CTBD Christians Together in Bideford and District

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A brief insight into the History of Bideford

Bideford’s Early History

Historical accounts surrounding the ‘Little White Town’ pre-date even the Doomsday book.  Bideford was recorded as a ‘Manor’ in the book itself circa 1086 -  in it there is a statement that ‘Brictric’ son of ‘Algar’ was lord of the manor of Bideford in 1066.

William the Conqueror (1066-1087) is said to have given the manor of Bideford to, Sir ‘Richard de Grenville’, who was a descendant of a Norman Nobleman.  His descendant, another Sir Richard Grenville, fought  in the Norman conquests of Glamorgan, as a member of the Twelve Knights of Glamorgan.  He was awarded the lordship of Neath in Glamorgan, where he founded Neath Abbey in 1129.

It is stated that, "having finished and settled this foundation he returned to his patrimony at Bideford where he lived in great honour and reputation the rest of his days"

A charter was granted in 1272 to a descendant of ‘Richard de Grenville’, another also called Richard de Grenville by King Henry III, which created the town's first council.  In ancient records, Bideford was recorded as a borough but has only returned members to parliament during the reigns of Edward I (1272-1307) and Edward II (1307-1327).  

The Grenville family were for many centuries lords of the manor of Bideford and played a major role in the town's development. The monument, with an effigy of Sir Thomas Grenville (d.1513) exists in St Mary's Church to this day.

More recent History about Bideford

In 1816 a mob forced their way into Bideford prison to try and breakout some of the mobs’ ringleaders.  Soldiers from the Royal North Devon Yeomanry had to be mustered and they patrolled the town and arrested several members of the mob who were escorted to Exeter. In 1835 the Bideford Poor Law Union was founded “bringing into existence the Bideford Workhouse.”  Which was built in 1837 in Meddon Street.  The workhouse had a 40-bed infirmary. It later became the Torridge Hospital, then a residential building.

The book “Kingsley’s County” puts the expansion and growth of Bideford down to the release of Kingsley's romance, Westward Ho!  in 1855, and also to the extension of the London and South Western Railway line from Barnstaple in 1856.

In 1942 American GIs arrived in Bideford. At first they were there to work in radar stations across North Devon and work on experimental things. More American troops began to arrive as the war progressed.  In 1943 more Americans arrived as D-day training had begun at beaches across North Devon.   During the war Bideford Ordnance Experimental Station Depot O-617 was set up to experiment on waterproofing equipment for the D-day landings. The American GI camp was at Bowden Green in Bideford and had plenty of facilities, including a cinema. There was also a Vehicle Repair Shop off the Kingsley Road.  The area known locally as “the Pill” was also taken over by US forces.

The Grenville  Coat of Arms, as visibly sculpted on the monument to Sir Thomas Grenville (d.1513) in St Mary's Church, Bideford

** content of this page taken from the history of Bideford on ‘Wikipedia’.  For a fuller and more detailed  journey through our historic little town please visit -  www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bideford ***


In ancient records, Bideford is named as; Bedeford, Byddyfrod, Bedyford, Bydeford, Bytheford and Biddeford. The origin of the name literally means "By the ford".  Records show that before there was a bridge, there was a ford across the River Torridge, where it forms the estuary, this natural ford can still be seen at low tide (approx 50 yards up from the old Bideford bridge almost opposite Bideford Police Station, it is possible, but not advisable, to cross the river by wading on foot.

A little known fact is that Sir Walter Raleigh was in fact baptised in Bideford and lived at Sir Richard Grenville’s house until his death in 1589.   Sir Richard Grenville played a major role in the transformation of the small fishing port of Bideford in North Devon into what became a significant trading port with the new American colonies, later specialising in tobacco importation. In 1575 he created the Port of Bideford. Sir Richard Grenville's great-grandson, Sir John Granville, helped restore Charles II to the throne and in 1601 he made Sir John Granville, Baron Granville of Bideford and the ‘Earl of Bath’.

In the 16 th century Bideford was Britain's third largest port. It has been rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although this is in fact incorrect, as Raleigh was not actually the first person  to import tobacco into England. In Raleigh’s honour, several roads and a hill have been named after him in Bideford.