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Bideford and River Torridge
Grid reference: SS4426
Location: 51°-0’58"N, 4°13’2"W
Population: 17,107  (2011)
Post town: Bideford
Postcode: EX39
Dialling code: 01237
Local Government
Council: Torridge
Torridge and West Devon

Bideford is a small port town on the estuary of the River Torridge in north Devon.

The Torridge is tidal here, just below its opening into the estuary of the River Taw and forms a fine, sheltered harbour. It is a harbour from which from time immemorial fishermen have sailed out into the Bristol Channel, and also one from which explorers and adventurers have set forth, not to mention the hardy men who formed the backbone of the Royal Navy in the days of sail.

Long Bridge

The River Torridge is spanned at Bideford by the Long Bridge, said to have been first built in the 14th century by Sir Theobald Grenville.[1] The present structure is supposed to be of 15th century construction, but includes much later repairs, for example in 1638, and was widened in 1865.[2] It has 24 arches all of different sizes. The 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.[3] A former New Year's Eve tradition was to try to run across the Long Bridge during the time taken for the bells of St. Mary's parish church to chime midnight.


Bideford Town Hall

By the 16th century Bideford had become Britain's third largest port.[4] 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.[5]


The town of Bideford has grown to cover land on both sides of the River Torridge; the area located east of the river is known as Bogside. Much of the land that has been built on is drained marshland.

East-the-Water has its own primary school, local shops, a few factories, approximately 3 bars and pubs, a small health centre and a small industrial area consisting largely of locally owned businesses. The community also has its own community centre and association, both of which are self funding and run by a committee of local residents. A key historical feature is Chudleigh Fort, built by the Parliamentarian Major-General James Chudleigh during the Civil War.[6]


The Grenvilles

Grenville Arms

The Grenville family were for many centuries the lords of the manor of Bideford and played a major role in the town's development. Sir Richard Grenville (1542–1591), the celebrated naval hero, 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.[7] The family had another seat at Stow House, Kilkhampton, near Bude in Cornwall. The monument with effigy of Sir Thomas Grenville (d.1513) is in the parish church of St Mary.

Bideford Witch Trial

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

Bideford in literature

'The Revenge: A Balad of the Fleet by Alfred Lord Tennyson celebrates the heroic death of Sir Richard Grenville in command of the ship Revenge "At Flores in the Azores", and the dauntless courage of his Bideford crew:

So Lord Howard passed away with five ships of war that day,
Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;
But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land
Very carefully and slow,
Men of Bideford in Devon,
And we laid them on the ballast down below;
For we brought them all aboard,
And they blest him in their pain, that they were not left to Spain,
To the thumbscrew and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.

Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley is based in and around Bideford, and this wasthe author's home. After the book's publication, a small seaside town was built, named Westward Ho!, which is the only town in the United Kingdom whose name contains an exclamation mark. The village is approximately three miles from Bideford. A statue was erected in honour of Kingsley near the car park of Bideford Park.

Transport links


Bideford is served by the A39 "Atlantic Highway" and A386 roads. The Long Bridge bears the A386 across the Torridge from the town centre, and a modern bridge the A39 downstream.


A ferry sails from Bideford quay to Lundy Island, which lies about 22 miles away in the Bristol Channel. The same ship, the MS Oldenburg, also provides evening cruises from Bideford along the River Torridge but in the downstream direction only as it is too big to pass under the Bideford Long Bridge.

Coast path

The South West Coast Path National Trail runs through the town, and gives access to walks along the rugged North Devon coast.

Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway

The Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway was an unusual and short-lived railway built entirely on this peninsula with no direct connection to the rest of the British railway network. The locomotives were fitted with skirts to protect pedestrians as at one point the line ran along the quay at Bideford. The line had eleven halts which largely served visitors wishing to enjoy the bracing air along the coast or the fine beaches around Westward Ho! The railway, although authorised in 1896 was opened only as far as Northam by 1901 and finally opened to Appledore in 1908.

The railway fell into financial difficulties until in the First World War the War Department requisitioned all of its equipment for use in France. Bideford's 13th century Long Bridge was temporarily converted into a railway bridge to carry the locomotives and rolling stock onto the main line railway near Bideford Station.[8]

A view of Bideford long bridge

Sport and recreation

Bideford has two King George V Playing Fields, which are memorials to King George V. One field is used primarily as the home ground of the main local rugby union club, Bideford RFC (Chiefs). The other field, commonly referred to as The Sports Ground, is the home to Bideford AFC, the town's main local football club. In over 60 seasons, the club has never been relegated, a distinction it shares only with Arsenal and Everton.

East-the-Water also has its own football club, Shamwickshire Rovers FC, which plays at Pollyfield.

New Year traditions

Bideford is renowned for its New Year's Eve celebrations, when thousands of people - most in fancy dress - from surrounding towns, villages and around the world gather on the quay for revelries and a fireworks display.[9][10]

Local media

  • Radio: The Voice, broadcasting fron Barnstaple
  • Newspapers:
    • Bideford Post
    • Bideford Buzz local newsletter
    • North Devon Gazette
    • North Devon Journal
    • Western Morning News

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Bideford)


  1. Pevsner, N. & Cherry, B., The Buildings of England: Devon, 2004, p.176
  2. Pevsner, N. & Cherry, B., The Buildings of England: Devon, 2004, p.749
  3. http://This is North Devon site: [ Retrieved 2 July 2012.]
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Beautiful North Devon Town of Bideford". Bideford Town Council. 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  5. "The south west ports of England". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  6. J. Murray. (1879) A Handbook for Travellers in Devonshire (9th edition)
  7. David Carter, The Grenville Reports, Nimrod Research
  8. Stuckey, Douglas (1962). The Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway 1901-1917. Pub. West Country Publications.
  9. McCurrach, 2002.
  10. Prince, 2005.