 when it was merged into Torridge District. In 2011 the population, according to the UK census, was just over 17,000.



the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

Early history

Hubba the Dane was said to have attacked Devon in the area around Bideford near Northam or near Kenwith Castle, and was repelled by either Alfred the Great (849–899) or by the Saxon Earl of Devon.

The manor of Bideford was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as held at some time in chief from William the Conqueror by the great Saxon nobleman Brictric, but later held by the king's wife Matilda of Flanders (c. 1031 – 1083). There were then 30 villagers, 8 smallholders and 14 slaves in Bideford. According to the account by the Continuator of Wace and others, in his youth Brictric declined the romantic advances of Matilda and his great fiefdom was thereupon seized by her. Whatever the truth of the matter, years later when she was acting as Regent in England for William the Conqueror, she used her authority to confiscate Brictric's lands and threw him into prison, where he died. The Exon Domesday notes that Bideford and nearby Littleham were held at fee farm from the king by Gotshelm, a Devonshire tenant-in-chief of 28 manors and brother of Walter de Claville. Gotshelm's 28 manors descended to the Honour of Gloucester, as did most of Brictric's.

Brictric's lands were granted after the death of Matilda in 1083 by her eldest son King William Rufus (1087–1100) to Robert FitzHamon (died 1107), the conqueror of Glamorgan, whose daughter and sole heiress Maud (or Mabel) FitzHamon brought them to her husband Robert de Caen, 1st Earl of Gloucester (pre-1100-1147), a natural son of Matilda's younger son King Henry I (1100–1135). Thus Brictric's fiefdom became the feudal barony of Gloucester. The Grenville family held Bideford for many centuries under the overlordship of the feudal barons of Gloucester, which barony was soon absorbed into the Crown, when they became tenants in chief.

Sir Richard I de Grenville ( 1142) (alias de Grainvilla, de Greinvill, etc.) was one of the Twelve Knights of Glamorgan who served in the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan under his elder brother Robert FitzHamon (died 1107), the first Norman feudal baron of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan from 1075. He obtained from FitzHamon the lordship of Neath, Glamorgan, in which he built Neath Castle and in 1129 founded Neath Abbey. Richard de Grenville was one of three (or four) known sons of Hamo Dapifer (died circa 1100) Sheriff of Kent, an Anglo-Norman royal official under both King William the Conqueror (1066–1087) and his son King William Rufus (1087–1100). He is by tradition the founder and ancestor of the prominent Westcountry Grenville family of Stowe in the parish of Kilkhampton in Cornwall and of Bideford in Devon.

By tradition Richard de Grenville is said by Prince (died 1723), (apparently following Fuller's Worthies[1]) to have founded Neath Abbey and bestowed upon it all his military acquisitions for its maintenance, and to have

"returned to his patrimony at Bideford where he lived in great honour and reputation the rest of his days".

However, according to Round (died 1928) "no proof exists that Richard I de Grenville ever held the manor of Bideford, which was later one of the principal seats of the Westcountry Grenville family. It was however certainly one of the constituent manors of the Honour of Gloucester granted by King William Rufus to Robert FitzHamon."[1] Richard de Grenville is known to have held seven knight's fees from the Honour of Gloucester, either granted to him by his brother FitzHamon or the latter's son-in-law and heir Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester (1100–1147). Round supposes instead that the Grenvilles of Bideford and Stowe were descended from a certain "Robert de Grenville" (alias de Grainville, de Grainavilla, etc.) who was a junior witness to Richard's foundation charter of Neath Abbey, and who in the 1166 Cartae Baronum return was listed as holding one knight's fee from the Earl of Gloucester, feudal baron of Gloucester. Robert's familial relationship, if any, to Richard is unknown.

A charter was granted in 1272 to Richard V de Grenville by King Henry III, which created the town's first council. In ancient records Bideford was recorded as a borough but has only returned members to Parliament during the reigns of Edward I (1272–1307) and Edward II (1307–1327).


