"BIDEFORD, a parish and market town, borough, and seaport in the hundred of Shebbear, in the county of Devon, 38 miles to the N.W. of Exeter by road, or 48 miles by railway, and 201 miles to the W. of London. It is a station on the North Devon railway, which terminates here. The town is of considerable antiquity, and stands on the banks of the river Torridge, near an old ford, from which circumstance its name, sometimes written By-the-ford, is derived. It was a place of importance before the Norman Conquest, and was given by William the Conqueror to Richard de Granville. It possessed and exercised the elective franchise in the reigns of Edward I. and Edward II., but afterwards, by its own desire, ceased to do so. It became a market town in the latter part of the 13th century, and was made a free borough by Queen Elizabeth. The place distinguished itself in the civil war of the 17th century on the side of the parliament. Three forts were raised-two near the town and one on the coast by Appledore-which surrendered to the royalists, under Colonel Digby, in September, 1643.
The trade and prosperity of Bideford was promoted by the introduction of silk weaving in 1650, and the establishment of the cotton and silk manufactures by French Protestants in 1615. A severe visitation of the plague occurred in 1680. Bideford is about 5 miles from the sea-coast, situated on both banks of the Torridge, but chiefly on the side of a steep hill rising from the west bank of that river. The two parts of the town are connected with each other by a large and handsome bridge of 24 arches, built of stone, and 677 feet in length. It is a work of the 14th century, and was undertaken in consequence of the dream of a priest, and under the patronage of a bishop. It is under the management of trustees, who are incorporated and have a common seal, and its repair is provided for by endowments, known as the Bridge Estate. The bridge forms a delightful promenade, commanding a fine view of the broad channel and of the scenery on its banks. There are two principal streets. Many of the houses are old and poorly built, but the town is clean, well-drained, paved, and lighted with gas. There is a townhall with prisons beneath it, erected in 1698, and a hall for the bridge trustees, erected in 1758.
The shipping trade is the chief business of the place. There are many dockyards, and shipbuilding is carried on extensively. Other branches of industry are the manufacture of ropes, sailcloth, pottery, and bone-lace. The river is navigable for large vessels up to the bridge, and for small ones up to the Torrington canal, between 2 and 3 miles higher up. There is a fine quay near the middle of the town, 1,200 feet in length. The port to which Appledore is subordinate, had about 140 vessels and one steamer belonging to it in 1852. The principal traffic is coastwise, but some of the vessels are engaged in the foreign and colonial trade. The chief exports are oak bark, earthenware, linens, woollens, sail-cloth, cordage, iron, corn, &c., to London and other large towns on the coast. Timber, coal, and lime are imported. A large number of boats are employed in the fishery. There are two lighthouses near the mouth of the river, one 86 feet in height, the other 40 feet; the former visible at the distance of 14, the other of 11 miles.
The charter of incorporation granted by Queen Elizabeth was confirmed and enlarged by James I. The borough is governed under the Reform Act by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillor's, the corporation bearing the style of the "mayor, aldermen, and capital burgesses of the borough, town, and manor of Bideford." The limits of the borough coincide with those of the parish, and comprise an area of 3,196 acres; with 1,211 inhabited houses, and a population of 5,851, according to the census of 1861, against 5,775 in 1851. Petty sessions for the borough are held once a month', and general sessions quarterly. Bideford is the seat of a Poor-law Union, and a County Court district, and is a polling-place for the county elections. The Union poorhouse is in the town.
The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Exeter, of the value of £633, in the patronage of Sir G. S. Stuckley, Bart. The church, which was erected in the 14th century, and is dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious edifice in the form of a cross, in the early English style of architecture, with a tower at the west end. It contains a fine stone screen beautifully carved, an ancient font, and several monuments. The original form of the church is, however, obscured by enlargements and alterations made at various times. There are chapels belonging to the Independents, Wesleyans, Baptists, Primitive Methodists, and Bible Christians.
The principal charitable foundations are the Bridge Estate, with a revenue of £435; the free grammar school, founded at an early period, and having an income of about £60; a free school supported by the trustees of the bridge; John Strange's almshouses for seven families, founded in 1646; Henry Amory's hospital for twelve families, founded about 1664; and an endowment by Margaret Newcommen for the benefit of poor Dissenters. There are also National, British, and infant schools. The entire produce of the various endowments amounts to £577 per annum.
This town was the birthplace of Admiral Sir Richard Grenville, general of the expedition sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to found the first colony in Virginia. The two Donnes, distinguished mathematicians; Dr. Shebbear, a political writer, author of "Chrysal". Zachary Mudge, master of the grammar school, and the eccentric Thomas. Stuckley, were natives of Bideford. It also boasts of Edward Capern, the rural postman of Bideford, whose charming lyrics will long be remembered.
Tuesday and Saturday are the market days, the former for corn, the latter chiefly for provisions. Fairs are held on the 14th February, the 18th July, and the 13th November."