A history of East-the-Water (part 10)

Annex 1 - the development of Bideford’s Quays

The following is an attempt to aggregate and interpret various evidence for quays in Bideford. It is, to some extent, a work in progress and may be revised as new information comes to light. In the following diagrams upstream is to the left and downstream to the right. The symbols used are as follows (quay names are taken from a plan of c. 1692):
L = Land
- = water
F = Ford
B = Bridge
K = quay known as “The Key”
E = quay originally known as “Established Key”
S = quay originally known as "Mr Strange’s Key”
D = quay originally known as “Mr Doubty’s Key”
C = bridge chapel (of which there were two)

13th C.

In the late 13th C. the Long Bridge was built and a chapel erected at either end. In later diagrams and pictures the chapel in East-the-Water is shown immediately beside the bridge and upstream of it. In a plan of c. 1717 there is a similarly positioned building shown on the western bank, with no building on the downstream side of the bridge. The Long Bridge has wide spans at its eastern end, suggesting that, at the time it was built, a significant channel passed along the eastern shore.


The original quay (some time prior to 1587)

A plan from c. 1717 labels a series of the quays. One is shown as simply The Key. The lack of a need to qualify its name implies that it pre-dated the other quays. Later evidence identifies that the site of The Key still formed part of the manor lands. Not only would this place this quay in the ownership of the Grenvilles, but it also supports the notion that this would have been the community’s primary quay at an early time.  The evidence that Bideford’s earliest recorded shipwrights were based on the eastern side of the Torridge is also consistent with Bideford’s original quay being on that side.


Grant of land with a quay in 1587

In 1587 the Lord of the Manor, Richard Grenville (1542 – 1591), gave the newly established Borough of Bideford land on which certain limekilns had stood and on which a quay had recently been constructed. We are not told on which side of the river this quay was, but a plan from c. 1717 provides a big clue. It shows one quay labelled as Established Key. This was therefore a quay gifted or settled upon (an early meaning of ‘established’) the Borough and the only record of that having happened was as part of this gift of land by Richard. 


A quay adjacent to the bridge in 1619

In 1619 a chancery case was brought against the receiver of the bridge rents, alleging that he had not contributed toward the development and upkeep of a quay “adjoyning to the said Long Bridge.” On the plan of 1717 the only quay that might be described as adjoining the bridge was Mr Doubty’s Key, for the western quay had yet to be extended that far south.


The 1663 building of a new quay

The Magna Britannica (published in 1822) reported that “the Quay, which was constructed in 1663, belongs to the corporation,” thus providing a date that has found its way into other later publications (e.g.White’s Directory for 1850). More properly, it seems that 1663 was the year in which the building of a new quay was ordered, the finance to come from gifts, but supplemented by a fine on the bridge and town lands. This new quay appears to be an extension to the Established Quay. At what point the building got under way, and when the new quay was first used remains uncertain.

Borough documents of 1671 mention two quays The Kaye (possibly the Established Quay) and Strand Kaye (which was probably a quay on that part of Potters Pill where boats were stranded at low tide, an area still known as The Strand). Yet alternative possibilities cannot be ruled out, The Kaye may referred to The Key on the west whilst Strand Kaye could refer to the Established Key (their is evidence from 1717 that one benefit of the later southward extension of the Established Quay was the access to deeper water that it provided, so boats moored at the older part of the Established Quay may well have been stranded at low tide).


A fine harbour on the east

In 1701 John Prince (1643-1723) published his Worthies of Devon, in which he states, concerning the Long Bridge - “On the east side of this bridge is a very fine harbor for ships of good burthen; where they lie and unload in the very bosom of the town, at a stately key, well paved and of a great length.” John Watkins thinks Prince had erroneous confused west for east, but, at the time of publication the Western Quay was not yet extended to the bridge, moreover, at that time the better quay for larger ships would have been on the east, where the deeper water lay. Nor should the possibility be ruled out that Prince composited his description from multiple sources, with one describing the good harbour on the east and another the size and condition of the western quay.