The Grenville family were for many centuries lords of the manor of Bideford and played a major role in the town's development. The monument with an effigy of Sir Thomas Grenville (died 1513) exists in St Mary's Church. His great-great-grandson Sir Richard Grenville (1542–1591), the heroic captain of the Revenge, was born in the manor house in Bideford, formerly situated on the site of numbers 1–3 Bridge Street. He built himself a new mansion on the quayside in 1585. The family had another seat at Stow House, Kilkhampton, near Bude in Cornwall. Grenville played a major role in the transformation of the small fishing port of Bideford in North Devon into what became a significant trading port with the new American colonies, later specialising in tobacco importation. In 1575 he created the Port of Bideford. Grenville was never elected as Mayor of Bideford, preferring instead to support John Salterne in that role, but he was Lord of the Manor, a title held by the Grenvilles since 1126 and finally ceded by his descendants in 1711 to the Town Council he established. On his return from Roanoke Colony Grenville's ship Tiger captured a Spanish galleon the Santa Maria de San Vicente off Bermuda in late August 1585. The Spanish prize was brought into Bideford with riches valued at around 15,000 pounds. Grenville also brought a Native American "Wynganditoian" from Roanoke Island with him after returning from a voyage to America in 1586. Grenville named this Native American tribesman Raleigh after his cousin Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh converted to Christianity and was baptised at Saint Mary the Virgin's Church on 27 March 1588, but died from influenza during his residence in Grenville's house on 2 April 1589. His interment was at the same church five days later. Sir Richard Grenville's great-grandson, Sir John Granville, helped restore Charles II to the throne, and in 1661 Charles made Sir John Granville Baron Granville of Bideford and Earl of Bath.

During the English Civil War Bideford stood with the Parliamentarians against the Royalist forces of Charles I. Following a series of Royalist successes in the South West during 1643 the Parliamentarians withdrew into Bideford and its two small fortresses, one of which was Chudleigh Fort. Here they were besieged. After further Royalist victories it became clear that Bideford would not be relieved and in August 1643 it was stormed by Royalist forces. Following fierce fighting around the two forts the town fell.

In the year 1646, 229 people in the town were killed by the plague. It was suggested that a Spanish vessel laden with wool which docked at the quay may have brought this plague to Bideford, and that it was children playing with the wool who first got infected with the plague. Victims were buried from 8 June 1646 to 18 January the next year. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the expulsion of French Protestants from France a considerable number of them immigrated to Bideford and they brought a lot of new trades to the town, including silk weaving.

In the 16th century the merchant and ship owner John Strange was born in the town. When he was in his youth he fell from a cliff yet did not suffer any injury, then later on in his life someone fired an arrow at his forehead, but it did not penetrate his skull and the only lasting damage was a scar. Once a malicious person tried to throw him over the Long Bridge, the walls of the bridge being very low, but was unexpectedly and luckily interrupted.


In 1816 a mob forced their way into Bideford prison to try and break out some of the mob's ringleaders, and soldiers from the Royal North Devon Yeomanry had to be mustered, and then patrolled the town where they arrested several members of the mob who were then escorted to Exeter. In 1835 the Bideford Poor Law Union was founded; followed by the building, in 1837, of the Bideford workhouse in Meddon Street. The workhouse had a 40-bed infirmary and would later become Torridge Hospital and, eventually, a residential building. In 1830 it was reported that 5000 people waved farewell to ships leaving Bideford for New York City, St. Andrews, Newfoundland, and Montreal. Between the years 1840 and 1900 2,467 people emigrated to Canada and 248 to the United States aboard ships from Bideford. In 1847 a horse-drawn omnibus taking people to a fair in Torrington fell off Bideford Quay into the River Torridge, and eight people were drowned. The book "Kingsley's County" put the expansion and growth of Bideford down to the publication of Charles Kingsley's romance Westward Ho! in 1855. There was an extension of the London and South Western Railway from Barnstaple in 1856.[2] In 1902 the first car arrived in Bideford: it was owned by Dr E.J. Toye, the car being a 4-1/2 hp Benz.

World War II

In 1942 American GI's arrived in Bideford. At first they were there to work in radar stations across North Devon and work on experimental things. More American troops began to arrive as the war progressed. Experiments nearby, including The Great Panjandrum, were said to be viewed in the area in secret by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill at the Strand Cinema. In 1943 more Americans arrived as D-day training had begun at beaches across North Devon During the war Bideford Ordnance Experimental Station Depot O-617 was set up to experiment on waterproofing equipment for the D-day landings. The Americans' GI camp was at Bowden Green in Bideford, and had plenty of facilities, including a cinema. There was also a Vehicle Repair Shop off the Kingsley Road, and the Pill was taken over by US forces as well. Because of the sheer number of American soldiers in the area by 1943 the American Red Cross opened a club near Chudleigh Fort in East-the-Water. Bideford had an Auxiliary Unit Patrol at Cleave Mine, the men of this patrol were expected to be the resistance if Britain was invaded. During the war 2700 evacuees were expected in Bideford, a large number of these came and stayed throughout the war. During World War Two a bomb was dropped on a house in Bowden Green and caused substantial damage. Also during the war an RCAF bomber crashed in East the Water: three men were killed and one badly injured. A memorial has been put on the Tarka Trail to commemorate this. It is also thought that during the war there was an experimental Royal Navy unit testing a secret petrol pipeline in the river. It is thought that after being rescued in the Bristol Channel, some German airman were brought ashore at Bideford where they were taken to Bideford Hospital. There was also a POW camp at Handy Cross. It has been discovered that the Nazis had a map of Bideford in readiness for a possible invasion, also that the Nazis had an aerial picture of the area for intelligence purposes.

