A history of East-the-Water (part 4)

Building colonies

The year 1606 saw the founding of the Virginia Company to promote the production of tobacco in the colony, in 1607 Jamestown was founded, and by 1608 the colony had its first true leader and corporate evangelist, in the person of John Smith. Yet the growth of the Virginia colony hampered by a lack of manpower, so its Governor asked King James I to send over all those in prison and sentenced to die, that they might be put to work. The Privy Council, though slow to act, eventually established forced labour in the colonies as punishment for idleness or misdemeanours. Whilst not quite what had been asked for, this still established the principle of penal transportation, a system that would contribute significantly to the growth of Virginia, and in turn to the wealth of their trading partners in Bideford.

Meanwhile, further north, John Guy, a Bristol man, had tried to establish a colony in Newfoundland in 1610, his aim being to secure Cabot's claim to the territory. As a result, by 1620, West-country fishermen controlled the island’s eastern coast.

The Barton changes hands

In 1633 Sir Beville Grenville expanded the Granville’s holdings by acquiring the ‘Barton Grange or farme of Bydeford’ and its lands, from one Anthonie Hill. The Barton Grange is likely to be the property also known on maps as Grange Farm and situated in East-the-Water, near modern Barton Tors. This transaction included fishing rights on the Torridge and in the ‘Bridge Poole at Bydeford,’ together with provisions for the parties and their heirs to share the profits from recently discovered coal that Hill had begun to work from that land. The presence of coal on the property suggests that it included the grange lands, as later defined, and therefore comprised, an area that included much of modern East-the-Water.

Civil war

With the outbreak of civil war in 1642, the royalist Granvilles found themselves at odds with the parliamentarian town's-folk of Bideford. Sir Richard Grenville (grandson of the last mentioned Sir Richard) became a prominent royalist leader and rallied the Cornish behind the crown.   Meanwhile, the Bideford-based Sir Bevill Grenville led royalist forces against his former neighbours in various skirmishes. He also formulated an unsuccessful plot against them, following the failure of which he withdrew to Stowe. Understandably, for Bideford’s relationship with the Granville family must have been strained.

The Parliamentarians under Sargeant-Major-General Chudleigh secured Bideford by building two forts, West-of-the-Water and East-of-the-Water (a further fort was built to protect Northam). The East-of-the-Water fort was the more significant one and was equipped with eight cannons. It served as Chudleigh's command centre and now bears his name as Chudleigh Fort.

On 2 Sep 1643, after a desperate struggle that, it was said, left the victor’s swords “blunt with slaughter,” Bideford and Barnstaple both surrendered to Royalist forces.

1651 saw the end of the war, but not before there had been a change in the Granville's fortunes.
On 5 Jul 1643 the war claimed the life of Sir Bevill at the Battle of Lansdown, a considerable monument marking the field near Bath where he fell. After Sir Beville’s death, his Royalist mantle was seized by his son John. A transaction from 1650 suggests the Granvilles mortgaged properties, summarised as the ‘Burrough Manor Barton, and demesnes of Bydeford,’ to help finance the Royalist cause. Sir Richard, despite his efforts on the Royalist behalf, had fallen from favour within their ranks and ended his days in France.

In 1660, Sir John Granville played a significant role in the restoration of the Monarchy (his mother's half-sister being the mother of the prominent parliamentarian General George Monk). He then took the family’s power to a second zenith under Charles II, earning the title Earl of Bath, before another fall from grace left the family embroiled in legal wrangles and debt.

Plague town

Having escaped three earlier brushes with death, Bideford merchant John Strange ( or Strang) had a reputation as a survivor. John rose to the position of town Mayor and his family later traded out of East-the-Water. When his portrait was painted in c. 1642, it portrayed all three incidents in its background. In the process it captured a 17th C. view of the Long Bridge and the town beyond, though it is far from certain which bank is shown (see Annex 2).

Large quantities of wool from Spain were imported through the port during the reign of Charles I (1625-49), but 1646 marked the start of the the largest Spanish plague of the 17th C. The bubonic plague broke out in the city of Seville, and, with quarantine non-existent or ineffective, this pestilence then spread northward, carried by coastal shipping. In the same year, bubonic plague, said to have arrived with a consignment of wool from Spain, also hit Bideford. At least 299 townsfolk died, but the town was perhaps better able to contain the outbreak than Seville, not least because of the actions of John Strange. When the elected mayor fled, John, at the cost of his own life, stayed to organise the quarantining of the town and ensure an administration for its beleaguered folk.

Eastland properties

At various times the Granvilles owned a significant portfolio of property to the east of the Torridge, not all of which is readily traced forward to the present.

It has already been noted that in 1650 they held the the manor of Bideford and the Barton. At some point they had also acquired the Grange, a property marked on early maps. In 1701 they had Joel Gascoyne draw up ‘A Mapp of the Tenement of Grange upon the East land in the Mannor and Parish of Bideford,’ from which its extent is clear, as is the presence of a collection of smaller buildings in the Grange Road area, but no larger dwelling.