The southern extension for the Established Quay

On 27 Jul 1716 the Commissioners for Customs reported to the Treasury concerning a petition from Robert Willis, Mayor, George Buck and Thomas Smith, merchants of Bideford, on their own behalf and that of other traders. The commissioners represented that “a new key was some time since built in that port but it not being made a lawful quay the petitioners applied to the Exchequer Court for a commission to have it made so but it could not be obtained without order from the Treasury Lords. The Customs Commissioners report that two years since the merchants and other chief inhabitants of Bideford petitioned them concerning this additional quay and on reference the officers of that port reported that there was no objection to making that key lawful, the whole being in a direct line and to be seen at once from any part and that the same was very commodious for trade, having on the south part more water than at the old key.”
From this it is clear that the new, southern, extension of the Established Quay had already been completed, but also that it provided access to deeper water than an earlier key had.

Amidst the Reports of the Commissioners of Customs to the Lords of the Treasury is a minute dated 5 Nov 1717 containing the official recognition that the Established Quay had been extended - “As to a commission from the Court of Exchequer, making the New Key, built in the port of Biddeford, lawful.” “Prepare a wart in the usuall forme.” The extension to the Established Quay had been built and this was official recognition of that fact.

The earliest diagram of the quays

It is a plan, produced to support the extension of the Established Key, or its legal approval, that provides the first definitive indication of where the Bideford quays lay. Fielder dates this as c. 1690, which seems too early. Carter and Carter date it 1717 (which, from the evidence below, seems a more likely date). On the Eastern side it shows Mr Doubty's Key next to the bridge, The Key in front of John Davie’s great house and Strange's Key further northward. There are a number of shipwright’s yards marked and the plan also confirms the original extent of the Established Key, by marking the sections considered to be new.


The Torridge undoes the plans of men

In 1722 a dispute arose between the feoffes of the Long Bridge and the lord of the manor, concerning rights to a section of the East-the-Water foreshore on which their tenant wanted to construct a quay. Thus confirming that the manor exercised rights over part of the eastern shore.

About the same time a more significant row was erupting, between Bideford and Barnstaple, concerning responsibility for trade through Appledore. In the Commissioners For Customs report to the Treasury is found Barnstaple’s petition, accompanying which, as evidence, is ‘a copy of certificate of the Inhabitants in, and near, the port of Bideford.’ The report, minuted on 7 Feb 1722-23 provides a graphic picture of the state of the river, together with evidence that the course of the Torridge could prove fickle. It is worth quoting in some detail “the ‘Lyer’ before the Key in the West side of the sd River is choaked up with sand, mudd, & stones, that ships of eighty tons & upwards, laden with goods, cannot come near the Key, unless on the heigth of a spring tide; and even then are in great danger of damaging both ships & goods by the sands washing away from under their bottoms, as has been often found by experience; and that no part of the ground, near the same key is so safe for any ships, as the ground on the East side of the said River. That for several years last past the river has alter'd its course, and now runs on the East side, as it formerly did on the West side, which has scoured off the sand & mud, and made the ground on the East side, free & safe for ships or galleys of burthen to lie upon with safety, without danger of taking any damage.” They further “certifie that on low tides, the boats from Apledore, with passengers, are forced to land them on the East side, not having water to come near the key on the West side.” In the petition reported in 1716 it is suggested that the southern end of the new key has more water than the “old key,” which, taken with the above report (which implies that c. 1717 the western key had more water than the eastern one) suggests that the key on the eastern side was older than that on the western.

The manor quay changes hands

Around 1750 the Manor, and with it The Key, changed hands, passing from the descendants of the Grenville family to John Cleveland of Tapley, the grandson of John Davie. New ownership often brought new investment, so it is of interest to find it said that in 1758 the Lord of the Manor extend the quay southward toward the bridge. It has been assumed that this was the western quay, but that work had already been completed in 1716. A more pragmatic explanation would be that this reference is to an extension of The Key that stood in front of Davie’s house, extending it southward to link, or merge, it with Mr Doubty’s Key.

In 1754 the Gentleman's Magazine published a plan of the Torridge downstream of the Bridge, in which the main channel of the river is shown veering eastward as it passes under the bridge to flow near The Key, with Mr Strange’s Key and the Established Key bounded by shallower water. This suggests that the river’s main channel was still following the eastern course it adopted at some point between 1717 and 1722.

