A history of East-the-Water (part 3)

Sir Richard Grenville’s keys

The Grenville with whom Bideford is most closely associated is Sir Richard (1542-1591). Now known to have been born within the town, his rise at the court of Elizabeth I saw Bideford re-incorporated as a borough (in 1574). At that time Sir Richard gifted the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses with property on which a quay had recently been built, together with the borough’s streets and lanes. ‘The Key’ (now the site of Brunswick Wharf) appears to have belonging to Bideford Manor, i.e. to the Grenvilles (see Annex 1), so this corporate land was presumably that on the western shore upon which was built the ‘Established Key,’ also known as the Town Quay. The earliest evidence suggests a more significant role for the eastern shore, so perhaps Grenville kept the better sited quay for his personal use.

Settling overseas

Sir Richard Grenville had married Mary St Ledger, and in 1569 he was briefly active alongside the St Ledger family in attempts to settle southern Ireland, holding the position of Sheriff of Cork. The English interference in the affairs of Munster, of which Grenville was a part, prompted a backlash in the form of the Desmond rebellions, the second of which was quashed in 1583. In punishment for that uprising, lands in Munster were confiscated and re-allocated to English “undertakers,” landlords who undertook to colonise the land. Grenville was one such undertaker and had also purchased a large estate in Kinalmeaky. His later efforts to settle these estates bore little fruit, but these links may have helped facilitate BIdeford’s trade with the area, which in later times would flourish.

In 1584 Walter Raleigh received a patent to explore and settle any lands in the New World as yet not occupied by Christians. His first expedition, headed by Amadas and Barlowe, located Roanoke Island and returned to England with two of its natives, Manteo (after whom  East-the-Water’s link road is named) and Wanchese. A year later the newly knighted Sir Walter named the territory Virginia in honour of his queen, then commissioned his cousin Richard Grenville to return with a larger fleet, Manteo and Wanchese returning with him. In 1586 the colony almost collapsed, only to be revitalised by Grenville’s next visit, after which he brought back with him Rawley (aka Raleigh), a Wynganditoian Indian, who became the first native American to be baptised in England (and who die in 1589). By the next visit to Roanoake, in1590, the colonists had disappeared and what happened to them was never discovered. Yet, henceforth, links with the New World would become crucial to Bideford’s success.

Hostilities with Spain and a new place

In 1585 Sir Richard Grenville's capture of the Spanish vessel Santa Maria de Vincenz´ provided him with both ample funds and a workforce, in the form of captured Spanish prisoners. He put both to work constructing a grand mansion for himself, known as New Place. Forcing the prisoners to labour and even requiring the ship's captain to carry stone for the construction, his treatment of these captives caused outrage in Spain.

The eventual fate of New Place House is unknown, but three things are certain: it was considerably larger than the previous manor house, for it paid twice as much in church rates; it was still standing in 1672, for they were paid in that year; it was on a quayside, for the church record indicates as such. Some suggest that New Place House was on the quay-front west of the river, i.e. the ‘Established Key,’ but it seems more logical that it should have been near “The Key” on the East as that belonged to the Grenville’s (i.e. Brunswick Wharf area, see Annex 1). Such a location would also have been conveniently close to the grange lands and their other properties in East-the-Water.

In 1587, ongoing hostility between the English and the Spanish descended into war. The Spanish Armada of 1588 brought the local area to arms and, out of gratitude for its support, Bideford was declared a free port in perpetuity. The Armada is sometimes claimed as the source of the canons that now embellish Chudleigh Fort, but they are of a much later design. For those wishing to see Armada era canons, those over the Torridge in Victoria Park are more likely to be authentic.

Sir Richard Grenville met his end in 1591, whilst fighting overwhelming odds at the Battle of Flores. At the time, his refusal to surrender his ship was hailed by many as a model of naval courage. Ridson, writing about 1632, called it “the greatest sea fight that ever was made by Englishmen.”

Expanding trade

Bideford's maritime trade continued to flourish, not least due to the colonial efforts of Sir Richard Grenville’s cousin Sir Francis Drake. Tobacco from America began to pass through the port and with it came examples of Native American clay pipes, the local pipe-clay proving ideal for replicating these. A return trade in housewares flourished.

More Huguenots arrive

The Edict of Nantes, established in 1598, granted rights that ensured a measure of tolerance for the French Protestants known as Huguenots, but when Louis XIV revoked it in 1650, many looked to Bideford as a place of refuge.