Bideford ("Bydas Ford") is situated on the west bank of the River Torridge, once described by the novelist Charles Kingsley "as the little white town... which slopes upwards from its broad tide river".
Bideford was granted a Market Charter in 1272. Commercial prosperity was derived by trading with the Americas in the eighteenth century, with imports of tobacco and timber for shipbuilding. The town has much to commend it to the visitor, including the Burton Art Gallery, the Museum in Victoria Park, buildings of historical interest, and some fine residential houses, which were once the homes of rich merchants. The Quay runs north from the bridge and provides an excellent viewpoint over the busy river. This is also the departure point for the "MS Oldenburg" which is Lundy Island's main passenger and supply ship.
Photography © AJ Edwards
For information on this unique island, it's history, wildlife and sailing timetables for MS Oldenburg.
For those seeking a thoroughly modern shopping experience, "Atlantic Village" can be found just to the south of Bideford, signposted from the A39 "Atlantic Highway". There are factory outlet shops, catering facilities, children's playground and ample car parking.
The Long BridgeBideford, situated on the banks of the River Torridge, just below where the river estuaries of the Taw and Torridge meet to flow out to the Bristol Channel, has always stood astride a main trading route that stretched along the Atlantic Coast of South West England. The "for"' in the town's name probably derives from "Byda's Ford" a crossing of the river dating from pre-Norman times, and part of an ancient route serving North Devon.
A bridge made of wood was built across the river in the early 13th Century, some 200 years later, the Grenville family paid to have the original bridge strengthened by encasing the wooden structure in stone. As the years went by the bridge was altered and widened, but much of the original structure remains to form this 24 span, 206m bridge. A curious feature of the bridge is that many of the spans are of different widths, this is attributed to the size of timbers available at the time, and the best location in the river bed for firm foundations.The bridge is now a listed Grade One Monument.
Bideford was granted a Market Charter in 1272, but real prosperity developed when Bideford became a thriving port trading with the Americas. For approximately 200 years, from 1550, Bideford, under the patronage of the Grenville family thrived on shipbuilding, importing timber from Newfoundland for the shipbuilding industry, the production and export of cloth and, for a time, a large proportion of the imported tobacco coming into England arrived at this port.
It is said that the first commercial cargo carried by Sir Walter Raleigh was unloaded at Bideford Quay. Sir Richard Grenvilles mighty little ship, the "Revenge", sailed from here with a crew of hardy Bideford men who took on a fierce sea battle with fifteen Spanish ships off the Azores in 1591. The Grenvilles were given the Manor of Bideford by Rufus, a successor of William the Conqueror, the town remained in Grenville ownership until acquired by the Corporation in 1711.
A darker claim to fame is the fact that Bideford was home to the last three witches to be executed in Devon in the year 1682.
The Town and what to see
The main artery is the Quay, a wide road running along the north bank of the river Torridge. On the river side, there is a line of mature trees, also notice the iron fence posts which are now listed, many have their date of manufacture inscribed on them (around 1840). Look out for the Lundy Island passenger and supplies ship "MS Oldenburg" which has its moorings here alongside the Quay. On the town side of the road there is still much evidence of the once handsome architecture that was to be found in Bideford. Nearly all other town streets run up the hill at right angles to the Quay; again, there are buildings to be found that serve as a reminder of Bideford's seafaring and trading past.
At the north end of the Quay is the pleasant and traditional Victoria Park, with river frontage, and containing the Visitor Information Centre and the Burton Art Gallery and Museum.
Past Victoria Park, strung out along the Northam Road there are several examples of fine houses, a legacy of the rich merchants who once lived there.
Across the bridge is the area known as "East the Water". Go past the Royal Hotel, and a little way up the hill, will be found the old railway station, which has a railway carriage café with information on cycling or walking the Tarka Trail.
In "East the Water" there is a building that forms part of the the Royal Hotel where Charles Kingsley, author of "Westward Ho!" and "The Water Babies", lived for several years. A statue of Charles Kingsley stands at the entrance to the new car park at the north end of the Quay by Victoria Park.