A Handbook for Travellers in Devonshire (9th ed.),

London, J. Murray. (1879)

3 m. by railroad (48½ m. from Exeter) is

Bideford Stat., i.e. By-the- Ford. Pop. 6969. (Inns: New; Tanton's Family Hotel; Commercial.)

This town, considering the unpretending character of the surrounding scenery, is as prettily placed as any in Devonshire. It is built in wide, airy streets (the newer part; the streets of old Bideford are by no means wide or airy), on a hillside shelving to the water, and commands delightful views of the broad meandering Torridge and its vale. These are seen to advantage from the bridge and the windows of the New Inn. Towards the sea the river is adorned by the woods of Tapeley, the Tower of Northam, and the villas of Instow. In the other direction it winds glistening for a little distance, and then loses itself among the folds of the hills, the sweeps of which are particularly graceful. It is navigable to Wear Gifford, from which place there is a canal to Great Torrington. Bideford is mentioned in Domesday as "terra regis," but it soon passed to the Grenvilles who remained lords of the place until about the middle of the last centy. It had become a "borough" (by charter from the Grenvilles) and was of some importance before the reign of Eliz., but it was not until after the discovery of Virginia by Sir Rich. Grenville, in 1585, that the enterprise and commerce of the town were fully developed. The merchants of Bideford, like their neighbours of Barnstaple, were active in fitting out privateers, and in scouring the seas for French and Spanish prizes. Defoe, at the end of Queen Anne's reign, describes Bideford as one of the best trading towns in England, "sending every year great fleets to Newfoundland and the W. Indies, particularly Virginia." The Newfoundland fisheries were long the chief source of the well doing of the place; but the French interfered with them; the trade passed away and, except a few vessels in the timber trade, Bideford has now no foreign commerce.

The Bridge, which superseded the "ford," is a favourite promenade of the inhabitants. It is 677 ft. in length, and spans the river on 24 pointed arches. It was erected about the beginning of the 14th cent by Sir Theobald Grenville, who, according to a legend, was encouraged in the work by a vision which appeared to one Gornard, a priest. Attempts having often been fruitlessly made to discover a foundation, Father Gornard was admonished in a dream to search for a rock which had been rolled from the hill into the river. This was told to Sir Theobald, who set workmen to look for the stone. It was soon discovered, and on this solid basis the bridge was thrown across. This was widened in 1864 by a cast-iron roadway; and cast-iron battlements were added, spoiling it in so far as picturesque effect is concerned. Adjoining the bridge is a broad quay, 1200 ft. long, which also forms a very agreeable walk.

The Church, dedicated to St. Mary, dated from the 14th centy., and in 1738-9 was the curacy of Hervey, author of 'Meditations among the tombs.' The old ch. was entirely spoilt by churchwardenisms of various dates and eccentricities; and having become almost ruinous, was pulled down in 1862. A good Perp. edifice has replaced it. In the churchyard is the following epitaph:

"Here lies the body of Mary Sexton,
Who pleased many a man, but never vex'd one:
Not like the woman who lies under the next

There is a monument in the ch. to a Mr. Strange, who made himself remarkable for his charity during the plague of 1646.

Steamers run between Bideford and Bristol (touching at Ilfracombe) throughout the year.

On the hill opposite Bideford the stranger will notice a small battlemented structure, called Chudleigh Fort, which was built by Major-Gen. Chudleigh at the breaking out of the Rebellion. It shortly afterwards surrendered to the king's troops, under Colonel Digby. The hill commands an excellent view of Bideford and the surrounding country.

The town is considered one of the healthiest in the county. Among its natives was John Shebbeare, the political writer, who paid the penalty of a libel in the pillory at Charing Cross. He was born in 1709, and is best known by his 'Letters to the People of England.'

The neighbourhood, besides the pebble ridge and the raised beaches at Westward Ho (see post), possesses much interest for the geologist. Beds of anthracite stretch across the hills from Bideford to Chittlehampton, the principal seam having an average thickness of 7 ft. The mineral has been extracted, like the metallic ores, by mining; but the beds are of such irregular thickness that a heavy expense attends their working; 58 tons in the week have, however, been produced by one of the pits. Anthracite is used chiefly for drying malt and lime-burning. In a decomposed state it makes a black paint. Between Peppercombe and Portledge Mouth in Bideford Bay is an outlying patch of new red sandstone, 17 or 18 M. from the nearest points of that formation at Hatherleigh and Jacobstow; and at Orleigh Court a few isolated acres of greensand, yet further removed from its kindred hills. The gravel or sand of the Torridge is converted into hollow bricks, tiles, &c., in the North Devon Pottery, near the town.

There are many pleasant walks in the neighbourhood, viz. down the l. bank of the river; along the new Torrington road to Yeo Vale (Mrs. Morison) and Orleigh Court (J.L. Lee, Esq.), about 5 m. distant, the latter estate containing a remarkable outlying patch of greensand, 36 m. from the greensand of Great Haldon; and along the rt. bank of the river to the village of Wear Gifford, 4 m., where there is an oak mentioned by Loudon as 28 ft. in circumference, and as covering with its head a space 92 ft. in diameter. Other seats near the town are, Morton House (Sir G.S. Stucley, Bart.), and Abbotsham Court (J. Taylor, Esq.). Portledge (J.R. Pine-Coffin, Esq.), has belonged to the family of Coffin for many centuries.

At Wear Giffard is an ancient house (property of Earl Fortescue), one of the most interesting in Devonshire. It is of the 15th cent., with embattled tower gateway, and was for many years used as a farmhouse, but has been recently restored as an occasional residence by its proprietor. The wall which surrounded the outer courts, was so injured in the Rebellion, that only the gatehouse and doorways remain. The hall occupies the centre, between gabled wings, and has a handsome roof, with hammer-beams, tracery, cusping, and pendants, of superior detail. The house itself contains panelling exquisitely worked, antique pictures and tapestry. The Giffards became lords of the manor of Wear Giffard at a period soon after the Conquest. It passed through heiresses to the Trewin and Densil families, and again through an heiress (temp. Hen. VI.) to the Fortescues. It was perhaps the first Fortescue of Weare (a son of Henry VI.'s Chief Justice) who built the existing house. The Ch. has Dec. nave and chancel, with very fine Perp. roof in the latter. There is an altar-tomb with Giffard effigies; and some 17th-centy. Fortescue monuments. Read the inscription on that of Hugh Fortescue, d. 1648. Here is also a modern brass by Hayward, of Exeter.

On the church door of Horwood, a village about 3 m. E., was, until very recently, a horse shoe, known as "Michael Joseph's badge." This was a shoe thrown by the horse of Joseph, the " horse farrier" or "blacksmith" of Bodmin, who, in 1497, led the insurgent Cornishmen, who marched to London and were defeated on Blackheath. Their complaint was that a tax of great severity had been imposed, and that they were unable to pay it. At Wells they were joined by Lord Audley, whom they made their leader. They passed through Horwood to the number of 16,000 men, and Joseph, it is said, himself nailed the shoe to the ch. door.

Transcribed - Brian Randell, 18 Jul 1999