A painting, dated 1760, by a Mr Jewell, shows the western quay extending to the bridge and backed by buildings.

In 1792 Watkins mentions that the Lord of the Manor was flouting the quay regulations, thus confirming that he still had a quay in his possession.

A map of the Hartland region, produced in 1804 and held in the British Museum, clearly shows the main channel of the river passing under the eastern end of the bridge, with a narrower, subsidiary channel, created by diverting the Potters Pill southward, running beside the western quay.

The 1809 1st Series 1-63360 Ordnance Survey map shows the main channel of the Torridge running under the eastern end of the bridge, before then veering away from that bank to run centrally between the shores. A narrow legacy channel seems to run alongside the western keys.

A map from 1820 shows the Torridge with its main channel running under the eastern end of the bridge but then veering westward, away from the eastern bank.

The Lord of the Manor claims the quay

In 1828, when Parliament regulated the rates paid by quay users, the Lord of the Manor claimed the quay as his property.

The 1830 Ordnance Survey Unions map shows the main channel of the Torridge running under the eastern end of the bridge and then continuing somewhat nearer to the eastern side.

The Penny Cyclopedia of 1835 states, in its entry for Bideford, that “There is also a good quay, the dues of which are paid to the lord of the manor, who pays for the lighting of it.”

New quays in East-the-Water

In 1855 the original railway terminal was extended into the river at Cross Park, thus providing not only large sidings, but also a new quay. This was served by a travelling steam crane that unloaded coal and later loaded clay.

In 1863 Messrs Heard constructed another new quay on the East-the-Water side. It is currently unclear where this was located.

The Torridge shifts it favour westward

In 1871 the building of Landcross viaduct triggered another shift in the course of the Torridge, moving the river’s deep-water channel from the eastern side of the river to its western side.

The manor and a quay part company

In 1877 H. M. Restarick took over Johnson’s shipyard, which appears to have lain on the site of The Key.

In 1881 the Manor lands, with the express exclusion of Restarick's shipyard, were sold to the Borough of Bideford.

The Ordnance Survey 1-2500 map of 1888 (surveyed in 1886) shows the main channel of the Torridge indisputably occupying a western position. On the eastern side, as one moved north from the Long Bridge, are marked: a shipyard (Restarick’s); Queen’s Wharf; Steamer Wharf; Clarence Wharf; St Peter’s Mission Church; a goods station and railway sidings.

Annex 2 - the background to John Strange’s portrait

One of the earliest images of Bideford is the glimpse provided in the background to a portrait of John Strange. The picture, dating from 1642, shows a section of the bridge, some riverside buildings, a street rising up a hill behind them, and a building on top of the hill. Carter & Carter suggest that this may show the western bridge chapel (Allhallows) and Grenville’s New Place House. In support of this they present a detail from a painting, dated 1760, by a Mr Jewell, which shows the western quay extending to the bridge and backed by buildings. They argue that this depicts the same buildings shown in the Strange portrait. That this cannot be the case is readily apparent from the analysis provided below.

Suggestion for New Place House in the Strange portrait Suggestion for New Place House in the Jewell painting
Has six identical gables, with similar pitch to each of the roofs. Has two groups of three gables, the two groups differing slightly in roof pitch.
The ground floor of the large building appears to have 6 visible (and possibly one hidden) rounded stone-work arches set on stone pillars. I.e. one portal to every 6/7=0.83 gable. The ground floor has a left and a right part with different styles, in the rightmost 3-gable section there being a central doorway and two square topped windows on either side. I.e.  one portal to every 3/5=0.6 gable.
From the bridge to the large house is a distance equivalent to 2.8 gable spans of the six gabled structure. This space is occupied by two properties, one possibly being a chapel.

From the bridge to the large house is a distance equivalent to 5 gable spans of the suggested six gabled structure. This space is occupied by by a single large property.
The second and third floors have windows  alternating on each level, i.e.
x   x   x   x   x   x   x
  x   x   x   x   x   x   x
Windows are consistently sized across the frontage.