Long Bridge

The original Long Bridge spanning the River Torridge connecting the East and West of the town was said to have been built out of timber in the year 1286. In 1474 the original structure was replaced by the masonry arch bridge seen today. The bridge was built around the timber so people could still use it while construction was taking place, possibly resulting in the 24 arches all being of different sizes. A traditional explanation is that each arch was funded by a different local guild, although there are no records to confirm this. Another theory is that the piers of the arches of the bridge were built on naturally existing, and therefore randomly situated, large stones in the river. During the first decade of the 17th century, the bridge trustees were taken to court by the people of Bideford for feasting and seeing plays at the expense of the trust funds. The people won the court case, although it is unclear whether the trustees were forced to resign after the scandal, or whatever else happened to them. In 1790 the bridge was the longest in Devon. In the 1820s there was talk of converting the bridge so that it could be raised and lowered to allow larger boats and ships to pass under it. In 1886 a Ship called 'Edward Birkbeck' launched from a Bideford shipyard hit the bridge, but only caused small damage by knocking some of the stones out. In 1925 another incident took place on the bridge: during the widening of the bridge a lorry came off the side of the bridge and crashed into the River Torridge, and it is believed that both the people in the lorry survived. During World War Two the 10th arch of the bridge was being repaired, and the police asked for ladders and scaffolding to be removed from the bridge to prevent potential invaders climbing up and capturing the bridge. During the war the Home Guard patrolled the bridge. The Bideford Bridge Trust held responsibility for the long bridge right up until the year 1968 when one of the arches of the bridge collapsed. The Department of Transport then took over the bridge. During the rebuilding of that damaged part of the bridge a crane toppled over, and a man was killed. An inspection by Devon County Council in July 2007 revealed problems with the bridge's concrete and structure, so in September 2008 work began on putting in the cathodic protection system which restored the bridge for another 60 years.[3] A sight which many holiday-makers and locals enjoy is seeing the starlings at dusk, as they roost underneath the bridge.

Port and shipping

By the 16th century Bideford had become Britain's third largest port. Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although, contrary to popular belief, he was not the first to import tobacco to England. Several local roads and a hill have been named after Raleigh.[4] Bideford was heavily involved in the transport of indentured servants to the New World colonies. Bideford also was heavily involved in the Newfoundland cod trade from the 16th century to the mid-18th century. 28 Bideford vessels with a tonnage of 3860 were involved in this practice in the year 1700. In the years 1706, 1707, 1726 and 1758 fishermen of Bideford sent petitions demanding the building of a fort in Newfoundland to protect them from Native Americans and the French. Bideford also imported large amounts of Irish wool in the 18th century.

Two prominent shipbuilders in Bideford were George Crocker and Richard Chapman: they built a large number of ships. A number of ships have been built in Bideford including HMS Acorn, an 18-gun sloop launched in 1807; and HMS Mutine, HMS Fairy, HMS Carnation and HMS Ontario which were all 18-gun Cruizer class brig-sloops, HMS Garland and HMS Volage were both 22-gun Royal Navy Laurel-class post ships, and HMS Meda a Harbour Defence Motor Launch was built and launched in the town. Around 150 ships were built between 1840 and 1877 at Higher Cleave Houses in Bideford. The largest wooden ship to be built in Bideford was the Sarah Newman, a 1,004-ton full-rigged ship built in 1855. During the 19th century over 815 registered wooden sailing ships were launched on the Torridge, as too were hundreds of unregistered craft. Shipbuilding in the Bideford area declined during the 1890s as shipyards in Britain's industrial regions constructed steel steamships. The last wooden merchant ship launched in the River Torridge was the schooner 'PT Harris' from the Hubbastone yard of PK Harris & Sons, in 1912.

During World War II a Shoreham-class sloop was named HMS Bideford, also four sixth-rate ships of the line have been named after the town. Nowadays the only shipbuilding in the area is at Appledore Shipbuilders, which has built civilian ships and ships for the Royal Navy and Irish Naval Service. Currently ball clay is exported from Bideford to Castellón, Spain and also Naantali, Finland; also wood has been exported to Wismar, Germany. The Kathleen and May, the last remaining British-built wooden hull three masted topsail schooner is registered in Bideford and was at one time based there. There are also some fishing boats that still operate out of Bideford.

