Video: A Brief History of Bideford

Bideford Long Bridge

Nestled in North Devon, Bideford is a picturesque town with a fascinating history that dates back to Roman times.

In the video below the creator states “I am fortunate to call this town my home, and today, I will be taking you on a brief journey through some of its most notable historical landmarks and events”.

Press play to get started on this tour of Bideford, Devon.

Whether you are a local or a visitor, you may be surprised to learn about the rich tapestry of stories that have shaped Bideford into the charming town it is today.

From a Humble Ford to a Thriving Port

Bideford is situated on the River Torridge and owes its name to the ford that once existed across the river.

Recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, the town has changed hands between Saxon nobleman Brittrick, William the Conqueror’s wife Queen Matilda, and eventually, the Grenville family, who played a significant role in Bideford’s development.

By the 13th century, Bideford had become Britain’s third-largest port, growing even more prominent during the transatlantic trading boom of the 17th century.

The town was a bustling hub for wool and pottery merchants who traded their goods for tobacco and sugar. However, the trade eventually ceased due to wars between France and the American War of Independence.

Landmarks and Structures that Define Bideford

  1. The Long Bridge
    Originally built as a timber bridge in 1286, it was replaced by the masonry bridge we see today in 1474. The bridge’s 24 arches vary in size, with local folklore suggesting that the larger arches represent more generous contributions from local businessmen.
  2. Chudleigh Fort
    Constructed in 1642 during the Civil War by parliamentary forces to defend Bideford, the fort was eventually stormed and taken by the Royalists. It was later abandoned and transformed into a public park in memory of those who fell in the First World War.
  3. The Royal Hotel
    Originally built in 1688 as the Colonial House for a local tobacco merchant, the building later served as a workhouse, a courthouse, and a prison for convicts awaiting transportation to Australia. This location also inspired Charles Kingsley to write part of his novel, Westward Ho!
  4. St. Mary’s Church
    This Anglican parish church was built in 1865, replacing the Norman church of 1260, which in turn was built on the site of the Saxon church of Carbon Wall. Only the tower from 1216 remains of the original structure.
  5. Bideford Railway
    Opened in 1855 and later taken over by the London and Southwestern Railway, regular passenger trains stopped running in October 1965. Although some trains continued to use the line until 1982, the site is now open to the public with a visitor centre and café.

Dark Moments in Bideford’s History

In 1682, Bideford was the site of a tragic event when three local women, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards, were accused of witchcraft in Bideford.

Despite their likely innocence, all three were hanged, making them the last witches to be executed in England.

Featured Places to Stay Near Bideford

Bideford Today and its Promising Future

Bideford has come a long way from its seafaring trade days, transforming into a thriving community with modern developments like the Brunswick Wharf. However, much of its old architecture remains, serving as a subtle reminder of the town’s rich history, often overlooked by those who pass by.

As you stroll through the town of Bideford, take a moment to appreciate the stories behind its landmarks and structures, and let yourself be transported to the past.

The history of Bideford is interwoven with the lives of its people, and its legacy continues to shape the town’s future.

Exploring Bideford’s Surrounding Areas

While Bideford itself is a treasure trove of history, the surrounding areas are also worth exploring.

The nearby town of Westward Ho!, named after Charles Kingsley’s novel, boasts a beautiful beach and coastal walks, perfect for those seeking leisurely strolls or family outings.

For those interested in surfing, the nearby beach of Croyde is a popular destination.

Bideford’s Art and Culture Scene

Bideford is home to a thriving arts scene, with several galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists.

The Burton Art Gallery and Museum, located in Victoria Park, is a must-visit for anyone interested in art, culture, and local history. The museum often hosts workshops, talks, and exhibitions throughout the year, making it an excellent destination for visitors of all ages.

The Tarka Trail and Bideford’s Natural Beauty

Nature lovers will be pleased to know that Bideford is part of the famous Tarka Trail, a 163-mile walking and cycling route that follows the paths taken by Tarka the Otter in Henry Williamson’s classic novel.

The trail offers stunning views of the North Devon countryside, passing through wooded valleys, rolling farmland, and tranquil rivers.

For those who prefer shorter walks, there are several circular routes that can be explored, offering a taste of Bideford’s natural beauty.

Final Thoughts

Bideford’s rich history, stunning architecture, and thriving arts scene make it a charming and engaging town to explore.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, taking the time to learn about and appreciate Bideford’s past will undoubtedly enhance your experience. As the town continues to evolve and grow, the stories and history that shaped it will remain an essential part of its identity, linking the past with the present and the future.

So, the next time you find yourself in Bideford, take a moment to appreciate the town’s historical significance and let the tales of yesteryear enrich your experience.

Author Matt Ogborne
Matt Ogborne
About the Author

Welcome to! I’m Matt, a seasoned explorer and avid fan of Bideford and the broader North Devon area. With over a decade of consistent family visits, virtually every weekend, I’ve immersed myself in the rich history and vibrant culture Bideford & North Devon.

On this site, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge amassed from my adventures here. From in-depth local guides to engaging blog posts about Bideford. Whether you’re looking for recommendations on things to do or guidance on where to stay we have you covered. Join me as we delve into the heart of Bideford, North Devon – a town that’s more than just a destination, but an experience waiting to be discovered.

Do you want to see your favourite Bideford attraction, place to stay, event or activity listed here? Contact Us!