The second and third floors have windows aligned on each level, i.e.
x   x   x   x   x   x   x
x   x   x   x   x   x   x
Under the leftmost three gables the windows on second and third floor differ in size. Under the rightmost three they are all the same size.
A building that could be the bridge chapel is between the bridge and the building, i.e. to the right of the bridge. The only building that could be interpreted as the bridge chapel is to the left of the bridge.
The construction appears to use decorative stonework, at least on the lowest floor. There is no external evidence of the use of stonework in the construction.

From the above evidence, the structure that Carter & Carter suggest could be “New Place House” in Jewell’s painting is clearly two adjacent buildings rather than one. Moreover, the property in the Strange portrait seems of a higher status than that in the Jewell painting.

Given that the range of buildings in the Strange portrait clearly do not seem to be the same ones shown in Jewell’s painting, then there would seem to be only four possibilities:

  • there has been some considerable artistic licence in one or both of the pictures;
  • the span of a hundred and twenty years saw three buildings demolished, their plots re-partitioned, and then three completely new buildings erected using the new plots;
  • the Strange portrait shows the eastern, rather than the western, end of the Long Bridge;
  • the bridge section of the picture is modelled on one somewhere else.

Whilst artistic license is always a possibility, the later picture seems intended to provide a faithful representation and the buildings depicted in it are also to be seen in an earlier, 17th C. sketch, held by the Burton Gallery, ref:153..(UID:138). Similarly, the level of detail in the Strange portrait seems excessive if all that was required was the general idea of buildings. For example, in the Strange portrait the arches on the main building reveal the impression of stonework, the gable ends show elaborate star-pattern detail, there are also hints that each arch may have a door under it.

The ‘bridge elsewhere’ option seems unlikely as the main candidate would have to be the bridge at Barnstaple, which does not have hills so close behind it.

The ‘demolition/rebuild’ option also appears unlikely, for if a single building was demolished, its replacement would usually occupy the same plot, and such a wholesale redevelopment as the complete demolition of three buildings is both infrequent and, where it does happen, the rebuilding is likely to use a consistent style throughout. The plan showing the quay extensions, dating from c.1719, implies that this section of the street was fully developed at that time. The 17th C. sketch held by the Burton Gallery is also significant, for it shows the same group of buildings on the western bank as Jewell’s c1719 painting, but at a time when there was no building on the hillside behind them (to the W and WNW). This implies that, for the Strange portrait to be a representation of the western bank, it must have been painted after this sketch was made, and should show the same buildings as Jewell’s picture, which it does not.

There remains the possibility that the portrait shows an early glimpse of East-the-Water. This is not as fanciful as it might at first seem, for perhaps the two most likely places for John Strange to have sat for the portrait are the main municipal buildings and his house, both of which were on the west bank of the river and up-stream of the bridge. Moreover, the 17th C sketch, which shows slightly more of the East-the-Water bank than Jewell’s painting, includes two riverside buildings to the south of the bridge, as in the Strange portrait.

The presence, in the portrait, of masted ships upstream of the bridge may seem incongruous, but from 1701 we have John Prince asserting that ships passed under the bridge by lowering their masts. There also remains the possibility that these vessels are an artistic conceit, intended to reflect the families prowess as merchants. Nor need we be concerned by the apparent lack of development shown on the plan published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1754, for it omits at least the Grange Barn, which was certainly there.

If the Strange portrait does indeed depict a portion of 17th C East-the-Water, then the small building next to the bridge would be St Anne’s bridge chapel, the street running uphill would be Torrington Lane and the ecclesiastical looking building on the hill could be the Grange. Whilst some early maps show no development on Torrington Lane, Benjamin Don's map from 1765 shows development on Torrington Lane slightly downhill from the Grange. Don, being raised in Bideford is likely to have got that detail correct. Another possibility is that what we see are not houses, but roadside house-shaped ricks of furze, for use in East-the-Water’s potteries. Behind the six-gabled building there appear to be trees, rather than the street of houses one would expect if this were the west bank, though this detail is far from clear and could do with checking again on the original. On the large house itself, the suggestion of doorways under each of the arches would be in keeping with the ground floor providing secure storage for high-valuable commodities (just as, at a later period, tobacco was stored in the Colonial Buildings).


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