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History of Bideford Town


Charles Kingsley Statue

It was in the 16th century that a genuine attempt to establish the crossing as a monument of permanence was made. It was rebuilt in stone and widened, thus taking on the shape which is now familiar today. The bridge is built at a slight angle, perhaps to give it added strength to withstand the forces of the tides. History tells us that in the 13th century there was a chapel at each end, one to St Mary the Virgin and the other to All Saints. The arches vary in size, perhaps because of the fluctuating amount of money available at the time of construction.

First mention in the history books of the Quay was in 1619 when there were beaches at the river’s edge. As the ship-building trade boomed, the Quay was developed and there are still marker stones in the pavement as a testament to that reconstruction.

In the 16th century Bideford was Britain's third largest port. It was rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco there, although this is a myth, as Raleigh was not, contrary to popular belief, the first to bring tobacco to England. In honour of Raleigh, several roads and a hill have been named after him in Bideford.

Local merchants also imported vast quantities of wool during the reign of Charles I and had so great a share of the trade with Newfoundland that, in 1699, they sent out more ships than any other in England apart from London and Topsham. Spanning the Torridge is Bideford’s most notable land (or water) mark, the ancient Long Bridge, with its 24 arches. First built in about 1280 as a pack horse bridge, it gave up its wooden origins centuries ago and, in its current metamorphosis, is a sturdy, stone structure. The original wooden bridge replaced a ford and it is generally believed that this ford was the source of the town’s name (by the ford).

Close to the renovated station at East-the-Water is Chudleigh Fort, where a striking view of the Quay can be enjoyed. The fort is the last relic of fortifications built in 1642 by James Chudleigh, an officer of the Barnstaple Garrison.


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