Witch trial

The Bideford witch trial in 1682 involved three women, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards, accused of witchcraft and which resulted in one of the last hangings for witchcraft in England.

Literary references

This area of North Devon was home to the author Charles Kingsley, and is where he based his novel Westward Ho!. A small seaside town, named after the book, was built after the book's publication.

Westward Ho!, the only town in the United Kingdom which officially contains an exclamation mark in its name, is approximately three miles (5 km) from Bideford. A statue was erected in honour of Kingsley near the car park of Victoria Park.

Namesakes in the United States and Canada

The city of Biddeford, Maine in the United States was named after the English town, using the original old English spelling. Also, the town of Bideford in the province of Prince Edward Island, Canada, is named after the English town.

Bideford Black

Bideford Black is a unique pigment which was mined for 200 years up until 1969 in Bideford and the surrounding area. The deposits were formed 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous period on Gondwana. Bideford Black contains carbon, silica and alumina, with the black colouration created by the carbon. The seams containing Bideford Black Stretch from Hartland, underneath Bideford, and onto Umberleigh. Bideford Black was used in a number of ways, for example it was used as camouflage paint during World War Two, in mascara by Max Factor, by artists, and in the boat-building industry. Bideford Black was processed as a paint and a dye up until the mining stopped. A number of artists (mainly local artists) used these Bideford Black paints and oils in their works. The Bideford Black Mining Company produced Biddiblack powder at a processing plant in Chapel Park, East-the-Water. Some of the miners houses were situated at Springfield Terrace, East-the-Water.

The mining of the pigment became unviable when other blacks went into large cheap commercial production. Bideford Black has also been known as "The Mother of Coal"; there are still a number of places where evidence of the mine can be seen, like old mine entrances just off the Barnstaple road. A number of roads are named after the mining in the town including: Mines Road, Pitt Lane, Biddiblack Way and other roads.

Recently some Bideford Black was exchanged, by locals, for some pigments provided by Australian Aboriginal Elder Noel Butler. Noel Butler's nephew has used the Bideford Black to paint his body for Aboriginal ceremonial events in Australia. The Heritage lottery fund has given a grant of £8700 to the Burton Art Gallery to fund research into Bideford Black. In October 2013 a display about Bideford Black was presented at Bideford's Burton Art Gallery.

Registration Districts

Research Tips

(revised Nov 2018)

  • For a quick view of all the parishes in Devon, download this map from Devon County Council and save it to your computer. It is in pdf format and expansion to 200% allows viewing of all the parishes by name. Modern "district" and parish boundaries are shown.
  • Ordnance Survey Map of Devonshire North and Devonshire South are large-scale maps covering the whole of Devon between them. They show the parish boundaries when Rural Districts were still in existence and before the mergers of parishes that took place in 1935 and 1974. When expanded the maps can show many of the small villages and hamlets inside the parishes. These maps are now downloadable for personal use but they can take up a lot of computer memory.
  • GENUKI has a selection of maps showing the boundaries of parishes in the 19th century. The contribution from "Know Your Place" on Devon is a huge website yet to be discovered in detail by this contributor.
  • Devon has three repositories for hands-on investigation of county records. Each has a website which holds their catalog of registers and other documents.
  • Devon Family History Society Mailing address: PO Box 9, Exeter, EX2 6YP, United Kingdom. The society has branches in various parts of the county. It is the largest Family History Society in the United Kingdom. The website has a handy guide to each of the parishes in the county and publishes the registers for each of the Devon dioceses on CDs.
  • This is the home page to the GENUKI Devon website. It has been updated since 2015.
  • Devon has a Online Parish Clerk (OPC) Project which can be reached through GENUKI. Only about half of the parishes have a volunteer contributing local data. For more information, consult the website, especially the list at the bottom of the homepage.
  • Magna Britannia, Volume 6 by Daniel Lysons and Samuel Lysons. A general and parochial history of the county. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1822, and placed online by British History Online. This is a volume of more than 500 pages of the history of Devon, parish by parish. It is 100 years older than the Victoria County Histories available for some other counties, but equally thorough in its coverage. Contains information that may have been swept under the carpet in more modern works.
  • There is a cornucopia of county resources at Devon Heritage. Topics are: Architecture, Census, Devon County, the Devonshire Regiment, Directory Listings, Education, Genealogy, History, Industry, Parish Records, People, Places, Transportation, War Memorials. There are fascinating resources you would never guess that existed from those topic titles. (NOTE: There may be problems reaching this site. One popular browser provider has put a block on it. This may be temporary, or it may be its similarity in name to the Devon Heritage Centre at Exeter.)
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