In 1664 the Earl of Bath leased a property called Porte to Nicholas Morice for 99 years. It may be inferred from clauses in the lease that Porte had lands on which coal was mined, open land (e.g. moorland) on which to hunt game-birds with hawks, woodlands, and areas in which to fish. Researchers have noted that this fits quite well with the part of the grange lands held by the Granville’s in 1701. However, to the east of these and close to the woods, streams and coal mining areas of Cleave Wood, lie Port Cottages (aka Port Farm, or Portabello on OS maps), which, according to Kelly’s 1920 directory, were historically part of East-the-Water. Donn's map of 1765 marks a property in this vicinity as simply Port. From the church rates in 1672 the Grange and Porte appear to be different properties, but both substantial. Henry Berry paid six pence for Porte, only slightly less than the eight pence Samuel Johns paid for the ‘Granghouse & grounds.’

In 1672 the Earl of Bath also paid Church rates on a property known as Great Putshole in Eastland and three houses in East the Water on the east side. Eastland seems to have been a general term for the region to the east of the river fringing strip, but the location of Great Putshole is still uncertain.

Buttering the American expansion

As the colonies expanded, Bideford’s potteries found a ready market for their pots. In the 17th C. this pottery was produced rapidly and in large volumes, so as to keep the cost down. In particularly great demand were vessels used to ship butter, it having been salted to preserve it.

Most of the early potteries were west of the water, on the southern side of Potter's Pill, but in 1672 two of Bideford’s seven master potters were based in East-the-Water. By 1681, the Bideford potteries peak year, there were 337,000 parcels of pottery shipped from the town, with perhaps another 60,000 or so used locally.

One of East-the-Water’s potteries, flanked by buildings and running to the shore, stood on Barnstaple Street, near the later site of the Ship-on-Launch Inn, and was probably operated by the potter Hugh Yeo (1611-). In 1671 he employed his two sons and another hand. At a later date he was presented at quarter sessions for having 'inmates,' lodgers from outside the town who could become chargeable to the parish. These were possibly jobbing potters.

In 1672 a 1½d rate was paid on a property described as “Wilbraham's house, Courtilage and potters' kill,” which lay at the opposite end of East-the-Water to Yeo’s establishment. It is not clear who operated this.

Cod and ’backy

Sir John Berry’s census of 1675 lists 19 Bideford boats fishing for Cod off Newfoundland. With them were 34 boats from other West Country ports, but only one from London and one from Topsham. In 1678 there were some 25 Bideford vessels, but by 1699 a change was becoming apparent, Although Bideford had a larger fleet than in earlier years and now had so much of the Newfoundland trade that only two English ports surpassed it, those ports were London and Topsham. Bideford’s part in the trade was at its zenith.

The tobacco trade was also flourishing, and, at times during the 17th C, Bideford’s tobacco imports were only topped by those of London. In 1676 Bideford Merchant landed 135,000 lbs (61,200 Kg) of tobacco for just three merchants, Abraham Heiman, Anthony Hopkins and John Davie. In the period 1722-31 nearly four million kilos of tobacco were landed, with a substantial part of this then being re-exported, chiefly to Amsterdam’s warehouses. With all this trade came wealth and, by 1688, the tobacco merchant John Davie had acquired sufficient to build himself a mansion. This was Colonial House, in East-the-Water, parts of which may survive in the fabric of the Royal Hotel. As hogsheads (i.e. barrels) of tobacco arrived, most were stored in the warehouses known as Colonial Buildings (presumably near Colonial House, if not part of Colonial House itself). Eight empty tobacco hogsheads found a different purpose, for in 1673 Bideford began to use them for public rubbish collection, two of them being sited in ‘East the bridge.’

John Davie had accompanied Grenville to Virginia and had acquired land there, upon such small beginnings he had then built. After his death, in 1710, his monument at Buckland Brewer claimed “By his example thus he benifited his fellow Bidefordians, to the extent that it almost seemed commerce of that place seemed both to have flourished and to have fallen with him.” Others involved in the tobacco trade were John Buck and John Strange.

It is said that such bounty now flowed through the Taw and Torridge ports that there were rich pickings to be had by Spanish privateers, so much so that they named the offing of the estuaries “The Golden Bay.” Though an account from 1900 suggests that the name was coined by Bideford privateers, because they profited by picking up as prizes the numerous pirate vessels, often from Algiers or Tunis, that swarmed in the Channel.

Early plans

In 1700 one Joel Gascoyne was busy systematically mapping all the Granville’s West-country properties for the Earl of Bath (John Granville, 1628-1701). The project was eventually abandoned, but not before it produced a plan of Bideford Grange. The grange lands extended east-north-eastward from Grange Road, to about the current location of Manteo Road. At the Grange Road end are shown a series of small buildings and yards, whilst at the eastern end are arable fields and moorland.

