"BIDEFORD (ST. MARY), a sea-port, incorporated market-town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of SHEBBEAR, Great Torrington and N. divisions of DEVON, 39 miles (N. W. by W.) from Exeter, and 201 (W. by S.) from London; containing 5211 inhabitants, of whom 4830 are in the town. This place, called also Bytheford, of which its modern appellation is a variation, derives its name from being situated near an ancient ford on the river Torridge . . . after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, in 1685, many French Protestants settled in the town, and established the manufacture of silk and cotton; a great quantity of wool was imported from Spain, and, in 1699, its trade with Newfoundland was inferior only to that of London and Exeter . . . Ship-building is extensively carried on: during the late war, several frigates were launched at this port, and there are eight or ten dockyards, in which smaller vessels are built. The principal articles of manufacture are cordage, sails, and common earthenware; there are also several tan-yards, and a small lace manufactory. . . The free grammar school, of remote foundation, was rebuilt in 1657 . . . A charity school is supported by the trustees of the Bridge Estate, and by subscription; a building has likewise been erected for a national school." [From Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of England (1844)]
A parish in Shebbear Hundred, the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, and the Diocese of Exeter. St Peter, East-the-Water, is a chapel of ease here.