By the late seventeenth century, the volume of trade through Bideford made an extension to the Established (Bridgeland Street) Quay desirable. Whilst a quay already existed in 1574, when the land was gifted to the Borough, further construction had taken place in 1663, by 1690 this was about to be extend southward toward the bridge and northward toward Potter’s Pill. In December of 1692 the Feoffees of the Long Bridge appointed several of their number "to contract for the building of a Key for Ships to lay at the East end of the New Street". They appointed the builder Nathaniel Gascoyne to undertake the work and it is thanks to these endeavours that we have an early plan of the area downstream of the bridge. Dating from c 1717, this plan provides further evidence that much of Bideford’s early maritime activity was associated with the eastern river-bank. It shows considerable detail and, with the exception of the Long Bridge, is mostly drawn to scale. To the  east of the Torridge is a ribbon of at least fifty houses, lying along Torrington Street and Barnstaple Street, but the eye is immediately drawn to one that is depicted as much larger than the rest, much as a manor house might be in maps of that time. It stood in roughly the location now occupied by the Royal Hotel and is interpreted as John Davie’s Colonial House. Across the road from it are a range of non-standard buildings and a waterfront area marked as "The Key." This is the only area in which such a diversity of building styles is shown and it may reflect a predominance of manufacturing or storage facilities in this area. A further two quays are marked, both ascribed to named individuals (one to Mr Strange and one to Mr Doubty). Three shipyards are shown, of which two are in East-the-Water, the largest being just north of "The Key." On the eastern shore, and immediately south of the bridge, is an ecclesiastical-looking property with an arched doorway, which is presumably the St Anne’s bridge chapel.

Sudden death and the Granville lands

After the 1st Earl of Bath, succeeding generations of Granvilles seem to have had a habit of dying just as they came to the point of power and influence, for John’s eldest son, and heir, Charles Granville (-1701) shot himself shortly after his father died, an incident alleged by some to have been a suicide (precipitated by the thought of inheriting the family debts). His only son William Granville (-1711) then died of smallpox, unmarried, and just after being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall. Though this was not before his cousin Bernard Grenville could write advising him against making the New Hall (i.e. New Place, Bideford) his residence. From the letter it may be inferred that William’s grandfather had wanted to demolish New Place had it ever come into his possession. So, as John inherited the family’s Bideford properties, and New Place had presumably now passed down to William, was it spared because it had been leased out?

With the death of William, the failure of the male line saw a portfolio of Granville owned East-the-Water properties come to the Countess Granville, Grace Carteret, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Bath.

Trade and transportation

Sailing an empty ship was unprofitable, so most merchants favoured routes that allowed both outward and return cargos. For example John Davie liked to export earthenware and import tobacco in a single round trip. Newfoundland fishermen had less room for outward commercial cargos as they needed to carry provisions and salt to tide their men over a fishing season, but Bideford earthenware still found its way to Newfoundland in substantial quantities.

The outward cargo to the plantations of Virginia and Maryland was often a human one. The legal basis for the transport of convicts had been established in 1615 and Bideford merchants were clearly making handsome profits from it, for in 1700 John Smith of Bideford had petitioned the king for £5,000 owed to him for assisting his majesty by using his vessels for transportation and engaging others to do likewise. Such convict ships could return with a cargo of tobacco and Bideford tobacco merchant John Buck, a plantation owner himself, was involved in the transport of convicts, for almost twenty years.

The 1718 Transportation Act made transportation for a set period (usually seven years, fourteen years, or life) a formal sentencing alternative, allowing far more prisoners to be transported. Crimes that once carried the death penalty could now be pardoned on condition that the convict accepted transportation. Vagrants, who were problematic because they fell outside the system of parish support, could also be transported. Two or three times a year the prisons of Britain were emptied to provide the plantations with workers. Between 1716 and 1776, at least 400 ships, operating out of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Bideford, carried 50,000 convicts to the American colonies. These people came to be known as “His Majesty’s Seven-Year Passengers.”

Bideford ships also provided passage for many indentured servants. Indentured servitude was a way for the poor to buy into the promise of the colonies. In return for their passage they contracted to give a set period of service once they arrived, the ship owner could then sell their service to a plantation owner. After the set term was fulfilled, then they would be free to build a new life for themselves in the colony.

For some merchants based in western ports, an outward profit was made by carrying African slaves, with a return profit from the sugar they produced. It seems that Bideford’s ships eschewed this business model, the few that traded with the Caribbean appear more likely to have done so via the New England or Newfoundland route than via Africa, but that did not stop some Bideford merchants investing in the trade through Bristol.

Salt-cod that was too poor for European tastes found a ready market on the plantations, where it replaced salt-beef (shipped in from Europe) as a staple food for the workforce. This ‘West Indies’ grade fish must have been supplied by someone, and Bideford’s salt-cod merchants may have been happy to oblige.